David Dondero's brand of brusque road weariness is usually reserved for someone much older. The singer/songwriter is only 39, but he sounds a little tired and guarded. One gets the impression he's probably been around the block. And there is a good reason for that: He has.
"If you don't live it / It won't come out of your horn," Dondero sings on "Rothko Chapel," from 2007's "Simple Love." He's quoting Charlie Parker, and it's clear the performer has taken this bit of advice to heart. A lifelong musician, he is constantly on tour, and consequently, his catalog reads like an atlas. On the album, he travels from Alaska ("The Prince William Sound") to San Francisco ("When the Heart Breaks Deep") to the aforementioned "Rothko Chapel" in Houston, and that's just during the first three songs. He is a rolling stone, and while many of his lyrics depict the places he's been, he gives a different reason for staying on the road.
"Sometimes, (traveling) facilitates writing, but it's not the entire driving force behind anything I do," he said. "It's necessary. I don't have a job. I'm trying to make a living playing music, and traveling is the way to do it."
Dondero's reluctance to talk about himself outside the realm of musicianship could be chalked up to shyness, but there are certain moments on his records that belie purely financial motivation.
On "The Stars Are My Chandelier," released on 2003's "The Transient," Dondero sings: "Just like the stars are my chandelier / Just like these landscapes are my living room / Just like the highways are veins." And again, in "Ashes on the Highway," the singer rather graphically requests his remains be spread around the country after he's passed.
"I was born in Duluth, Minn., but I don't really have a place to live right now, honestly. I'm just living out of my car," he said. "When I go through Duluth, it seems like home, because that's where I was born, and I have a lot of relatives there. But there are other cities that seem like home, too, like San Francisco. I spent a lot of years there. New Orleans. Anchorage, Alaska, seems a little like home. Pensacola, Fla., is one of my homes."
It may sound like a joke, but Dondero hasn't held a lease of his own since 2001. Similarly, even the funnier moments in his songs are, above all, real " sometimes uncomfortably so " although it's reliving the specifics that brings the singer his greatest enjoyment while performing.
"Some of the songs bring you back to that point and hold steady to the feeling into the present day," he said. "Those are the ones I like to sing the best, you know? The ones I can still feel."
Dondero said it takes him "anywhere from five minutes to five years" to finish writing a song. His rambling nature seems more conducive to touring than recording, though he admits he's torn between the two.
"I really enjoy playing live, but it can be a drag, depending on the situation," he said. "I love to record. It's just a lot of fun goofing off in the studio."
But even writing and recording can't tear Dondero from the road for very long.
"Sometimes, you don't feel like being in the studio, and you just gotta get out there," he said. "Becky Carman