The jam scene is somewhat of a rotating cast of familiar faces, so much so that when you notice a face you don’t know that much about it’s always intriguing. Danny Mayer popped up recently for me this way. Since then I have gotten to know his work and I became interested in his story, enough to ask to speak with him.
Danny Mayer found a home in the music scene in the early 2000’s when he started his band called the On The Spot Trio, created in the vein of Soulive, and quickly he became a part of the Soulive scene. After joining the Alan Evans Trio, which featured Soulive’s founding member Alan Evans, he eventually came to be in Eric Krasno’s band. He is now the guitarist in Star Kitchen, Marc Brownstein’s funk jam band.
With The Disco Biscuits tour schedule dictating the schedule for Star Kitchen, it was possible for Danny to take time to record a new album, The Wild Root with the Alan Evans Trio which was just released in September. We got to speak to Danny Mayer about his start in the music industry and how little league baseball set the field for the formation of Star Kitchen.
An Interview With Danny Mayer
Tour Stories: Where are you from?
Danny: Originally I am from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I currently live in Philadelphia.
Tour Stories: When did you move to Philly?
Danny: I’ve been here for about four years. I have lived all over. I’ve had a crazy journey.
Tour Stories: When did you first get started in music in general?
Danny: I have been playing guitar since I was about fifteen years old. It has been a while. I hadn’t done anything professionally until I formed a band The Spot Trio in 2005. I started putting a lot of energy into that. This was a band modeled after Soulive.
Tour Stories: So how did Star Kitchen come to be? Can you tell us a little bit about that journey? How did you meet Marc Brownstein (The Disco Biscuits)?
Danny: From On The Spot Trio I started getting into the whole Soulive scene. Alan Evans Trio started in about 2012 and then Eric Krasno hired me to be in his band for a while. When I moved to Philadelphia mine and Marc’s kids became very close friends. Me and Marc actually met for the first time at my son’s little league game. We started talking and at that time I actually didn’t know this but my son was over at his house one day and he said “My dad is a musician” and Marc said something like “Everyone’s dad is a musician” kind of thing, ya know? (laughing) “What does he play?” And my son replied “He plays guitar in Eric Krasno’s band.” Marc said “Is your dad Eric Krasno? Why does Eric Krasno need a guitar player?”; My son explained that I was the other guitar player in his band. This was at a time when Marc wanted to start a funk band. He wanted to get more into the funk jam scene, and none greater than Soulive. So as he puts it he came to scout me at my son’s little league game.
Tour Stories: What an awesome story. Star Kitchen debuted at Electric Forest in 2018 from your perspective, how has it changed since you first got started – in what ways has it evolved since its inception?
Danny: That’s a great question. Well, I think it took us a little while to find our sound. We are all coming from very different places musically and I think it took just a little while…as I am saying this I hesitate because of my friend Rob, the keyboard player in Jennifer Hartswick Band. I had only met Rob once or twice, but he was in her band when I sat in with them and I just really loved his playing. It was the most supported I had ever felt from a keyboard player. When Marc was saying we needed a keyboard player it just so happened that I had learned Rob had just moved to the area. I immediately said we had to get Rob and then we auditioned different drummers for what felt like months. When we finally found Marlon, our current drummer we knew immediately. We played one song with him and were all “What are you doing for the next five years?” (laughing)
So, when I say we are all coming from different places musically and it took us a while to find our voice collectively, it was already there from the beginning, but we have refined it so much more. We have already learned each other’s languages and tendencies so much more. It has turned into a dream band for me, if I am being totally honest. We all feel like we have creative freedom to do whatever we want to do and yet because we know each other’s playing and styles it is all gelling together. It feels like every time we play, we do something different that we have not done before and it is evolving. We are evolving fast and it is a really beautiful thing.
Tour Stories: When bands start out there seems to be a growth period and then when they hit their stride, if they hit their stride, it can be something really beautiful.
Danny: I think we are approaching that. I mean in the first year we were together I think we played a total of twelve shows. In the last few months we’ve played as many shows as we did the entire first year. Playing out in front of crowds more – it is just getting better and better.
Tour Stories: That brings me to the question of how often you are able to play together between shows?
Danny: It’s interesting because this fall tour came together pretty nice. One of the things that’s great about this band is that we are all dads and none of us want to be gone for long periods of time because we miss our kids when we are on the road. We tend to do these nice little four or five day runs and then take three or four days off and it has been great. After two weeks on the road you get a little crusty and you start missing your own bed. I don’t really mind that too much if I am being honest, but it does get to be a lot. We are pacing ourselves nicely and no one is getting sick of each other. I think we are doing right. Also, obviously a lot of it is dictated by the Disco Biscuits scheduling. They just announced a couple shows so we will have that time off and it works out perfectly because we can all work on other projects as well.
Tour Stories: Like the Alan Evans Trio, whom you just released a new album with. I saw that you have been playing with the Alan Evans Trio for a long time now though, is that correct?
Danny: Yes. With Al’s band we did what we are trying not to do with Star Kitchen. I mean back then we played like 300 shows a year, that’s an exaggeration but it really felt like we were on the road forever. It wasn’t financially sustainable to keep doing what we were doing. We were all burning out. The band essentially ended in 2014. Then a bunch of time passed, and we all did different things. We all got a lot better. Al started a record label and hit me and Kris Yunker (Alan Evans Trio) up and said “I have this studio and record label and if you want to come up and write something – let’s see what we can come up with.” Maybe we get an album out of it or maybe we don’t. We went up there and we had three songs out of thin air. I ended up going up there two more times. In the past Alan has showed us the songs and we played them but this was a much more collective experience. I am happy with the way the album came out.
Tour Stories: I like the song “Danny for Mayer” off the album. How did that one get named?
Danny: (laughing) When we were recording the album, we would ask Al to send us the rough mixes to go home with and he just started naming them. Al named the songs. I would not have put my name in a song (laughing) but I did write most of the song and he loved the guitar solo in that one. So he named it for that.
Tour Stories: I loved the song and I thought the name was pretty clever.
Danny: I was flattered.
Tour Stories: What was the most important musical moment in your life – in terms of getting you to where you are now.
Danny: The first thing that comes to mine is when my dad took me to see The Grateful Dead when I was 13 or 14 years old. I ended up going all three nights in April 1994, in Miami. This was when I first started playing guitar. I was a total hippie kid. I was growing up in Fort Lauderdale where there were no hippie kids at all. (laughing) It blew my fucking mind wide open. I realized that there was this lifestyle I wanted to live. I wanted to travel and play music and become a part of the larger community that encompasses all that. It blew me away how much of a family it felt like, immediately. The music was mind blowing but that was the first real “this is more than just music” moment. Seeing how much the community tied into the music, I mean you really can’t separate the two. I knew it was just something I wanted to be a part of. A community of music lovers, who really appreciate what is going on. A community of people who can see the value in music because it’s changed most our lives. So that was one of the first breakthrough “I want to do this” moments.
Tour Stories: So for you it was like “this actually exists in the world” and you could be apart of it?
Danny: Yes, exactly and I have never really got off that train.
Tour Stories: You mean bus, you got on the bus.
Danny: Yes! (laughing) One thing I must add is this. When I decided I was going to make music to earn a living I told myself if I had a full year where things felt like they were going badly – or I wasn’t getting opportunities – or if I was really struggling financially for a full year. I would consider getting into a new line of work but it just never happened. It has gotten better and better and better for me. I feel like one of the luckiest people to get to do this for a living.
Tour Stories: It is a cool thing.
Danny: It is and the whole community thing I touched on before, that is true for the whole jam band scene. I feel apart of that and there is a lot of support there and it is a beautiful thing. For the first time in a long time I don’t have to hustle just to get as many gigs as I can. It has gotten easier verses getting harder over the years and I suppose that is what has kept me in it. I can feel the help from the universe, I mean I told myself if I felt that for longer than a year and it really hasn’t even come close to happening.
Tour Stories: It’s almost as if in your subconscious you were really telling yourself, “I am going to do this for a living.”
Dan: (laughing) Yes, you’re right.
Tour Stories: Tell us about a time when you met one of your heroes.
Dan: My heroes, (pauses) well for me, when I first started putting a band together, my heroes were Soulive. So meeting Alan Evans. He recorded all of my band, On The Spot Trio’s music. I spent a lot of time in the studio with Alan, so being able to play in the trio with him that was just like Soulive, with THE drummer of Soulive was absolutely insane to me. Then when that ended I joined Eric Krasno, one of my favorite guitar players in the world. He called me and said “I am putting out an album and I can’t play and sing all the parts at the same time, do you want to be in my band?” and then I got to tour the world with Kras’ for two and a half years. And now if the two of them are anywhere in the area, they call me to sit in with Soulive. Back in 2004/2005 when I just wanted to be doing that type of music to know now that fifteen years later I am actually doing it, with the guys who inspired me to do it in the first place. Now that is pretty cool to me.