Ethan Gruska and Daniel Hart ready for their ASCAP Cafe return
January 20, 2018
Singers and songwriters Ethan Gruska and Daniel Hart have each performed the ASCAP Music Café in the past, but in different incarnations.
Gruska last performed at the showcase in 2015 with the band The Belle Brigade with his older sister Barbara.
Hart has been to the ASCAP Music Café three times.
The first was in 2013, where he went as a fan and saw Andrew Bird perform. The second time was in 2016 when he played in a band called Other Lives.
The last time Hart performed at the Music Café was last year when he attended the Sundance Film Festival for scoring David Lowery's film "The Ghost Story," which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
This year, both artists are performing in different formats.
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Gruska, who will perform solo sets at 4:15 p.m. on Jan. 20 and 3:30 p.m on Jan. 21, while Hart will play at 4:15 p.m. on both Jan. 21 and Jan. 22 with his band Dark Rooms, at the ASCAP Music Café located at the at the Rich Haines Gallery, 751 Main St.
Gruska's sets will feature songs from his new album "Slowmotionary" as well as some unrecorded songs.
"I have quite a bit of new material," Gruska said. "I have been writing quite a bit and have about 30 new songs that are in the mix for what will probably be my next project."
He is also planning to play some instrumental pieces.
"Since we are coming to the Sundance Film Festival, I thought I would play some of my compositions because there will be movie people there," he said. "And that's another world I'm trying to get into as well."
Hart has his own plans for the ASCAP performances and will play with his full band — guitarist Casey Trela, drummer Bobak Lotfipour and keyboardist Rachel Ballard.
"I feel like this music, which will mostly be from our second album, 'Distraction Sickness,' doesn't lend itself well to solo performances," Hart said. "It would be like karaoke, which doesn't sound fun to me."
"Distraction Sickness" is different in its approach from Dark Rooms' self-titled debut that was released in 2013.
"The first album was comprised of a collection of songs that I had written over a couple of years during a time when I was in a musical transition from a poppier and upbeat style into a more electronic style that was influenced by old rhythm and blues and hip-hop," Hart said. "I took a couple of songs from the first album, 'Keep It Inside' and another called 'Beyond the Lens,' and used them as a springboard for the style of the second album."
Hart tried to stay within those stylistic boundaries, which proved to be difficult.
"I've never been very good at staying in boundaries, and that's why I enjoy working multiple projects," he said. "I scored a TV show called 'SMILF' that was on Showtime, and wrote transitional comedic pieces. At the same time I was working on David Lowery's next film called 'Old Man and the Gun,' which was a jazz-oriented sound, while we toured the 'Dark Rooms' album. I feel like I can dive into different pools.
Gruska's new album "Slowmotionary," which he co-produced with Tony Berg, also marks a shift in his writing and performing paradigm.
"It's always been difficult for me to make records because I would end up putting the kitchen sink into it and it was hard to hear the nuances," he said. "'Slowmotionary' was nice to make because I got to strip everything away, and that gave me opportunities to record subtle textures that you could hear on the first or second times."
Even the vocals and lyrics became something more than just a voice singing words.
"The lyrics, for me, were something that I could try to bridge a gap between being vague and being narrative driven," Gruska said. "Songs I have written in the past have either been too straightforward or too earnest. So this record was me trying to be personal and earnest while stepping outside of it."
Both Gruska and Hart said they are looking forward to performing at the ASCAP Music Café, which is presented by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), a nonprofit performance right group that protects its members' musical copyrights.
"Since I have attended or played each year I've been to Sundance, I have always equated ASCAP Music Café with the festival," Hart said. "Last year there was so much snow, so there was a day when we just parked ourselves backstage with a bunch of ASCAP folks."
"It's an honor for me because any songwriter or musician will tell you that ASCAP is how every musician gets paid," Gruska said. "But it's not just handing out check. They host events such as the Music Café where they bring attention to artists like me who don't have mainstream success."
The ASCAP Music Café continues during the Sundance Film Festival through Friday, Jan. 26, at the Rich Haines Gallery.
Admission is free for Sundance Festival credential holders as space allows.
For information, visit https://www.ascap.com/news-events/events/2018/sundance/sundance-landing.