QSC Aspiring Interview: Dan Harrison on his creative process and love of country

Nashville-based singer-songwriter and country artist Dan Harrison recently sat down for a chat with Headliner about his new music releases, how he became crazy for country, and his plans for 2024…

Did you always know that you wanted to pursue music as a career?

It was definitely something I wanted to do from a young age. In terms of making the conscious decision to do it, that wasn't until later. But I've been singing for as long as I can remember and playing guitar since about 10 or 11. I played some other instruments before that - trumpet and piano - and wish I had stuck with them. I went to college, and it was kind of after that, after working for a year or two, that I was like, ‘I’ve got to do music’. So I made that conscious choice about six years ago, and here we are.

Where do you take the most inspiration from musically?

Similarly, it was not country my whole life either; that came a little bit later when I was in college. I grew up listening to a lot of different things. My dad loved Springsteen and a lot of ‘80s and ‘70s stuff, the Eagles and stuff that we would consider country adjacent. My mom listened to some of the crossover country hits in the late ‘90s and 2000s, like Shania Twain, Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes, so I had a little bit of exposure to that. But for me, it was mostly rock and blues; I love Van Halen, and Queen’s probably my favourite band ever. When I went to college I was already playing guitar and singing and listening to a lot of different things including hip hop, but when I went to college down in North Carolina, country was what a lot of people were listening to and what was being played at parties and tailgates. It was not something I was exposed to as much when I was younger just because of where I grew up, and I think I had preconceived notions about what it was.

Around that time when I was in college you had Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, Brad Paisley; Eric Church had already been around for a while. Those kinds of artists were just starting to come into their own, and for me that was really informative because the lyrics were country and it was country storytelling and there was obviously some country instrumentation, but they basically sounded like rock records. When I first started listening to country in college it sort of flipped a switch in my head that made me realise I can just write about my story. Country music is three chords and the truth, and you just tell your truth. But because it sounds like rock now it sounded like something that I could do musically, so then I just had to find the best way to tell my story. So that was when I fell in love with country; I just dove deeper and deeper into it.

Can you describe your songwriting process?

Even on a day that I'm not ‘writing’, I'm always writing… like if there's an idea that pops into my head musically or lyrically, I'll just capture it on a voice note or jot it down. Where I tend to like to centre it, and this is just learning from being in this town, is around a concept or a hook. I might have a cool top line track or cool guitar lick, but then the goal is to match it up with a killer title or idea or concept that fits that. The way that has made the most sense to me and in that I strive to show up every day is with strong concepts that are fairly easy to build a song around. Sometimes they just write themselves, but that's because you’ve put in the work of thousands of songs before.

Tell us about your latest record and how you approached it from a creative standpoint.

I'm really excited about the song, which is called We Went South, because it's the first song off of a project that's been in the works for a couple of years. I have four or five solo songs out, and they've all been done one on one with a producer. We’ll build each element of the track, lay down drums and program them, then we'll layer in guitars and other instruments and then vocals. And then fine tune from there.

Making We Went South was really interesting for me to track everything together at once, and kind of give it a live-ish feel. We still went back and overdubbed guitars, and I tracked my vocals in the studio separately, but to see it all come together live in the room was super amazing. I'd love to do that every time. It was the first time I was really involved in the production in a meaningful way, so it was very cool to see that process from bringing an idea to life and then seeing it come to life in the studio with pros that do it every day. And it elevated my guitar playing too!

What’s in the pipeline for you?

I do a lot of writer's rounds in town, which is something that the Bluebird Cafe here started. Basically, you’re on a stage with a couple of other writers or artists, usually standing or sitting in a row, but they still call it a writer's round because you just go around in order three or four times. Each plays songs they’ve written; they might have been cut, they might have been something that you wrote yesterday, but it's a pretty common show setup here in town.

I do a lot of acoustic solo shows too, and I have a band show coming up soon. Now that this project is sort of wrapped and ready to release, I'm definitely focusing on trying to do more band stuff, because that's really the most fun and what I moved here to do. But like I said, country today has the elements of rock that I grew up listening to, and that inspired me to want to play music. So I want to have the band and I want to rock out!

Listen to the full interview with Dan Harrison on Headliner Radio, here: