Reflecting Life in Creation: A Conversation with Daniel Donato

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jason Stoltzfus

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Daniel Donato plays a unique blend of country, rock and Americana that he calls Cosmic Country. This self-described genre offers a sound that is familiar yet fresh and reverent yet relevant. Currently, Donato is on tour in support of his latest release, Reflector [Retrace Music]. On Sunday, April 7, Donato will perform at Saturn. Recently, he spoke with us by phone from his cabin outside of Nashville.

Southern Stages: Daniel, thanks for your time. We are looking forward to your upcoming show in Birmingham.

Daniel Donato: Me too! One of the first bands that I ever toured with played its first show at Saturn, so that venue has always held a very dear place in my heart.

Southern Stages: We are really enjoying Reflector. If you will, talk about the process of creating the album.

Donato: It took about three years to write all the songs. To really write a song and record it, the barriers of completion are not well-defined – the borders are very blurry. You can have a song and sit on it and decide to play it live and realize that once you play it live, it has to go in a different direction. The song “Weathervane” was like that – we had to play it for months. “Dance In The Desert” took two years of playing it live. But other songs like “Rose In A Garden,” “‘Til The Daylight” and “Half Moon Night” – those songs are just straight honky-tonk, Robert’s Western World and Don Kelly Band-style, so it’s very easy for those to come to life. It’s like children – songs grow at their own rate and their own personalities.

Southern Stages: How would you describe your writing process? Are you continually laying down new ideas or do you shelve writing while on tour?

Donato: As long as I’m living, I’m reflecting that life in creation. It’s a deal I made with myself – if God gives me another day to live on Earth, I’m doing work. I’m going to work every day, whether it’s for an hour or 16 to 18 hours like some days on the road. I’ve been given a gracious opportunity to do what I feel like I was born to do with my life. I’m truly grateful every day.

Southern Stages: Your songs sound both familiar and fresh at the same time. How do you sum up your self-described Cosmic Country style?

Donato: I bring 50% to the table and whatever higher powers are at play – they bring 50%. I’ve always followed what has inspired me and moves me and I try to not get distracted by what’s external. I have taken an individual journey to pursuing what I love and it’s formed itself into Cosmic Country, which everybody calls its own genre. I think it makes sense that every artist has their own genre. Nature itself reflects that – you have your own DNA, you have your own thumbprint and your own personality that no one else has, so why wouldn’t you have your own music? But it’s hard because people will tell you that you have to look a certain way or do a certain thing onstage and you have to diminish the value of the external noise when it comes to creating.

Southern Stages: Some artists say that this is a great time to be in your position thanks to outlets including iTunes, Spotify, Youtube and satellite radio. Others say – for the same reason – that this is a difficult time to be found among the crowd. How do you view the current state of the music industry?

Donato: There are a lot of potential negatives with globalization of society and those are very obvious. But with music, there is a large benefit that our society is inheriting which is that you can listen to anything and everything from any period of time that’s ever been recorded pretty much for free, which is insane. If you were to give an iPhone to a native settler in 1776, you’d probably be burned you at the cross for this crazy piece of technology. I think it’s a beautiful luxury that people have and it allows artists and bands to not be dependent on too many third parties that influence on a sovereign level what we do artistically and commercially. We can sew the seeds and do whatever we want to do and if people want to listen, then they do. It provides the artists and bands with an immense responsibility to have something to say. It needs to be honest and it’s hard and it’s scary. It’s a very strange time to be alive and to be making music, but I feel like Cosmic Country has it’s own Eden in the forest that is the music business. We are with a small, independent label and we haven’t sold our souls to any devils that I know of yet. Growing up in Nashville and being a hired gun for 10 years, I saw a lot of artists fall into a sausage machine that at one point was really necessary, but now it’s not.

Southern Stages: As a guitarist, are you a “gear head”? When on tour, are you searching out new gear in guitar stores?

Donato: Right now is probably the most stressful time in my life calendar-wise. I really have no time to do anything except get to the venue and prepare for the show. We are playing four to six nights a week, so we pretty much have enough time to get to the venue, set up, rehearse some songs, play a show, break down the stage and head to the hotel to sleep and head to the next show. But I’m still a gear head and I’m still trying out new things all the time. I just got a new stereo rig for my amps. Yeah, I’m totally interested in all that stuff and it’s really just a matter of time.

On Sunday, April 7, Daniel Donato will perform at Saturn. Showtime is 8 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $22.50 and can be purchased at