When you listen to the songs of Chicago’s Dan Rico, there’s a comforting feeling that this is what you’re supposed to be listening to. It’s rock and roll, it’s pop, it’s everything that fits, it’s that chicken soup for the rocker’s soul. Then when you hear him discuss songwriting, it’s hard not to peg him as a hopeless romantic.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” he laughs. “A lot of the songs I write are more questioning the clichés and assumptions about relationships and romance. I like to write about love because I’m just trying to find subjects that are universal.”
Maybe that’s the word I was looking for. Rico writes songs that we can all relate to, and the music and hooks fit perfectly. Take “Roxy Goddamn” from his Nobody Knows EP.
“It’s kind of a lonely B-side,” he said. “That song is about a person I knew who was kind of a heartbreaker. So the idea is basically about somebody who a lot of different people I knew had a crush on and is sort of unaware of it. I thought it would be fun to do almost a musical style song, something you’d find in the middle of “Grease.” A lot of songs I write, a phrase will pop into my head and I’ll just write a song around that phrase and I thought that was a good one. The name Roxy has got this edge to it, but the song itself is just butter sweet.”
The same goes for his latest releases “Flesh and Bone” and “Gold Volvo.” The A-side of the single is a T-Rex tribute, while he digs into the American Dream with the B-side.
“I really wanted to do this classic Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Americana story of a person who leaves their small hometown for the big city and is out there going to shows and falling in love and doing the young person thing,” he said of “Gold Volvo.”
See what I mean about the hopeless romantic thing? But for Rico, his current objective is to dig deep into the past and come out with something new. That’s not just his job; it’s his passion.
“I like to compare it a lot to hip-hop using old soul and jazz samples,” he said. “That music might not be the hottest thing in town right now, but the people who do like it are the ones making the newer music. So that’s a cool function as an artist, to dig and research and be interested in things that maybe not everybody’s interested in and coming back and synthesizing it into something new and fresh.”
How does he get there? Well, that’s the fun part.
“I think that there’s a lot of access to older music, specifically music made in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and that’s because of the internet,” Rico said. “I know I personally spend a lot of time every week in self-induced research holes where I’m looking up old bands, listening to old songs and going on YouTube. There are so many amazing resources for learning about old music. There are some people out there who are pretty much obsessed with what’s new right now, what’s hot, what sounds cool, and I think for a lot of people, music acts as a form of self-identity, a flag or banner they can wave. And for a lot of those people, they like to construct themselves using whatever’s the most popular thing at the moment. But there’s a larger and larger group of people who see music from the past that’s already gained the credibility it deserves as a great place to start in terms of an interest in music. It’s like reading great literature as opposed to reading the New York Times Bestseller List or something.”
And in these days of electronic this and computer-generated that, Rico’s approach sounds as fresh as anything out there today. Maybe it’s that human element that puts it over the top.
“I write with a lot of pop elements, but there’s an earnestness to the way it’s been recorded and the singing and all that kind of stuff, and there’s an organic edge to it that wasn’t a decision made in the production or something, but that’s actually part of the music,” he said. “It’s my background playing in rock bands and punk bands, and that’s the way I communicate this sort of pop music.”
This weekend, New York gets their dose of Dan Rico, as he plays Our Wicked Lady in Brooklyn on Friday and Footlight in Queens on Saturday. And yes, the Big Apple is still a big deal for this kid from the Windy City.
“I think it is a big deal,” Rico said. “I know personally, based on the way that I feel when I’m in New York City, there’s definitely a heightened sense of excitement. I like to walk around there and everything’s amplified times ten in New York, and I just feel fiercely independent whenever I’m there for some reason.”
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