Interview: Daniel John - Velvet Shedding

Sometimes, good things take time. Such is the case with North American singer-songwriter Daniel John’s debut album, Velvet Shedding. Recorded over a six-year period in his bedroom, the record is at once ethereal, otherworldly and poignantly close to home. The detail and dedication woven into the layers of softly sung vocals, orchestral arrangements and rhythmic progressions foster a euphoric tone – like emerging into spring after a long winter sleep.

Keen to find out more about the recording process and inspiration behind the album, I had a chat to Daniel about his influences, motivation and what’s coming up next…

Words by Annie Rew Shaw

Discovered via

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Annie) Hey Daniel! Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Daniel) My name is Daniel John and I’m an artist who lives near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I started playing guitar when I was 12 and always made music but kept it to myself. I never felt it was good enough to put out into the world. I had planned on going to college for music but due to family and financial reasons ended up going to a local college, which did not have a major [academic subject] to support my interests.

During those years I had pretty much given up on everything and stopped working on music. I was quite miserable and found no joy in anything at the time. I felt disillusioned near the end of college but I decided the experience didn't have to define me and that I could still try to create something meaningful. It took a few months, but I picked up the guitar again and came up with flashes of ideas. Even if no one was listening, I knew I could still plug away and create.

I love your new album, Velvet Shedding. It sounds like it was a long time in the making. Can you tell us more about the writing and recording process?

Thanks! I appreciate it. After college I turned my childhood bedroom into a makeshift studio and took up quarters in my sister’s former room. I purchased sound proofing, turned my closet into a vocal booth and outfitted the space with everything I could possibly need. If there was an instrument I wanted on the album I’d buy it, or borrow it, and learn it. On the first day I had a meltdown because I could barely plug a microphone in, let alone operate my recording software.

I spent six years writing and rewriting, and recording and re-recording. I worked at a car dealership and would stack up hours on weekends so I could be home during the week to record. It was a daunting process. During the week, I’d get home at 1pm and stay in my bedroom until midnight or longer.

The album was me carving away at myself and where I came from. There’s a stigma in Northeastern Pennsylvania – people who are born there often die there, and success is measured on whether a person can leave it. I was put in a situation where I had to stay. I tried to make peace with the area and found a lot of beauty in its surroundings.

Before the making of the album, my grandfather died of cancer, which revealed a lot of emotions I didn’t know how to process. We had gotten in an argument where I felt he had intentionally soured our relationship out of spite. I returned the favour by spitefully not visiting him in the hospital. I never made peace or saw him again.

During the process, and for most of my early adulthood, I was also discovering things about my family that I did not know previously. The album title stems from growth; when a male deer is growing it sheds its antlers in a process called shedding velvet. The white-tail deer is also the state animal of Pennsylvania, so it’s a nod to my area. As a teenager I learned how to fish and hunt with my grandfathers. I didn’t care much for the activities, but I can appreciate the time I spent with them. My name also comes from my grandfathers. Daniel (my first name) is my dad's father, and John (my middle name) is my mum's father.

The album was a way to discover my identity and create something meaningful in the process. There were a lot of ways I felt about family growing up. As a child, I assumed everything was fine. When I got older, the dynamics revealed themselves to be darker. The people who I thought I knew became strangers to me. I felt my entire life was a secret to everyone else. There was so much I never spoke of. Each song addresses my experiences.

What were your main influences when making the record?

The biggest influence at the time was my surroundings. However, there were myriad artists who really inspired me and pushed me to be better. Bon Iver, Bon Iver was an important album for me. It was the biggest influence because it felt like a cohesive unit. It also made me feel I could create something as well. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes also hit me like a brick. There was so much sadness but still so much wonder. Beach House, The National, St Vincent, Brian Eno, Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend, Sufjan Stevens... I could keep going. I was absorbing so much and trying to match some of them with my own ambition.

What’s your favourite song from the album?

I’m almost quick to say ‘Bellwether’, because I went from rudimentary recording skills to creating something complex with a lot of moving parts. However, I would have to say ‘Crestfallen’ is my favourite. It perfectly captures my feelings and what the entire album was about for me. The music and melody came from the first song I ever wrote as a child. The words were rewritten to address my older self.

Do you have any plans to perform the songs live?

I no longer really relate to much of the album. It took so long to finish and I’m quite tired. The album would be difficult to perform solo. If I had a band to support me, it would be different. My focus now is finishing my second album and getting more music out there. I’m looking forward to rounding out who I am. I think people will be surprised. I’m not interested in making the same stuff with the same sound repeatedly. I’ve learned from my mistakes during Velvet Shedding and feel I’m getting to the next level with my writing and production skills.

If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

I’d have to say Annie Clark/St Vincent. I know it probably doesn’t make sense based on my current/first release but there’s so much I have in the works that would make more sense. I even have dream parts written out if we can get her to say yes. I just admire her artistry so much and her guitar playing has so much personality.