Singer and songwriter Chris D’Agostino has recently released a brand new single and a unique cover of Childish Gambino’s Feels Like Summer. With a background in theatre and a deeply introspective, emotive way with writing, we were keen to find out more about his creative process and his plans for the future. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Chris – great to chat, thanks for your time! For those who don’t know, how long have you been making and releasing original music?
Thanks for having me! I’ve been writing since 2015 and started releasing music in 2017. At first, I’d write tongue-in-cheek songs, almost in the style of Bo Burnham, to raise awareness for environmental causes. They essentially served as PSAs for the work I was doing at the time. But since last year, I’ve branched out and started releasing the type of singer-songwriter music I always sought to put out. It’s been quite the journey so far!
On the song Social Tremors, you talk about worrying, not engaging out of fear – a lot of sadly relatable topics for many. What inspired you to write this song, and what advice can you give to people who overthink and worry too much about the opinions of others?
When writing the song, I thought about some of the social gatherings I’ve attended over the past few years, particularly those where I did not know many people, where I’d try to force myself to forget about any nerves I had. The irony, however, is that when you tell yourself, “Don’t be nervous,” it can amplify the nerves you already have!
On top of this is the fact that conversations at these events may never extend beyond small talk. So, you find yourself both tired from expelling all this social energy and a bit bored, and ask, “Was it worth it?” That’s what I sought to capture in the song.
The advice I can give to people who overthink and worry too much is that it gets easier the more you engage in social situations. Start small, like talk to your grocery store clerk, and take bigger risks when you feel ready.
In what ways has growing up performing in theatre productions affected your vocal style and indeed your stage presence and perspective when it comes to making music?
It gave me permission to be expressive with my voice and “act” the lyrics as much as possible while remaining genuine. I suppose it also instilled in me an appreciation for singers with more theatrical approaches to singing, like Freddie Mercury and yes, heavy metal singers like Bruce Dickinson and Geoff Tate, all of who I’ve taken great inspiration from.
One thing I love about acting is how it allows you to exaggerate your personal qualities whenever you play a character. I keep that in mind whenever I’m onstage, because performing as singer-songwriter is playing a character. Depending on the venue, I may play the charming-and-witty Chris, or a more introspective Chris.
Congratulations on your recent win at the Boston Sings Fenway Open Mic Competition. What prompted you to enter, and how different did it feel to be performing in a competitive setting?
Patty Duffey who promotes young artists at the agency, Performers on the Go, encouraged me to enter. It was definitely more pressure than usual, but I think the key was just treating it as another gig and engaging with the audience as much as I could.
How do you decide which song or songs to perform for a competition?
I was only allowed a few songs, so I picked songs I felt showcased my versatility. The songs I chose were from different genres and required different parts of my range to sing.
What made you want to cover Childish Gambino’s Feels Like Summer, and how does re-crafting an existing song differ for you emotionally when compared to creating one from scratch?
I always found the music video for Feels Like Summer fascinating, because it had absolutely nothing to do with the lyric. The lyric is all about environmental degradation and climate change, yet the video shows a cartoon Donald Glover casually walking through a neighborhood, passing by a bunch of famous people. I think what he was trying to communicate is that we tend to fixate on celebrity culture while ignoring important issues.
I’m always surprised there aren’t more singer-songwriters writing about climate change, since it’s an issue that’s ever-present in the lives of young people. So, I decided to cover the song, and putting its lyrics front and center, while re-imagining its instrumentation in a way that felt true to my style.
I’ll admit, it is emotionally easier for me to re-craft an existing song rather than create one from scratch. I enjoy writing original songs tremendously, but I often find myself second-guessing the lyric, asking myself, “Is this something I should share?” When covering a song, I only have to focus on how I emotionally resonate with the existing lyric, which I find less stressful!
How have the events of 2020 impacted your mindset as an artist, and what steps do you plan to take throughout the coming months and years to overcome any set-backs?
I’ve been spending more time releasing and promoting my music than performing live for obvious reasons. One positive development was the fact that I recorded Feels Like Summer without leaving my house! I didn’t think I could get away with it, but when there’s a will to record music, there’s a way, and I’m definitely keeping that in mind for the future.
I think the key to being a successful artist right now is to recognize music industry trends and adapt when necessary. Right now, for instance, opportunities to perform live are scarce, but opportunities to perform virtually, release music, and promote already-released music are ample.
Even without COVID, the market will always change based on new circumstances, and that’s something I’ll keep in mind as a new artist working to break into the industry.
Who or what would you say has inspired you the most over the years to write and perform in such an honest and open fashion?
I’d say Chris Cornell, who was one of my favorite musicians growing up. I used to be really hesitant to share my original music because it felt so vulnerable, but he proved to me that you could sing about really personal things, own them, and sound like a complete badass doing it. That really inspired me.
What’s the best piece of advice you were even given in life, and how does this apply to your plans as an artist?
This is admittedly trite and cheesy, but you miss the shots you don’t take. I look forward to exploring all the different ways I get to grow as an artist, even if some ways are successful and others are not.
What would be your dream venue or event to perform at?
Carnegie Hall! Or if I had a time machine to go back to Woodstock or Live Aid, I’d definitely do that.
What’s a personal favourite lyric of yours from any of the songs you’ve released, and why?
For my first song, Grey Horizon, I made up the metaphor of the grey horizon as an external force in your life that reassures you everything is going to be okay and you don’t need to question why. I wanted to capture the feeling of blissful naïvity, and I think the second verse does it really well:
‘“Forget about the stakes,” you say/I’ll teach you all the ways to deny your sorrow/To numb your pain/No need for questions/They don’t matter anyway/They won’t tell you about next year’s summer/Just let them go.’
What’s next for you, and what keeps you motivated to keep working and creating?
I’m aiming for new music before the year ends, and more live music once venues start opening up in Massachusetts again, hopefully in the form of a mini-tour. Frankly, what keeps me working and creating at this time is the fact I have more time on my hands!
Is there anything else we should know?
Yes! Here are my handles/links:
Thanks for having me!
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