ABOVE: ANTHONY D’AMATO. PHOTO COURTESY OF BIANCA BOURGEOIS
Breakups may be tough, but folk-rock singer Anthony D’Amato didn’t take his latest album exclusively down the serious route— he made a record that told a real story of love (and love lost) with an overlay of optimism. D’Amato’s fourth foray into recording an album, The Shipwreck from the Shore, is the first one he’s done on a label, New West Records. With this record, D’Amato’s ability to create poetic moments alongside a sense of humor proves captivating—maybe in part because of his time spent with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon during his studies at Princeton.
D’Amato’s compelling music grew even more from his stint as a music publicist alongside some of the indie music scene’s greatest acts, including Bon Iver, St. Vincent and Timbre Timbre. Working with these artists allowed D’Amato to learn and grow in his songwriting—he even recorded this album with members of Bon Iver, Megafaun, and Josh Ritter’s band. The Shipwreck from the Shore‘s vintage folk-rock sound reveals a gamut of influences past and present.
We spoke with Anthony D’Amato about musical storytelling, Walt Whitman, and taking a different approach with love songs.
ILANA KAPLAN: Was it intentional for the melodies of the songs to be more upbeat and contrasted with darker lyrics?
ANTHONY D’AMATO: It was definitely intentional to have darker lyrics and brighter music paired together, in part because there’s only certain times you want to listen to a record with darker music and darker lyrics. I was looking for something that was optimistic in some way; music to carry you through to the other side. I’ve always been drawn to songwriters that have been able to put multiple emotions into their music simultaneously. When you listen to it, depending on where you’re coming to it from, you can get a lot of things from it. Sometimes it’s the brightness that speaks to you. Sometimes it’s the darkness that speaks to you. Sometimes it’s the combination of those two things at once. Those have always been my favorite kinds of songs: the ones that can mean so many different things to you depending where you are in your life.
KAPLAN: DEFINITELY. I know you’ve collaborated with poet Paul Muldoon on your lyrics in the past, but did you work with him to craft the lyrics for The Shipwreck from the Shore?
D’AMATO: I didn’t work with him on this record, but the things that I learned from him and the time I spent working with him when I was a student at Princeton were very much with me while I was writing this album. I’ve learned a lot about the structure and ways that you can tell a story through images. You don’t necessarily need to have a narrator and characters and a spelled-out plot in a story, but if you create the right series of images in the right order that evoke the right things, you can tell a story in that way. That’s something I took from him that really shows up on this record.
KAPLAN: Do you have any specific poets or poems that you’ve cited in the lyrics for your album?
D’AMATO: I’ve always been a Walt Whitman fan. I can’t say necessarily that I pulled anything directly from him for the lyrics on this record. What’s that line of his? “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes.” Maybe that goes back to the happiness and the sadness at the same time: there are things on this record that you might not expect to go together, but that’s the messy part of being human.
KAPLAN: Not to put too fine a point on it, but as upbeat as the melody is on “Good and Ready,” the lyrics are pretty dark. When you wrote that song, were you feeling as dark as the lyrics would lead you to believe?
D’AMATO: It’s funny because people hear that song in many different ways. Some people hear it as a sweet love song and some people hear it as a dark breakup song. I think when I wrote that I was in a perfectly fine place. I wasn’t dealing with anything traumatic or anything. I’ve always been drawn to singing from a different angle. I’m less interested in the idea of a love song where you tell someone all of the sweet, wonderful, heroic, and brave things you’d do for him or her. I’m more interested in coming from another angle. This was an instance, where rather then approach it from a straight-on love song, it’s a twisted version of that. Some people think it’s this super romantic thing and other people say you have the phrase “let me die” in there so many times, how can it be anything other than depressing? I like that people can come to it and hear very different things depending on where they are.
KAPLAN: The video is a lot more light-hearted, and it made me think of the song in a different way.
D’AMATO: That was an intentional move with the video. We wanted to play with the tongue-in-cheek, dark humor of the song a little bit. I was talking to the directors—two good friends of mine from college—the Kuperman brothers. When we were first talking about it, I said the one thing I don’t think this song could take is a dark or serious video because I thought it would push it too far into overdramatic territory. That’s not where I wanted to go with any of this: I wanted the song to have that sense of humor and self-awareness to it.
KAPLAN: So, this record is a breakup album, but do you think this record would have happened without a breakup happening?
D’AMATO: I think it would have been a very different record. I was starting to work on demos for a handful of songs when the relationship I was in ended, and it resulted in this limbo period where the relationship ended, but that didn’t quite sync up with the end of the lease on our apartment, so there was a couple of months’ overlap there. That’s where a lot of these songs were written. They were almost like little notes to myself during that time. I was going out and playing shows: I did a run of shows with Pete Yorn at that time. It was a bunch of stuff that I was working through and the things that were waiting for me when I got back from those shows. For whatever reasons, I started playing those songs at the shows just to see what stuck. I think because they were coming from such a direct and raw place, it felt like they were really striking a nerve with people. People would come up to me after the show and say “I want whatever CD ‘If I Don’t Work Out’ is on.” I’d be like, “I actually just wrote that like three days ago and the album doesn’t come out until eight months from now.” I took that as a really encouraging sign that I was on the right track. They seemed to really connect with people. That led me to trust in my gut and not feel like I needed to be overly censoring myself or second-guessing myself.