At the since-renamed 35 Conferette in 2011, I saw a performance by Daniel Folmer with his band, Danny Rush and the DDs. His set was a slipshod mixture of tearful country and sneering braggadocio, but its dark poignancy struck me as promising. Afterwards, I attempted an interview with a drunk and lust-hungry Folmer. Surprisingly lucid, Daniel answered a handful of my questions before a female friend or stranger caught his eye and he raced off. That was my first encounter with Folmer: on-stage penitent, off-stage philanderer.
Daniel Folmer, who has seven albums to his name and two more on the way, is a gifted performer and songwriter. There is an unflinching pathos to his music that grabs audiences. “He’s very brutally honest inside his songs,” says Tony Ferraro, Folmer’s guitarist in The DDs. It is a confessional vulnerability that has the capability of drawing people in.
On stage, Folmer is a mixture of self-conscious introvert and hammy showman. He often approaches the microphone warily, standing sideways to it with his shoulder toward the audience, like he’s about to absorb a hit. Minutes later can find him posturing for the crowd. His music, too, swings wildly between pensive self-examination, detached storytelling and sexual playfulness that borders on misogyny.
“I’m an observer of the human condition,” Folmer says, who admits that he is also neurotically self-conscious. “I’m an observer of myself.”
The flip-side to Folmer’s notoriety as a musician is that of a drunk, skirt-chasing, vengeful braggart. Some of that is unsubstantiated hearsay, but certainly believable. If nothing else, Folmer has developed a reputation for living life with hedonistic abandon, which, he claims, serves his musical aims. “I act wild inherently, and then I write about the consequences and then I emote it for people and they enjoy watching it,” he says.
Tony Ferraro sees an analogy between Folmer’s roughshod living and his athletic interests. “He’s a hockey player. A lot of times, when he’s out [around town], he’s in the locker room…bein’ rough.” Folmer states gravely that his exploits once brought him “very close to death,” but declines to elaborate on the story.
Whatever the truth, Folmer felt he was headed in the wrong direction. In response, he left Denton in the fall of 2010 for Canyon Lake in Carmel County. “I ran away,” Folmer says. “At the time, I’d probably tell you I was running from my problems.” As Folmer sees it now, he was running headlong into a confrontation with his problems, which were unavoidable there. “You have to face yourself,” he says of living alone. “It’s just you making dinner, doing the dishes, coming home from work.“
During this period, Folmer, who went to seven years of school for mental health, worked at an outpatient mental health facility, performing crisis intervention. He was fully aware of the irony. Folmer’s name had appeared years earlier in a Dallas Morning News article on video game addiction, to say nothing of the consequences that accompanied his hard drinking. “[Students of psychology] can go a little crazy because they’re always self-examining,” Ferraro observes. Folmer was living out an old archetype, like the sick doctor or the whiskey priest.
Daniel Folmer is now back inDentonafter, as he says, “work went to sh*t,” which he will also declines to explain. Regardless, he took a few lessons from his time at Canyon Lake. “I learned a lot about the cycles of the human mood,” Folmer says. “Things have changed a lot for me since I took that exile. Before that, I was wild. It was balls to the wall, some Jerry Lee Lewis sh*t,” he says, with a tone not too far from pride.
Daniel Folmer, who was fairly prolific before he left, is again focusing on recording with his full band: Danny Rush and the DDs. His new record, due out this month, follows in the vein of the first DDs release. Where some of Folmer’s earlier albums were meticulous in their navel-gazing psychology, his last two records are a countrified, more comfortable embrace of his contradictions. His love of women veers wildly between truth and error. It is selfish, hopeful, mournful, effusive and angry in rapid, manic turns. “Hold on Steady,” in particular, with its obscene metaphors, will likely generate reactions toggling between shocked amusement and outright anger. On these records, Folmer freely plays his full range of romantic and bastard; cocksure performer and reluctant hermit.
Folmer might not prefer being saddled with all these characters, but one can never quite tell. He has, as Ferraro observes, a proclivity for “creating stories for himself.” He speaks gentlemanly out of half his mouth and derisively out the other. “I’m either feeling like Napoleon Bonaparte or I’m on the downslide,” Folmer admits. “You’ll get a lot of different answers [about me] from different people.”
Daniel Folmer honestly does not believe he has burned any bridges with his wild man act. And while his time off may have given him some perspective, Folmer is still shamelessly committed to having a really good time. “There’s a lot of people that are very jealous of that. And I don’t blame them,” he says. The question is whether what Folmer calls his love of life at its fullest serves to promote his music or distract from it. On the one hand, the contradiction makes for a tantalizing story. On the other, Folmer’s hard-boiled attitude can tend to belie the ingenuousness with which his art examines the soul. In either case, Daniel Folmer’s goal is and has always been making music. “I cannot imagine if I did not have an artistic outlet,” he says. “I’m not exactly anywhere right now, but I’m more somewhere than I would be if I didn’t have writing or singing.”