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Live from Studio D: Dan Blakeslee records album 'Road Hymns' in locations across New England

Blakeslee’s latest album Road Hymns is an audio travelogue – meaning each song was recorded at different locations scattered across New England, in places that he considers sacred.
Emily Quirk
Dan Blakeslee joins NHPR's Rick Ganley in Studio D to play songs from his new album 'Road Hymns.'

The life of a traveling musician is not for the faint of heart. Booking gigs, hotels, and pouring your heart out song after song, night after night, is truly a labor of love and a calling. Maine folk troubadour Dan Blakeslee is happy to take on that calling.

Blakeslee's latest album, "Road Hymns," is an audio travelogue, meaning each song was recorded at different locations scattered across New England— in places he considers sacred.

Blakeslee joined NHPR's Rick Ganley in Studio D to play a few songs and talk about his time on the road. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Transcript

Dan Blakeslee: I recorded one [song] in Boston's Arnold Arboretum under a lilac tree as birds are flying by. And then I recorded one on an island in Maine — Monhegan, in an old chapel. Then I recorded one in my dad's boat and sort of all over the place — also in the subway in Boston, because I used to play music down there a lot.

So what [does] that atmosphere give to the recording? 

I feel like I've gotten a lot of good responses from people. They feel like they're there in that setting, like they're listening to the song. But I feel like they're getting taken to a different world, or they're taken on the road with me in a sense, I guess.

You just came back from a pretty extensive tour. You were in the West Coast for a while. You were in Ireland for a while, and I know you're heading back out again. That's a lot of touring.

It is! It's so funny because, like, I would say, maybe 15 years ago, I was playing 250 shows a year, and I was like... that's too many. Like, I kind of felt it.

Last year I did 131, and this year I've already exceeded that because I came out with the new album and all my touring got compacted into like three months. 

It's got to be exhausting.

But fulfilling in the same way. I couldn't believe how little sleep I got, but my soul is so filled.

Do you feel like you have to be on stage just about every night?

No, no.

Do you have to play every day?

I mean, I definitely need that, yeah. I love to play music every day. 

So for you, where does that inspiration come from when you are working on new material. Is it something that just comes to you, or do you have a process? You say, every day, I'm going to spend so much time sitting down and putting ideas down?

I never sit down and try to come up with ideas. They kind of happen, like this one new one that I'm just starting to work on. This was one of the most impactful things I could recall in my musical career.

I'm in Ireland for the first time ever, and this is like two months ago, and I'm in Galway and I'm sitting by a river at two in the morning just playing music, writing a song, and this guy comes up to me and there's not many people around.

This guy comes up to me. He goes, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Oh, I'm just writing a song.' And he goes, 'You saved my life.' And I was like, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I came down to this river to kill myself tonight. And I saw you playing your guitar by the river, and I didn't want to die.' And then he and I had this long conversation. We're all hugging each other and like, really like getting deep into this thing. And I'm just like, 'Wow, that's a song right there'. He said, because I told him, I said, 'Man, I'm so far away from home right now. I miss my family, my friends. I'm in Ireland, I'm having a great time. And he goes, 'You're never too far away from home.'

Tell me about the song about your dad.

Yeah. I wrote a song for my dad that's on my new album, and it's called 'I'll Never Call Him My Old Man.' And I wrote that because he is a very youthful spirit, and I wrote it for him early on during the pandemic.

And I remember it was like Father's Day and we couldn't really go and experience anything together. You know, it was still pretty far apart from each other, masks on and everything. And I was like, 'Dad, I have this song I wrote to you and I have to play it today.'

I could barely get it out of my mouth. And the thing is, like, he's been such an impactful person in my life, like in the most positive way helped me through everything — him and my mom. Like when I was a little kid, my parents said, 'You do whatever you want to do in life that makes you the most happy, and we're going to be behind you all the way.'

And they have been.

It's so good to hear a song about somebody with daddy issues in a good way.

[Laughter] Right, right!!


Editor's note: People can call or text 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, as well as 833-710-6477 for New Hampshire’s Rapid Response Access Point, for help in a mental health or substance use crisis.

They can also go to NAMI’s website or social media channels for information about additional crisis resources.

 

Before becoming Program Director, Quirk served as NHPR's production manager. During that time she's voiced and crafted the 'sound of the station,' coordinated countless on-air fundraisers, produced segments for Give Back NH, Something Wild, New Hampshire Calling, and developed NHPR's own NHPR Music vertical with features such as Live from Studio D, and long-loved favorites like Holidays By Request.
For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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