Danny Schmidt and Carrie Elkin: on the road together
Danny Schmidt’s songs are complex and evocative, weaving fairy tales into modern-day parables. Carrie Elkin also delves into the spiritual side of people, with a voice so strong that she barely needs a microphone. Individually they are a pair of powerful singer-songwriters; together they raise the roof.
Though they usually tour as separate acts, the Austin-based couple have recently taken the opportunity to go on the road together, sharing the stage, singing harmonies for each other and sharing the toils of touring. They’ve been appreciating the UK together, too.
“I love it,” says Schmidt, 39, during the recent tour. “It’s really warm and friendly. I think when you come from really far away, people seem to really appreciate that you’re there. We play a lot of folk clubs in smaller towns and people are really appreciative.
“And audiences out here are quite open-minded, not so concerned about what niche music is called. And your beer’s awesome. And you guys are really chatty.”
While many musicians gravitate toward Austin as adults, Schmidt was born and raised in the Texas capital. But he says it wasn’t until he moved away that he learned to appreciate it.
“It’s funny, when you’re from there you just totally take it for granted. I kind of assumed most of the rest of the world was pretty similar, all the talk of what a groovy town Austin was, what a progressive town Austin was, what a great music scene it was.
“It wasn’t until I lived other places that I came to appreciate that Austin is pretty special.”
On the journey that would eventually lead him back to Austin, Schmidt lived on two communal farms, including Twin Oaks in Virginia, where he met the 12-year-old Devon Sproule, who was brought up there.
We all happened to be there at the same time and just pushed each other a bit,” Schmidt says. Asked if he was a musical mentor to the young Sproule, he responds: “Not musically speaking, maybe as a person a little bit. She was pretty mature for her age. In general you don’t think of the kids there as kids. You talk to people on your level, and she was pretty precocious, so I just thought of her as a young adult.”
A few years later, both separately chose to leave the commune and move to the nearby town of Charlottesville, where they joined the thriving music scene. Sproule still lives in Charlottesville with her musician husband Paul Curreri, while Schmidt has now returned to Austin, but they remain close friends.
“I never intended to be a musician. I enjoyed playing music and when I started to write music I enjoyed the writing process a lot,” Schmidt says. “So I thought I’d put it out a bit more and got a good response and started playing with some friends who were also doing it and so it was just kind of the slippery slope that one day music was what I was doing most of.”
Elkin, 36, grew up in Ohio but has lived all over the United States. She worked as an organic chemist after leaving college, but found music increasingly taking over her life.
“I’ve always been a singer. I think I probably sang before I talked,” she says. “I picked up the guitar when I was in college and just fell in love with writing songs and singing them. It felt very natural for me. But it took me a long time to make the leap, to have this as my only job. It’s a whole other beast when it’s your only income.”
Elkin was living in Boston when she met Schmidt at a folk convention in Memphis, Tennessee, three years ago. They continue to record and perform as separate artists, however, and only occasionally get to tour together.
Elkin also continues her close collaboration with Colin Brooks, of the Band of Heathens, whom she met when both were living in Taos, New Mexico. Brooks produced her last album, The Jeopardy of Circumstance.
“He’s a huge part of the soul of that record. He’s always been like a brother to me. We kind of grew up together musically,” she says.
Elkin plans to be back in the studio in the spring – or rather, she plans to record at Sam Baker’s house in Austin. She has already announced an October tour of the UK to promote the new album.
Schmidt is also thinking of a new CD, but it might be something a bit different.
“I’ve been on the road for the last year so I’m looking forward to things slowing down a little bit,” he says.
“I’ve had a kids’ record on the back burner for a long time. I also want to do a live CD/DVD project, and then just another regular adult record. I think two of those three will happen this year, I just don’t know which two.”