If you're reading this on Thursday, David Strackany has written 324 songs. If you're reading this on Friday, he's written 325. Strackany, who plays under the moniker Paleo, has been writing a song a day since April 16, 2006, touring relentlessly all the while. He'll continue doing so until Easter: 365 days, 365 songs. Some are completely new; others are built on the framework of older songs. Each one, though, bears not only the mark of the folk singer's singular warbly aesthetic, but that of each mile logged (more than 50,000) on his journey.
We began by talking with the Strackany about the rigor and the method behind his project, but we ended up touching a little bit on its purpose.
Why do you call the project "an exercise in holding on and letting go?
That's what a diary is. People record things so they can forget about them. It's how the mind works. If you take a picture of something, or write about something, it helps the mind feel less responsible to hold on to it. It's why writing a song about love lost is so effective. It helps your mind and memory let go. But along the way trying to document your life this way forces you to pay extra attention to things, to hold on a little tighter to your life as you're living it -- until I can write it all down anyway. So, holding on and letting go, in that order.
You call it a song diary. How seriously do you take the diary part? Are these just songs or are they chronicles?
I take the diary part seriously. At the end of the day, of course, the only rule is that a song needs to be written and recorded over the course of one day. Some are more autobiographical than others in the linear sense of biography. I have friends who keep books by their beds so when they wake up in the morning they can write down their dreams before they forget them. In all honesty, the song diary is my dream book. Dreams mix up your past, your present, and a little bit of your future, and they spin a colorful yarn from them. That's all I'm trying to do.
Do you find yourself writing different kinds of songs town to town?
Sometimes. If I arrive somewhere on any given day and there is a drum set, organ, electric guitar, marimba, anything, I'll use it in the song. So, in that sense, the songs are dictated by location. In Memphis, I made an effort to write a blues song. I imitated the style of a D.C. band, Revival, for my song "Murdering Crows in God" because I was staying at the singer Josh Reed's house. So, yeah, sometimes. But more often than not, I'm just opening up and seeing what happens.
You're reiterating your Sunday prayers/healing songs. What has that taught you about songwriting?
Nothing. It's poetry. Poetry doesn't teach you about poetry. Poetry teaches you about God.
Do you remember the song you wrote in Spokane ("SUNDAY PRAYER, VIII")?
Yes, yes, that's a good'n.
Was there anything that specifically influenced it?
Well, for starters, it rained all that day. My show was supposed to be an outdoor festival, but it got rained out. The song drips with that kind of mood, this kind of half-dejected hope. But I think more than anything, current events were weighing heavy on my mind at the time.
I read you wrote it the day of a performance at the Elk. Do you remember where you were?
It was written between my car, where I write a lot of my music, and in the Elk, but then also in this coffee shop across the street from the Elk, some place with no front wall, I forget what the place was called. But they gave me a free cup of coffee, which I really appreciated. A spangle on that flag I mention [in the song].
Does the inspiration always come?
Is it harder some days?
Yes. I had ... that 24-hour flu thing in San Francisco in February. Didn't have a place to stay. Ended up curled up in a ball in my car throwing up on the curb all day. I tried driving to the store to get medicine, but I was too disoriented and had to pull over and just park. It was awful. That happened in Seattle too, in June.
Travel, shows, people, health, shelter: all these things can get in the way in a big way. But you fight through because you have to. All over the world, there are people working in difficult situations for more noble causes, people fighting to feed their families. Our society is so lucky. Most of us don't even realize how lucky we are to never, ever -- ever -- have to worry about starving. I wanted to understand strife, to understand desperation, to understand the forces of will that motivate the real heroes. Not the pop-rock icons on indie-rock stations bumming around drinking beer. I don't want anything to do with that frat. I admire the people evicted from history, the hard-won losers, people shot in the back. I wanted to understand what it was like to fight for your life.
Of course, fighting for one's life in America, as Strackany mentioned, isn't as bare-knuckled a brawl as elsewhere in the world. By any measure, though, Strackany has fought for his art more in the course of a year than most do in a lifetime.
Paleo with Pat O'Neill and Ben Mancke at Caterina Winery on Thursday, March 8, at 8 pm. Tickets: $5. Call 328- 5069.