Jeff Daniels on balancing his acting and music careers, going on a ‘musical adventure’ with his family and that famous ‘Newsroom’ speech
Editor’s note: The Jeff Daniels and the Ben Daniels Band performance that was scheduled for Oct. 27 has been postponed for a later date TBA.
Jeff Daniels has seen his fair share of audiences. From the big screen to the little screen, and stages in between, the Emmy award-winning actor is constantly developing his craft.
But amid the recent releases of two new films, “Steve Jobs” and “The Martian,” Daniels will be showcasing a musical talent not everyone gets to see. He’s stopping at the Granada on Oct. 27 with his son’s act, The Ben Daniels Band, for a night of rustic Americana as he dives into his sixth album, “Days Like These.”
Jeff Daniels and the Ben Daniels Band were scheduled to perform at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Granada, 1020 Massachusetts St. Tuesday morning, the Granada tweeted, “We’re sorry to say that due to unforeseen circumstances this performance will be rescheduled to a future date!”
The Lawrence Journal-World’s Fally Afani recently talked with Daniels about his family-fueled folk act, and what it takes to find a balance between a Hollywood actor and life as a touring musician.
FA: It seems that your acting career keeps your hands full enough, and then I see how much you tour. This isn’t your first rodeo; you tour a lot. Why the decision to go out on tour when you have the new Steve Jobs movie coming up?
JD: For one thing, I enjoy it and I get the chance to play with my son’s band. This will be the fourth time we go out together. We book these things four to six months ahead of time. So, four to six months ago, who knew “The Martian” and “Steve Jobs” would come out so close together? There’s something wonderful about going out on the road and looking over there and seeing your son. It’s a great musical adventure that’s as important to me as what’s going on with the movies. I cherish these tours.
FA: Lawrence is smack dab in the middle of the nation. How do your audiences in the Midwest take to you compared with the rest of the nation?
JD: It’s aimed at places more like Lawrence than it is in, say, New York or Chicago. I enjoy going to places that are off the beaten path. Lawrence, Kansas, is one of those places. I really enjoy finding those venues, those places that when you get there and the audience is glad you made the effort to come to them
FA: I heard you’re quite the storyteller onstage. Since folk music tends to be fairly personal, what are some of the real-life experiences that helped shaped your music?
JD: I never know what I’m really going to say, nor does the band. That’s part of the fun of it, that I will go off. I will talk to the audience. If we have a conversation, great. They need to remember that one of us has the microphone, so be careful. But there is room for spontaneity. I know I’ve said things onstage and gone off on little tangents and looked at my son, and he’s shaking his head.
I certainly do not ignore the movie career or television career. We do a song, for instance, called “Now You Know You Can,” which is based on “The Newsroom” and the speech I had in the first episode. It’s the speech that probably won me the Emmy, and it’s certainly a speech that will outlive me and Aaron Sorkin. Getting ready to do that speech and the pressure that was on me, I got through that, and it goes to a song “Now You Know You Can.” If you don’t try and risk failure, then you won’t succeed… and once you do, now you know you can do it.
FA: You’re no stranger to folk festivals. What do you do to set yourself apart from being the actor that shows up with the guitar?
JD: You can’t get away from it. That’s what you’re known for. If you can play, that’s it at the end of the day. If you can play, musicians know if you’re getting around or not. I’ve worked hard over the decades, since the late ’70s, on the guitar as a songwriter. It’s a joy for me being in the closet all these years and to kind of come out and say, “Here’s a song I wrote,” and the jaws drop. Their expectations are so low. But if you risk it, I think you’ll be surprised. And that comes from 35 years of getting ready to do it.
FA: What, as an actor, prepared you for live music on tours like this one?
JD: I’ve been on tour for 40 years. It’s a different tour. You go somewhere, you’re in hotels, you’re spending three months somewhere or you’re on a movie and you’re on location somewhere. I’ve always been a gypsy. It’s a very nomadic experience as an actor. I embrace it as an adventure, doing something with my family. My wife goes, my dogs go. We enjoy these, we really do.
FA: You’ve been touring for a while with your son Ben’s band. What brought you two together to bond over music?
JD: I said to him in high school, “If you ever want to learn the guitar, come to me.” Then it was hockey and girls and all of a sudden he was 19 and he said, “All right, I’m ready.” I said, “Ready for what?” and he said, “Teach me the guitar.” He was looking for some direction, and what I didn’t know was that he was an artist. He could draw, he could paint, he could take photographs. So learning the guitar came quickly to him, and he hasn’t had the guitar out of his hands for the last 11 years.
I said if you chase this, you have to write your own stuff… He started researching all kinds of writers, the blues, the folk, hip-hop, he chased all of it… and now he’s got this life in music as a recording engineer, as a songwriter. I’ve done that with Luke, my other son. I said find out what you love to do, and spend the rest of your life getting better at it. Not everybody gets that opportunity. Best to find out something that you’re natural at, and that you love, and then chase that as a career.
— Fally Afani is a freelance writer and editor of iheartlocalmusic.com.