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Acoustic Musician David Berkeley - Biography


David Berkeley is a romantic realist, known for his ability to look at the human condition in all its complexity and give us luminous songs full of sunshine and anguish, melancholy and delight. He brings the people and situations he sings about to vibrant life with a warm, rich tenor that often slips into an aching falsetto to underline the overwhelming emotions that can move us to tears or laughter. On Some Kind of Cure, Berkeley delivers some of his most heartfelt tunes blending folk, rock, and classic pop to create timeless expressions of love and longing.

The majority of songs on Some Kind of Cure were written while Berkeley and his family were living in a 35-person village in the mountains of Corsica. The silence and wild, natural beauty of the island seeped into Berkeley’s soul, bringing forth a collection of lingering beauty. “There were no stores in our tiny town,” Berkeley explained. “No cafes. No post office. No Internet. It was silent. I had very few distractions, which was quite different from life in a big city. Because no one spoke English, I could sing rough drafts of lyrics without being embarrassed. I got a naked feeling being there without language and not understanding anything that was being said. When I sang for the villagers, I had to make sure the emotion came through in the music, as well as the words. That had a big effect on the way I wrote my songs.”

Berkeley recorded the album after returning to the States, working in Atlanta with producer Will Robertson. “Since I financed the album with money that was donated by my fans, we were able to take our time. We went through every lyric, almost word by word, translating words into music and emotion.” The core band for the project was Robertson on piano and bass; drummer Kevin O’Donnell (Andrew Bird); Kim Taylor (Over the Rhine) on background vocals; Jordan Katz (De La Soul, Sara Bareilles) on horns; and Lex Price (Mindy Smith) on mandolin and guitars. Most tracks were cut with Berkeley singing and playing live in the studio with piano or bass. “We wanted it to feel live, but have options to add stuff later,” Berkeley explains. “The recording has a lot of breath and a natural, relaxed feel. It sounds more like I do live than my previous recordings.’
The words and music on Some Kind of Cure capture a wide range of emotion, employing shifting tempos, a wide dynamic range and diverse arrangements that suggest traditional folk, British Invasion pop, hip hop, classic and rock. “George Square” opens the album with its subtle cinematic arrangement. Berkeley’s hushed staccato vocal and Robertson’s chiming electric piano create a delicious tension that’s resolved by the soaring strings that lift the last verse to the clouds with Jordan Katz plays an almost subliminal trumpet line to hold the song together. “It’s a relationship song,” Berkeley says. “Love is the solution, but the resolution is often deeper and more mysterious than we know.” The tinny sound of music coming through an old fashion car radio sets up “Parachute,” a bright, bouncy rocker with an irresistible chorus. The voices of Berkeley and Kim Taylor dance through the mix like hesitant lovers, finally coming together in celebratory harmony for the hook: “Your heart is like a parachute, it only opens when you fall.”

Peter Bradley Adams adds subtle piano accents to “The Blood and the Wine,” a quiet love song Berkeley wrote for his wife. It’s one of Berkeley’s most intimate vocals and shows off his remarkable range as it shifts from a low vulnerable whisper to a wordless, plaintive falsetto on the chorus to express a sense of emotional fragility. The song’s intricate lyrics, sophisticated rhymes and overlapping images use simple language to convey love’s emotional complexity. Katz adds a sense of poignant yearning to the track with his melancholy flugelhorn. Katz is also featured on the ballad “Homesick.” His muted trumpet adds to the song’s touching, intimate feel with long, sustained notes that compliment Berkeley’s moving vocal.

The dark, sparse opening of “Hope for Better Days” slowly builds to a rousing rocking climax, with an intense distorted guitar solo by Lex Price. “Shenandoah” is a timeless frontier ballad; understated piano and electric guitar and the close harmonies of Berkeley and Taylor underscore the song’s gentle beauty. The album closes with “Winter Winds,” a song that imagines a father’s deathbed conversation with his son. A simple, repeating melody keeps your attention on Berkeley’s aching vocal singing a heartbreaking lyric, sounding more and more desperate as the song draws to a close, echoing the father’s reluctance to leave this life. Ominous strings and woodwinds rise up to intensify the song’s drama, then fade away leaving Berkeley and his acoustic guitar alone to deliver the final invocation.

Some Kind of Cure shows Berkeley at his best, delivering songs marked by warm, rolling melodies, fervent lyrics and his genuine desire to connect with his audience and his own soul. “I work long and hard on every song,” Berkeley explains. “I don’t write throw away lines; there’s a reason for every word in every song. Will did an amazing job finding the essence of these songs and layering the arrangements to create a sensual landscape that does each piece justice. And Jordan Katz created all sorts of delayed, treated sounds with his trumpet that really added depth and feeling to the songs.”

“Dashing singer-songwriter David Berkeley delivers his warm, thoughtful songs, along with a reliably hilarious line in onstage banter.”
– Time Out New York

In concert, Berkeley wins crowds over with his low-key charisma and hilarious between song banter. He usually introduces songs with long, intricate anecdotes and rambling commentaries, using a manner that’s more front porch than show biz, relaxing people without any apparent effort to be funny, a difficult balance to achieve. He weaves together fact, fiction and hyperbole into stories that often leave audiences in hysterics without resorting to obvious punch lines. His on stage narratives rarely repeat themselves and are full of the same astutely observed details that propel his songs.

As you might expect from his witty and erudite stage patter, Berkeley is a talented prose writer. He kept a diary of his stay on Corsica, which became the basis of his accompanying book, 140 Goats and A Guitar, The Stories Behind Some Kind of Cure. Like his songs, the stories are well-constructed pieces filled with revealing details and poetic language. Berkeley’s concept is a unique one: The book will include a download code for the album, and readers are encouraged to move through the book reading each story and then listening to the corresponding song. Berkeley explains that “the stories give you a look behind all the songs on the record. I often tell stories that explain a song or that led to a song. When I got back from Corsica, I realized that many of the songs were created out of situations and events–some funny, some awkward, some painful.” He tells these stories with an openness and honesty that matches his music. “Ultimately, I believe my music conjures an eerie optimism, a mysterious kind of hope,” Berkeley says. “I think that sentiment hovers over most of the songs and most of the stories.”

David Berkeley never intended to become a professional musician. “I sang all the time, almost before I could talk,” Berkeley recalls. “There wasn’t a lot of music around the house. My parents didn’t take me to anything like Star Search performances, but they did take me to New York to see Broadway musicals. I had a good ear and could remember the words and melodies to the songs I liked, but I didn’t start playing myself until fairly late.”

Berkeley grew up in New Jersey and sang in nursery school. He usually took the lead in class musicals, but he’s modest about his early success. “I was one of the first kids to be verbal, so I got the lead roles, but I don’t think that was a formative experience. I started on guitar when I was 15, mostly to get girls. I was happy singing other people’s music, greats like Neil Young; Crosby, Stills and Nash; the Grateful Dead and other California sounds. I loved Paul Simon’s lyrics, but my chops weren’t that good. They still aren’t. I do have a style, but I’m a singer before I’m a guitarist.”

Berkeley played in various bands in high school and during his years at Harvard, where he studied philosophy and literature. He busked in Harvard Square, but he didn’t get serious about music until he fell in love. “I started writing songs in my last years of college, when I had my heart broken. My first songs were written in an attempt to get my girlfriend back. I ultimately did, and married her, but it took a while.

“When I graduated, I wanted to be a travel writer. One summer, I went to Alaska and wrote for Let’s Go Alaska. I worked five summers as a whitewater rafting guide in Idaho. I moved to Santa Fe to work for Outside magazine. While I was there, I managed a band and that got me excited about the music business. By the time they broke up, I’d amassed a lot of songs and wanted to make a record. I decided I wanted to be onstage, not backstage.”

Berkeley recorded his first album, The Confluence, in the fall of 2001. He started playing live to support the album, working days as a teacher in a public school in Brooklyn. “I was allegedly teaching creative writing, but mainly I tried to control the kids and not get hurt. I played shows on nights and weekends.”

Berkeley’s second album, 2004’s After The Wrecking Ships, featured “Fire Sign.” The next year, Berkeley made Live From Fez, recored at his favorite club just before it closed, but working day and night was taking its toll. “I was losing my voice and exhausted. I decided I had to do music full time.”

Berkeley’s music started getting national attention when the music director of the CBS drama Without a Trace saw him play live. Berkeley wrote “Fire Sign” for the show and went on to be featured in promotions for iTunes, Coke and Paste Magazine. He received ASCAP’s Johnny Mercer Songwriter Award and performed on NPR’s This American Life, telling the awkward and hilarious story of a private serenade he was hired to perform to help a guy win back an ex-girlfriend.

“We moved to Atlanta, so my wife could go to grad school. We survived on my wife’s stipend and record sales.” While living in Atlanta, Berkeley wrote the songs for Strange Light. He recorded the album in Chicago with producer Brian Deck in 2006, although it wasn’t released until 2009 (in between Berkeley and his wife moved to Corsica and had their first son). While in Atlanta, Berkeley started the ATL Collective, an organization of local musicians that put on productions that recreated classic albums with food or beverage hooks. “We did Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison with prison food. We had bloody marys for Blood on the Tracks. We did Dr Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The shows are still going on in Atlanta, and hopefully I’ll start doing them in the San Francisco Bay Area as well.”

Berkeley and his family spent all of 2008 in Corsica, where he wrote many of the songs for Some Kind of Cure, his forth studio outing. He relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area after returning to the States and will be touring nationally to support the album. Berkeley’s also been exploring the world of dance music. Club remixes of his “Fire Sign” have attracted the attention of some of the world’s biggest DJs, and Berkeley has begun collaborating with some of them on new original dance music.

Some Kind of Cure showcases Berkeley’s melodic and lyrical gifts, but the album is held together by his unique, expressive voice. “I was singing almost before I could speak,” He says. “I’m more natural singing than I am doing anything else.” His ease is apparent as his vocals glide from a warm, high baritone to a rich full tenor, sometimes slipping into an aching falsetto. “It may be pop music, but my goal is to be open and honest. I’m not afraid to show fear and weakness. I want my songs to convey hope without denying the hard times we all face.”

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