American Songspace Q&A: Dirk Darmstaedter
Folk pop singer-songwriter Dirk Darmstaedter recently released his new studio album entitled Appearances. Recorded under the name Me And Cassity, the album cleverly portrays the German songwriter’s honest emotions. Darmstaedter is a member of American Songspace, a website that allows songwriters to connect with other songwriters, performers, and individuals in the music industry. We interviewed Dirk Darmstaedter to learn more about the new album, his background, his approach to songwriting, and his experience with American Songspace.
How did you get started songwriting?
My family moved over to Germany when I was twelve. I sure hated it at first. The weather was shit and they don’t play baseball. Music definitely saved me. I started writing my own songs right after learning “House Of The Rising Sun” on acoustic guitar. The first 83 were terrible. But hey, number 84 wasn’t so bad.
How do you usually approach writing an original song?
I have absolutely no set rules on this. Sometimes it’ll be a title that kicks things off. Sometimes it’ll be two guitar chords. Sometimes it’s just a mindless slog. It’s just trying to get stuff down on paper to fill that dreaded empty page that just whispers failure in your ear. You never know what comes out then. A week later that same mindless rambling might just have brought forth something interesting. Then edit and move on.
What made you decide to use English, rather than German, as the language in your songs?
Though born in Hamburg, Germany, I grew up in New Jersey. So English was always my first language.
Do you notice any difference in the perception of the folk/pop genre in Europe compared to the United States?
It’s hard to say. I’ve been here so long. Some of my American musician friends are always amazed at the attention they can get playing solo acoustic sets over here. People will actually come out and listen to a songwriter playing acoustic for two hours. Well, that’s if the songs are good.
Your profile mentions that you originally played in a band entitled The Jeremy Days. How did the new name/project Me and Cassity come about?
Well for one, there‘s Neal Cassady, a major figure of the Beat Generation and inspiration for Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road (my favorite book as a teenager). Then there’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the American western film from 1969 starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. It’s one of my all time favorite films. It has a great Burt Bacharach soundtrack, too. Let’s not forget David Cassidy, the Partridge Family front man – the coolest guy in my world as a six-year-old. So Me And Cassity just seemed to fit.
Your newest single is entitled “Fred Astaire”. Would you say that he was an inspiration in the writing of the song?
It’s the idea, not the man. Fred Astaire is a metaphor for getting through hard times with grace and style – undaunted and unbowed.
So let them say the world spins round to take us unaware /
Drag us down then leave us there, broke beyond repair /
Let them eat their words as we dance like Fred Astaire
Can you tell us a little about your new album Appearances?
The ten songs on Appearances are the best of many songs that I wrote and threw out in the last two years. The songs whispered in my ear that they wanted to be recorded in a fuller band context. Louder. Emphatic. Guitars! Brass! Vibraphones! The big dish!
It was recorded mostly live onto analog tape in a wonderful little studio with a big name, Le Chatelet, in downtown Hamburg-Altona. Then I drove up to Gothenburg, Sweden to record with Therese Johannson and Kristoffer Aström. I got to know all the bars pretty well, too. Swedes sure like their beer. Back in Hamburg I got Anne de Wolff (Neko Case, Calexico) to add strings and Martin Wenk (Wilco, Arcade Fire, Nada Surf) to add horns and vibes. It was absolutely stunning.
Do Kristofer Aström and Therese Johannson play major roles in the new album? Did you co-write any of the songs with them?
They played a big role in terms of sound and vibe (and beverages). There were no co-writes though. I had a pretty clear understanding of what I was looking for when I crossed the Oresund Bridge into Sweden.
Your Songspace profile lists some of your influences as Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Brian Wilson. In what ways do each of these artists influence your songwriting?
I grew up listening to Bob Dylan because my dad would constantly play his records. He’s my biggest influence in terms of my use of lyrics, followed closely by Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt. The imagery and the sense of pure artistic freedom is just a constant reminder of how powerful a song can be. Brian Wilson influenced me foremost for the sublime melancholy in his songs, chords, and arrangements.
Have you been able to find connections through your Songspace profile? Would you suggest it to others?
I’ve got you folks asking me questions, so that’s good for one. Yes, I’d suggest it to others. It’s always good to connect with other like-minded workers in song.