While his self-titled debut album was not without ambition – one track, for example, utilised field recordings of Birmingham retail mecca The Bullring – second long-player Reaching For A State Of Mind (Tiger Dan Records) finds singer songwriter Dan Whitehouse upping his game even further.
“The first album was a solo effort, recorded in parts and recorded in my flat, with acoustic instruments,” says Dan. “For this one we formed a band in the studio, with Chip [Bailey] on percussion and Simon [Smith] on bass, recording live with [producer] Michael [Clarke] on keyboards. It was a full band set-up from the beginning.”
The son of a community radio pioneer, his father’s ever expanding record collection fuelled a lifelong passion for music in Dan, and a deep respect for songwriting technique.
“I’m often inspired by lyrics and delivery in the first instance – over music – and often a fan of songs more than artists,” he says. “In my teenage/ formative years I was obsessed with certain songs: After The Goldrush and Helpless by Neil Young, Black by Pearl Jam, they seemed so powerful and made a deep emotional connection that I’m always seeking for when discovering new artists and songs.
“I still have these song obsessions, a different one each month,” he continues before listing such songs as Mojave 3’s In Love With A View, Ryan Adams’ La Cienaga Just Smiled, Oxygen by Willy Mason, Springsteen’s Growin’ Up and The Street’s spoken word masterpiece, Blinded By The Lights.
Gravitating towards the guitar, Dan cut his teeth in several bands, before finally stepping out under his own name. Tentative early appearances were quickly followed by a trilogy of self-released EPs (2009’s The Balloon, The Bubble, The Box) alongside invitations to support such ‘name’ acts as former British blues guitar legend Peter Green, folk star Jim Moray, the Grammy-winning World Party, and American writers Willy Mason, Josh Ritter, Caitlin Rose, Joseph Arthur and Simon Felice.
Inspired by a residential songwriting course led by BBC radio presenter and musician Tom Robinson, Dan founded the Songwriting Circle in 2010, running weekly workshops for aspiring and emerging songwriters.
“A half-way house between the bedroom and the stage, a place to develop ideas,” says Dan of the sessions, adding that he too benefits from them. “All members who bring songs forward inspire me, and I’m honoured to be part of that community. They’ve pointed me to songs, literature, art, so it’s not just their songs. I’m inspired by people making things, creative people.”
In addition, Dan also works with such organisations as Mencap and Age Concern, running interactive music sessions for adults with learning difficulties and children with special needs, “…using music in a therapeutic way.”
Recorded between constant gigging and the release of his debut album in 2012, Reaching For A State Of Mind’s eleven tracks were whittled down from an initial list of 35 home-recorded demos.
“The songs evolved a lot once the band got together in the studio. I was quite ruthless at demo time – if I didn’t think a song or idea would work… I’d move on. Even in their embryonic state you can see which songs will survive.”
Joining him in the studio were Chip Bailey (Duke Special), whose percussive arsenal includes such fare as ‘stump fiddle’, pots and pans, spanners and tabletops, adding a distinctive rhythmical sound to Dan’s songs. Other contributors included The Old School Dance Band’s Helen Lancaster, and producer, collaborator, multi-instrumentalist Michael Clarke.
Though clearly related to previous releases, Reaching For A State Of Mind is an ambitious step forward both musically and lyrically. Questioning, observing, it’s filled with optimism and self-doubt, as central characters attempt to find their place in the world. This is music steeped in timeless roots traditions, laced with lyrical twists that narrate modern life.