Creative Quarantine: Musician Daniel Santrella

Daniel Santrella, Portrait Green Glasses | Photo Credit Rebecca Ashford

Daniel Santrella recently spoke with Esthetic Lens about his musical collaborations all moving online; how this has opened up the opportunity to revisit, reconnect, and share again with some of his past collaborators. He discusses how our current situation has given him the opportunity to reframe his thought process and learn from it.

1. How are you holding up?

Yeah… How long have we been doing this quarantine thing again? Peak quarantine was almost youthful, exciting. That sudden change of pace was fully invited. I joked with my wife at the time that I hoped it wouldn’t end, but the elasticity of those thoughts have since snapped. Truthfully, I feed off the energy of other people. All my creative endeavors are wrapped in a series of long and short-lived collaborations, and I miss being surrounded by all those outside voices. That said, I tend to run at the highest end of the optimism spectrum and I have an abundance of blessings to count. I have had far more good than bad days during this stretch.   

Pretty Heavy, Spotify Profile | Photo Credit: Anthony Chavez

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

Never thought I’d say this, but I miss the smell of a spitty microphone. I’ve spent as much of the last 10 years as possible in and out of studios, from some of the worst to some of the finest, but I’ve had to up my home studio game over the past few months – an open concept loft was such a good idea pre-COVID… However, it’s been fun, I might even call it productive.

Most of my collaborations went digital, ala (Chicago pop duo) Pretty Heavy, and some like Billy Jesus (folk/americana) went dark. There have been surprises too, the old indie-rock outfit I played with, Audiences, scattered across the globe long before COVID, but here we are passing around demos between London, Palm Springs, and Chicago, for the first time since our last release 7 years ago. Another, deeply, old fling, The Howl Moon, (electronic) is starting to do the same.

All my creative endeavors are wrapped in a series of long and short-lived collaborations, and I miss being surrounded by all those outside voices.

It’s funny, the first show I ever played – in my life – was at the Double Door with The Howl Moon. I had written a song on the piano, and I am a TERRIBLE piano player, but reckless and empty of the stage fright that peppered the latter half of my career playing with Audiences, I got up there that night and played piano to the shaggy type of crowd the Double Door was notoriously good at providing. I wore a suit, because as I told my parents “I was going to work”, and I wore my darkest pair of sunglasses because of the back-up piano player (•̀ᴗ•́)و ̑̑… Anyways, he told me to wear sunglasses, said the lights on that stage were bright. As it turns out, my piano playing was objectively terrible, thank God for back-ups, he really played first chair that night as I fumbled around the ivories until that second chorus. The brightest moment of that night was not the stage lights or jazzy, shagadelic response from the thinning crowd. The brightest moment was sinking into a war-torn chair in the dimly lit green room, sandwiched in the basement of one of Chicago’s milestone rock venues. That venue is now a Yeti store, but I lived that moment time and time again with Audiences, in studios across Nashville, and on really hot days in the summer of 2019 with the other half of Pretty Heavy, Tyler Ryssemus. It’s the moment, imbued with the joy of having allowed yourself to be truly vulnerable, to have followed your creativity, your curiosity, your passion and to have succeeded. I have not found a digital recreation of that feeling. It’s not the same to stream live, enter the studio via Zoom, or release single after single to an audience of internet ears. There is something very tacit and human and remarkably real about that moment that evades my capture in COVID times. AND It is the only thing that successfully slows me down. I will chase that jello-like, deep water feeling over and over again for the rest of my life.

Beyond that, I’ve got more tracks in the works with artist/DJ, Devon James (EDM/house), I’m working on a screenplay, and continue to catalogue deeply silly character voices that I genuinely hope spark the ears of a great animator looking for voice actors. Are you an animator? Do you have the hookup?

Cover of “Won’t Rest” by Pretty Heavy | ©Daniel Santrella

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

It would be uniquely funny to answer this question with “no”, haha! If you’re reading this because I linked you here or you’re already familiar with Esthetic Lens, I think it’s safe to say we all have a penchant to learn and grow and the horrors we face as a global community doesn’t negate that deep internal feeling. I look at this as a moment to reframe my thought process from -when will things get back to normal- to -what can I learn, not in spite of, but because of our current context. For me, it’s allowed me both the time and the curiosity to level-up my production skills. Pretty Heavy released some tracks with Minneapolis based hip-hop artist, Uncle T earlier this summer, and I’m really proud of the work we did behind the scenes there. I hope the discipline remains to stay in tune with that part of the craft.

I look at this as a moment to reframe my thought process from -when will things get back to normal- to -what can I learn, not in spite of, but because of our current context.

4. Of the artists you follow, who is handling this particularly well?

Paul Moody: As I understand it, just about the time we declared a national emergency, Paul was wrapping up a record in upstate New York, but wound up hauled up there for an entire month or more. A benefit to us all since Paul has been releasing tunes nearly every week this summer. Consistently good, with lyrics that range between emotionally crushing to downright hilarious.

Mike Maimone celebrated a move from Chicago to Nashville hot on the heels of the pandemic, but I haven’t seen him slow down since between fantastic live streams and new content. He’s one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met and just so happens to be devastatingly good at piano. I miss Mutts shows and seeing this guy jump up, feet first, onto his keyboard (literally).

Joe George Most people are familiar with Joe from the endlessly fascinating content he puts out with, but when I think of Joe I immediately think of the Red Room. A tiny, non-mappable, speakeasy-style venue that’s hosted outrageously good music for the last several years. Of course, the Red Room isn’t open these days, but Joe was kind enough to line up some great musicians for a night in the park. In these simpler times it was an incredible night, and sadly the only live music I’ve witnessed between March and today. You know, Joe’s just a really good person and he’s always putting out something worth a watch or a listen.

5. Are there any artists, albums, or genres of music you’ve been drawn to during the crisis? If so, why?

You know, during a time that just feels sort of monotonous I try not to have much on repeat, and like my own work, I’m switching genres constantly. I could list the blunder of new music discoveries I’ve had over the past several months, but if you’re looking for something that’ll get you out of your head two records come to mind. The only real staples I’ve been spinning with some frequency, 1969 by Jorge Ben Jor and Acid by Ray Barreto. These two albums are able to seamlessly whisk me away. Back to endless nights out at Estereo, looking ahead at a long, open road, and drinking tequila to what was my defacto signature toast: “you don’t know what happens next”. And, as nearly no one predicted, we find ourselves here today. The joke with my friends has always been that come those wee hours of the morning, a tinge greener in complexion, we tend to start trading tequila for water when it’s pretty clear, I know what’s going to happen next.   

Daniel Santrella, writing | Photo Credit: Kurt Schmidt

Daniel Santrella is a perpetual tinkerer and creator of things, mostly musical things.

Daniel Santrella can be found online:

Instagram: @danielwritessongs , @prettyheavymusic

Spotify: Pretty Heavy