For those who haven’t heard Dan Hubbard, it’s hard to exactly pin down a genre. Flirting with country, bluegrass, pop, and rock, his unique style of Americana-drenched music can leave you surprised you’re still listening to the same artist, if you’re not paying attention. Dan Hubbard hails from Bloomington, where he attended school with future touring partner Pokey LaFarge. Beginning his recording career in 2003, he has a catalog of 7 full-length LPs — three with his band, The Humadors. Hubbard has since gone solo. His latest self-titled LP skews more towards a slow, somber ennui, while still managing to stick to his usual genre-straddling ways- Hubbard’s folksy piano lines, rich guitars, heartfelt vocals, and catchy riffs keep you coming back for more. We recently caught up with Hubbard, to talk about his current tour, his new album, and what it takes to build a career in music.
Smile Politely: Hey! It’s great to talk to you. So, how’s the tour going so far?
Dan Hubbard: Man… It’s been kind of beyond my expectations. Great turnouts wherever I’ve been so far. I’m thrilled — honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s kind of like a barometer to see where I’m at in my career. Every time you release an album, you kinda see who’s with you, so it’s been awesome.
SP: That’s great news, especially since you’ve been independent for most of your career. Are you seeking a label, or were you planning to continue doing things outside that system?
Hubbard: I stopped seeking a label. I think, in this day and age, you can do it all yourself. That’s honestly why this thing has been so rewarding – because I’ve done all the work. I’ve sent individual messages to every person I know in each city… I have to do it grassroots, so I’m really proud of the fact that people have been coming out to support me — because that’s a big part of my job, whether I like it or not.
SP: Yeah. Well, definitely (chuckles). You’re originally from Bloomington… How do you feel like the college scenes or the local scenes around Central Illinois have helped shape or influence you over the years?
Hubbard: Well, I don’t know… honestly, the college scene has never been great to me, because it’s such a hard thing to pin down. You never know when they’re gonna be there, when they’re gonna be in town. I love playing in college towns, but I’ve never done particularly well with the college towns, except for when I was in college. And here in Bloomington, the college scene is typically interested in cover bands… there are a few really solid original acts though!
SP: Yeah, I know another Bloomington native, Pokey LaFarge, who’s seeing some decent indie success as well. Did you guys know each other growing up?
Hubbard: Yeah, we were in the same class at the same high school. We’ve lost touch a little bit, been a bit busy, but I’m hoping we’ll reconnect one of these days for a show. He’s someone that inspires me, just seeing how hard he works to get where he is, and he did it all himself. Not sure a lot of people believed in him, but he made it happen.
SP: So, your new album came out February 5th. You recorded in Nashville, correct?
Hubbard: Yes, I did — with producer Ken Coomer, so I worked with a producer for the first time. Y’know — which was just like a director in the studio, which I was so ready for. I was tired of making all the decisions, and I was searching for a specific sound, and he found it for me. It was an unbelievable experience — Johnny Cash’s bass player played on the record, and Kacey Musgraves’ guitarist — Don Williams, from back in the day, is a keyboard player — just everybody came in and helped this record sound amazing.
SP: For sure! You’ve been putting out albums for 13 years —
Hubbard: Oh my God, is that right?
SP: Yeah, I looked it up.
SP: But yeah, did you start with a background in school, or family, church — how did you get into music?
Hubbard: It was my older brother — he started writing songs when he was in college, and started sending me tapes, and I was blown away. I was like, “Wow, this is my brother — my blood, and he can do this!” And it definitely — that was the moment that kinda sparked me. Like, “Wow, I can do this. This is possible.” That was the biggest influence. But then he showed me a few chords, and then I had friends that could play, they showed me a few chords, and besides that, I’m pretty much self-taught.
SP: That’s great. You have a clear 70s rock influence, sort of the power ballad type stuff – are there any more unusual influences? Anything obscure in the folk genre, or even anything outside guitar-driven music that pops out at you?
Hubbard: That’s a good question — early Bob Dylan is about as folk-y as I get, or I like — his early solo stuff. I’m into classic singer-songwriters- certainly, Tom Petty was a huge influence on me, the biggest in my life — and these days, more contemporary artists such as Jason Isbell. But nothing too crazy – growing up, I was listening to the Little Mermaid soundtrack, and my brother came in and was like “This is not cool.” And he gave me a Pink Floyd double live album, and said, “This is cool.”
Dan Hubbard’s new self-titled LP is available at danhubbard.net. He will be performing at Cowboy Monkey this Saturday, February 27th.