FOREWORD: Beginning their career as innocent religious teens hooked on popular secular music, Danielson Famile (shortened to Danielson) have become challenging art-pop architects with an appreciable cult audience. Led by falsetto-voiced guitarist, Daniel Smith (now a Rutgers grad), they gained a good underground rep mostly due to the small-scale success of ‘97s super-fine Tell Another Joke At The Ol’ Choppin’ Block. Grunge producer was recruited to record ‘01s Fetch The Compass Kids and Smith went solo for ‘04s Brother Is To Son. By ’06, the entire Danielson crew got back in the studio for hard rockin’ masterpiece, Ships. This was luckily the one and only impersonal fax interviews I ever had to do (in ’98). This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Refreshingly reaching out to teenyboppers and serious music fans alike, Clarksboro, New Jersey’s fresh-faced Danielson Famile conquer unexplored pop territory on the striking masterpiece, Tell Another Joke At The Ol’ Choppin’ Block (peculiarly released by metal-edged label, Tooth & Nail). Combining lighthearted humor and cuddly harmonies with a hardcore commitment to God, family, and close relationships, this wondrously enigmatic, wholly ambitious sextet (made up of Smith siblings Daniel, David, Andrew, Rachel, and Megan, along with keyboardist Chris X) tug at the heart and challenge the mind. They tear down generational gaps through insouciant originals.
Though dressed in surgical white outfits at live shows, the Danielson’s songs never resort to campy novelty. While their rudimentary instrumentation, casual nursery rhymes, and innocent childlike appearance make them safely accessible to pre-teens to enjoy, their sophisticatedly twisted arrangements distinguish them as serious musicians. Rarely has such purity and wholesomeness been so successfully combined with clarity of vision, sense of purpose, and sheer enthusiasm.
Idiosyncratic New York underground legend, Kramer, supplies unobtrusive, even-handed production for the simple to intricate pop structures. Piercing falsettos and lovely sopranos rise above twinkled bells, stately piano, and strummed acoustic guitar on swell compositions such as spiritually enlightened “The Lord’s Rest,” matrimonial dreamscape I Am My Beloved’s,” conscientious-minded “Me To Datee,” and organ-soaked “Deviled Egg.” “Flesh Thang’s” youthful vigor and charged up refrains seem to recall the Talking Heads “Up All Night” while the expansive, improvised whirlwind, “Jokin’ At The Block,” could be a baptismal retreat.
Fronted by compassionate 24-year-old guitarist-vocalist Daniel Smith, the Danielson Famile provide joyous stimulation for a complicated world wracked with uncertainty and pandemonium.
The following are comments provided by Daniel via fax from Norway, where the band had begun an early ’98 European tour.
Who were some of your favorite musical artists while growing up?
DANIEL: In order of time from 1975: The Beatles, Peter Paul & Mary, Eddie Rabbitt, Top 40 radio, Def Leppard, U2, Bob Dylan, ‘80s new wave.
How do most of your songs come together lyrically and instrumentally?
DANIEL: I discover the songs with my acoustic guitar, lyrically and structurally. I then – depending on what the song calls for – show them to my family and they play accordingly. They are very good at it.
How did Kramer’s production help? How eccentrically weird is he compared to some of his obtusely abstruse works?
DANIEL: Kramer is good at making us sound like we were recorded in heaven. He has been very kind, and helpful, not weird at all.
As Christians, what are your opinions on abortion, pre-marital sex, and drugs?
DANIEL: We believe in a life of pure love, relationships, and creativity. The High Spirit makes it happen.
Why are you so proud to be a Jersey band?
DANIEL: New Jersey is finally gonna get the respect it deserves. New York hates it. Philly hates it. New Jersey itself is split into north and south. South resents the north. New Jersey needs support internally. We will no longer be laughed at and I am proud to say I’ve always been here. Let the New Jersey creative force begin.
Who are your favorite local bands?
DANIEL: My friend Don Zimmerman is a brilliant songwriter. We just finished recording his new album in my house. Scientific, Chris P., Superbeast, and of course, our dad, Lenny Smith, are faves. We are South Jersey. It’s a different world down here.
What does each individual member bring to the Danielsons that is truly distinct?
DANIEL: I can’t say what we are doing in the overall spectrum of music. I’ll let others decide that.