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A Conversation with Daniel Donato

Kevin Carr


To preface the following, I’d first like to say how amazing it was to speak with Daniel, someone who I’ve admired as a musician for some time, and how kind and open he was in our dialogue. I could not include everything we spoke of in this piece, or else it would have been more than ten pages long and it would be wrong for me to put you in a position of possibly finding this piece tedious to read, especially with such an interesting conversation with an even more interesting person and artist. However, the content that I kept included in this piece should help summarize Daniel Donato as a person, guitarist, and artist to those who have never heard of him, and provide a more in depth view into his world for the people who already know of him. The full 40-minute zoom video of our conversation will be available on our website for those interested in hearing more.


I hope you enjoy reading our conversation, and be sure to check out Daniel Donato on his social media, listen to his new Cosmic Country album, A Young Man’s Country, and go see a show!



WHO IS DANIEL DONATO?

D:

Daniel Donato is the founder of Cosmic Country. Cosmic Country is for fans of the Grateful Dead, jam bands, and country music, specifically like honky tonk older-time country music. I’ve played over 2,000 shows, I’m 25 years old, I started by busking out in the streets of Nashville earning tips, and then I ended up, through diligently being persistent for every week for about 3 years, getting into the most famous house band in Nashville, pretty much Nashville history and one of the most famous venues in Nashville. Ended up playing over 500 shows there and then I’ve had a career touring with other artists since then. And for the past 2 years I’ve been focusing on my own solo career which is Cosmic Country.


K:

So, Cosmic Country, would you call it more of a genre or just kind of the vision of what you want in your life?


D:

Yeah it’s both! So the way that genre functions in regards to what music is, it’s very much that. You can call my music country, you can call it jam band, people call it blues influenced, rock influenced, folk, and americana is probably what it’d become after being put to radio. But visionary wise, or in regards to vision rather, yes absolutely. Cosmic Country is an aesthetic, it’s a way of living life, and it’s a sound to music. I’m learning more of that each day really.


K:

That’s awesome. I feel like a lot of the music we surround ourselves with and what we do on our own, and as you do it more and more, it becomes your own energy. But I really love how you have the whole Cosmic Country thing so established.


D:

Yea, I’m really big fan on the present tense observation of life, so I’m establishing it presently each day, and I’m the kind of person where I need to remind myself of that because I’ll think there’s no more time left, or I’ll think for some reason that there’s not more work to be had, like the opportunities went arise. So I appreciate you taking notice of it man, that means the world. That’s the biggest thing that we’re looking for, to bring value to the people that want to hear it.


WHAT WAS THE NUMBER ONE THING THAT LEAD TO YOUR SUCCESS?

D:

My work ethic. In middle school, I had my first ego death, and not even in a psychedelic way! But I realized I wasn’t...well so I used to wrestle a lot when I was younger and I was really good. But I was good for a child. I got to states several times and I placed, and I loved it. It was my life and it had always been, things have always been very intense for me. Then I ended up just not keeping up. I wasn’t an athlete. And so that’s when guitar came into my life. So perfectly, and so fittingly.


So that’s what middle school was, but high school...that was the start of me trying to make it into a career. As soon as I learned what a career was, music was going to be it. Guitar was going to be it. Then it keeps on, through working with my talent and working to create opportunities with that talent, so work on two fronts, that is what I think lead to the momentum that I’ve gained so far.


K:

That’s so cool man, I think that’s so great and influential on people. They see how much you’ve worked...you know, so repetitive, repetitive, over and over and staying so persistent with your work ethic, it just shows being where you are right now and how much that works for people. I feel it’s a success story and you should be really proud of that.


D:

Right on, thank you for saying that. Man, I try to be proud of myself each day, and then also try to forget anything that I’ve ever done. I can always approach something with a more clear grasp on reality.


K:

I love that big idea stuff. Each day you learn something new about how to approach the world. It knocks you down and picks you right back up. There’s these overall themes that follow you in your life and each day you relearn it.


D:

Oh wow yeah absolutely, I’ll raise the “Stealy” cup to that one! (Raises Grateful Dead mug)


K:

I think that’s a big part of the Cosmic Country vibe, it’s just the little things in life that you can’t explain.


D:

Oh, I mean yeah, come on! So serendipity...well, that’s the thing too, that the definition of something cosmic means to be expansive beyond belief, or beyond understanding. Understanding, to me, is even more than belief because you can find yourself being trapped in your beliefs that might diminish your sense of understanding. Your sense of understanding, you know, that’s your ceiling as a person and as a thinker. So to add cosmic into the thing just opens the floodgates for all things wonderful. So the fact that you’re picking up on that, when we’ve never really communicated that in a prior dialogue...that me to me is just the coolest thing. So that’s awesome. The Grateful Dead were probably the only band that ever instructed, or not in a way that instructed, but suggested a way of looking at life.


K:

Yeah! They really create their own world in every song, just...oh go we could go down a rabbit hole talking about them, but I’ll hold off since I got some questions about them for later on.


HOW HAVE YOU DEVELOPED AS A PLAYER AND PERSON SINCE PICKING UP THE GUITAR?

D:

Well, so that’s 13 years of my life, so I guess I don’t even know, I would be silly to think that I know at all. But I would say focus. Focus has always been very real for me. I always remember when I was younger, and even still to this day, I very much so don’t have a problem scratching out a month of not seeing people and just working. That’s a real thing and I’ve always been able to do that. I was always kind of a social oddity in the culture that I was in growing up in.


So focus, but always having someone in your life that will tell you when you’re wrong. Because you are wrong much more often than you think. Like on a daily basis you are very wrong, at least I am. So my Dad is that guy. He will always tell me when I’m wrong and he provides a nice tether to reality. In an optimistic sense too because it’s easy to doubt yourself.


Then opportunity creation as well. That’s the biggest thing. It’s one thing to have a talent, but if you just have a talent, it’s like an award on shelf...it’s not doing anything. It’s the opportunity behind the talent that generates momentum. I’ve always kind of kept on that IV of momentum in a very consistent way. Music’s weird because you don’t just work 5 days a week, and that’s all you do. You kind of go through phases and seasons of work and then you have phases and stages, as Willie Nelson would put it, in development and R&D. So finding opportunities in both those parts of life, that’s always something I’ve tried to do. That’s a hard question!


NEW COSMIC COUNTRY ALBUM: A YOUNG MAN’S COUNTRY

K:

I read that the album was recorded live and completed in only 2 days! Why record the album live?


D:

It was a crucial vision that no one told me to think of. You realize that, especially in Nashville, it’s kind of a community board of progress. Everyone’s very aware of who just got what and what opportunity was achieved, who’s working with what producer, or the way that that guy’s tracking. You know, “Jay Joyce tracks this way...He only goes at 3 am”. So it was like, how do I make music? What is it that Daniel does?


So, I’ve been on stage probably more than anyone I know, at least in my age range. I’ve had the opportunity to play with people that are absolute legends like Brent Mason, or Joe (Bonamassa) even. For my age I’ve had a lot of contention on stage, and experiences. So I figured, what way can we replicate that better than cutting it live? Then, when Robben Ford approached me about doing the record, and he suggested it be live, that was just great serendipity. It was a perfect way about doing my first record.


WHAT 3 OR 4 SONGS FROM THE ALBUM WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO FIRST TIME LISTENERS?

D:

I would listen to “Justice”, “Forgotten Days”, “Meet Me in Dallas”, and “Fire on the Mountain”. No! I’d listen to “Ain’t Living Long Like This”, “Fire on the Mountain”, “Forgotten Days”, and “Justice”.


WHAT DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DOING IN THE NEXT YEAR OR WHAT ARE YOU WORKING TOWARDS?

D:

We’d love to fulfill the tour dates that we had that were cancelled on March 13th. We would pretty much still be touring up until the end of next month (November 2020). So, it would be great to fulfil those and potentially reach new markets and have more people at the shows. I’m working on a cosmic country honky tonk record, so country covers that people might not already know. Very reminiscent of what I used to do when I played at Robert’s Western World. So, bringing cosmic country, bottling that honky tonk sound, and releasing that.


K:

Will that be with the same band of musicians you play live and recorded the album with?


D:

Yes. Jerry Garcia called it “X” chemistry...but really it’s this kind of familiarity and communication. Music, very much so, is communication. I’ve done hundreds upon hundreds of shows with bands where it was my first time playing with them, or I’ve been on sessions where it’s my first time meeting these guys. It’s true that if you’re a guitar player, and that’s the engine of your performance, you need to have a band that understands who you are as a guitar player, or can attempt to understand who you are as a guitar player in my case. So I need a high level of musicianship and I need some very open minded individuals who happen to play country music almost better than anyone I’ve ever shared a stage with, and also like to jam and get cosmic. It’s a very niche group of people, but man I love the group I’m with now and I’ll do anything to make sure they can keep on working with me on my future releases.


SPEED ROUND

TOP 5 GUITAR INFLUENCES

D:

Jerry Garcia, Jerry Reed, Brent Mason, Joe Bonamassa, John Mayer


TOP 3 SONGS TO PLAY LIVE AT A COSMIC COUNTRY SHOW

D:

“Ain't Living Long Like This” by Waylon Jennings, “Fire on the Mountain” by the Grateful Dead, and “Meet Me in Dallas”.


FAVORITE 3 GUITAR PEDALS

D:

The Plus pedal by Gamechanger, the Keeley Compressor is unreal, and probably the Eventide H9...No the MXR Phase 95.


FAVORITE 5 GRATEFUL DEAD SONGS

D:

Oh wow, well as of right now it’s “Deal”, “Sugaree”, “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad”, “New Minglewood Blues”, and “One More Saturday Night”.


3 GOALS FOR 2021

D:

Definitely to become a consistently better person, so maintaining the bars I have for myself, and for other people. I want to be a better singer and writer, and I want to have more people at my shows. Billy Strings is the guy that I’d kind of like to manifest a world like. I just love what he has going on and at all of his shows it seems like there’s 2,000 people there, and that’s fantastic! So whether that’s by 2021 or 2022, we will say that’s the goal.

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