Night Beats’ Danny Lee Blackwell on Rajan, Setlists, and Finding Spirituality on Stage

Interview, Audio, Article, and Photos by Ian Keller
Left to Right: Danny Lee Blackwell (Guitar, Vocals) Christopher Michael Scott (Drums, Backup Vocals) Kyrone Oak (Bass)

Night Beats is the R&B Inspired Western Psychedelic Rock project from multi-instrumentalist Danny Lee Blackwell. Originally from Texas, Danny has been recording as Night Beats since 2009. Night Beats operates as a semi-solo project for Danny, as he writes and records mostly everything by himself. Night Beats latest album, Rajan, released this summer, and was featured on rotation here at WLUW. The album expertly blends eastern influence with country western motifs for a beautifully unique experience. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Danny before his performance at Sleeping Village here in Chicago last week, here’s what we talked about.

After our chat, Danny was kind enough to sign a copy of his Live In Valentine record for me. He even went backstage to get a sharpie since I forgot mine. I sat for a while in Sleeping Village enjoying the atmosphere and a couple signature drinks they had on tap. The relaxing jazz music playing over the speakers was a perfect compliment to the wood grain aesthetic and warm lighting. Over time, the bar filled out with people eagerly awaiting the show. 

Once doors to the venue opened, people began to congregate from the front bar area and into the back where the performance was to be held. When the support act, Moonwalks, went on stage, the doors closed again and people were ready to rock. The three piece DIY psych outfit from Detroit had just played their hometown the night prior, and the energy was still palpable. Drummer Kerrigan Pearce, guitarist Jake Dean, and bassist Kate Gutwald rocked out through their set, 

Before Night Beats came out, I made sure to move right up to the front of the stage. Before long, the venue was filled as fans packed in all around me. As I discussed with Danny in our interview, Night Beats is performing their new album Rajan from start to finish for each of their shows. This likely surprised most people, who are probably used to a different structure of setlist. Throughout the show, though, I understood further why Danny said that he thinks more bands should do this. The songs all flowed so perfectly into one another just like they did on the album, and with the instrumental limitations, the band is forced to find unique pockets for improvisation and experimentation within the songs.

Danny and I spoke about how he learned to use a baglama for the first song on the record, Hot Ghee, but he didn’t bring the instrument on tour with him, so instead, guitar pedals were used to distort Danny’s guitar to bring a similar sound. The song took on a whole new life in a live setting, with explosive guitar solos from Danny unlike what I ever could have expected. The second song, Nightmare, was a total highlight for me. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record, and I loved the twists and turns that the band took with it.

Joined on stage by bassist Kyrone Oak and drummer Christopher Michael Scott, Danny seemed like he was born to perform. His band members’ relaxing demeanor meant that Danny commanded the attention of everyone in the room. His mind bending solos and expressive body language were infectious, and before long the groove had spread like wildfire throughout the audience. 

The set closer was the last song on Rajan, Morocco Blues, and was another highlight for me. The song is a lot more uptempo than the previous song, 9 to 5, which made for a nice change of pace. Danny’s reverberated guitar solos took the song to a whole different stratosphere. After the song ended, the crowd clapped and cheered, as the band members left the stage. Most of us remained locked in place, in awe of what we had just witnessed, and before we could move, the band came back out on stage for an encore. This totally surprised me, as I spoke with Danny about the setlist before the show and he didn’t mention an encore. The band proceeded to rock the house with a couple fan favorites, like Right / Wrong and That’s All You Got

To my eye, Night Beats is only getting better with time. Through 14 years in the music industry, Danny and his collaborators are becoming a force to be reckoned with. Night Beats is continuing their US tour through early October, and you can check out their latest record, Rajan, wherever you listen to music. I’d also suggest taking a look at their live session with Levitation.

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