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BellyUp Aspen Welcome's Jeff Daniels the Musician, With or Without the Moped

Jamie Lynn Miller's picture

“I put my arm around the elephant in the room; you can’t distance yourself from it,” says Daniels. “The biggest mistake you can make is to ignore the reason they bought the tickets. But just give me ten minutes, and I’ll have you for the whole night. I don’t have a band, I don’t do covers; it’s just me and my guitar. And I use the movie to have fun with the audience and lead into funny things.”

Those funny things are his original songs: clever, playful and full of personal anecdotes on universal themes like breaking up, getting older and remembering where you’re from. With titles like “Baby, Take Your Tongue Outta My Mouth, I’m Kissin You G’Bye” and ‘How “Bout We Take Our Pants Off and Relax?” his signature sense of humor is never far from the next verse.

To each and every song, there’s a bit of back-story because, for Daniels, the passion behind the music starts with the art of storytelling. “I’ve been writing songs for 30 years, it’s just something I did…I was a songwriter before I knew it. I was brought up in the theater, surrounded by playwrights and like writing a play, writing a song is about connecting with the audience, and sustaining that connection. When I write plays, I stop every 10 pages and in my head, I turn to the audience and say, ‘OK, what happens now?’ They’ll raise their hands and I make sure they’re all wrong. I write myself into a corner, then I write myself out of it. You gotta sneak up on them – if you’re predictable, you’re boring. Writing a song is about being human. You need to get in their heads and hold up a mirror, without them seeing it.”
Before a Converted AudienceBefore a Converted Audience
Once onstage, the art of live performance begins, being practiced but rolling with the punches that an ever-changing audience, including your daughter, throw your way. “The thing is, not every movie you do is interesting – I’ve done maybe a dozen movies that will outlive me – the Squid and the Whale, Purple Rose of Cairo, Dumb and Dumber. But everyone wants you to repeat what you’ve already done. I wanted to do something creatively challenging and for me, now, that’s walking out on stage with my new material, no band, bantering back and forth with the audience and making it look totally in the moment. When you shoot a movie with Clint Eastwood, you do only one take – he’s famous for it. But really, there’s a method to the madness. Stevie Goodman, Utah Phillips…they were masters of making a room full of 200 people feel like they were seeing something for the first time.”