Dan Zanes never set out to become one of the biggest names in children’s music.
After spending a decade in the critically acclaimed rock band the Del Fuegos, he had a daughter and wanted to write songs they would enjoy together. The Grammy award and albums featuring Sheryl Crow, Suzanne Vega, Sharon Jones and other all-star special guests? Unexpected, but welcome.
A few years ago, Dan met, began playing music with, and married Claudia Zanes. She’s a board-certified music therapist, and the couple just moved to Baltimore. On April 25th, they’ll perform a Saturday Morning Tunes family friendly concert at WTMD.
Here, Dan + Claudia Zanes sit down for their first big interview since moving here.
Chatting with Dan and Claudia Zanes
First off, welcome to Baltimore! You moved here from New York, right?
Dan: We were in Brooklyn, and I met Claudia three years ago and we got married in about a year. Claudia moved to Brooklyn and we started thinking that maybe there was another life somewhere but we didn’t know where. Black folks are doing better in Maryland than any state in the country in so many ways, so we set our sights on Maryland. A long chain of events brought us to Baltimore. It was really the people. One person to another, the people in Baltimore have really been incredible.
Claudia: And the homes here are just stunning.
Have people been asking you, why on earth did you move here?!?
Claudia: Oh yeah! That’s the number one question. [laughs]
Dan: To come from the outside in, it feels like the land of possibility. In spite of everything that may be challenging at this time, to show up as an interracial couple and find our way in, it does really feel like there’s so much possibility here.
Claudia: And there’s really a sense of community here that we love. New York is great too and you find your community there but we live in Reservoir Hill, we’re getting to know our neighbors, we’re getting involved. That’s a beautiful thing too.
You’ve both have really interesting stories – Claudia can you tell us yours?
Claudia: So my family comes from the island of Haiti, and music is just an integral part of the society. I loved making music with my parents. As I got older, I was in choirs. I’m also a board certified music therapist, so I understood the power of making music on a communal level. I was interested in keeping the family structure together – how can we bring people out to engage in music, young and old? Music that the whole family can enjoy. That’s what brought me into it.
Dan, you spent all those years in the Del Fuegos, and then reinvented yourself. How did you come to this music and this world?
Dan: I’m just happy to be alive [laughs]. Yeah, I wasted my youth playing in a group called the Del Fuegos up in Boston. And then that fell apart after 10 years, and I’m grateful that it did. My daughter was born in the ‘90s. I grew up listening to Leadbelly and Pete Seeger, and that was music that everybody listened to.
I was looking for music that my daughter and I could listen to together as a shared experience. Our generation, we’re so passionate about music, we want to be able to enjoy it with our kids, as opposed to, ‘They have theirs, we have ours, we’ll get together for dinner.’ But I couldn’t find the sound that I heard in my head, the homemade sound. So I just started making it myself.
It’s taken you to some really interesting places.
Dan: Baltimore! [laughs]
Some of your records have these huge stars of the music world on them. Tell me how you came to record with people like Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega.
Dan: I just wanted to make a cassette tape to give to my neighbors. Let me just record some songs with my friends for family listening – to see if it could even be done. Sheryl Crow lived right around the corner, and we both hung out in the same studio. I was working with Mitchell Froom, who was married to Suzanne Vega. I was just making a cassette tape for families in the West Village of Manhattan. So Sheryl and Suzanne said they would come by. The idea was so low key and unthreatening and took no time at all. And so when I ended up putting that out as my first proper release and getting ready for the next one, people were saying, ‘So who are the special guests gonna be?’
So I kinda got locked into this idea of special guests. But Roseanne Cash lived around the corner. There were a lot of people. And eventually it just became a thing. I had the same agent as Phillip Glass. I always wanted the records to be a jumping off point, so people could listen to them and imagine making their own music. It’s not an end in itself. It became the sound of people we know and love – in a living room.
But as exciting as the special guests are, it’s really when I met Claudia that the music came to a place that I’d always dreamed it could. Claudia was the person I was always looking for. Now we’re living that dream.
WTMD’s Saturday Morning Tunes featuring Dan + Claudia Zanes
Saturday April 25
9 a.m.-11 a.m.
1 Olympic Place, Suite 100, Towson MD 21204