Interview: Daniel Bachman digs deep into folk music’s past

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Daniel Bachman plays guitar in the American primitive style, a genre coined by John Fahey and made notable by its traditional country blues fingerpicking. Daniel Bachman plays guitar in the American primitive style, a genre coined by John Fahey and made notable by its traditional country blues fingerpicking.

Daniel Bachman is a 24-year-old fingerpicking guitarist whose style is often compared to American Primitive musicians like John Fahey and Jack Rose. Bachman’s signature layered tones are in fine form on his fourth full length album, Jesus I’m a Sinner, and his fall tour will make its final stop at the Tea Bazaar on November 22.

C-VILLE Weekly caught up with the Fredericksburg native (now residing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina) to talk about his fixation with historic Virginia and overwrought descriptions of his music.

C-VILLE Weekly: Could you talk a little bit about your new album?

Daniel Bachman: It’s kind of all over the place. There are about three tunes that are in a similar vibe as the last couple of albums. There’s more slide guitar stuff, and also a bunch of duets with a fiddle player and banjo player from Virginia and North Carolina, Sally Anne Morgan and Charlie Devine. It’s a little different, it’s kind of a jollier record than I’ve done before. There’s more traditional music than I’ve ever put on a record before, too.

 When reviewing albums like yours, writers use lengthy emotional or sensory terms like, “it’s an aching feeling of dreams unfulfilled.” 

Totally. [laughs]

What if the description doesn’t feel right for your music?

I know how hard it is to get people to listen to your records, and people need tags for stuff. I understand why it happens. I just wish that it could be as simple as: Daniel is a guitar player. This is his guitar music. If you like it, cool. If you don’t, try another kind of guitar music. Or maybe, don’t try guitar music ever again.

There are a few names I recognize in your music, like the mountain from “Sun Over Old Rag.” Do you go exploring around Virginia?

I’ve driven around there a lot. I’ve got funny memories of going to Rappahannock and getting frustrated recording. [laughs] I moved to North Carolina for cheaper rent and the possibility of going back to college in a couple of years, but I could see myself moving to Fredericksburg and raising a family when I’m ready.

I’ve read that you have a special interest in Virginia’s history with respect to the Civil War.

My family house is on a campsite for the Battle of Fredericksburg. I grew up with that stuff. We used to go around hunting for that stuff a lot. My dad’s a paleontologist, and he’s really into Indian and Civil War stuff. I used to go metal detecting with him, and digging up stuff. I like a lot of the names.

Or the music of it?

Yeah. [laughs] It sounds dumb, but a lot of these terms and names just fit well with the music and the area that I was living in at that time.

Your song titles overlap with nature, kind of like music for long drives through the Shenandoah or something.

That’s kind of the only music I can make right now, because I’m driving so goddamn much. It’s kind of influenced everything. I wish that I could make cruise music for truck drivers, like Waylon Jennings or something, but I can’t do that. I can only make sensitive, contemplative music for long drives.

It’s a specific style that you’ve mastered. Is there any other kind of playing that you’re curious about? 

I really, really want to learn how to play the clawhammer banjo. You can YouTube it, there are like, a million videos. It’s just a traditional style of playing that’s really rhythmic, and it’s the exact opposite way of how I play. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to learn it—you don’t pick, you pretty much just ball your hand up and beat it against the string.

What got you into the fingerpicking style?

I used to go to a lot of shows in D.C. when I was in Baltimore growing up. I saw a couple guys playing like that, but it never really did anything for me. And then this one John Fahey record—it just blew me away. I went home, and pretty much immediately started trying to figure out how to play like that, and just got stuck. I can’t get out of it. I’ll never play anything else.

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