He may only be 17, but singer-songwriter DANNY STARR has an approach to crafting a tune that is wiser than his years. Hailing from London, the former rugby player has been championed by renowned BBC Introducing DJ Huw Stephens and has recently released his debut EP Darling. Always ones to stay ahead of the ball, we thought it best to grab Danny for a chat to find out more…
You are only 17 but your music has a rather mature sound. How long have you been writing your own songs?
Well thank you very much, that’s very kind. I think I decided to start writing my own stuff at around 14. I can tell you, my writing hasn’t always been like this! I’ve had to delete my first few cheesy love songs off my mates phones to avoid future embarrassment of course. Over the few years I’ve been writing, my style has taken many twists and turns, but I feel like I’ve ended up returning to my original comfort zone, and I think – and hope – I’ve found a bit more purpose and direction in my music through my experimentation.
Have you been playing guitar since you were a child? Who or what was it that inspired you to pick up an instrument?
I haven’t actually been playing for that long, only four years, but I have always been really into music, which is probably due to my dad’s extensive vinyl collection which I never hesitate to have a flick through. The person who inspired me to pick up the guitar was my mate who played ‘Wonderwall’ in a school concert… ironic, huh? I went home that night and started teaching myself on my mum’s guitar upside down for a couple of months and eventually got my first lefty six-string.
You have just released your debut EP. Tell us a little about your song-writing process and where you drew inspiration.
I personally find the triggers of my songwriting are pretty random. I’ve never been able to force myself to write a song with it ending up being any good. If a good song is to be written, it’ll suddenly come to me and the first draft will be finished within an hour. I’ve often been sitting in class, had the urge to grab a guitar and start writing, and then by the time I’ve got home the lightbulb moment has passed. One thing that I know has really helped me with my songwriting is that I keep a notes page on my iPhone in which I write any interesting words, phrases or characters I come across when going about my life. Then, when I’m writing a new song and I’m stuck for an image or an idea, I can dive into that stash and pick something out. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s very satisfying.
I write all my songs just alone with my guitar, so there’s a big difference between the first version of the song and the produced version you hear on the EP. When writing some of the songs on the record, I really tried to invisage what the songs would sound like with full backing tracks, and listening to The Kooks really helped me with that. Their sound definitely inspired me in terms of the full band effect I wanted to achieve when producing the EP.
Songs such as ‘I Danced With You’ and ‘Darling’ capture moments of human experience. Do you draw from real life experiences and memories or are the tales in the songs entirely fictional?
Every song on the EP was written with a real experience of my own or someone very close to me in mind. I find it very hard to write powerful and meaningful lyrics when I’m not really feeling the emotion that I’m trying to portray.
Do you have any songwriters that you admire or give you lyrical inspiration? Who do you think has had most influence on your music?
I have a firm belief that it would take a good few hours for any songwriter to properly talk you through all their writing inspirations. The writing and the production of the EP is definitely an amalgamation of all the music I’ve been listening to since I started really connecting with lyrics in songs. I’d say the first song I truly felt that with was ‘History Book’ by Dry the River which is lyrically and musically stunning. I’d also say I draw huge lyrical inspiration from Passenger and Ben Howard whose music has accompanied me through the good times and the bad times of the last few years. The more upbeat and dancey Jungle stay strong as my favourite bands due to the incredible soundscape they create through their intelligent and creative production. If you haven’t seen them live, get on that! I’m sure they’ve contributed something to the EP if you listen carefully. As I said I could go on and on but the last person I have to mention would be Amy Winehouse. I grew up listening to her music and I’m sure I don’t need to explain why she’s one of my songwriting inspirations.
We read that you were set to be a professional rugby player but had to retire due to an injury. Do you miss playing? How does the experience of playing a match compare to the experience of playing a gig?
I do miss playing of course, but at the same time when your body tells you to stop, it’s probably best to listen to it… It’s funny you ask me how matches and gigs compare because I have many times explained to people that the rush from scoring a try on the pitch, and the rush from a crowd singing along to a song you wrote alone in your room one cold day in winter, feel equally as amazing as each other. I’m so grateful to have got into music and to have been supported by so many amazing people because I’m sure a big hole would’ve been left had I not replaced rugby matches with gigging.
What can people expect from your live shows? Do you have any lined up at the moment?
Playing live is by far my favourite part of being a musician. I love connecting with the music and seeing people who are in the crowd really feeling it too. When I’m on stage with my seven piece band jamming out the EP, the energy is just off the wall! Because the whole band is just a group of mates, we have so much fun on stage together and we love passing that on to the people who have come to see us. If you’re right at the front and singing along, be prepared to have the mic given over to you to get involved! When recording the EP, there was a big focus on recreating the raw sound of live music which you hear at my gigs, which makes both the record and the live show sound real and gripping. You’ve also got to be prepared for a few intimate acoustic moments though… You should expect anything and everything if you’re coming to one of my shows. My full band gig is on December 16th at The Finsbury supporting the amazing Uncle Frank from Fun Lovin’ Criminals.
See Danny Starr supporting Uncle Frank at The Finsbury Pub in London on December 16th.