I’ll come right out and say it: Dan Bauer is far too overlooked. This New Hampshire native made my list of NH artists to watch this year, and his upcoming album promises to be his best work to date.
That’s not something we should take for granted, especially with the bar set by his 2020 LP The After Life.
As an excavator of bands in dive bars to big label acts, I can earnestly say that Bauer’s skill belies his humble audience size. His songs shimmer with hints of Hot Water Music’s rough brand of pop punk. His arrangements are textured. His hooks are big. And, perhaps above all else, it feels authentic.
That’s perhaps the biggest question: who is he writing for? Even with its fair share of accessible moments, The After Life is cemented in grand ambition. Several tracks top six minutes, but the whole album is one continuous piece. This is too strategic, too art-driven, to be claimed as any form of pandering. But this is the kind of album that should be catching attention.
Consider for a moment that Bauer is not unique in this respect. I know what it’s like to pour thousands of dollars and hours and hours into a big project only to have it flop. It’s one of the most discouraging things if your motivation for creation is driven by others. But it’s internal perseverance that can withstand this degree of disappointment. For some, to not create is to live a life on mute.
Bauer’s music does read like a journal. “So it’s been six whole months just bein’ sad,” the album begins. These are reflective, biographical songs. There is most certainly some therapy here, but this is far too intricate to simply be a case of personal problems vomitted over listeners.
A 49-minute rock opera in the age of 30-minute albums is certainly noteworthy. Disregarding the album’s deceptive “mumble rap” cover art, these are professionally arranged and recorded songs full of potential. I say “potential” not because the tracks lack within themselves, but the audience is what holds these tracks back. “The Balance” is as sing-along-worthy as much of what’s on the radio, but none of your drunk friends will be able to join in.
Bauer balances his oft-serious lyrics about depression, grief, and trying to navigate the demands of life with upbeat, catchy punk-adjacent arrangement and some pretty creative marketing. I cannot say this enough—it feels authentic. Many of the tracks here are explicit, but even so, things never feel vulgar or excessive. There are very few artists that pull this off well, but Bauer’s word choice seems so inconsequential in this one respect that you might completely miss some of the expletives. It’s odd to say he pulls it off tastefully, but it seems like an appropriate description.
It’s also worth noting Bauer’s growing collection of music videos and skits. The “High Strung” video was shot in one single take with no effects or tricks. It’s a great way to show Bauer’s ability as a multi-instrumentalist. As a videographer, I loved seeing the behind-the-scenes take on things. And the semi-live take of “The Balance” isn’t just a creative video—it’s the essence of guerilla marketing.
Naturally, the rumors of Bauer’s forthcoming album being his best yet certainly manage to stir to the waters. To be sure, The After Life is not a flawless release—but there are plenty of very strong moments here paired with an ambitious concept and powerful execution. If this is to be considered his early work, the future seems limitless.
I had a chance to chat with Dan a bit and get his insight into the past, present, and future of his work.
CG: How long did writing and recording The After Life take? What did the process look like?
DB: I wrote the opening track in October of 2018, and at the time I had no plans of writing another album about heartbreak and misery and all that jazz. But, as the months passed, something innate within myself kept bringing songs to the surface, and I completed writing the tracks in August 2019. I got out of another relationship at that time, which allotted me the freedom to really express myself without hesitation as the recording got underway. For my next album, ya boi was single as hell the entire time, so there was much less tip-toeing around subjects, if you will. Love, Muffin, my 2018 release, was basically entirely a passion project. I wrote, recorded, produced, and engineered the whole thing in about 4-6 weeks, and made one post about it on my personal Facebook post the next year. So The After Life was certainly different in the sense that it’s an album whose content I was comfortable sharing from the outset. Looking back, I think I honestly may even like Love, Muffin a bit more, due to its raw, immediate passion. Plus “Dream Come True” is on there, and that’s one of my best jams for sure. Overall, though, The After Life, was much more professional, cohesive, and sonically-consistent. And had better artwork *shoulder shrug emoji*
CG: Why did you choose a seamless format? What was the process for creating an album like this?
DB: After piecing together the five-or-so parts that made “Six Whole Months” flow smoothly in the same key, I thought it’d be cool to just run with that theme for the album as a whole. The songs themselves were written chords-and-melodies first, with lyrics coming last. I had ~30 potential song outlines to work with for the album, but chose the nine that I felt worked best and most cohesively. Feel free to creep the ‘Gram (@danbauermusic) to see my July 2020 post of my master album outline board. One final note on this topic, I will say, I was very proud of having written the entire thing in the same key, too (C#), and didn’t rely on trickery or studio effects to transition between tracks. Front-to-back, I wanted the entire thing to be playable as one giant song, and I’d like to think I achieved that in a pretty unique way.
CG: Even though you handled all of the instrumental and vocal responsibilities, who else was part of the process?
DB: I definitely ran some songs by friends along the way, but I’ll say this: I am absolutely a control freak artistically, so I wasn’t really going to listen to much of anyone’s artistic critiques anyway, if I’m being totally honest. The way I frame it is that I’m writing this album about my life experience, and it’d be odd and a bit disingenuous to alter that because one of my buddies thinks so, you know? So yes, I wrote, produced, recorded, and performed everything on here, but the album definitely wouldn’t have sounded professional if it weren’t for mix engineer, and fellow New Hampshire musician, Zach Zyla.
CG: What was it like releasing an album in the midst of a year where live music came to a halt? Did you consider postponing the release at all?
DB: So ironically, I got the itch to get a band together in early 2019, and directed the music on “The After Life” to be conducive to live band performances (a lot of guitar/drums/bass/vocals arrangements). However, that obviously went out the window, and I’m actually glad it did, because it took this element completely out of consideration as I wrote and recorded my follow-up, which will feature a much more vast array of sounds and arrangements. Quarantine life had me jobless for a stretch of time in the spring/summer, which allowed me plenty of time to create skits, new music, music videos, and really flesh out The After Life to be all that it could sound-wise prior to release. And, no, I never considered postponing my album, only my filing my taxes tbh.
CG: What was the reception like? What would you do differently for the next album?
DB: I definitely didn’t get my marketing ducks in a row prior to album launch this time around, so on a commercial level, The After Life would probably be considered a flop. But by my own metric of personal satisfaction with the product, I’m still very proud of the work I put in and the end result, whether the masses have heard it or not. I have received some very touching words of encouragement and positive feedback from friends and fans old and new, as well as some music reviewers, and I’m very thankful for all the kind words. Next album around, I hope to learn from the mistakes I made during this past release cycle in terms of marketing and press, etc. It meant a lot to me to hear that my album affected some people in positive way, so I’d love to do this again next time, but on a larger scale.
CG: Your marketing and videos feel both more creative and authentic than many other artists. What inspired you to take this approach?
DB: I saw this meme sometime last year that took random bands’ photos and swapped out their respective logos for the Kohl’s one, and I realized how much of a put-on half (…most) of these people out there are when it comes to their “image.” I realized that personality and authenticity were two missing factors in my marketing approach and that I was falling into the same “I’m a hurting artist, so look at how introspective and hurting I look” cliche that a lot of my peers were. I’m not a sad guy, I just went through some sad times, and I just decided that I’m done with trying to conjure up some image that might be the smart approach or on-brand, yadda yadda. Just be yourself. And if, for me, that means writing songs about loss and making dad jokes at an annoying rate, then that’s what it’s gonna be.
CG: How has being a solo artist shaped your approach to “wearing many hats”? Do you enjoy the multi-disciplinary approach or do you wish you could just focus on the music?
DB: There are parts of marketing and the practical stuff that I’m coming around to gain an appreciation for now that I’m having fun with that part of the equation, but I for sure would love to be able to just stick to writing and making albums. That and music videos. I truly love coming up with ideas for them and have directed all of the ones I’ve made to date (as a singer/songwriter and rapper—we don’t have to talk about it…). Within even just the musical part of this question, I love playing all the instruments on my albums and consider it a labor of love. Even if I do eventually get a consistent backing band, I absolutely foresee myself still writing and performing all the bass and drum parts. The creativity never stops.
CG: Why is humor so effective at creating human connection?
DB: I feel that humor, much like music or any art form, has a special transcendental ability that lifts the hardened shell off its audience for those brief, special moments. It’s like when David Blaine goes and does street magic—everyone, from tourists to gang members to celebrities, have the same look of awe and joy on their faces when he pulls out the ace of spades. These are the magic, disarming moments in life, and if my antics and nonsense can help someone loosen up for a minute of their day, then all the better.
CG: You’re currently working on a new release planned for this year. Is there anything you’d like to share about the upcoming album?
DB: I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say that I’m very proud of it. It’s the Sgt. Pepper of my musical catalogue thus far, and there is maybe one track on it that would fit in on The After Life sound-wise.
CG: What’s your musical background? Who inspires you as a songwriter?
DB: Well I started playing drums at 13, guitar at 15, and piano and bass at 17, and had been singing, much to the displeasure of my various neighbors, all along the way. As a songwriter, I’ve had countless inspirations along the way, but some of my favorites are Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Jeff Lynne (ELO), Elton John, Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Jeff Rosenstock, and so many more. Production-wise, I’ve also been hugely inspired by Kanye West, Wilco, and Brian Wilson.
CG: How do you feel about your local scene? Is it conducive to your creative efforts? Do you ever think about moving somewhere else?
DB: This is actually a question I’ve been mulling over quite a bit over the past couple years, as the music (and, frankly, dating) scene in NH perhaps may not be particularly conducive to my life goals. If I do finally flee home this year, I’ll be sure to pack some melodies with me.
CG: Are there any local acts you’re friends with? Anyone you’d like to play a show with?
DB: Oddly enough, most of my local music friends come on the hip-hop side of things, as I performed as a rapper/producer from 2015-2018. The Minds of One Collective Genius crew (@mocgmedia) are really cool dudes and good friends. Also, Rhode Island band Rather Nice are cool as hell, and I’d like to play a show with them this summer sometime.
CG: Favorite pizza chain?
DB: Papa Gino’s and it’s not particularly close.
CG: Anything else you want to share?
DB: Certainly not my Papa Gino’s. But yeah, pretty much that I have a standalone single coming up for a May release, as well as two more from my album before it drops later this summer. And music videos—there’s gonna be some rad ones coming up, and if you’re a fan of music videos with unique concepts, feel free to check out the two linked in this article. Thanks, Casey, and thank you (yes, you!) for taking the time to read this. Can’t wait to share all the music I’ve got on the horizon with all of you soon!