It’s all about connections.
Dave Schulz’s notion to call his debut album–and long awaited foray into the indie pop/rock world—Connect grew out of his realization that nothing happens in the music industry without them.
As a first call session and touring keyboardist and vocalist over the past 10 years, the renowned singer, songwriter and keyboardist has learned that success boils down to building those personal relationships—one studio musician to another, band mate to band mate, artist to audience and hired gun to the big cat who tapped you for his or her latest studio or touring gig.
In the late ‘90’s, when he was one of Buffalo’s most popular young keyboardists, Schulz got a call from his old friend, bassist Robby Takac from his hometown heroes the Goo Goo Dolls, who asked him to join them on their famed Dizzy Up The Girl tour. Suddenly, thanks to a connection made long before, Schulz went from playing in front of a few hundred patrons at a local Buffalo bar to jamming at Woodstock for 60,000 and touring the world for two and a half years during the band’s heyday.
In 1999, when the Goos were opening for the Rolling Stones, Schulz became friends with their renowned back-up singer and backing musician Bernard Fowler. A few years later, when the singer, songwriter and keyboardist moved out to L.A. to launch the next phase of his career, he again ran into Fowler, whose massive credits include work with everyone from Herbie Hancock to P-Funk legend Bootsy Collins. Fowler helped him make headway on the local studio scene and became a major inspiration.
Upon immersing himself into many diverse musical circles in L.A., Schulz became one of the city’s most in-demand, behind-the-scenes forces, adding constantly to a mile long touring, performing and recording resume of artists from across the spectrum. The short list: Bo Diddley, Fuel, Dave Wakeling/English Beat, General Public, Berlin, Ryan Cabrera, Phil Upchurch, The Rembrandts, Eric Sardinas, Fastball, Glenn Hughes, The Fizzies, Jay-J, Bran Van 3000 and One Tribe Nation.
Branching out, he was nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year at the 2005 Los Angeles Music Awards, and received a batch of accolades from the 2006 All Access Awards: a win for Best Keyboardist of the Year and nominations for Song of the Year (“Planet 39”) and Album of the Year (for his work with One Tribe Nation).
Now, ten years after first meeting Fowler, Schulz is excited to include the singer as one of the legendary musicians helping him come into his own as an artist and ensure that Connect lives up to its crafty moniker.
The instantly infectious, accessible but often quirky 10 track collection also features extremely well connected players Schulz has admired for years, including Daniel Lanois (U2, Bob Dylan, Scott Weiland, Peter Gabriel), bassists Tony Levin (King Crimson, John Lennon, Yes, Pink Floyd, Seal) and Mike Porcaro (Toto) and drummers Robin Dimaggio (David Bowie, Paul Simon) and Randy Cooke (Ringo Starr, Dave Stewart). Three tracks were produced by another longtime Schulz associate Matt Gruber, whose credits include everyone from Carrie Underwood and LeAnn Rimes to Queensryche.
“Not too sound too over the top new agey,” Schulz says, “but a lot of wheels of karma happened to make this record possible. I was very humbled that these great musicians played on my album even though I had no label and hardly any money. One of the album’s other producers, Robi Banerji, introduced me to Daniel Lanois, who liked my songs and was very gracious about contributing. This was a huge validation for me as an artist because he was a major influence on my development as a songwriter. Another example of this ‘wheel’ was my opportunity to play on Devo co-founder Jerry Casale’s solo album, Jihad Jerry and the Evildoers. The whole reason I started to play keyboards when I was thirteen was because of my obsession with Devo!
“Even though my dual skills as a keyboardist and singer helped me get a lot of high profile gigs over the years,” he adds, “my goal from those early days jamming in Buffalo was to be an artist, and through all these different connections, I was able to get a bunch of my musical heroes to join me. I still can’t believe my good fortune, but I know I have worked very hard to get to this point—and have drawn on my love for and experience with jazz, classical funk and soul to craft what I feel are very strong pop/rock songs.”
Happy to have Schulz emerging into their ranks, a batch of pop/rock superstars cheerfully agree with his humble assessment. Lanois says, “Now THAT sounds like a record.” Pink adds, “Dude, you have the best voice,” and Goo Goo Dolls front man Johnny Rzeznik, who can say he knew Schulz when, adds, “I love how talented Dave is. He plays so good it’s unreal. He’s just dripping with soul.” But it’s Fowler who says it all: “Dave, you’re crazy man…”
Schulz didn’t have the overriding concept of Connect in place from the start, but he began noticing as he was writing songs for the project that a similar theme was emerging. While his musical associations are an obvious hook, his lyrics tap into more universal themes about the need for and the conflicts inherent in simple human relationships. One of the symbols he uses to express his sardonic fear that technology (Twitter, texting, etc.) may replace actual human contact is the smashed, discarded piano in an abandoned house on the back cover of the CD.
“It’s kind of my lament about the modern studio age as well,” he says, “like, whatever happened to using an actual piano on a recording. These days, everything is simulated and you can play piano and organ on a synthesized unit that sounds exactly like the real thing. So while I use some of the recording technologies available to me, I wanted the instrumentation to be mostly organic. As this developed, my goal became to communicate the idea that there’s an important connection between human beings that is physical and personal. To me, this should trump our world’s crazy materialism. There’s a line in my song “Everything” (written by Schulz and his singer/songwriter sister Gretchen) that goes, ‘If you had everything/Would it mean everything?/Would you feel anything?” I’m asking what’s more important–material gain or being in touch with yourself? I think that song will resonate as people reassess their lives in today’s difficult economy.”
Schulz adds, “I pondered this question when I was living in Las Vegas for a time, working as musical director for a popular cover band at the Bellagio. The more I played there, the more disconnected I felt from myself. I knew it was time to start following my lifelong dream by writing and recording my own music. My first thought was that I needed to connect to pop music fans with my own voice rather than simply carrying on as a sideman. That’s what “Back to Me” is about, returning to and finding my essence as an artist. These songs were written at different times over the past years, but all of them represent the real me.”
Other key tracks include the funky, jangling power pop tune “Fanatic,” about someone obsessed with a woman who doesn’t know he exists (i.e. a failed connection); “Perfect Day,” an edgy post 9/11 rocker which talks about the surprise of “a perfect day to be insane,” but ends on a note of hope as life is viewed through the eyes of a child; and the one cover track, an irresistibly out there version of “Margaritaville,” which wrenches newfound emotion from its familiar words via a classical, operatic, New Orleans funeral march meets mariachi arrangement. The result is something you might hear in a Coen Brothers or David Lynch movie—definitely not what Jimmy Buffett had in mind!
“I think the music on the album reflects the diversity of styles that I have played over the years with some truly incredible musicians,” says Schulz. “I’m really excited for more people to hear it, and I have put together a great new band of close friends to help me convey what it means to truly Connect—and that’s with the most important people of all, the audience.”