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Artist Special - Brian DiSanto

Welcome to Artist Special! Artist Special is a new series of interviews that runs every third Sunday of each month. I'm talking with artists who make both musick and another kind of art. They could be poets, painters, sculptors, novelists, game designers, or anything else. This month I talked with Brian DiSanto.


Brian DiSanto is mostly an a capella musician, though he has played with bands IT IT, Skeletonized, and Znagez among others. I first met Brian through mutual friends who were all living together, or soon to be living together, at the infamous Roup House a while back. Later, we played musick together in the short-lived Mangy Bipods.When I put up a post about this new Artist Special series, he was the first to respond with samples of poetry. We did a short interview via Messenger; the results are below (only edited for grammar).

When did you start writing poetry? When did you start making musick?
I started writing poetry in late middle school, probably around the age of 14 or 15, in study hall. Even back then I was attracted to the movement & rhythms of poetry and how they could exist beyond the words & transform into melody. I really wrote for my own entertainment. I became equally as interested in writing a song myself that could spin ‘round my head all day as a motivator as I was trying to find interesting songs on the radio. I started to record and actually write full-blown songs shortly after this…maybe age 16. It was always with my good friend Rob Russell and I. He was on strings and I sang, or sometimes had bongos or makeshift percussion. Our favorite recording spot was this crusty old shack in North Park. We would go after dark. And the building was always unlocked and had working electricity and these fantastic acoustics. There was a big crumbled sign hanging inside that said “No confetti permitted in the building”. That was our first album name which I released on CDR about 7 years later. We called our band various names, including The Ramblin Roosters and Maverick Jack & The Grenades.   
In the beginning, what/who inspired you in terms of each? What continues to inspire you?
Back then, and still today, REM and Robert Pollard have been hugely inspirational. Their carefree, seamless songcraft was just so attractive. They were punk, but they were pumping out pop songs. Catchy, gorgeous pop songs. Especially Michael Stipe and how he allowed his vocals to become a sort of hidden instrument. You couldn’t decipher what the hell he was actually saying, but it didn’t matter. He was a vehicle for emotion, and most important to me, a pop hook. And Robert Pollard and his prolific nature. He never really aged in normal human terms. He kind of just keeps writing songs to avoid getting older. Literal rock n roll lifeblood. I liked that. Tom Wolfe continues to inspire me as well. His word usage is so beautiful. It just glides. Like the board game Mousetrap. You wouldn’t dare stop that little silver marble once the contraption has initiated. So you watch with glee and amazement. The actual stories he’s telling are secondary. 
I asked you about this in person, but, to clarify, have all of yr songs begun as poems? Are some written with the intention of being made into a song at a later date?
I would say 50/50 as far as songs that started as poems. Most of my poems are foundationally geared with melody and rhythm in mind, but I carefully leave quite a few alone and don’t develop them beyond words. Though if you were to read the ones that have remained only poetry aloud while in a certain chipper kind of mood, the fully realized songs will slither out into the ether pretty easily, which is my secret intention.
You have a small label called Wild Raft. Where did the name Wild Raft come from? I've always liked the simplicity of the name.
Good question! My family and I used to go camping often and one of our favorite activities was to go tubing along Slippery Rock Creek near McConnell's Mill. One Friday night when I was probably 13 or 14 there was this huge rainstorm which created super high water levels with extremely rugged rapids. The state park rangers made a clear announcement NOT to tube/kayak/canoe due to dangerous conditions. My dad pretty much said, "screw that", and he and I went anyhow. As soon as we launched we both flipped off our tubes, catapulted down the river with hanging onto the tubes' rope, and by the grace of miss mother nature herself, finished the 5-mile trip unscathed. We evaded the rangers at the end. It became a legendary moment in my childhood.
Briefly describe yr creative process. How do you choose the words/lyrics? Some of these are pretty out there.
Quite often a melody will just zap into my head outta nowhere. It seems to happen most often as soon as I leave work. It’s like a natural destressing mechanism. It’s that gorgeous moment when you finally aren’t chained to the crummy labors of the workday. The brain wants to go party and release itself. If the melody is decent, I usually will record a chunk of it into my cell phone so I can revisit it later and add words and verses. I have probably 150-200 chorus snippets on my phone at any given time. I am way more interested in the hook than writing about a theme or moment in my life. Maybe one out of fifty or so songs will have a theme….and if so it’s a very looooose concept. I enjoy writing about movement and escaping and metaphorical moments when something striking happens. My main mission is always to get the song stuck in your head, without it being annoying. If you listen at night and wake up the next morning with the chorus circling your head, it was a job well done/gold star for me. And the words are a giant puzzle. How can I fit “rhododendron” somewhere to close to “power flight” and then fit that near “exonerate”? I’m filling in my own New York Times lyric crossword as I go. I’ve best pick the right word now, or the next one ain’t gonna fit.
I know that you also make collages for yr album art. Does that come from the same place? Is the idea of “found art” a central element to yr work?
When I collage it’s a similar process. The shapes and flow of the imagery should be catchy and memorable. It’s also me simply entertaining myself. I like spooky creatures, and neon contrasted with not neon, and space, and the unknown. I probably was watching an episode of The X Files within 24-48 hours of every collage I’ve ever made, which probably shows. I think the idea of found art and recycled art is super cool, though I don’t keep that in mind when creating something – and I don’t necessarily want the collage to feel old, or new… just grasping and groovy in that moment in time.
What are yr goals for yr musick and poetry? Do you see yrself publishing a book of poetry in the future? I can’t remember if you made a zine in the past, but I do remember you reading a story at a Quiet Sound Night at one point. That was pretty cool. Is that published anywhere?
My creative goals are very relaxed. It’s important that I keep producing, as long as I can. I’m very fortunate to have recently jammed and recorded with the folks in IT IT and Skeletonized. They both were unexpected and amazing collaborations. I hope to continue similar projects, as long as people see my lyrics and vocals as a vehicle to further their sound. My dream scenario would be to have a pure rock formation, stage-ready. A no-holds-barred power pop and psychedelic affair. Something like the Butthole Surfers but with less cerebral damage. I’ve released 3 poetry zines in paper and digital format, which are linked on my website, wildraft.tumblr.com. I also released one CDR copy of actual spoken, not “sung”, poetry. It was called The Above-Ground Octopus. This was in maybe 2011. I nestled it under a hedge down around the busway behind Bloomfield. The story you’re referring to was called Cap’n Fizz & The Mysterious Glowstick Hotdogs. Kind of a nod to discovering LSD, but in a more PG text. I released that as a paper zine as well. It’s intended to be acted out as a play. If I could make that happen one day I’d be ecstatic.
What new stuff are you working on?
I'm writing as many songs as I can. I want to release a new solo album since I haven't in a few months. My fourth poetry zine has all the content but I need to assemble it and it needs a title. I'm thinking Powdered Mink Metropolis. Or maybe Transmissions On Chestnut Ridge, which would be a shoutout to this stretch of land out in Westmoreland County that the locals call Chestnut Ridge. And for hundreds of years, it's been a hotspot for the unexplained.
I hope you found these answers insightful to the enigmatic Brian DiSanto. Even being his friend, I sure learned a lot. You can check out Brian's musick at https://briandisanto.bandcamp.com/ and his poetry at http://wildraft.tumblr.com/.

If you want to be a part of this series, please send a message to the Skull Valley Facebook page or send an email to skullvalleyblog@gmail.com with a short description of what you do and samples of yr work. I hope to see you back here in February for the next Artist Special when I talk with Mick Malone about his new book of poetry.

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