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Interview: Dan Zanes

The eclectic kindie rock musician chats about his new album, Little Nut Tree, his teenage daughter and what he and Dan Deacon have in common.

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Dan Zanes

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Dan Zanes

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Dan Zanes

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Dan Zanes

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

    Dan Zanes

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Dan Zanes

He's tried out genres like gospel and show tunes, but family music legend Dan Zanes is returning to his eclectic roots with Little Nut Tree, the official follow-up to 2006's Catch That Train. We chatted with the popular artist about new songs, old albums and what it's like to be the dad of a teen.

How is this CD different from your recent discs?
After we made Catch That Train, I was learning to speak Spanish. I was so aware of the bilingual nature of New York and the rest of the country that the only thing I could imagine doing was putting out a record of songs from different parts of Latin America [2008's Nueva York]. Then, seeing the nature of deportation and how cruel that system is, it only seemed right to do a record to benefit the New Sanctuary movement [2009's The Welcome Table]. With 2010's 76 Trombones, Paul McCartney's publishing company approached us to see if we wanted to do an album with the Broadway songs he owns. Before you knew it, we'd made three themed CDs. So it's great to get back to the way we started out—with a record that's all over the place. It's long overdue.

What are your favorite tunes on the new album?
"Wake Up Baby!" is a really good live song. It's a duet I sing with Shawana Kemp of Shine and the Moonbeams. I met her over the last year and she's such a gifted artist. And I feel like I said something I really wanted to say on "Summer Trains," now that my daughter is 16: reflecting on times we've had together and how quickly those years go by. I don't know if kids are going to relate to that one at all, but parents probably will.

Has being the father of a teenager impacted your songwriting?
Not directly, but different things are on my mind because I have a 16-year-old. The craziest thing is when I see the music that she likes, and when she talks to me about what going to a Dan Deacon concert is like. All I can think is, That sounds just like a Dan Zanes and Friends concert with more drunk people!

Will your fans have to wait another five years for the official successor to Little Nut Tree?
I don't know, but probably not [Laughs]! Growing up, there was a Christmas party in town every year. My grade-school music teacher would play the piano and we'd sing the same eight or nine songs from a little songbook. I want to record those songs for the holiday season. I've also been talking with Elizabeth Mitchell about taking a weekend to record a bunch of old-time songs together. Those will be the next things I do.

Dan Zanes plays at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Oct 2.

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