I had the pleasure of chatting with Daniel Ahearn, formerly of Ill Lit last month, after numerous attempts to make this interview happen. I would like to thank him for being so "flexible" and such a great person to talk to. I would also like to thank Tristan, who helped with the editing. Thank you!
Who is Daniel Ahearn and could you describe your music for someone that has yet to hear it?
They are love songs. I write love songs. I would get in trouble when I thought they were "country.” So I leave in the Americana music because I am an American kid from Indiana who is writing down what the people are saying when they don't know I am around.
How did it all start?
It started from writing, and then I did this recording project. I was rabid with a weird desire to make music. It was weird to get on stage, I didn't understand it. My background is listening to country and classical when I was a kid, and then electronic music from teens to twenties. I was trying to put them together and tell American songs.
You seem to be in touch with your spiritual side from what I've read. How true would you say this is?
I try and get in touch with a spiritual side. It is life-long journey. I think. My aunt is a nun. And some dear friends are deep in yoga and I talk to all sorts of healers/seekers. It interests me, to say the least. The world is just out of view, but well within reach…
I always wonder how musicians like yourself pull through for years, because it can’t be easy being a musician when there are so many others out there. It’s inspiring to see people fight for years for something they love.
I think if you 'need' to do it, you will do it, regardless. Art and music have a long history of being difficult. In terms of 'making a living' music has always been a junky way of trying to earn cash. I would do something else if I could, but I am obsessed with songwriting. And I use the word 'obsessed' heavily.
It is a 'fight' but what else is there? Music has helped me live. Literally. It saved me. And the drive to add to that canon is something I feel blessed to be a part of.
Have you ever considered giving up and doing something else completely? It seems to be a hard choice for people to make, at least from what I have seen personally. Do you choose to do something that will earn you enough money or do you do something that you absolutely love?
It is an ever-shifting challenge, artistically and financially. I have dared myself to quit, but in truth I feel like I am just beginning to get close to beginning and that feeling is so euphoric and lovely, I live to work towards it more. At some point you just accept that this is what you do. And when you 'threaten' yourself that you may quit it begins to seem adolescent. You will be done when you are done. Not before. I think that is the deal. My friend, Franz Wright, told me "people like us need an implacable perseverance" - that helped me a few years ago - a lot.
Isn’t Franz Wright a writer? And does your band's name, "Ill Lit," have anything to do with him? Also, what is the meaning behind the name?
Franz is an amazing poet. I took the name of one of his poems and also a book of poems for my band. The meaning of the name? The poem, Ill Lit, speaks to a cool and lovely experience that radiated with me - a spooky, side-note moment in life. Plus, I like how it looks on the page. I like that it is tough to say. I like the allusion to 'hip-hop.' It just fits with what I was after back then.
You really seem to enjoy poems. Have they been inspiring in some way and or affected your writing at all?
Constantly. I read a lot. And the poets: Wright, Berryman, Jarrell, Gluck, Carson and tons others have helped me. Lately, Jarrel and his ability to write the American experience so
well and so hauntingly.
Do you consider yourself a poet or a musician first?
I really, really respect poetry and poets. I am songwriter.
What do you like to write about the most? Is there a reoccurring theme in your lyrics or do you like to write about different things each time?
I steal a lot. I hear something and write it down. You write and write and the song starts to tell you. I am fascinated with experiences of travel and disjointed love and the language of silence in our lives, our unspoken missed chances and fumbles.
There are some musicians out there who don't want their fans to know about the meaning of their songs because they want the fans to form their own meaning. How do you feel about that?
I don't mind. I am glad to tell anyone who asks. And I am glad to have them have their own trip. And we are both right. My understanding of what I write and wrote about shifts as time changes. I think the "listening" is the connection. Think about how often we talk to each other and selective hear things. We hear what we are listening for.
What about music? You said that you listened to country and classical, and then electronic, but who would you say has been an inspiration or influence to you music-wise?
Different dudes at different points. Songwriters, Prince, Kristofferson, Cohen, Blakley, The boss. There are so many. I remember losing my mind over Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada and all the Warp stuff. I lived in NYC in the late 90's and was very involved in the Electronic night/club music scene. It was very exciting and wild and strange. That time is over. At least for me. NYC won't be the same anytime soon.
Have you worked with any musicians that you would say have affected your own music? If yes, who and when?
Michael Rozon (producer) he taught me how to listen. I worked with him from "I Need You" until the present. I am actually heading to his studio today to work on the record.
Was it just you in the beginning? There's a list of band members on Ill Lit's myspace page but are they just people you have worked with or actual band members?
In a way...yes. I was a part of a recording experience that fell apart. So, I decided I had to do this. I took a job selling Christmas trees in the coldest winter in NY history. A friend found me and offered me a studio to work in. Those are people I have worked with. Some longer than others, but it is always mainly me.
Did that have anything to do with your decision to start playing under your own name?
Well, a bunch of stuff happened. Friends were coming undone. The whole thing felt more murky than interesting and I got robbed.
That's unfortunate, and I can imagine it's not an easy thing to go through, but looking back now, would you say it was for the best?
It was the best thing. I couldn't have asked for something better. It was rough, but it got me to sit down and focus. I have cleared up a lot and I am writing more and more. I think Ill Lit had intention but never focus, for a long, long time I was too focused internally and didn't open up to the communicative aspect of music. I believe that was a hindrance, although necessary at the time.
Do you have plans to release a full length after the EP? Or do you plan to wait for a while?
I am working on a full length as we speak. It should be done in the next few months.
Now that's something to look forward to! Are you going to include any of the songs from the EP or will they be brand new songs?
Probably the first four. "Whitewashing" was a live recording we did in the studio so I want to keep that special for the EP. It's really why I wanted you to have it exclusive too.
Thank you for that! A lot of people that have checked out your music have seemed to enjoy it, they just don't know about it, or don't know where to find it. And that brings me to another question – back in 2001 myspace and other social networks were not around; was it harder to promote your music then than it is now? Just how did you do it back in the "old days” and has it been easy to adjust to all the changes now?
It is easier now. Much. Back then there was more touring. And more mail. Everyone was slower to the net. For me, I am a loner. I like to write. Read. I stay to the side. So the isolation aspect of the web/computer world - helps. About the side-ways industry deal, I think it is my fault. I gravitate to the left of it and I received many, many warnings to straighten out and focus on things I didn't care about. So, no hard feelings, industry.
Was it hard to get on a stage before people the first few times and does it get easier? And how often do you get to tour nowadays?
The performer’s trip came slow and awkward. But it has evened out. I get it more now. You get on stage and tell the story. I actually love it now. It is more like communication and that is always the answer. I do little tours now. Up and down the coast. Fly to NY and play a few shows, etc. Hard touring has taken a back seat in the past few years. It isn't a smart move. It is fun, but you get more done - writing and recording. I am going out bigger in the fall and next year, though.
Do you have any interesting tour stories to share? Musicians usually do!
I have a few weird stories. In short: I have played with a DJ who had no thumbs, stayed in a meth lab converted into a home with a lady who played me a Bach suite on viola, been accused of killing ducks by some crazed biker, left my guitar in NY and had romance under a full moon in Miami before we were told about the sharks...
I have been a little reserved about going out lately. I was writing and getting married last year...
Congratulations! You mention your wife quite a bit in your blog. How does she deal with all the touring and everything?
She is a dream. She is nothing but supportive and actually told me to go on the road back in ‘01 which started everything for me. I have so much support. So many loves who help me daily. I am very lucky.
That reminds me of a quote on your myspace that I found interesting, "I've been blessed with the good fortune of a great many people extending their kindness to me over the years. I am absolutely certain 'love' is the answer.” Could you expand on that?
I can say that I stand by it. Love is indeed the answer. The trouble is the tricky questions and the sometimes skewed perception of love. Don't you feel like the consciousness of the world is shifting? Granted in a clumsy slow fashion, but it is moving. We are entering the next, and I think love is the key.
Out of curiosity, how did you go from a nice title like "I Need You," for your debut, to "Tom Cruise" for your sophomore album?
The Tom Cruise thing is a reflection on a certain experience about internal realties and external appearances. It involves a few "celebrity" experiences that I am not allowed to talk about. I will just hint that it involves a notorious religious institution.
Just one last question because my love for politics is bugging me to do this: Obama or McCain in 08?