Drew Danburry has been called a lot of things in his life: skater, beard-grower, Ryan Gosling lookalike, but complacent with stagnation isn’t one of them. I’d call him persistent. If he is one thing, he is persistent in his quest to find true happiness. I spoke with Drew on the phone; he was driving home from work. Drew had opened up a barbershop last year in downtown Provo, Utah (which, by the way, was listed as an “enticing city for new careers” in Where to Retire Magazine). However, before he was cutting hair and giving shaves, he was making music and playing music and touring almost constantly – he had played over 800 shows in just a few years. Eventually the stress and exhaustion got to be a little too much and he needed a change–more importantly he needed a break. Everyone gets burnt out or spit out at some point in his or her life; it’s not such an odd thing or a bad thing, but it is interesting how we always manage to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and find our feet again. We take new turns and go down new avenues that we never knew existed, like becoming a barber, for example.
THE BOMBER JACKET: I have to ask, how exactly does one go from melting faces as a full-time musician to shaving faces as a full-time barber?
DREW: I had been kind of disillusioned with the idea of making a living doing music for a long time, and for years I had been looking for other options…something I could do that I would enjoy. I like music, I love making music, I love playing music, but the stress of booking your own tours, and the stress of money, and the stress of organizing a band, and recording – there’s so many things, when you’re doing it by yourself, that are so stressful. So I was just looking at options where I could make a living and provide for my wife, and take care of her. I was looking at teaching, I was looking all sorts of different stuff, and my father-in-law said, “You should be a barber, and this is why,” and I said, “Okay.” I just kind of chewed on the idea for a long time and eventually I didn’t really have any better ideas, and I was so sick of music that I said, “I think I’ll go to barber school.” I thought I’d try it out, and if I liked it great, and if I didn’t then I knew I should look at doing something different. I liked barber school, and when I was done I knew I wanted to open up my own place and how I wanted it to be and to control my own environment.
Before this, you were making music and touring pretty much non-stop. You played close to what, 800 shows?
Yeah, pretty close to 800 shows, and honestly, kind of secretly, my goal was to do 1,000. I really wanted to do a thousand shows in five years or so, but I figured out really quick, that even just physically, it wasn’t going to happen. I was getting super sick. It was rough.
Do you think you’ll ever get to a thousand?
No, I really don’t think so. I don’t know though, because I don’t really know what the future holds, so I shouldn’t say, “yes” or “no”. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I stopped playing shows, because I started to hate playing shows. Really, what I’m waiting for is to feel excited about playing shows again. I should have a disclaimer, I was just on the phone with a friend, and we met at college in 1998, before I ever started to play guitar or anything. We were laughing at all the different incarnations of myself, because he met me when I was fresh out of high school and I loved hip hop music and I was a rapper, and I wasn’t playing shows as a rapper, but I just loved writing rhymes, I was all about hip hop. I was a white boy from a surf city that was obsessed with rap music, and four or five years later I was a big-bearded hippie, playing folk music, and now I’m a barber, of all things. I guess I don’t feel like I’ve followed any trends, I’m just kind of doing whatever I want, whenever I want to do it, and that’s the way I like to live. So, I have no idea what I’m going to be in five years or ten years, or what life is going to throw back, because really, I feel like I just kind of go with whatever life gives me. I think that’s why I’ve always avoided promises. I could never play a show again ever, and as of right now I’d be okay with that.
You’ve been making music again, and you’ve created this character, Damien Fairchild. Who is Damien Fairchild?
There are multiple characters that I’ve created for different projects. It started a while ago. For instance, there’s Bastian Salazar. I’m working on a Drew Danburry album called Becoming Bastian Salazar. He’s this character I created for a band called The Apache. My character with Bastian Salazar was basically that I hated everything and everyone. I was trying to be everything that I’m not to see how it felt. I would curse, and yell, and scream, and be mean. With Damien, I really just wanted to go back to innocence and innocent love. I really wanted to go back to how I felt. Before you know what sex is you have crushes on girls and you love them and you don’t why.
Right. There’s a simple beauty to youth.
And it’s not that it was something I wanted to relive or rediscover necessarily, but I wanted that character to be that: He loves everybody. A lot of it was me when I was younger. I know that I annoyed some people, I was kind of a spaz or whatever, but I honestly couldn’t conceive that at the time. If you’ve checked out his Facebook page, you’ve probably noticed that he’s kind of annoying. He’s so excited and happy and self-involved, he only understands the world through his own eyes, and he can’t even conceive of anybody disliking him. It’s been fun too, because I’ll relive a lot of the crushes that I had in high school or elementary school or middle school. Some of the songs are about my life, where I’ve just tacked a different name on, but other songs are literally about real girls, like when I was in fifth grade and Casey and Adam kissed each other because it was Valentine’s Day, and I turned to my friend Danny and said, “You guys, we should leave them alone! We’re probably embarrassing them,” and my friend Danny said, “You’re just saying that because you have a crush on her!” and I said, “So what?!” It’s just about being young again.
If you were to play these live, would you channel this “Damien Fairchild” on stage?
I don’t think so, I think the whole concept behind it was that I am old and gross and ugly, not that I feel that way about myself, but in a major label point of view, a guy like me singing love songs is totally unattractive. There are kids like Justin Beiber who have these huge careers, so the idea of having Damien Fairchild be like this ubiquitous boy…he’s a caricature, and we can have a different boy of a different age with a different look take on his identity.
I guess it would be a little awkward trying to play something live in that sense.
Yeah, I think if I did play live, I would play behind a screen, but I wouldn’t try to take on his identity. Also, with the first solo album that I put out, An Introduction to Sex Rock, I recorded it in my room and it had all of these keyboards and drum machines, I recorded it and loved it and had fun making it, but I never intended playing any of those songs the way I recorded them. There’s just nothing I could do to recreate the sounds, so I probably wouldn’t bother with it at all.
You could always bring a boombox on stage and just hit play, right?
Ha yeah, exactly. That could be really cool or really horrible.
Especially with what you hear on the radio today, I think it’s really admirable that you’re making music that offers itself as somewhat of a juxtaposition.
The whole ’50s thing is really popular right now. The fact that barber shops are coming back, or that everyone wants to start slicking their hair back with wax and pomade, or the fact that Lana del Rey is a total ’50s throwback. The ’50s right now are like super hip, and it kind of bums me out, because I never intended for my stuff to come out at this specific time. I wasn’t trying to follow any trends. The music I grew up with was oldies radio–radio that was playing music from the late ’50s into the early ’60s. I grew up with bands like The Platters, Ricky Nelson, early Beatles, that’s all I listened to and that’s what I sunk my teeth into early on. That’s what I’ve listened to from the very beginning and that’s always been what I’ve liked. Everything I’ve ever written has that same pop sensibility to it, and is founded in that whole school of thought. It’s really just a Beatles song to me, at least. To me, that’s what I like. All of these songs are super simple and doo-woppy or whatever, but that’s always been my favorite kind of music.
I don’t like asking the “what inspires you” sort of question, but I’m curious on how you started playing music. What got you to pick up an instrument?
I guess I was just bored. Like I said, I was into hip hop when I was growing up, and I was always writing down lines and poems, poetry in general. I had notebooks full of thoughts and feelings and stuff like that. I was bored at my brother’s house one time and I had written a poem out and I really didn’t have anything to do, so I found a guitar and it had a little booklet with it on how to make chords and I took the three chords that it taught you, I think it was A, B7, and D or something like that and I wrote a song. I couldn’t play my own song, but I showed it to a friend when I got back and said, “Hey I wrote this song. I have the melody in my head. Will you play it so we can record it?” That’s when we started the band. I didn’t even know how to play a guitar when I started writing songs. I avoided covering other people, I avoided playing other people’s songs, I wanted it to be just about my own songwriting. I wanted to know as little as possible when I wrote a song.
You wanted to know as little as possible?
Yeah. I feel like with every music major that I’ve ever met, I’ll say, “We should write a song,” and in their head it’s like math, instead of art, and they’ll say, “Well if we add C plus G, we’ll get a nice classic pop song, like ‘real radio,’ but if you want to get a little jazzy let’s do a C and then a G7!” And it sort becomes these calculations on how to write songs, instead of feeling how it should sound. I feel like people who go to school for music are better at playing music as in accompaniment rather than writing songs, because they already know too much. When you write a song and you show it to someone who’s going to music school, they know exactly what to do with it every, single time.
Are you working on any other projects right now?
Well, I’m recording that other Drew Danburry album, and another under the Damien Fairchild title, it’s ’50s and poppy or whatever, but I’ve always wanted to make a punk-pop album. Something like twenty or thirty songs, with all of them being less than two minutes long, some of them being like twenty seconds.
So Damien just fell into the pop-punk crowd in high school?
Oh, no, it’s not like “pop-punk”, it’s “punk-pop”! Even this album I would call punk-pop. Most pop songs are at least three minutes and the longest songs on this album are three minutes. With this project, most of the songs would be about a minute and a half, where the shorter songs would be under a minute, maybe even twenty or thirty seconds, and the longer ones would only be around two minutes. So, they’re pop songs, but they have that old, old ’80s punk sort of length, with twenty or thirty songs on an album.
Sorry! It’s hard to keep up with the lingo, especially with all of these new, imaginary genres like chillwave and witch house and hobo rap.
I don’t think anyone’s ever said “punk-pop.” I think I just made that up. I used to call my music “sex rock”, because I thought it was a sort of funny genre to place it in. For me, I’ve never known what to label my music or what genre to throw it in. Even with the “For All the Girls” project, I called it “auto-tune funk folk.” Just for fun.
Do you ever get frustrated with how people label your music?
No, not really. When people ask me what sort of music I play, I don’t really know what to tell them. I have no idea what to tell them. I don’t know what kind of music I make. I just make music. I don’t ever set out to write a certain kind of sound. I just write songs. That’s always how it’s been. When people ask me what genre my music is and I say “auto-tune funk folk” or “sex rock,” I guess I almost say it just to let them know it’s not “normal.”
So how did the world beard championship pan out?
The world beard championship is ridiculous. It’s kind of stupid. It doesn’t have to be a joke, people can take it seriously, but I guess people just took it a little too seriously for me. People were angry. People were sincerely competitive. There were some really negative people. There were some REALLY weird people. There was just a weird vibe, a really, really weird vibe. I was sort of surprised. These people grow beards as a hobby, and it takes no talent whatsoever, really.
Are you bearded right now?
No, and actually we shot the “Artex” video about six months before the competition and I had a thick beard. I had been growing it out close to nine months, and I was all siked for the beard competition. And then we came up with the concept for “Artex,” to have me standing next to myself bearded and clean shaven, and so I shaved it all off for that video. So, when I got to the beard competition, I was coming in with six months of beard growth, whereas everyone else had at least two years worth, if not more.
I guess that was sort of a bummer.
Yeah, but really, I just wanted to go to Alaska and say that I was a contestant in The International Beard Competition.
I’ve tried to grow a beard, but it never really works out. I think I could grow a mean mustache though. My father has a pretty remarkable mustache, so it’s in my blood.
They judge mustaches as well, so you could grow it out and style it. You’d be surprised at how many different mustache categories they have.
You write songs and you cut hair and you ride skateboards, but how exactly do you see yourself?
Honestly, I’m just a person. I run a barbershop and I aim to do a good job. That’s the thing though, with labels, it’s something I’ve always fought. I grew up skateboarding, but I’m not a skater. I grew up Mormon, but I’m not a Mormon. I looked a lot like a hippie, but I’m not a hippie. I’m a barber, but I’m not like a typical barber. I’m just me. I don’t know what it would be like to look at myself from the outside, but I’m sure some people would just call me a “hipster.” Whether I’m a rapper, a hippie, a musician, or a barber, whatever people perceive me as or whatever phase I’m going through, for me, it’s what makes me happy. Right now what makes me really happy is going to work at a job that I really like, cutting people’s hair, talking to people that I like to talk with, listening to music that I like to listen to, and playing pool, I have a pool table at my shop, then coming home from a long day of work, making a good amount of money and putting it in the bank and providing for the woman I love. I am happy hanging out with the girl I love just playing Sega Genesis or watching 30 Rock. That’s what makes me happy. Maybe it wouldn’t have made me happy eight years ago, but right now it makes me happy. I’m sure at some point we’ll want to have kids, and those kids will make me happy. I’ll love those kids. It’s kind of about just staying in touch with your feelings and trying to adjust consistently to maintain that satisfaction with life.
Today, February 14, is Damien Fairchild’s 14 birthday, and in celebration he, with the help of Mr. Danburry, is releasing his album For All The Girls which can be purchased here. To see the new video for the song “Valerie,” go here.
Download the track “Artex” for free, along with a good handful of other songs from Drew here.