Who is Daniel Romano, and why is he breaking land-speed records for releasing albums?
That’s the question people are asking. And Romano, a prolific Ontario artist who excels in a variety of roots and rock genres, isn’t doing interviews at the moment. “He’s got a new album coming out in the fall,” his current publicist tells me. “Would you like to talk to him then?"
Sure, but what about the seven albums he’s put out in the past two and a half months?
The publicist, who works for You’ve Changed Records, the homespun label co-founded by Romano and fellow musician Steve Lambke, has no answers. Speaking from Nova Scotia – “It’s beautiful out here today” – the publicist suggests I speak to Lambke, who’s based half the year in New Brunswick and half in Toronto. “Steve can help you,” he says.
On March 15, Romano put out the 10-track Visions of the Higher Dream on his Bandcamp site. It’s a package of steel-guitar moments and lightly fluttering psychedelic rock with a vibe that suggests it was recorded on a yacht once owned by George Harrison. Available for an if-you-wouldn’t-mind price of $3, the out-of-the-blue music was to be available for a “14-day self-quarantine” period only.
The album is still online. “Often I step into somewhere and everything else slips away,” Romano sings on Boy in a Crow-skin Cap. “When I return, the melodies yearn, born of where no one can say.” Good. No need to ask Romano about his creative process – it’s all right there.
Since the arrival of Visions of the Higher Dream, Romano has released six more albums, including the previously announced Okay Wow, a live album with his band, the Outfit. That one was an “official” release. The other ones (Content to Point the Way, Dandelion, Spider Bite, Super Pollen and a tribute to Bob Dylan’s Infidels) are part of a digital-only weekly roll-out of music of vague origins. Some of it comes from previously unreleased archives, while others are newly recorded. More of it is still to come.
Of the collaborative power-pop EP Super Pollen, Romano explained it this way: “I have no idea when any of it was recorded and I definitely don’t remember doing it.”
As with Dylan, there’s a mischievous streak to Romano, whose recent outburst includes a book of love poems, At Last There Is No End. When he was making honky-tonk music in the early 2010s, Romano took to wearing retro razzle-dazzle stage clothes. At the time, Romano said the sixties-era Nashville suits were simply “evocative of the sounds.” It’s just as likely the duds were worn provocatively as a comment on the dubious question of “authenticity” in roots music. Or, maybe, the estate of alt-country icon Gram Parsons had a fire sale.
Romano keeps us guessing – a riddle wrapped in changing outfits inside a music business that gives side-eyes to the non-conformists.
“Daniel is playful, but only in the sense that he doesn’t follow the marketing schemes the industry consensus operates on,” You’ve Changed Records’ Lambke says. “I think it’s important to see him just as a very gifted and talented musician who is actually working very, very hard.”
Adds Rebecca Webster, a former publicist for Romano: “He’s a shape-shifter musically, and he’s not interested in following any linear model of promotion or industry-set way of garnering heat or interest for his music.”
Lambke, the former Constantines guitarist, is a friend who contributed to one of Romano’s pandemic-period records, the punk-rocking Spider Bite. He sees the artistic freedom Romano has cultivated not only as admirable, but as a kick in the pants to the music business.
“Some of the default things in the industry are cumbersome and not intelligent,” says Lambke, a gifted songwriter in his own right. “There’s a lot of room for reinvention, and I think we as makers and we as an audience are all going to be better off for the changes that might be coming.”
There’s that, Romano as the maverick. But I am reminded of something Dylan said when asked why he wrote poetry if his audience didn’t know what he was talking about. “Because I got nothing else to do, man,” the Jokerman-singing Dylan replied. Romano, one would think, abides.