How Boise Artist Danny Kerr Creates Music Amid Noise

Jun 13, 2014

Boise musician Danny Kerr is pretty much always on the hunt.

Recently, Kerr was hunting for the right cable to hook up to a bass guitar. After scavenging for about 10 minutes, he found what he was looking for. Then, he started searching for the perfect sound to come out of that bass.

Musician Danny Kerr performing at Treefort Music Fest this year.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / for Boise State Public Radio

The 25-year-old musician rents studio space in a warehouse in Garden City, wedged behind a junkyard filled with old road signs for chain restaurants and cheap motels. He shares the space with a bunch of other musicians, and the place is filled with drums, guitars -- even a disfigured piano.

Kerr is working on a handful of different projects right now. The musician’s solo project is called Brother Dan, and he released a couple of singles for his second album last year. Besides the two singles he’s released, he’s been sitting on the rest of the songs for "I Just Woke Up" for months.

He’s been trying to find the right person to master the record -- and he thinks he’s close to that goal. But he doesn’t mind waiting a little longer to get it right.

If Danny’s music seems reminiscent of a different era, there’s a good reason for that.

“I’m a big aficionado of the 70s and the 60s," he says. "You have all those mistakes, and you have the band sitting in the room recording it all at once. So I’m doing my best to kind of preserve that feeling without having a band.”

The musician’s sense of humor is always near the surface, and he switches from being serious to joking in a split second. Kerr is tall and lanky, with unruly brown hair that's usually contained by a gold lettered "NASA" cap. He has sharp focus while he’s working, and will go into a trance -- recording or editing for hours.

Music video from Brother Dan's first album.  

Brother Dan: Igor Pops from The Arbiter on Vimeo.

Kerr’s one-man-band is experimental, and takes turns from classic rock n’ roll into modern electronic beats. It’s hard to put it in one genre.

“Pushing rock n’ roll into a weird techie zone -- I want to do more stuff like that," Kerr says. "And I think that’s what Atomic Mama does too, at least that’s what we have fun doing.”

Atomic Mama is the name of a different project Kerr is part of, this one with his childhood friend Jake Warnock. A few years ago the guys got to be pretty popular with their synthy-rock sound, playing house shows and concerts around Boise. They even went on a West Coast tour in 2011.

Then Warnock started touring with Youth Lagoon, the Boise band that springboarded into the national spotlight a couple of years ago. Atomic Mama has mostly taken a break since then, but the duo reunited at this year’s Treefort Music Fest. Eric Gilbert, the festival director, booked Kerr’s performance.

“He’s a really great live performer and a great writer, a great singer," says Gilbert. "But also all the work he’s been doing with films -- he’s pretty malleable and flexible.”

Gilbert says he’s watched the young artist mature musically over the past few years. He thinks Kerr can do his work anywhere -- but Gilbert would like to see him stay in Boise.

The musician performing in a recent show with Virgil, a Boise rock n' roll band he plays bass in. Kerr's sense of humor is often on display in his fashion choices.
Credit Kate Grosswiler / for Boise State Public Radio

Kerr is also establishing himself as a resource for the Idaho indie film world. Last year he collaborated with two young filmmakers adapting a short story by Alan Heathcock, called “Smoke.” He helped write and arrange the score for the film.

The young musician says he likes writing music for film. He says it’s a challenge to come on to a collaborative project that’s not primarily his own, and help to build the director's vision while leaving an emotional but light footprint.

Danny Kerr takes a break outside The Crux, a music venue in downtown. Kerr runs the sound board there for touring and local bands.
Credit Kate Grosswiler / for Boise State Public Radio

During a recent editing session for one of his film projects, Kerr’s phone kept vibrating with calls and text messages.

All that buzzing is part of what keeps the musician in Boise. His talent is in demand. To make a living, Danny helps run sound at a downtown music venue -- The Crux. He’s grateful to be busy juggling lots of projects at one time, but he admits being pulled in different directions can hurt his creativity.

“When I make my art best is when I’m not connected at all," he says. "Turn the [phone] off, tell myself I’m not going to look at my phone. So at that point, I’m completely removed from anything that normally would remind me of Boise.”

There’s a part of the young artist that wants to leave Boise -- maybe to search for musical success in a bigger city.

“If I were to move to LA, being totally surrounded by top-of-the-line musicians all the time --  you’re kind of forced to become way better at whatever you’re doing."

But Kerr admits he’d miss Idaho. He loves the mountains and goes camping, and he hasn’t lived outside the state for more than a year. So, right now, Kerr’s not making any changes. It’s fly-fishing season, and any time he’s not busy with his music, he’s on the river.

Video of Kerr recording a cymbal track for a new song.

Today’s profile is part of a series we’re calling “Artist Statement.” The Boise City Department of Arts and History is providing funding for this project.

You can also check out more about this project on Tumblr and tweet to reporter @FABarnhill using the hashtag #BoiseArts.