Photo courtesy of Big Yellow Dog Music
Quarantine Diaries: Daniel Tashian Is Writing Music With Burt Bacharach & Watching Hayao Miyazaki Movies
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, singer, songwriter and producer Daniel Tashian shares his Quarantine Diary. Daniel's new kids' album Mr. Moonlight is out now, and his forthcoming album Blue Umbrella with Burt Bacharach drops on July 31.
[9:32 a.m.] My day starts pretty late, I guess. The problem is, I’ve been staying up late looking at news, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. Usually, one of the twins (Tinkerbell or Matilda) will pounce on my completely asleep body (their method of getting breakfast going before 10 is understandably merciless. I don’t blame them) and it works—I’m up. Coffee in the "Mr. Coffee" is on, cereal is made and toast is buttered (raisin toast with Kerry gold butter please!). I read the New York Times morning briefing and check Twitter.
Breakfast is noisy and chaotic. Then, everyone usually goes to their own things—maybe a Zoom ballet class for the twins, or a FaceTime call with a friend or Grandma for my oldest daughter Tigerlily. Technology plays a huge role in our lives right now for better or for worse. At first, my wife Lillie and I sort of fought it, but as the weeks wore on, we decided instead of trying to beat them, we would join them.
I feed the dogs and let them out, then Lillie and I enjoy coffee and conversation—sometimes outside on the back deck. But today, the humidity is so thick in Nashville, so we stay inside. Usually there’s a massive pile of dishes to do from the day before—which is my job. I was too lazy to do them, so I will put on a podcast (Brian Funk’s Music Production Podcast or Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend) and do the dishes.
[10:30 a.m.] I’ll usually head out my back door and walk the 30 feet to the studio out back. It’s in an old garage. It’s big enough to fit all my stuff out there—guitars, amps, pedals, etc. I will pick up where I left off the night before, usually working on some overdubs or making a rough mix. Today, a friend of mine, Cecilia Castleman, and I will be working on a song. We will jump on FaceTime to work on the lyrics and the melody. It’s kind of awesome that it’s possible to collaborate and work so well on the internet. What a time to be alive! But it also has its heartbreak and its frustrations. For instance, on FaceTime, only one person can play and sing at a time so you have to listen to the other person and you can’t jam together. I have heard they are working on developing something where you can jam in real time, but I don’t know what it is.
[12:30 p.m.] Lunchtime. Tuna on a cracker. I make quesadillas for the girls, who will be going to grandma’s house down the street for a play date. The in-laws have been on lockdown with us, as well as my parents and Lillie’s stepmom and dad. It’s a blessing to have family to bounce the kids around to, even more so for the girls, so all the days don’t run together, and they can get a little change of scene. We have to find the twins bunnies before they can leave (stuffed lovies they don’t like to be without).
I’m not getting as much exercise as I should. I take the dogs on their leashes down the street and back. It’s getting hotter. I come back and make a third cup of coffee and get back to the studio. My friend Joel Korte has sent me a guitar pedal to check out. He’s a total genius, and I rely on his Chase Bliss Audio pedals to help me keep moving forward and find new sonic territory. I’m fascinated by the videos people are making on YouTube to explain gear and show what it can do. I’d like to make a video like that one day. It’s harder than it looks to do it well. You need multiple cameras and the audio has to be perfect as well. Part of me wonders if I should bite the bullet and get more into YouTube. My friend Tom Bukovac is a YouTube genius. He talks about playing guitar and gives people a window into the session scene. “Homeskoolin” is his show. He’s played on a ton of records. Something about a channel feels like a very pandemic thing to do. I’d like to give something to the musicians stuck in their houses.
[2:00 p.m.] I’m on a FaceTime call with Cecilia. She’s an innovative guitarist and singer and she has a studio in her house as well. She quickly sends me a vocal track and several guitars via Dropbox. I import them into my session and start looking around through my samples for a beat to hold it all together. At some point, in the next couple days, my production partner and dear friend Ian Fitchuk will come by, and with his mask on, play a drum track and maybe some bass on the song later. He's moving houses currently, so I make sure the little drum kit I got for Christmas as a 10 year old is miked up so we cannot waste time. Ian is hands down my favorite musician on the planet. He just exudes confidence, swagger, charm and elegance in his playing. What a gift.
[3:30 p.m.] The girls are back from grandma’s house and there are Amazon groceries on the porch. I put the groceries away and cut up some strawberries, cucumbers and apples for the girls. Tigerlily informs me she will be making a custard with a raspberry coulis. She watches a lot of baking shows and is passionate and very good at baking. "Please don’t watch," she says. So, I leave the kitchen. There will be flour all over the floor when I return, but I don’t really care that much like I used to.
[4:30 p.m.] Burt Bacharach calls and asks me if I have a minute. I always have time for Burt. He’s been working on the bridge of a song we have in progress called "21st Century Man."
"I think I’ve found a solution," he says. I close my eyes and listen to the sound of him playing the piano over the phone, articulating a specific melody with his right hand. "That’s lovely, Burt," I say, and I scribble a couple ideas that could be potential lyric jumping-off points for the section. I never argue with Burt about melody. There are times when he wants to compare two slightly different phrases, and I will sing A and B for him, but ultimately, when we work together, usually, he decides the melody. "21st Century Man" is slightly different because I had a bit of a verse that I brought to him. We work on the phone for about an hour. "Much love—y’all stay safe," I tell him.
[5:30 p.m.] "We are going to watch the sun go down at Ellington Agricultural Center," Lillie informs me. This is a park and nature preserve nearby. I quickly grab my backpack that holds my watercolor paints and brushes and fill up a bottle of water. I drew pictures and painted a ton as a kid, and I’ve fallen back in love with watercolor painting during this pandemic. I try to make a painting every day to keep improving—it’s a real bugger. But it’s good to not let yourself get stuck—you have to keep growing and moving forward. I see that in Burt! We drive the 15 minutes to the creek and the girls play in the water while Lillie and I talk, and I make a painting that doesn’t look like the creek at all. Oh well. It’s a joy to be here, to be alive and I feel very lucky.
[7:30 p.m.] Dinner time. I put some water on to boil and cut up some broccoli and garlic. Vegetarian tends to be the way around here. Tigerlily came out of the womb a staunch vegetarian, so we all tag along. It’s too hard to argue with her, and I don’t want to make two separate meals. Sometimes I will grill some chicken if I’m feeling ravenous. The girls are all riding their bikes in the driveway and talking to neighbors walking their dogs by. We live on a lovely quiet street without a lot of traffic. I make a cocktail for Lillie and I—Campari with ice and ginger ale.
It’s hard to believe there’s anything wrong in the world but tugging at my sleeve is always a feeling of dread and heartache. I can push it away and work when I need to, but it’s always there in moments of reflection. I’ve started to make peace with the fact that humans are a work in progress, but it doesn’t stop all the tears that want to well up when I think of all the pain, the racial division, the misunderstanding and the hatred. I wonder where hate comes from and how it persists. I think about meanness and try to understand it, but I come up short every time.
My cousin Ethan moved to France. "Moving away from America doesn’t keep you from worrying about it," he says. That makes sense to me. Through the trees across the street, I see our neighbor, Nord, planting flowers. He works on his yard like crazy. It’s beautiful, and he’s made a bee colony and garden. That’s how he deals with it—gardening and making the neighborhood more beautiful.
[9:00 p.m.] I realized the films of Hayao Miyazaki are available to stream for the first time. With great enthusiasm, I queue up Ponyo for me and the girls. We cuddle on the couch together and watch. The colors and the story always brings tears to my eyes. Ponyo is a fish that wants to be a girl. They don’t know why tears come to my eyes, and I laugh. "It’s the colors," I say.
[11:00 p.m.] I once heard in Spain, at midnight, you would find families out in the parks, children playing. I know that’s too late for kids to go to bed, but if they go to bed at 8, they will wake us up too early. I’ve gone through phases where I get up at 5, but not right now. We read a short book, kiss the girls goodnight, and I go into my studio "C" which is in my closet. Lillie is enjoying her sherry and an English mystery show. There’s some pedals and a drum machine in studio C, and I like to mess around before I fall asleep.
Before bed, I remember how grateful I am to be here and healthy. I wish for peace on earth and pray to continue to grow and become a better version of myself.
[1:00 a.m.] Lights out. But wait... I haven’t looked at Twitter in a while....
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