Interview | FFS 5 with D.L. Rossi

Photo by Reuben Bidez

D.L. Rossi is nothing short of the genuine article, producing emotion-laden Americana songwriting in search of catharsis. His newest album, A Sweet Thing, is the natural product of that search, having found himself in music following a painful divorce and a tough bout with testicular cancer. Distilled to his purest form, Rossi bears his heart even when it may look clinically uncool to do so, even calling himself out on songs like ‘Better’ – serving as a reminder to be just that.

For Folk’s Sake is pleased to continue its ongoing ‘FFS 5’ interview series with Rossi, wherein he delves into his life inside and outside of music today…

Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?

Well, I grew up in a little suburb about 30 minutes outside Detroit, MI called Sterling Heights.  I was the youngest of three boys and I grew up home-schooled. Faith was a big part of my life growing up and my family was very close. My dad played the guitar growing up and he played and sang in bands most of his life until he and my mom settled down and had a family. My brothers and I grew up watching him and his friends have jam sessions at the house, eventually my brothers started a band with some friends. I was too young to join them at the time but I was learning how to play chords on a guitar when I got my first drum kit at 15. I took lessons for about two months and then join my brother’s band. We played in a Pop Rock band together for about 8 years. That’s where I got to learn how to write songs and be in a legit band.  

After our band broke up I started playing music more in the local church scene. That’s where I started singing more and learning how my voice worked. While I was working at a local Church I won a contest with some other local musicians I had started a band with and we became the Free Credit Score band for two years. Shooting commercials and doing shows. It was a fun time. 1 year into that gig I got diagnosed with Testicular Cancer and had to undergo surgery. During recovery I decided, with the encouragement of my brothers, to start working on a solo album. The album had a lot of songs that were about the struggles a kid has growing up in the church, how it can be inconsistent at times and function more like a business than a place for people to come and be themselves. The church I worked for at the time and other local churches didn’t like that too much so I got booted out of being able to lead music.  

After that experience I was pretty lost for a few years, depression had always been a struggle for me but it really amped up. Eventually I balanced myself out with the help of some close friends and family. I gave up music and got married and thought I was just going to focus on creating a life and a family. 1 year into my marriage it was falling apart, I was writing songs again. A year after that I was filing divorce papers and moving to Nashville to focus on song-writing again.  

As an artist, how do you define success?

That question has always been hard for me to answer! I’m not very motivated by success or money, I think for me I’ve always just defined success as me being as honest as I can with my music and make the best music I can. I’m 34 and I’ve been playing music for over 15 years. I’ve had moderate success and I’ve also completely tanked and quit music for periods of time. But, no matter what I can’t get away from being who I am, which is a story teller. So, for me success is just being at peace with who I am.  

What do you find to be your greatest struggle when it comes to the music business?

Without a doubt promoting and booking. I’m not comfortable with it to be honest. I am much more comfortable writing in a studio or playing a show by myself. Promoting and booking has always been a challenge for me because I don’t like to bug people or see demanding.  

What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist/band? What do you hope to achieve?

I think with so much music out there, and so many talented artists out there all I can do is try and find an audience for my music and my story. I hope I can find that and create a relationship with that community and share my story with them and hopefully hear their stories back. I think ultimately that will be a wonderful gift for me and others and it will be a wonderful way to be inspired to continue to create.

Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?

I’m a big believer in the idea that a writer music live in the real world in order to breathe in inspiration. If you don’t take in music, film, tv, books, or go out and interact with people via a part-time job or just have a social group you will never had anything to share.  

For me reading is often a big source of inspiration. Last year I read most of Hemingway’s Novels and short stories. I find Hemingway to be an exceptionally interesting story tell and personality. I fell in love with how directly he could communicate as a writer and still emotionally simulate a reader.

I also love film, last year I was gifted a movie pass and tried to watch all of the Oscar nominated films that year. I contrast that with watching really campy sci-fi and comic book shows like Arrow, Supernatural, and the Magicians. Haha, I’m a nerd at heart and it often shows. 

I also try and write notes in my phone whenever an idea, thought, or fear hits my brain. I often go back through my notes and read them as a way of processing things.  

All of these things lend a hand in bringing my songs to life.  I almost exclusively write stream of consciousness in the moment. I don’t pick up a guitar and know what I will write about or what the chords will be. Writing is a way of coping and processing life for me. 

Words by: Jonathan Frahm (@jfrahm_)