KTW: A Whale of an Odyssey with Daniel Emond
Megan Lohne, Interviewer
I had a chance to chat with Daniel Emond, an actor/singer/musician who over the past year has been working on an epic double sided record and musical film Kill The Whale inspired by the classic Melville novel Moby Dick with a pinch of The Beatles and a dash of Beyonce. Previously seen in Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet at A.R.T. and with his bands The Blue Eyed Betty’s and Lion & Spaniel at venues all over NYC and beyond, he’s a sharp talent to be reckoned with and a human to watch. The upcoming release of Kill The Whale will be this Friday, December 8th at Caveat.
Where did you first get the idea for Kill the Whale?
KTW came from a few places. Three and a half years ago, I was biking through Brooklyn, when I started playing around with a melody in my head, a song about the “Great White Whale” (I was running late; I find the times when I’m running late, or when I have a very frantic energy, to be the most bountiful for song creation because my voice will start to race with new melodies, themes, and words, and my body will get involved without my brain getting in the way.) I was obsessed with whales growing up, but I had never read Moby Dick, and I decided (that) if the leviathan was to be the focus of a new song, I should know a bit about the book (I didn’t even know how it ended. Do you?) I raced over to Strand Books and picked up a used copy. After devouring, regurgitating, and devouring the book again, I was cast in Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 at the American Repertory Theatre, for its pre-Broadway run in Boston. Comet is a groundbreaking “musical” that incorporates many popular, non-musical theatre styles, and is also based on Tolstoy’s classic novel-War and Peace. After immersing myself in that show, I was inspired to begin to develop my current dream–a musical odyssey of Moby Dick. My first song was the tip of the iceberg. Songs based on each glorious character on Ahab’s ship, the Pequod, began pouring out. Around the same time, I watched Beyonce’s Lemonade on Tidal–a masterpiece of songwriting, storytelling, art direction, and marketing. Lemonade inspired me to turn KTW into a musical film; to stretch, challenge and push the concept of the narrative music video.
What is your writing process like?
My writing process is rooted in the premise that day dreaming is the primary source of beautiful things. In the immortal words of Calvin and Hobbes, “you can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet”. Even though those were the words of a six-year-old trying to dodge a writing assignment, he’s right. If I wake up one morning with half a tune in my head, I will reach for a guitar before I reach for my phone in order to free the beast before it gets lost. To butcher a sentiment from one of my favorite theatre wizards, Suzan-Lori Parks, the “what” precedes the “why”. If you have an idea, don’t question it. Write it, sing it, paint it, dance it, get it out. THEN you can turn around and look at the mess you made, and see where it fits.
What is the first song that made you cry?
I Can Go The Distance from Hercules.
What is most important for you in a relationship with your collaborators?
I collaborate with dozens of artists, in so many capacities. And I am someone for whom collaboration does not come easily-for many people it’s a breeze. When a compromise, or a democratic consensus does not turn in your favor, it is so easy to shut down and keep your fellow artists at arm’s length. Collaboration works best when boundaries are clear-when you understand your role, your responsibilities, and your creative territory.
Other passions aside from making music?
I love making little weird colorful monsters out of Sculpey Clay. Definitely an activity that brings me peace. Also, playing Debussy. Random acts of peace.
If you could eat a sandwich with any living artist, who, and what would you ask (seriously though, what’s on the sandwich)?
Mmm probably a turkey club with avocado. On Rye. Swirl. With… extra bacon. Oh and the person. I’d have a sandwich with Beyonce, probably. She’s the one artist in music who is creating, and using her influence to guide the industry back to a focus on intrinsic musical value and artistic autonomy.
What does success mean for you?
Success? I don’t really know. Some people equate success with happiness but that’s meaningless to me. Is happiness an end result? Like, you’ll hear a celestial “ding” on your death bed and know that you found it? (That’s what Aristotle believed.) Or is it some continuous state of being that should be achievable in the present? Either way, I’m doing what I want at any given moment and if that isn’t happiness, I don’t know what is.
This. If KTW doesn’t move any further, I will still be immensely proud of all the whale team has done. As an artist, I’ve learned one thing–there is no distance greater in the human experience than the space between an idea, and making it reality. We are making KTW very real, and the process-that’s where the goods have been.I have to shout out my dear friend Sara DeViney, KTW’s extraordinary producer, who has seen this whale of an undertaking through every step of the way.
Five years from now you will…
Five years from now, the full, double album of Kill the Whale will be released and stocked in vinyl on shelves, the film and concept album will be everywhere- Netflix, Spotify, Tidal, everywhere you look. I will be on a large schooner that will tour the coasts of the US and around the world and host a live concert/theatre version of KTW, accompanied by all my salty, talented friends with whom I perform the show live every night to enthusiastic crowds. Five years from now. I’m calling it.
Moby Dick and The Ship that Flew. Orphans and Amadeus. Dr. Strangelove. Animal? Take a guess. No, but really, it’s the Humpback whale, with Sperm whale a close second. Did you know that Sperm whales are shapeshifters? When they swim at the surface, they look like the whales you’ve seen in pictures–but when they dive to feed, they become submarine torpedos-their heads morph from a square shape into a point shape– like a pencil, their fins tuck into pockets in their body like wheels in a jet undercarriage, and every organ system shuts down except for the heart and brain for ninety minutes, while they hunt! Hardest song you had to write? The hardest song to write for KTW is the twelve-minute rock symphony that is the final contest between Ahab and Moby Dick. I know it’s the hardest because it’s the one song I haven’t written. I have been trying for a year and a half.
Why Moby Dick?
What is universal about this story? Moby Dick, largely ignored by the public and run to the ground by critics during Melville’s lifetime, has aged into a story that transcends any novel–it is the bible of the ocean. A parable of humanity’s rebuke of nature, and the ensuing consequences. At a time when the oceans are swallowing up the green of our planet as a direct result of human activity, we are forced to reconcile our connection with nature and our place within it. Moby Dick is a stark reminder of what will happen if we don’t (spoiler alert). In addition, the book brings together a glittering cast of characters from all parts of the world-there are African, Caucasian, Indigenous American, Asian, and Oceanic peoples, all beautifully different, forced into tight quarters and dangerous situations. The one factor that limits the book’s reach is that there are no women. KTW shakes up this up significantly, placing women in the roles of authority, including a female Ahab.
Why did you choose a concept album as opposed to writing a musical?
I have been doing musicals all my life. But, my heroes aren’t Stephen Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein–they are Stevie Wonder and Simon and Garfunkel. I have always listened to rock, soul, and folk music from the 60’s and 70’s and have celebrated classic popular music for it’s impact on my life. I listen to Pet Sounds, Sgt Pepper, What’s Going On, Ziggy Stardust, and Lemonade– these are the works that really light the fire. When I write songs inspired by Moby Dick, they fit into the tradition of the concept album, more so than the “Musical”.
On November 30th, The Whale, the 3-track EP will debut the music from the concept album as three singles. The first single is The Whale, a nihilistic pontification, sung by Ishmael (yours truly), the ghostly narrator of the journey. The second is The Ramadan, a vehement musing by Q, the cannibal whaler from the Pacific Islands and Ishmael’s unlikely best friend. It is about the trials of living and whaling in America as a second-class citizen. Finally is The Squall, a stormy rigadig tune performed by Stubb, the twisted, blasted second mate who shares her taste for whale flesh, and her ominous prophecy. That’s gonna be good. From there we will have a concert/musical screening where we debut the 8-minute musical pilot from the concept film, in NYC on December 8th. The concert will take place at Caveat, a swanky venue on the LES of Manhattan. This will include several nautically-themed musical acts. After we finish establishing the whale’s social platforms, and perform the next series of concerts, the next step will be fundraising. This will include screenings, Q&A’s, and an investor packet complete with lookbook and goodie bags. This is the first phase of the dream, and with a little faith of bold and generous investors, it will be a dream come true. Learn more about his projects, persona and generalized shenanigans here:
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