By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
For most musicians, the notion of putting out one album per year is daunting. Summoning the wherewithal to pen enough material (a dozen or more songs in a twelve-month period) is an arduous task, made even more difficult by the demands of dealing with promotion and being on the road. Because inspiration can't be forced, many artists go years between releases to allow themselves time to refresh their oeuvres and nerves.
And then there's David Andrew Strackany (or Paleo, as he's perhaps best known to fans of his freakish, folkish musings). Since Easter 2006, the DIY singer-songwriter has written and recorded one new song a day, each of which is posted on his website. And he intends to continue this project, which he refers to as his Song Diary, at that rate through Tax Day. In a way, the Diary has come to define him as a person and an artist.
Strackany's story begins in Elgin, Illinois, where he grew up the second youngest of five children, desperately trying to grab the attention and affection of his parents and siblings. "I was always at a disadvantage for being noticed," he recalls. "My oldest brother was valedictorian in high school, a track star, a super-smart guy, a great musician and a fantastic artist. The brother below him was a fantastic singer and class president. My oldest sister was super-cool, incredibly superior and gifted. My little sister is a professional dancer in Chicago."
With such overachieving siblings, Strackany had to find a way to stand out. "It became a part of my personality to carve a niche for myself," he notes. "And in my tiny universe back then, it felt like everything had been done. In fact, it still feels that way, so I have to work even harder."
Strackany's drive to achieve hasn't mellowed since those childhood struggles. After graduating from the University of Iowa, where he studied art and English, the young artist helped manage Public Space One, a multi-disciplinary arts venue in Iowa City. Since 2004, however, when he embarked on a full-time career as a nomadic musician, Strackany has barely come up for air. He recorded and self-released his debut album, the hypnotic Misery, Missouri, and has played more than 200 shows. In fact, by the time he hits the stage at the hi-dive this week, he will have played approximately 56 shows in the first 74 days of 2007. For the mathematically challenged, that means Strackany plays an average of three shows every four nights.
Even Strackany's chosen moniker betrays ambitions that are strikingly grand for such an unassuming artist. He waxes rhapsodic when relaying the story of its origins. "There needed to be some distinctions between what I'm doing and any misconceptions about who I am," he explains, "a distinction between who I am to my family and who I am to people I've never met, who take my music and use it for what they need to use it for.
"I was at the National Museum in Prague," he continues, "and there was a butterfly and moth exhibit in this one room -- all these moths of different shapes and sizes, from gorgeous to absolutely hideous. They reminded me of songs: to be captured in the moment, in its most vivacious and beautiful, and being beautiful enough to kill and put up on a wall as an example that the world can learn from. And I thought, 'I want to be one of those moths.'"
Since then, Paleo's career has grown outside the usual machinations of the industry. He books all of his own shows and releases his own music. Though he's had interest from labels, Strackany says he's not convinced yet that they're necessary to accomplish his goals. "So far, it's been happy accident after happy accident," he insists. "Nothing's been linear. I've been pretty intense about my work ethic since my senior year of college. I don't see this year as being much different."
But what makes this year different and illustrates Strackany's determination more than anything is the Song Diary. Initially, the project was conceived as a way to help him get over a painful breakup, but the journal of words and music has become as much an odyssey as Paleo's incessant touring. Each of the tracks is lo-fi by necessity, featuring Strackany's quirky, warbling voice -- a creaky, carnival-barker croon that occasionally rises to falsetto hysteria -- and his Wal-Mart guitar, all captured on a trusty laptop. The songs stir together Woody's Guthrie's urgency, Elliott Smith's sweet dejection and M. Ward's informed musicology in a melting pot of eccentric minstrelsy. Occasionally, the audience or other musicians sharing a bill join in to flesh out the recordings, but the lyrics take center stage. In addition to an MP3 of every song for free download, the songwriter also posts the lyrics for all of the songs. Strackany insists that the Song Diary is about the words, not the music.
"Advances in music these days are all about texture and timbre and color, but in order to play with that, you need toys," he points out. "I don't have toys, but I have every word in the English language at my disposal. So out of necessity, it's become a poetry project."