Daniel Rodriguez of Elephant Revival is a dreamer. He loves the sun and its giving and giving and giving. And he looks to the new year as a time to be reborn and refinished - new moments to propel yourself toward a brighter future. There's a lot to learn about Rodriguez in this interview, both as a human being and a member of a magnificent Colorado folk band.
GW: What is a change you wish to see in the world?
DR: I wish to see the whole world going to renewable energy. I’d like to see the big gas companies do a big flip-flop and invest in wind and solar energies.
GW: Are there any ways you feel you help contribute to that propelling forward?
DR: No. In fact, I feel I play a part in compromising the atmosphere. I was just thinking about that before you called.
GW: You guys are travelling to Fayetteville (Arkansas) for a New Year’s show – what does the New Year mean to you?
DR: This particular New Year’s we are going to be there with a bunch of Bonnie’s family and friends, so this year it’s about celebrating with them. I always see the winter as dreaming about what the New Year can be. For me, it’s sowing the seeds that will come to fruition throughout the year and kind of coming into a new skin. I always loved that quote by Bob Dylan: “Those who aren’t busy being born are busy dying.” I think the New Year is all about being reborn.
GW: I feel like that creates a good connection with the way your band has realized a rebirth with Sage [Cook] leaving and Charlie [Rose] coming on. What was it like to lose such an integral part of your band?
DR: At first there was so many different kind of emotions. I was sort of thinking: Should we even keep going? Once we all, as a band, decided to keep going I think the emotion varied back and forth from really feeling the loss of Sage – we had come to such a pinnacle of sound at that point – but then also honoring what his decision was and him honoring that we wanted to keep going. We were all thinking about Charlie in that situation and so was he; he said “Why don’t you guys call Charlie?” So it was really a natural progression.
GW: What are some of the things Charlie has brought to your band?
DR: I think immediately he brought a sense of professionality. Previously he was someone who would get hired by big artists who would need that sort of ‘hired gun’ if you will. With us, with the molecule we were with Sage, we were like a family; things were kind of touchy. It was tough to have an artistic vision and speak about it in a secure way. Charlie just plowed right over that. It’s really beautiful that we can speak very frankly about the direction of a song and not feel like you’re walking on eggshells. It’s a shame we didn’t have that before, but I’m really excited that our art has that breath of fresh air. He also, like Sage, plays a gazillion different instruments and he’s really fun to be around.
GW: What’s your favorite instrument that you cannot play?
DR: The pedal steel.
GW: Are there any songs you’ve been playing since the beginning that you really love to play or feel have been reinvented since you started performing them?
DR: There’s a few of our older songs that we continuously play, but I feel like all of our older songs can be reinvented. There’s some of the older songs I’ve personally written that I feel could fit into an R&B or soul vibe. We’re writing so much new stuff that sometimes it’s tough to look back.
GW: How do you feel you, as a musician, have grown?
DR: As a musician within a band I’ve grown in listening to other people’s visions and assimilating it into my own vision. Also, Charlie went through the Berkeley School of Music and was very studied before that – I’d like to think some of that is rubbing off on me. I’ve never taken a guitar lesson and I can’t read music, but I’d like to think I’m getting better in those terms. But mostly just listening – I’m a better listener.
GW: How did your upbringing influence your drive to be a musician?
DR: My brother’s CD collection and my dad’s record collection – you couldn’t get me away from it. I was always stealing my brother’s CDs for a week, and really get to know an album. That was probably the biggest part of my upbringing.
When I got a guitar, whenever something was chaotic and I didn’t understand my emotions, I could pick up my guitar and consolidate all of my emotions into a chord progression and it really felt good. I had an uncle from Argentina [who was] a famous tango singer – he made tango popular in Argentina.
GW: What’s a song you like that stirs up a lot of emotions for you?
DR: It’s a Jose Gonzales tune: Stay Alive. I get goosebumps every time I listen to that.
GW: What’s a recent joyful experience you’ve had?
DR: I’m in Tahlequah, Oklahoma right now – where Bonnie grew up. The day after Christmas the rains just kept coming and coming and coming. There’s a creek right by her dad’s house and it just kept rising and then spilled over into his lawn – the river was 3 feet from his house. It looked like the house was going to get flooded so we evacuated and ended up at Bonnie’s sister’s house. There was this deeper bonding we all felt; everybody was glad to be safe. There was a bottle of really expensive scotch and we all shared it – there was something so joyful that came out of something potentially so tragic.
GW: How does it feel different to play these shows [in Fayetteville and Oklahoma] than shows where maybe you don’t have friends and family who have been there since the beginning?
DR: The backstage area is a really big, joyful party. If you go to a place where we don’t really have any friends and family – other than our fans…we consider them family – we’re back there, just the five of us, being very professional. At these shows we’ll be hanging out and having tons of fun with a bunch of people. Charlie’s parents will be there too and it will be Charlie’s birthday!
GW: What’s a difficult thing about your profession?
DR: One of the things I mentioned earlier was burning so much fossil fuels – it’s an ethical dilemma within me. Another one is not being able to stay in any place longer than a night or two. And not really being able to see your home as much as you want to.
But on the other hand, we’re having so many beautiful experiences. We have potentially more experiences than someone who doesn’t travel as much we do. I don’t take it for granted, but sometimes it’s very difficult.
GW: What’s something you think about a lot?
DR: I think about the nature of reality a lot – I think I think about that all the time. Sometimes it takes me out of conversations – I’m thinking about the social dynamics of what’s going on.
I think about the concepts of quantum physics a lot.
How our thinking effects every walk of our past.
I love songwriting so I’m always thinking about the moment that I’m in – and I’m always seeking the inspiration from that.
Maybe I think too much – I probably do.
GW: Are there any song lyrics or sayings that have stuck with you that you reference a lot?
DR: Definitely. A lot of Bob Dylan’s early stuff really resonates with me. The Times are a Changing is just beautiful front to back; Times of War; everything he wrote early on.
GW: So is Bob Dylan one of those records you listened to a lot?
DR: No, actually it wasn’t until Elephant Revival formed and I was in Nederland. I heard a Dylan record and then I got ahold of this “Live on Halloween” and I fell in love with every single song on that album. You can see through that mid-range harsh voice to the beauty of the songs. He’s one of the greatest.
GW: What are some of your favorite non-musical, non-instrument sounds?
DR: I love water, the ocean – falling asleep to the waves…that’s so good. Rivers running.
I love the sound of stillness in the springtime when you can feel the stillness, hear the birds, feel the intricacies of the wind blowing through the trees.
Silence. Silence is such a good sound too.
I don’t like forks and knives hitting plates, though – that’s my least favorite thing.
GW: How do you feel other people’s music influences your own?
DR: If something gives me goosebumps or a melody really sticks in and if a performer gives me goosebumps I get so inspired by that. That seems to be what my aim is too and why I’m writing. If I’m just kind of messing around and not really inspired I’ll stop playing.
GW: Are there any songs or lyrics you’ve been listening to a lot lately?
DR: I listen to Girl in the War by Josh Ritter a lot. And then of course that Stay Alive by Jose Gonzales. I always love my buddy Gregory Alan Isakov, his album “The Weatherman” was really great. I love Bonnie’s lyrics – those are always striking an E chord within me.
GW: What’s the most honest song you’ve written – whatever honest means to you in this moment.
DR: That’s tough. I feel like I won’t write a song if I’m not being honest. But I think, personally, I said a lot in Birds and Stars. I think I covered the way I feel a lot in that song.
GW: What’s something you’re trying to get better at?
DR: Just being a better person. Not letting my projections of the world get in the way of anybody else’s – especially the ones I love and spend a lot of time around. I want everybody to shine and if I’m ever in the way of that, I don’t want to be. I want to serve people – I want to be a better servant.
GW: What’s something you’re trying to get worse at?
DR: I’m trying to get worse at being a dick.
GW: What about something you’ve learned recently?
DR: Wire recording – that’s how we know about Lead Belly and all the Americana from the Appalachian Mountains. Somehow the stuff was recorded onto wire by…I can’t even say I learned it because I don’t understand it. It sounds so crazy.
GW: What is a piece of advice you’d give your 20-year-old self?
DR: Just keep going buddy. Don’t be swayed by uninspired humanity.
I think I did fine, though. It was all a necessary path. That 20-year-old Daniel Rodriguez…I wouldn’t have ended up here if I didn’t do all the stupid shit.
GW: What’s a song, piece of art or a moment that makes you feel like: FUCK YEAH! Being alive is amazing!
DR: I like the sun. The sun’s so beautiful. Just to think that the sun perpetually gives. It just keeps on giving and giving and giving. It’s this eternal process that just keeps going inward and exploding outward. It gives us the whole function of our reality and gives us electromagnetism so we can walk on the ground; it gives us light so vegetables can grow. Everything from the deep aspect to the very superficial aspect of it…the sun is just a magnificent creation. It’s pretty awesome. I’d like to jump up and down in front of that thing.
GW: What’s a goal you have for 2016?
DR: I really want to get more involved with some of the climate. First of all, I want to get Bernie Sanders in the office. I’d love to get some solar panels somehow and wherever I’m living just take the energy from the sun – that giver! – and make electricity that way.
I just want to be more loving and more giving in 2016 than I was in 2015.
GW: What are some things with the band you’re looking forward to the most?
DR: Well, we have an amazing schedule coming up some I’m looking forward to having safe travels and great shows; and a bunch of creativity among all of us. I just really want to be inspiring and inspired, and play some really awesome shows.