DL Rossi releases his latest album, Lonesome Kind, on 16 April. The record comes at the end of a tumultuous period in the singer-songwriter’s life: A testicular cancer diagnosis, a divorce, and relocating to his home state of Michigan after living in Nashville. Despite the circumstances, he emerged with a collection of songs that are filled with hope and humor. There are elements of Motown and sweet 1970s vibes that create a dreamlike state akin to daily existence in a pandemic.
The latest track from the LP, “Great Lakes State Line”, exemplifies Rossi’s state of mind as he landed in his new/old home. It’s meditative without being resigned, hopeful without being overly optimistic, and speaks to the contemplation that comes with new beginnings and finding the new in the familiar.
“I was burned out on the Nashville scene and just wanted to live in a new place,” he says. “When I first got back, I wrote this song as a way of processing yet another transition in my life. It’s a little road-worn-in tone, and it has a narrative of acceptance to the fact that nothing outside yourself can ever really provide peace or security for you. You have to find your own peace along the journey and understand most outside voices want you to rely on them, and you have to learn to rely on yourself.” He adds, “Producer Tyler Chester helped with elevating this song musically. I felt like I had a great narrative and story, but Tyler and the guys really made this song stand out. It’s so different than how I thought it would end up. Once we found the pocket on this song, it also came together quickly. I’m not the greatest vocalist, but we ended up keeping my first scratch vocal on this tune, and that made me feel good.”
Were the songs on the album primarily things you had written since returning to Michigan or from your time in Nashville?
Some of the songs I had been sitting on since Nashville, but I would say more than half I wrote in Michigan when I first moved back. I did a lot of writing when I had a lot of free time, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. I would binge-watch Mad Men, and whenever I got inspired by something, I’d have my guitar right there. I was basically writing three or four hours a day for about two months leading up to the record.
I’m always curious about how a change of scenery impacts writing.
There was a weirdness to writing because, as I said, I did a lot of writing as the pandemic was just starting. The change of scenery and the circumstances of the world created a little bit of freedom for me. I wasn’t as interested on this record in chasing down traditional Americana sounds. [With a few of the things I’d done in the past] I was really trying to be a student of Americana. This time, I didn’t put as much pressure on myself to cultivate how the album was supposed to sound.
You completed the record last year. Did you have the idea of, “I’m going to sit on this for a while and not put it out in 2020”?
I’ve been playing music since I was 15. I started writing really seriously when I was 18. I’m 36 now. When the idea of not doing a record last year came up, I said to my brother, “There’s no way I’m not going to do a record this year.” Once I had a chance to breathe in some life, I exhaled a bunch of songs. For this record, I had a bunch of songs, and we whittled that down to what’s on the record. I decided I wasn’t going to sit on the songs. I really wanted to record and release them. I didn’t care if anybody paid attention. If we had waited a year to record and release the record, I probably would have moved on to a different group of songs.
This last year then was probably the longest stretch of time you’d spent not playing shows.
I’m an introvert. It hasn’t been terribly difficult for me to find ways to kill time. I’m relatively OK being by myself, just reading or watching movies or working on music. Working on the record, making videos, and different content has helped. But this is the longest amount of time I’ve spent at home since high school. Although I probably didn’t even spend that much time at home in high school.
I’m also an introvert and although there have been some trying times in the pandemic, there was also part of me that said, “Yeah, I can totally do this.”
I’ve had people who are close to me, who are extremely extroverted. And the first few months are rough. I had some phone calls with some friends where I was just trying to encourage them because it was difficult for them [to be at home and isolated]. But for me, as you said, I had this attitude of, “I can do this.” Typically, I can reach down into empathy and relate to what someone is going through. I’ve been blessed to be able to take of what I need to take care of, having a place to live and all of that.
Vaccines are coming along and it looks like there might be a return to something like live music as we knew it.
You have to think about what venues will go through when they first re-open and how they’ll get people there. It will probably mean limited numbers. You have to open doors to bands you know will fill a room. There was an outdoor show here in Grand Rapids that I saw a video of. It was pretty well-attended. I think some people are fatigued by all the staying at home. But I think it will be a very slow rollout. I’m also interested to see how hard people are going to go once venues are open again. I don’t know if people have thought about that, how important self-control is going to be. People are going to want to let loose and celebrate.
I sense that the relationship between performer and audience will be changed too.
I think there’s going to have to be. I think it’s going to be tough for a lot of folks. I think there’s going to be this very emotional thing of just wanting everyone to be happy that you’re playing again. It’s really going to be one of those times where maybe people reach into that Springsteen idea that if you can create something for people to attach themselves to, it’s a great opportunity. Everybody has been alone for a long time, so if you can provide the feelings that they’ve been missing, it’ll be great for us as musicians.