A Rare Breed

Danny Schmidt's Cactus passion

A Rare Breed

A rare breed among Austin musicians, Danny Schmidt was born here. He traveled a while after high school, before returning and kick-starting his career as a singer-songwriter. Now he’s so entrenched that he recently purchased a house. Of course, the day after signing those papers, he left for a tour of Alaska.

“I love the traveling part,” he admits. “The only part I don’t like is the lack of a consistent home life rhythm. So I’ve shifted my schedule around so that I’m gone for extended chunks and then have extended chunks off. The last couple of years I was pretty much gone constantly. I’d come home for three or four days at a time and then I’d go back out.”

He’s making the most of his time at home with a show Saturday night at the Cactus Café and a visit to the recording studio for a disc he hopes to have out after the start of 2011. He’s been vocal about the recent Cactus controversy, so I asked why he had chosen to speak up.

“It meant a lot to me early on in my impressionable days as a music lover,” he relates. “It’s got a special place in my heart. When I first came back to town, the open mics were the first place I tried out. There are a couple of other venues around the country that have a similar vibe to it. Café Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York has the same kind of thing with pictures on the wall of people who’ve played there. There’s a picture of a young Dylan playing there. You walk in there and like the Cactus they have that long row of posters on the way in. You walk up these stairs and there’s all these black and white photographs and you’re struck immediately by how many great songs and songwriters have passed through and sat in that same spot. It’s hard to articulate, but you feel like you're part of something bigger when you take your place on that same stage. I always loved that in the Cactus there’s that poster of Townes Van Zandt off to the right of the stage and it kind of looks like he’s looking across the stage at you giving you the eye.”

Reviewing his 2008 release, Little Grey Sheep, I wrote, “In today's underground folk world, Danny Schmidt is spoken of in reverent tones, drawing comparisons to Leonard Cohen, with words like 'incredible' and 'beautiful' used to describe his work.” His stature has grown since then, but I wondered how he reacted to such vehement praise.

“You never know when you’re writing songs how much of what you put into them, other people are going to take out," he says. "It’s gratifying on an artistic level that some people are understanding the nuances of what I’m trying to put into it. At the same time, I try to discount a lot of what I hear, good and bad. You don’t want to get caught up in that. At the end of the day, it’s just trying to put to some thoughts down. So I try not focus too deeply on the criticism or the praise, and just focus on what I like to make and the way I want to make it and hopefully people will enjoy it.”

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