It’s not everyday that you meet a full-time, respected musician who got his start by covering Nintendo music. Danimal Pinson, however, had that oddball introduction to music. His love for music grew as he picked up the guitar in high school and played in several bands. By the tenth grade, Danimal could be found performing on a Riverbend stage with his band Riverboat John. After high school, he decided to study guitar at Belmont University, but felt his artistry was constricted, so he transferred to Middle Tennessee State University’s recording program. After graduation, Danimal continued to thrive in the Nashville music scene. One fateful day, the regionally-successful band Up with the Joneses invited him to join them, so Danimal moved back to Chattanooga, where he has built his music career ever since. I had the opportunity to sit and chat with him after a performance at Peet’s Coffee.
Whose music inspires you?
Danimal: The Beatles and Neil Young are major influences on my writing and production style. As for live performances, I’m infatuated with Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips. Those artists stand out more than anyone else. I would like to put on a show with all of the visuals at the caliber that they do. Something special happens when you go to a Flaming Lips concert and give in to the experience. Most of their shows are unforgettable for me.
What’s the difference between your two projects – Danimal Planet and Danimal? How have they transformed over the years?
Danimal: Both projects began together. Danimal is my solo material, a mellow acoustic vibe suitable for all types of performance spaces, which translates to more paychecks, which mostly go to fund Danimal Planet. Danimal Planet is a medium through which I express myself visually as an artist. It’s all about the production value. Someone who helps me up the ante on visuals is Tony Mraz. We build ideas together, he executes them, and then we bring in a lighting engineer.
Danimal Planet did this big performance called The Psychedelic Ball at The Walden Club where we brought in three projectors and Tony created this elaborate setup that was way outside of the norm in such a conservative setting. There was a lot of controversy with the members there, who are not used to putting on psychedelic avant-art events, but I’m grateful that they allowed us to invade their space. I want Danimal Planet to be an experience.
The Danimal show you saw today at Peet’s Coffee was the most pure form of my acoustic solo art. If you were to see me at a Sunday brunch performance, there would be a bunch more Beatles covers and I would be more silly and entertaining, which is fun for me too. But I really loved what I got to do today.
What does your creative process look like?
Danimal: Loops have been the greatest performance tool that I’ve ever invested in. I don’t have to pay someone to accompany me in order to get a full sound. Loops are a huge part of my writing process. When I write a song, I come up with a line, progression, or melody and loop it so I can sing melodies over it. While I do that, I’ll set up the voice memo on my iPhone and record while I’m looping stuff. Occasionally, a line or word will pop out and it fits the vibe of the song, so I’ll keep it for lyrical content. Sometimes I notice it right away, sometimes it’s when I go back and listen to the recording. Usually if it’s good enough, then the song will easily write itself. Then there are about three years of editing.
How does Chattanooga’s music scene compare to Nashville’s, based on your experiences living and playing in both?
Danimal: The Nashville scene seemed too corporate – too product–based – for my taste. They don’t let the musical experiences happen to them. Despite that, there’s a ton of talent underneath the popular Nashville mainstream, which is a shame because all of these brilliant writers get snatched up by someone who has label support or more money and then they forget their own writing skills. I feel like things get lost in the wash in Nashville. There is a lot of genuine music there, but it’s impossible for it to come up to the surface from the underground.
Returning to Chattanooga cultivated my creative side. It allowed me to play mellow, pleasant music and build a career off of it. I feel like myself when I play here.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue music full time?
Danimal: Get started right away and don’t try to be a badass. I wasted so much of my time trying to be the best guitar player or best bass player and while my skill level has increased, I think that songwriting and finding your voice is the most important thing to focus on. It boils down to an ego issue. I think musicians go through three phases in their careers: learning how to play your instrument, learning how to be a badass and master your skill, and learning how to be yourself. Learning to write helps you tap into what music really means to you. People tend to get stuck in the badass phase when all they want to do is show off. While it’s important to build up your technical skill level, it shouldn’t be your ultimate focus.
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