STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
He has a distinctive, sweet voice that you’ve likely heard on WXPN. His songs are introspective and intelligent. He has been compared to Nick Drake and Tim Buckley. And he makes the ladies (at least me) swoon.
David Berkeley’s career has followed a unique path. He graduated from Harvard, where he studied literature. He has worked as a travel writer and as a teacher and made the choice of pursuing his passion for music. And now in addition to songwriting he is a published author of fiction with “The Free Brontosaurus” (Rare Bird Books) and companion CD “Cardboard Boat” (Straw Man), both which he released this September.
This is Berkeley’s second book/CD “combo,” though the books and CDs can be bought and enjoyed separately or together. His first book “140 Goats and a Guitar” (Straw Man Press) and the companion CD “Some Kind of Cure” (Straw Man) were released in early 2011. The stories are autobiographical, drawn from his experiences while living on the remote French island of Corsica. They show a humorous side of Berkeley that is not typically found in his music and they complement each other.
Berkeley discussed his life and how that original project led to his new book and CD in a phone interview from his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
While at university there was no career plan.
“I certainly didn’t intend to be a musician when I was at Harvard. I didn’t really have any career plans at that time. I think that you don’t go into the music business to make money and it certainly wasn’t the easiest career path to have chosen … but it has always been a passion that I can’t ignore and so I didn’t really have a whole lot of choice, I suppose. Music has always been the quest that has called me the loudest.”
It is apparent that his study at Harvard was beneficial.
“I think studying literature helped my critical thinking and it helped my focus on language. You become a good reader as you study literature… I think that helps me as a songwriter, first, just because I pay close attention to words, but definitely now that I’m (writing) books, I fell back on what I read in college and since. I don’t know that it’s entirely different, writing books and writing songs. Obviously, there’s some great differences, but in terms of what I got from studying literature, I think that those skills helped me as a songwriter equally as they helped me as an author.”
Those who have been to David Berkeley’s concerts know that he spends much time telling stories in between the songs.
“I tend to talk more and more as I perform and (when) I got back from Corsica, I found myself telling longer stories to set up my songs on stage — exotic stories about my time in Corsica and how these experiences in the mountains on that island led to my songs that I was about to perform. My songs tend to be melancholy and introspective, but my stories (are) funny, and that was a good balance at a show. I decided to try to write those stories down and give a reader the experience that one might have at a show. ‘140 Goats and a Guitar’ was my first book, and that basically (is what) led to the writing of the songs on the album ‘Some Kind of Cure.’”
Though Berkeley enjoys telling his stories interspersed between songs at his concerts, he thought that he could take it to another level, and thus his latest book and CD.
“(‘140 Goats and a Guitar’ and ‘Some Kind of Cure’) was a lot of ego, a lot of me. It was my stories and my songs and my family. Also, it wasn’t quite capturing the potential that I saw in combining stories and songs, the way I began to envision it. I decided that the real way to do this was to have it be fiction.”
Berkeley first wrote the 10 stories that comprise “The Free Brontosaurus” and then wrote 10 songs based on the stories. Berkeley describes it as “interweaving stories. Each short story is its own story, but the characters meet in each other’s stories and so the whole form is a novella.”
Berkeley added: “The album and the book stand alone. You certainly don’t need the book to listen to the album. You’ll have a totally full experience just listening to the music, and I don’t think you need the album to read the book. The book works on its own.”
In addition to the book and CD Berkeley says that there will be other components to the project.
“I’m working on the audio book right now and there’s a DVD that we did of the recording of the record, and I’ve got to figure out how to get that out.”
“The Free Brontosaurus” and “Cardboard Boat” will be available for sale at his concerts as well as through his website.
Opening the show is singer-songwriter and former Philadelphian Adrien Reju.
IF YOU GO
What: David Berkeley with Adrien Reju
When: Concert is at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4.
Where: Tin Angel, 20 S. Second St., Philadelphia .
Info.: Call (215) 928-0770 or check www.tinangel.com
Artists’ websites: www.davidberkeley.com and www.adrienreju.com