Grizzly Bear's Daniel Rossen recaptures simplicity on his inaugural solo tour 

Stepping Out

Stepping Out

"This is it. This is the thing. There's no light show. There's nothing else. This is just a tune."

Speaking with the Scene by phone, Daniel Rossen is laying out the thesis for his current 13-city tour, which includes Nashville and features one of its cherished representatives, William Tyler, as opener. The pairing makes incredible sense: Rossen and Tyler are both devastating guitar players who conjure disproportionate levels of feeling from lone six-string passages. There's no riff-heavy hubris involved in either player's approach — just an obvious respect for the power and history of the instrument and its ability to incite wonder when picked or strummed just the right way. Rossen tells the Scene that Tyler's name was the first he considered, and that the two connected directly via email. Considering Rossen's tenure in one of the most successful indie acts of the past decade, Grizzly Bear, surely there are people who execute business correspondence for him, right?

But that's just it: Despite lavish critical acclaim and fandom within the ranks of rock/pop music royalty (Paul Simon and Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, among others, count themselves Grizzly Bear fans), Rossen has never really embraced the business side of music. He participates to the extent required — he granted the Scene an interview, after all — but Rossen's heart is always with the songs and the experience he shares onstage with fans of his work, which spans a decade of contributions to Grizzly Bear and Department of Eagles, as well as 2012's solo EP Silent Hour/Golden Mile. Speaking with him, it's easy to sense that Rossen is incredibly grateful for the opportunities Grizzly Bear's success has afforded him, but that he's equally intent on reclaiming a form of writing and performing far more distilled than what is possible when tied to that band.

"I find the older I get, the harder it is to put yourself fully in the mindset of making music and not questioning what you're doing all the time," Rossen says. "The more records and the more songs we write, and the more we're exposed to what other people are doing, it's hard to keep a focus where you're just sort of naively making things for the joy of it and for yourself."

He circles back to the solo tour. "It's not about a record. I'm not promoting anything. I have nothing to push, so it's purely me playing music for a willing audience, and hopefully it translates and hopefully they're into it, and that's it. That's the whole exchange."

Rossen's cross-country voyage transcends stepping outside the limelight, though. The tour is also a challenge to himself after years of being able to fold into the thicket of a big-budget production, letting others pick up the slack on nights when he's not feeling engaged. Rossen's never toured as a solo artist, and he'll be doing so in the truest sense of that designation: The live roster features him alone. Onstage he'll switch between acoustic and electric guitars and an upright piano, playing selections from the Department of Eagles album In Ear Park, his solo EP and a cache of previously unreleased songs that he's saved for more intimate shows.

"Scaling down the performance is interesting to me because it's just a totally different challenge," Rossen says. "I'm not going to have anything else supporting me, so it's on me to make it good. I'm hoping that that's a different kind of pressure, that I'll learn something from it."

Now residing in upstate New York, Rossen was raised in Los Angeles, where he was groomed in music theory by way of midcentury classical music and jazz players like Gil Evans long before folk or rock music beckoned. And though at times he wills himself to write without that training in the foreground, one still senses the touch of a refined technician in Rossen's playing and arrangements, which are rarely tidy and never boring. Listeners can just as easily hear the baroque pop of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks in his work as in the spacey, pastoral melancholy of Tyler's instrumentals — Rossen's training gives him the confidence to experiment, perhaps, but so should his success.

In fact, to this writer at least, there are few songwriters who've matched Rossen's inventiveness and depth of feeling in the past two decades, so we should probably just call a spade a spade: You'll do great up there, Dan. Probably better than great.

Email Music@nashvillescene.com.

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