Danny Schmidt’s new album Standard Deviation (due out March 8) starts off with a beautiful song about his daughter, “Just Wait Til They See You.” In a recent interview, Schmidt noted that he wrote the song when his daughter was a newborn baby, as he adjusted to fatherhood and marveled at the tiny person who had entered his life.
Schmidt has always been a gifted songwriter when it comes to marveling over life’s greatest wonders, from friendship and love to the natural world, all of which can be heard across the ten albums he’s released over the past two decades. But he says fatherhood has challenged him to open his heart even further.
Below is an excerpt from our recent conversation, as well as a preview of the new album—a beautiful, intensely personal rumination on all the things that truly matter in life. If you thought it wasn’t possible for Danny Schmidt to dig deeper, you were wrong. On Standard Deviation, his songs are vulnerable and provocative at once. It’s a lovely reminder to appreciate everything for what it is.
Kim Ruehl: Tell me about the song “Just Wait Til They See You” and how you came to write it.
Danny Schmidt: We started the record with it because it was about my daughter, and that … seemed like an appropriate starting point.
I wrote it when she was taking a nap one day, when she was a little baby. It has a little bit of a lullaby sound to it. I think I was probably singing under my breath, to not wake her up.
There’s that feeling when the baby’s little and when you’re trying to get them to go to sleep. It’s a little treasured moment. The whole world settles down for a moment, I think. [So the song is] just kind of about, in the bigger picture, being so overwhelmingly involved with these new little creatures when they come into your life, even more than you thought that you would be. There’s this impulse to want to share their beauty with everybody. … [It’s] basically a love song, trying to share that with everybody.
KR: Do you think being a parent, as a writer, has changed the lens through which you see the stuff you want to write about?
DS: Yes, in the sense that it shifts your whole perspective on what’s important and what’s not important in the world—not as a writer, but just as a human being. A lot of the stuff that used to seem important and occupied a lot of your brain just seems real trivial all of a sudden. And the bigger things seem a lot more important.
You can shrug off global warming as this giant thing that’s coming, and sort of sigh about the state of humanity … but all of a sudden, there’s this person, this life … it matters how the world gets left to her. [There’s also] the obvious thing of not having the same pattern of time to write, that will change what you write a lot. Then there’s this filter of what’s actually important enough to bother to write about.
KR: I was stunned, reading your bio, that you’ve been doing this for 20 years. Ten albums in 20 years is a big round number. What have you learned as a writer and as a human in that time?
DS: I think from an artistic standpoint, I’ve learned to trust my own instincts more. … One of the hardest parts about being an artist is being willing to follow your own sensibility with each line or word or melody or stylistic shift and believe in it and get behind it, whether or not it’s getting any positive or negative feedback from people. I think that’s ultimately what defines your own unique voice in the world.
Especially nowadays, there’s not that much industry in support of artists outside the mainstream, so you have to rely on your own confidence that what you’re making is unique and worth it, and if you weren’t making it then it just wouldn’t exist in the world. It’s good for the world to have that stuff.
The longer I’ve had to write different songs and live with them for a while and give myself feedback on them over the years, the more I trust my own sensibilities about it now.
March 9 – Cactus Café – Austin, TX
March 29 – Anderson Fair – Houston, TX
June 2 – Kerrville Folk Festival – Kerrville, TX
June 22 – Wyldwood Shows – Austin, TX
July 12-14 – High Mountain Hay Fever Festival – Westcliffe, CO
July 17 – Telluride Americana Music Festival – Telluride, CO
September 14 – Austin Acoustical Café – Austin, TX
October 12 – Sycamore Creek Concerts – Dripping Springs, TX