Introducing Daisy Dern: the Northern California-born singer-songwriter who has just released her debut album, an evocative country-rock work bursting at the seams with catchy tunes, crunchy acoustic textures and Dern’s lovely, lilting contralto. Following in the sonic footsteps of such literate, melodic songstresses as Rosanne Cash, Kathy Mattea, and Patty Loveless, Daisy Dern has been honing her craft for years while playing in bar bands and studying music at Berklee School of Music and San Francisco State. The result is a mature collection of well-crafted and beautifully sung songs, three-fourths of which Dern co-wrote.
A distant cousin of the acting Derns – Bruce and Laura—Daisy came of age in the 1970s in the San Francisco Bay Area, where music was as prevalent as flowers in the hair. With supportive, creative parents (her father a sculptor, her mother a printer and book artist), she fell in love with music-making while in elementary school.
"My mom and dad are both in the arts and both play piano," Daisy recalls of her music-drenched childhood. "They started me with piano lessons when I was eight, and I loved it. I also loved to sing, so they gave me singing lessons, and bought me a four-track recorder so that I could make little demo tapes. They have always provided me with the tools I needed to get involved with music, as well as nurturing my confidence."
The pursuit of one’s muse was an important part of the Dern household, where Willie, Waylon, and Loretta were constants on the record player. By the time she was fifteen, Daisy had begun writing songs and performed for the first time in a San Francisco nightclub, the Roxy Roadhouse. "I was working with a singing teacher who decided she wanted to put on a show to showcase all of her students," Daisy remembers. " I was terrified! I think I sang ‘Oh Darlin'’ and ‘Angel of The Morning.’ It makes me nervous just thinking back on it."
The experience whetted her appetite for being onstage, though, and by the time she was 21 she had assembled her first band. "I got my courage up one night to go sit in with a country band that was playing at a local motel lounge," says Daisy. "After I sang, the drummer, Terry Dilbeck, asked if I would like to start a new band with him. We formed the Blue Horizon Band and performed country covers all over northern California at parties and clubs. I basically did most of the booking, I lugged the PA system around in my little Chevy Blazer, and kept the band going. Terry was kind of like my guardian angel. He saw how badly I wanted to have a band, so he took me under his wing and taught me how to do it. We worked together for about six years."
Between gigs, Dern attended college in California and for one year on the East Coast. " I finally earned my degree in Music Business from San Francisco State in '91," says Dern. "That was a big deal for me, because I spent a lot of time in school searching for a major besides a traditional music major that would interest me. I started out at UC Santa Cruz for two years, went to Berklee College Of Music for one year, took a year off, and then designed my own major in Music Business and graduated from SF State in '91. All this time I was also playing music with my band."
The following year, Daisy struck out for Nashville to try her luck in the music business. Looking back, she realizes she wasn’t ready yet: " I lasted five months and moved back home," says Daisy. " I think I felt too overwhelmed. I knew one person, whom I rented a room from. But I was homesick and at a loss for how to get involved in the music business. I was also very shy and not at all confident back then, which made it hard for me to meet people. I went back home and got my band back together for another two years. I finally realized that my dream of getting a record deal in Nashville was never going to go away, so I moved back in January of 1995. This time I felt right at home and very happy to be in Nashville. I guess the timing was right."
Fortuitously, Daisy also met her future collaborator – both personally and professionally: songwriter Dave Gibson (former Gibson/Miller Band front man), who became her husband, producer, co-writer, and the father of their two-year-old daughter, Savannah. "Practically from the moment we met in '95, we have always loved to write and sing together," says Daisy. "It just comes naturally."
After Dern clinched a deal with Mercury Nashville, the couple entered the studio in 2001 with a batch of their best songs, as well as a handful from other writers ranging from the hit making Bobbie Cryner (the tearstained "By the Time You Read This") to their baby doctor: "Move A Mountain" was co-written by our daughter's pediatrician, David White," according to Daisy. "On our first doctor visit --when Savannah was two weeks old-- David told us he was also a songwriter and asked if we would come out to see him play. We went to the show and he blew us away! When he sang ‘Move A Mountain,’ I knew immediately that it was a song I wanted to record."
The birth of their daughter has had other positive effects on Daisy’s music, she says. "Until Savannah was born, I always felt very stuck with my writing. But about a year after she was born I just got this flood of creativity and confidence. It was pretty amazing. It seemed to tear down all of the walls."
The proof is in this eloquent, emotionally honest album: the wistful memory of an idyllic childhood in the bittersweet ballad "1518 Walnut Street"; the visceral, fiddle-fueled road song "Gettin' Back to You"; the country-rockin’ rave up "Little Tornadoes"; the lusty come-on "Tough Love"; the sassy Bobbie Gentry-by-way-of-Wynonna swamp-rocker "Biloxi"; and fittingly, the gorgeous, old-timey lullaby "Little Dreams."
These plus a half-dozen other potent tracks together make for a very organic sounding collection, with liberal doses of dobro, fiddle, steel guitar, and acoustic picking creating a rootsy musical setting. Daisy Dern sounds right at home – and her inviting voice welcomes us all inside.