Daniel Romano had a plan for 2020. The barnstorming Canadian songwriter would spend much of the year on tour and release two albums: the first would be March's Okay Wow, a career-spanning live album recorded with his touring band Daniel Romano's Outfit; then, on this Friday, September 18, he'd put out a studio album called How Ill Thy World Is Ordered.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic forced live music to shut down entirely, Romano decided to double down. So far, he has released nine full-length albums of entirely new or archival songs in 2020, as well as an EP and a poetry book in May called At Last There Is No End (The Love Poems of Daniel Romano).
It's an astounding feat for any artist, but Romano already has a reputation for being wildly prolific. After his stint in the influential Canadian indie rock band Attack In Black from 2003-2010, his early solo efforts 2010's Workin' For The Music Man, 2011's Sleep Beneath The Willow, and 2012's Come Cry With Me explored classic country sounds, but he's reinvented himself in each successive release since like the 70s-troubadour in 2016's Mosey or the fiery rock ‘n’ roll of 2017's Modern Pressure. In 2018, he put out three albums, the surprise-released double LP Nerveless/Human Touch as well as Finally Free, his eighth since 2018. Don't forget his work in punk band Ancient Shapes, which has released three searing LPs since 2016.
But his 2020 catalog feels like something else entirely. It's the culmination of years of genre experiments and an artist freely following his every whim. There's the golden country of Content to Point the Way, the 22-minute psych-rock opus Forever Love's Fool, the power-pop of Super Pollen, a punk rock reimagining of Bob Dylan's 1983 album Infidels, and tons of his best songs yet on LPs like Dandelion, which he wrote and recorded entirely in one week in quarantine.
In his first interview of 2020, Romano generously gave VICE a rundown of how he did it all. "I consider making music to be time for myself," Romano said. "It's the only thing I ever do. Touring is the job. In an ideal world, I'd play two shows a year and spend the rest of the time making things." Read on for a release-by-release guide to 2020's most prolific artist.
Daniel Romano, Visions of the Higher Dream (March 15)
VICE: This album came out just a few days after you had to cancel your tour. I assume you already had these songs ready to go?
Daniel Romano: I had that pretty much finished before going out on that tour. I got home and then I was in a weird state, because I was expecting to be somewhere and then I was suddenly not. I was full of nervous energy working on it because I realized how long it was probably going to be before anything normal comes back in live music. I figured I'd keep busy the only other way that I know how besides touring.
What did you have to work on when you came back?
Almost all the recordings were finished so it was mostly mixing and mastering. It was a little bit liberating, because the reality is I probably would have had to sit on it for at least a year. I maybe would've scrapped it and moved onto something else.
One of the most common complaints I hear from artists is how long they have to sit on recorded music before release.
I'm in a lucky position where I co-run the record label that puts the records out, so I basically just have to send it to one guy, Steve Lambke, and he's pretty understanding.
Daniel Romano’s Outfit, Okay Wow Live Album (March 28)
On the record, it says, "Recorded somewhere in Scandinavia." What do you remember about these shows?
I remember wishing that I didn't know we were recording it. I'm sure there were shows that were better than the one that we got but I'm glad the set got captured because all the songs had become as refined as they were going to be before we retired them. It's nice to be able to capture that before moving on to new songs.
Daniel Romano, Super Pollen EP (April 24)
When you put this out, you wrote, "I have no idea when any of it was recorded and I definitely don’t remember doing it." Have any memories popped up since?
I remember having two rehearsals with Mike Haliechuk and Jonah Falco from Fucked Up in Toronto and then blasting out a couple of instrumentals. I'm pretty sure the rest of it was recorded in Sweden sometime later. They weren't there, but we'd send them the recordings over email and they'd send things back. My whole band was holed up in this cabin for a little while and me and my brother were out in this little shed just kind of putting it together.
Was this when you were making Modern Pressure?
Yes, this was at the same place and at the same time. So these songs were just ready to go years later.
Daniel Romano’s Outfit, Content To Point The Way (April 29)
You've said before that after your earlier records you are pretty jaded about country music. What changed to make another country album?
I wouldn't say I was forced into it, but I was coerced into it by some band members. I thought it would be interesting to write that kind of music again. Spending so much time making country music, the key to it is to think as little as possible and just do what's obvious. That's what it's supposed to be. There were also a lot of songs that I had written that made it into the live show a long time ago, but it never got recorded so not all of it was totally new. And I wanted to include some auxiliary people that I don't play with as often.
Aaron Goldstein, the steel guitar player, I hadn't done anything with him in quite a while so it was nice to be able to send some music back and forth.
Was this all recorded remotely?
Sort of. It was one person at a time in my studio. They'd sanitize everything and then another person would come in. I lived with my brother for a duration of that time so we'd do the ghost tracks and one-by-one people would come in and track their parts. The whole thing took about three days. If it was recorded live, it would've taken a lot less time like How Ill Thy World Is Ordered, which was done in one day.
Daniel Romano’s Outfit ft. Danny Carey, Forever Love’s Fool (May 6)
You were supposed to open for the Danny Carey Trio in May at Stumpfest in Portland. Does that explain the surprising connection to Tool's drummer?
I've known him for a little bit. He came to a show of ours in LA one time because his wife really likes my music. I can't speak for him but I think he likes me too. My brother noticed him in the crowd and I mean he's not hard to miss, but we linked up with him after the show. Later, after a night off in Denmark, him and his wife were also there so we met up. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.
How did the collaboration come together?
I started it before tour but it was finished well into quarantine. I had written that ridiculous 23-minute song and recorded a bunch of it. My brother suggested having Danny because he knows that he has like a bunch of wild percussion and the means to access whatever. I reached out and he was really excited about it. He was also very economical. He got things back to me incredibly fast.
You wrote that "of all the records and songs I've made, of this one I am most proud."
I probably meant that when I said that but I don't know if that still stands. I'm proud of my attention span considering it's such a long song. I started thinking more in movements and parts as opposed to single songs and having one song be fluid enough to be a full record with a concept that threads throughout.
Daniel Romano’s Outfit, DO (WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN) "INFIDELS" BY BOB DYLAN & THE PLUGZ (May 13)
Bob Dylan's 1984 Letterman performance with LA punk band the Plugz backing him is an all-timer.
Oh my god, yes. Essentially we wondered what it'd be like if Infidels was done entirely in this style. We realized that we had to cut a bunch of the verses but it's actually pretty easy to adapt things into punk. It was fun because we had a template with those two songs they did on Letterman. We did it about a week before the album came out.
Spider Bite, Spider Bite (May 20)
Speaking of punk, this is an album where you're on guitar, You've Changed Records co-founder Steve Lambke is on vocals, and your brother is on drums. What do you remember about this one?
I remember it took about 10 minutes to do. My brother and I just ripped through some instrumentals we thought would be a good vibe for Steve. We sent it to him and he wrote brilliant stuff on top of it and sent us his vocals back. The whole thing took less than a day to do.
It's clear you've used this time off as an opportunity to keep making things.
It's also to do things I haven't had the opportunity to do and collaborate with people I love. I consider making music to be time for myself. It's the only thing I ever do. Touring is the job. In an ideal world, I'd play two shows a year and spend the rest of the time making things.
Daniel Romano, Dandelion (May 26)
This was just the product of you being alone for a week with a bunch of instruments right before it was released. Tell me about that week.
I remember feeling particularly inspired. I had a deadline and some songs and because of the speed I had to complete it, I followed my creativity somewhat blindly. To be honest, I don't really remember what it sounds like or what songs are even on it. I just remember the general feeling of being happy while making it.
That's funny because this LP has some of my favorite songs you've ever done like "If You Don't Or If You Do" and "Maybe Today Will Be Curious."
It really clicked while I was making it. Those are probably my favorite too. If I were to listen to everything I did during this time, I'd probably agree with you.
Alias Ensemble, A Splendour of Heart (July 15)
This is a folk record. David Nardi and Kelly Sloan are fantastic on the record. One song, "Lilac About Thy Crown," also appeared on Visions of the Higher Dream. How was reimagining this song in a softer context?
The Visions version is actually the remake. This LP was finished around December of last year. Dave Nardi and I had worked throughout the instrumentals and asked Kelly Sloan, who I'd never worked with, to tackle the vocals. I didn't want to sing these songs because I figured someone else would do it better. Hearing her sing, I knew what she could do and she just busted out these songs in an afternoon.
This is another one you had in the tank.
Yeah, I remixed it the week before it came out but all the tracking and recordings were already there.
Daniel Romano, How Ill Thy World Is Ordered (September 18)
In a different world, this would've only been your second album of 2020.
This was done before the Alias Ensemble record. I forget exactly when but it's been over a year.
Given what's happened this year and given its title, how has your perception of this album changed?
Things definitely lined up for the worse considering the album title. I try not to listen to the things I make. I'll record it, get it out of my mind, and move on so I can feel excited about it when tour comes. With these songs, we never really had the opportunity to play them. There were maybe two or three that were in the new set we had on our last tour but other than that they weren't blasted in my mind to the point where I hate the whole thing, which always inevitably happens. I still have a good relationship with this record and it's the first record I've done with my full band, technically considering it was recorded first.
Can we expect more LPs towards the end of the year?
As of now, no. I'm working on other things but at the moment it feels responsible to give this album room to breathe. It's hard for me to stay still but I'm gonna roll with letting this LP into the world.