Canon Blue Runs Free On Rumspringa: An Interview

Photo by Thomas Husmer

Canon Blue, fronted by Nashville’s Daniel James, is having a very good year. Their full-length Rumspringa was released on Temporary Residence Ltd. and featured Efterklang and Amiina. In August, they scored NPR’s “Song of the Day” with “Indian Summer.” And, speaking of summer, they’ve opened for the band with this summer’s quintessential hit–Foster the People. But, what’s most exciting is that they made a damn fine record spanning the states and a gamut of acoustic guitars, drumbeats, violins, and all sorts of folktronic goodness.

ELM: Your song titles all have cities’ names beside them.  What is the significance of that? Was it just the cities you happened to be in?

DJ: Basically, I was out on the road a lot around the time I started working on the album. I decided to try and write an idea per day while I had down time and subsequently would name the song after whatever city I happened to be in that day. Later on, once the songs were closer to being done I came up with titles that related more to the themes and lyrics of the songs. However, I liked the idea of keeping the city names in as sort of reference to where each idea began.

ELM: How does your travel influence your songwriting?

I’ve been traveling a lot, especially the last 3 years, so theres definitely been lots of fascinating cities and interesting experiences that can be triggers for ideas and songs. I think if anything its more subconscious or trying to match a mood of a song to wherever i happen to be in at the moment. But for the most part I think, much like theres so much variety and difference from one city to the next, I like to have each song be its only individual world and experience.

ELM: Your album is called Rumspringa, which is the time when Amish adolescents leave their community and are free to be wild. How did that title seem to fit the album?

DJ: I got the title after watching a documentary called ‘The Devil’s Playground’. I think I was mainly drawn to the idea of these kids who grew up in a very restricted and some would say limited environment suddenly being released into the complete opposite where anything and everything was available. I thought there were some interesting concepts to derive from that and how that process affects and plays on our desires and choices as human beings, both good and bad.

ELM: The cover art for Rumspringa is a quilt. Was that an Amish reference, or does it have other meaning for you?

DJ: A design firm in Denmark called Hvass & Hannibal did the art. When we were talking through it I went through all the references to amish culture and the concepts I mentioned earlier. The main idea was to take something very rigid and gridlike and have it evolve into something more loose, chaotic and worn. From that they came up with the idea of creating a quilt based on amish patterns and then affecting to make it appear sort of old and falling apart. I thought that was a good companion to the ideas behind the album.

ELM: What is your live show like for this tour? (You’re opening for Foster the People, correct?)

DJ: I played a few shows with Foster the People earlier in the Summer and am now getting ready to go out with a band called Boxer Rebellion. The live show is basically built around me, a drummer, a guitarist, and a key/samplerist. I would love to be able to take out a bunch of string and brass players and really recreate the album as it sounds, but its just not feasible at the moment. We’ve had to reinvent a lot of things, but I find that exciting as it allows the songs to continue to evolve and find new ways of coming to life.

ELM: Do you have any favorite venues to play?

DJ: I love the 930 club in DC mainly because I used to go there as a kid living in Virginia. We’re also playing Webster Hall in NYC which I’m really looking forward too. I tend to love old theaters and places with history. Even if they aren’t as nice as a modern new club, I love being a part of a place with a past and a story.

ELM: Your first single “Indian Summer” was available to download free. What made you choose that song for your first single?

DJ: I never really set out to make a single, but that seemed to be the song that was the most accessible of all the songs on the album. Its definitely the most pop oriented song on the record which makes me a bit uncomfortable, but at the same time I think it works in the context of the album and incorporates a lot of the elements the other songs have.

ELM: Are you planning any videos for this record?

DJ: I’m actually filming one at the moment for the songs Bows & Arrows which I’m really excited about.

ELM: You mentioned liking John Adams in one interview. He’s one of my favorite composers too. What is your favorite work of his, and why does his music speak to you?

DJ: I’m a huge John Adams fan. Some favorites are Shaker Loops as well as the Chairman Dances. Theres something about the repetition and trance like nature of his work that I’m really drawn too and yet somehow he’s able to still incorporate melodies and ideas that anyone can relate too. He has this amazing balance of high brow avant garde ideas mixed with beauty that I really connect with.

ELM: What was the first album that really changed your life?

DJ: When I was a kid, my band in high school won a local battle of the bands, and the prize was a gift card to the local record store. I got Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Radiohead’s Ok Computer the same day. Up to that point I’d never experienced anything anywhere near that level of music and it pretty much did my head in.

ELM: What are your favorite sad songs?

DJ: There are so many. Off the top of my head I love Gorecki’s symphony of sadness (aptly named). The last track on Sigur Ros’ ()’s album. Also anything off of Hope Sandoval’s Bavarian Fruit Bread album.

ELM: You recorded with Amiina.  Why did you make that choice, and how did they change the project?

DJ: I’d been a huge fan of them and Sigur Ros for years and through working with Efterklang we got in touch and they were up for playing on the record. They’re such a huge crucial sound of the album and it would have been much much different without them. It was really surreal getting to work with some of my favorite artists and to have their beautiful strings on the album.

ELM: Who else did you work with to make the record?

DJ: I mainly worked with the guys in Efterklang and another Danish band called Slarrafenland. Then there were various talented friends in Denmark that added their part as well.

ELM: Who are your favorite writers?

DJ: For books some of my favorites are Haruki Murakami, Flannery O’ Connor, and David Foster Wallace. I also really like a poet named Mark Strand.

ELM: If you could raise awareness of any social cause, what would it be?

DJ: Thats a tough question as there are so many important causes covering so many issues. For me personally, I kind of come from an economics background and am interested in helping to fix different policies both international and stateside to alleviate unnecessary suffering and poverty as well as protecting public space and identity against overreaching privatization. Authors Naomi Klein and Lewis Hyde have been really influential in that regard for me.

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