Thursday
Jul212011

Interview: Dan Gurney, Musician and Entrepreneur

24-year-old Dan Gurney, born in upstate New York to artist parents, first picked up an accordion by chance in a toy store. He learned Irish music from Galway-born concertina player Father Charlie Coen. Over the years he has also been heavily influenced by Billy McComiskey, John Whelan, Joe Derrane, and John Nolan, among many others. After graduating from Harvard University in 2009, he lived in Galway for a year playing with the likes of Dolores Keane, Johnny Ringo McDonagh, Mick Conneely, Ronan O'Flaherty, and Brian McGrath. He has appeared on Public Radio International, at the International Accordion Festival, and has won nine medals at various Fleadh Cheoil music competitions.

THE DAP

You’re a writer, musician, entrepreneur, traveler, filmmaker. How do you find time to do it all?

DAN GURNEY

That's a good question. When I think about it, I haven't really set out to do any of those things. Instead, I've stumbled into them as a result of other activities or ideas I've had. In general I try to do what I'm interested in. It's funny how certain situations will lead into completely unexpected directions. For example, I became a travel writer because I wanted to escape a bad breakup. I ended up having the best summer of my life. Then, the summer after that, I became a filmmaker because I had an idea to dress in a Waldo suit and make promotional videos for the travel guide. So I taught myself Final Cut, bought a Flip camera, and hit the road. Right now I've turned into a web designer because along with a friend, I had an idea to start a website to broadcast live concerts (www.concertwindow.com) -- and we needed a website. So you get the idea. I guess you could say inspiration plus follow-through breeds opportunity.

THE DAP

Tell us about your record label and about Irish traditional music.

DAN GURNEY

I've played Irish music all my life -- there's something about it that grabs me at a very deep level. I can't explain it but it's there. I lived in Galway last year and was lucky enough to play music seven days a week. I met a number of great musicians who have turned into friends. Along with a buddy of mine named Cormac Begley, I decided to start a record label to document older musicians who are carrying the Irish tradition for future generations, but have never been recorded. We're not trying to get rich; rather, we're trying to bring this music to people who might not otherwise hear it. Our first recording will hopefully come out sometime in 2012. Keep an eye on www.anamrecords.com.

THE DAP

We hear that in 2012 you will release your first solo album. How long have you played the button accordion and who are your musical influences?

DAN GURNEY

I first played an accordion when I was seven, and something about it -- just like Irish music -- grabbed me and wouldn't let go. The accordion has definitely been the primary constant in my life so far. I like how unusual it is -- at the very least it's a conversation starter. Over the years I've learned from people like Monsignor Charlie Coen, Billy McComiskey, Joe Derrane, John Whelan, and many more. This summer I'll be recording an album to incorporate these influences and say something about who I am as a musician.

THE DAP

How have you captured the feel of Irish music – its “roughness” as you have once referred to it – in your debut album?

DAN GURNEY

Well, it won't be recorded until August, so I can't say for sure! The goal will be to record over a short period of time (2-3 days) and try to capture some sense of continuity and spontaneity. There also won't be much studio polish -- no "punch-ins," overdubs, or unnecessary editing.

THE DAP

How do you think social media and the internet have affected your music, in particular, and the way in which people view and listen to music more generally?

DAN GURNEY

It's a very interesting and unstable time for the music industry. The Internet has shaken things up, and we're still figuring out how to deal with that. Basically, the record labels have been upended, distribution has been democratized, and publicity is undergoing a shift to new media channels. As a musician flying under the mass media radar, it's easier to collect and inform fans, now that Facebook and Twitter exist. CDBaby and iTunes have made it easier to sell to those fans. That said, I think in some ways it's harder to make money from music nowadays. There's a lot of free content online. It's tough to make money from records unless you sell them at shows. Despite what they may tell you, Grooveshark isn't helping musicians by streaming tracks for free. This is exactly the problem that Forrest O'Connor and I are trying to tackle with Concert Window. We're figuring out a way to monetize live music -- the last domain that hasn't yet been transformed by the Internet. And the goal is to compensate musicians and venues. We think it can be done, but it'll be a long road. Join us at www.concertwindow.com!

THE DAP

Tell us about performing for the President of Ireland. We’re kind of jealous you had this opportunity; should we be?

DAN GURNEY

She was a lovely person, very friendly. And she seemed to genuinely appreciate Irish music. The gig was a success  … I didn't spill anything on my suit.     

THE DAP

What’s next for Dan Gurney? 

DAN GURNEY

Who knows! I'm going to stick with my strategy of doing interesting things and seeing what happens. I suppose you could say the tech world is my current target. I like where Concert Window is going; the challenge now is to grow it quickly and sustainably. Meanwhile I'll keep playing Irish music like I always have. But I like keeping that as a "fun" thing -- I'd rather earn my money somewhere else. The less outside pressure on your music, the better. So that's the plan. Inevitably things will go awry. But that's how I like it!

Dan's Music

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