The Obelisk Questionnaire: Brian Daniloski of Darsombra

Brian Daniloski darsombra

The Obelisk Questionnaire is a series of open questions intended to give the answerer an opportunity to explore these ideas and stories from their life as deeply as they choose. Answers can be short or long, and that reveals something in itself, but the most important factor is honesty.

Based on the Proust Questionnaire, the goal over time is to show a diverse range of perspectives as those who take part bring their own points of view to answering the same questions. To see all The Obelisk Questionnaire posts, click here.

Thank you for reading and thanks to all who participate.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Brian Daniloski of Darsombra

How do you define what you do and how did you come to do it?

I define myself as Brian Daniloski, and life is what I do, all the time, until I die. If I had to give a bio to the world of what I would like to be remembered for, I would describe myself as an artist. My primary artistic practices are music composition, playing music, and performing music (which to me is different than, but also involves, playing music), among other artistic practices, like decorating my home, making breakfast, gardening, etc. Beyond that, I am also a yoga teacher and student, bicycle-riding, hiking, nature-loving, peace-loving, kind of a person, and I do a whole bunch of other not very exciting things too.

As to how I came to do the bio-to-the-world stuff, I dreamed of being a musician when I was about 9, soon after getting the (at that time) new KISS album, Rock and Roll Over. KISS changed my life. I started plunking around on a guitar shortly after that. My first guitar was a very shitty acoustic guitar that I picked up at a yard sale. I’m pretty sure it didn’t even have all six strings. It was the kind of guitar that would discourage most people from playing guitar, but I would pick out stuff like “Smoke on the Water” or the Twilight Zone theme by ear, and do pick slides and funny glissando runs up and down the strings all day to amuse myself and anyone nearby.

About a year or two after that, I got my first electric guitar and started taking guitar lessons from a music store in town. I learned several basic chords and some Beatles songs, but never learned to read music very efficiently. Although I could read a chord chart (if the chords weren’t too technically intense, and then eventually there was guitar tablature, which is much easier to read than traditional music notation), I pretty much taught myself to play music by ear, and sometimes, whenever I had the rare opportunity in those days, by watching another guitarist. At some point a neighborhood friend showed me how to play a barre chord, and that was a major revelation. I did the whole jam-by-myself-in-my-teenage-bedroom thing for many years before I felt confident enough in my abilities to play with others.

During the last years of high school, I started performing in some not-so-serious bands with friends, and did that sort of thing on and off for the next few years. We only ever played a couple of shows. I tried writing a tune here or there, but it wasn’t until I bought a four-track cassette recorder that I started really getting into composing.

Around that time, I also started going to underground shows. Before this, I was just going to a lot of arena rock shows, but those musicians were like untouchable gods to me. The chasm between playing in my bedroom or jamming with some friends in a garage, and actually playing a show on a stage to an audience seemed intimidatingly immense. It wasn’t until I saw the Butthole Surfers perform an awesome mind-bending show for a sold-out enthusiastic audience in this small shithole basement punk rock club in Baltimore, that I started to think that perhaps that chasm wasn’t as big as I’d imagined.

Soon after that, now in my early twenties, I started a band with my younger brother. That was in the late ’80s. Very quickly, we started getting serious with it. By serious, I mean we started writing songs, making and releasing recordings, and playing live shows. Within a few years, it went from just playing shows around Baltimore, Maryland, to playing shows that were within a 4-6 hour driving radius from Baltimore, to touring pretty regularly all over the US.

I haven’t stopped doing that sort of thing since. Only the cast of characters that I’ve done it with, and how far away we’ve been able to tour, has changed over the years. Over 30 years in, and I still spend a good chunk of every year as a wandering musician exploring the globe (2020 not so much — although we did get to perform our first show in Mexico before the pandemic shut everything down), and pretty much every day of my life I am involved in music, or some artistic creative process, and thankful of that.

I feel especially fortunate and grateful to have found a partner in crime to do this with. I’m not so sure that I would still be doing this the way I do it at this age, had the circumstances been different. Leaving behind significant others to go driving around in a van full of dudes for chunks of time, like I used to, doesn’t have as much appeal for me these days. I still do the same thing, driving around in a van to play shows, but the atmosphere is much more agreeable with my partner and bestest buddy along for the adventure.

Describe your first musical memory.

I remember deriving a great deal of joy from this enormous record-player-stereo-console-furniture-thing that my parents had. It must have been about the size of a refrigerator lying on its side. This would have been the early ’70s. They would play vinyl LP records on it like The Beatles Abbey Road, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, soundtracks to popular musicals of the time, Smothers Brothers comedy albums, and childrens records. There was a lot of music and dancing in the living room. I instantly loved music.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

“Best” is a really hard word for me, but one of my favorite musical moments was playing music outside by the side of the highway in rural Wyoming during a total solar eclipse. The high from the performance was incredible even though there were only two people in attendance — two tourists from Germany just happened to show up to watch the eclipse right as we were getting ready to start playing, a father and his son. The dad seemed to dig it okay; the son, not so much, as he seemed more interested in whatever he was doing on his smartphone. We were so charged from playing the show that we drove four hours to the Badlands of South Dakota, set up our gear again at the top of a mesa, and played over the Badlands as the sun went down that same day. There aren’t a lot of days like that.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

I feel like my beliefs are questioned and tested all the time, so I try not to hold them too firmly. I’m always questioning everything, even myself. I think it was .38 Special that said “Hold on loosely, but don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.” I can go along with that sentiment, even if I’m not too crazy about the band or the song.

But seriously, reality is not real, or it is at least highly subjective, and therefore malleable. Once one accepts this, then it’s kind of hard to have too firm of a hold on a belief or idea. I think it’s good to have one’s beliefs tested. If your beliefs can’t withstand a test or two, maybe it’s time for a reassessment of that belief.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Down the rabbit hole, hopefully!

How do you define success?

My personal definition of success is being able to spend most of one’s time doing what one wants. I’ve always aimed at that, to varying degrees of success. ;)

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Well, it’s nothing horrible like being in a war, but on my way home from work one day, I saw two kittens run into a busy intersection and get run over by some cars right in front of me. That was something I wish I hadn’t seen. Other than that, I’m sure there’s a long list of bad movies that would fit the bill.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

We haven’t created the next Darsombra album yet, but we’re working on it, and having a blast! One day I’d like to create an all-synth album, but it’s really hard to put the guitar down, it’s like a third arm. Perhaps a time machine. That might be fun.

What do you believe is the most essential function of art?

Self-expression. Then after that, I’d say inspiration and/or evocation.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

I look forward to socializing like we used to before the pandemic, being able to hug family and friends (instead of acting under the assumption that we’re all lepers), and not having to wear a mask as much.

Darsombra, Call the Doctor / Nightgarden (2021)

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2 Responses to “The Obelisk Questionnaire: Brian Daniloski of Darsombra”

  1. greg says:

    I’ve been watching Brian perform since 1990 maybe earlier. He’s been an inspiration and one of the most generous people I have ever met in the Baltimore scene. Broccoli broccoli.

  2. John D says:

    Great interview. I’ve known Brian a great many years, listened to his music and shared the stage(in different bands) and many good times just hanging out. Although life has taken us into different things and I don’t see him much these days, I still consider him a good friend and amazing musician that left a huge imprint in the music scene. I love that he’s doing what he loves most.

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