Danny Weinkauf is the Grammy-winning musician and songwriter behind No School Today. He plays bass with They Might Be Giants, has a dog named Dr. B, and today, he's the subject of our creator interview!
batteryPOP: When did you start writing music, and what was the first song you wrote about?
Danny: I first picked up guitar towards the end of high school and I think I always felt drawn to the idea of writing my own music. Just messing around with chords and ideas trying to create something new is really fun for me.The first complete song I can recall that I actually played for anyone else was called "Jane" which was about a couple who are parting ways and the guys thinks that maybe they shouldn't wait too long to get back together. Pretty standard stuff I guess. I remember writing it very quickly because my friend Francis was coming over to write a song with me and I wanted to have something ready. When he showed up the song was done. He and I still write together. (Look for those tunes on next album - haha).
batteryPOP: Each "No School Today" video is totally different than the next. How did you come up with so many different styles?
Danny: Well, there's a very simple explanation for that which is that I used a different director on each song. I had to wear many hats making this album - writing and playing all the instruments, producing, supervising art work, booking shows, finding a band, etc. etc. So, I left the video creation to people way more qualified. These were artists whose work I admired. I did ultimately give direction and make suggestions at times but for the most part I encouraged them to do their thing and it was exciting for me to see where they would take each song.
batteryPOP: How do you decide what to write a song about?
Danny: Sometimes songs are directly inspired by what is going on around me. For example my wife and I were playing around making up silly songs with my daughter one morning and she said "you guys would sing a song about anything." So, I wrote a song called " A Song about Anything." When They Might Be Giants was making a science themed album it was very natural for me to write a song about Paleontology ("I am a Paleontologist" from Here Comes Science) because my son was completely obsessed with dinos as a young boy so all the information was already in my head. Sometimes I'll research a topic that seems interesting and see where that goes and other times the ideas seem to just come to you on their own.
batteryPOP: What was your favorite thing to do on days when you didn't have school?
Danny: I used to love to listen to records - yes, the vinyl kind. My mom worked in a Sam Goody (where they sold records in the olden times) so she could get a discount. I loved all the British bands - the Beatles, the Kinks, the Who, etc. etc. Also, playing all kinds of sports on the street with my friends. We would get pretty banged up all the time but it was ok because we were young and indestructible!
batteryPOP: What got you interested in music when you were young?
Danny: The Beatles - I love lots of different music but it was their music that inspired me the most.
batteryPOP: How is a bass guitar different from a regular guitar?
Danny: Well, the basic difference is that the bass notes are an octave lower than a guitar's but the roles that they play in music is a bigger difference. Ideally, they should compliment each other and combine to support the song in the best possible way. The song is the whole point of the music.
batteryPOP: Who is your favorite musician to listen to?
Danny: Funny, I started with the Beatles and I constantly return to them for inspiration. I love many many styles of music and musicians. Here's a list of some favorites:
The Beatles, They Might Be Giants, David Bowie, Radiohead, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, Miles Davis, Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, Jimi Hendrix, Beethoven, Schubert, Tom Waits, the Kinks, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Cake, Ben Folds, Founds of Wayne, Mike Viola, the Beach Boys, Keith Jarret, St. Vincent, Talking Heads, Smiths, Cure, REM, Paul Simon, Queen, Beck, Spoon, Clash, Ramones, Outkast, James Brown, Willie Dixon, Ohio Players. Supremes, Earth Wind and Fire, Bach, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery, Jeff Beck, Imogen Heep, Rufus Wainwright, Bill Evans, Jelly Roll Morton, etc. etc.
These days my very favorite would have to be my son Kai. He's a great singer and as his Dad I just love to hear what he can do with his voice. It's amazing!
Thanks so much to Danny for answering all our questions! You can check out the videos from his album No School Today HERE on batteryPOP!