By Brittany Nader
Over the last seven or eight years, Daniel Socha has kept a stash of original songs in his back pocket with no set intentions to flesh them out with musical accompaniment, let alone record them. He’s been busy, after all, earning his master’s degree, teaching communication courses at Kent State University and working with the local refugee community at Akron’s Asian Services In Action, Inc. and, most recently, in Ghana. But with the continued encouragement of his childhood friend, Wes Meadows, as well as a few nudges from his mom, Socha finally recorded and released his seven-song disc, “Wild Race,” this March.
The album is an impressive collection, with some of Akron and Kent’s finest musicians breathing new life into Socha’s old songs, as well as collaborating to create new compositions from more recent material. Socha is no stranger to the world of music and songwriting, having sang and played guitar in various choirs, orchestras and jazz bands over the years, and at coffee shop open mic nights, but the venture of recording and releasing a full album opened his eyes to the more communal aspect of the local music scene. With the skills and unique style of his collaborators, he discovered their ability to completely transform musical sketches into something beyond his wildest imagination.
“What I’m learning is many musicians don’t play in a vacuum,” Socha says. “There’s more collaboration, and playing with different people has introduced me to so many new ideas and styles.”
Among the musicians collaborating with Socha are Meadows, who lends his vocals and trumpet playing to “Wild Race.” Socha says his friend has been familiar with these older songs for years and was the driving force behind the album’s release. Meadows also runs Flowerpot Records, a record label based in Berea, and was instrumental in rooting for Socha and getting the tracks on the record compiled, recorded and released.
“I have always loved working with Dan, and he got me my first few shows when I was a beginning songwriter, so it really means a lot to me to be able to help him realize his vision for this album,” Meadows says.
Along with Meadows, Socha collaborated with vocalist Bethany Svoboda, who also performs in The Speedbumps, an Akron/Kent-based folk-indie outfit revered for their ethereal, dreamlike sound. Socha and Svoboda met at an open-mic night, and she became the missing puzzle piece that allowed Socha to hone in his vocal harmonies and create a rich, transfixing sound akin to that of singer-songwriter pros like James Taylor, Ray LaMontagne and Damien Rice. The Socha-Svoboda harmonies mix powerful, passionate wails with an effortless sweetness to a tremendously effective result.
“Singing on this record with Dan was an honor,” Svoboda says. “He graciously gives musicians the freedom to put their own creative spin on his songs and is always enthusiastic about how colorful they become.”
Rounding out the rest of Socha’s collaborators is Justin Tibbs, an Akron-based sax player who showcases his talents in Acid Cats, the Jared Lees Trio and many other musical projects, as well as drummer Erik “Breezy” Hartung and fiddle player Cory Grinder, recognized for his work in Johnny and The Apple Stompers and The Cory Grinder Band. Also featured on the album is Evan Graening, a Northeast Ohio native who currently resides in New York City, on keys. Socha says Graening came to town to play a special album release show for “Wild Races,” which took place March 3 at Standing Rock Cultural Arts in Kent.
“The show itself was a perfect representation of Dan and why he plays music. [We] played through his album, plus a few crowd-pleasing covers. He ended the night with Muddy Waters’ ‘I Got My Mojo Working’ and basically brought the roof off the place,” Graening says. “The first time I heard [Socha] perform was at the Kent State Resident Assistant Talent Show, along with 200 other people, just a few weeks after we met. It’s safe to say that everyone, myself included, were blown away by Dan’s performance. He has such passion when he performs. Add that with his raw talent, and it’s something special to witness.”
Graening says Socha reached out to him about contributing to the recording of his new album last fall, and he jumped at the opportunity to be involved. He said it seemed only natural to play keys for the release since he had performed covers to most of Socha’s older songs for several years at places like the (now closed) Ohio Music Shop in downtown Kent. Since he’s been an NYC resident since 2015, Graening and Socha worked out an arrangement where the piano parts would be recorded on top demo tracks then sent over to Meadows.
“I ended up hammering out all of the piano parts for the album during one four-hour recording marathon in my studio apartment in Manhattan,” Graening says. “I was on Facebook messenger with Wes and Dan and would shoot video clips on my phone to give Dan different options for sounds or organ settings.”
As Graening’s piano parts were received, Socha says he enjoyed the experience of watching Grinder, Hartung and Tibbs record their instrumentals locally with Meadows setting up a mobile rig to record in locations outside of his Berea-based studio.
“Watching Tibbs play and record felt like watching ‘SNL,’” Socha laughs. “We’re having so much fun, and it’s been such a blast.”
The delight of finally getting his songs off the paper and onto a recorded album is evident, though some of the album’s tracks evoke a certain sense of melancholy that may seem surprising when interacting with the warm, often-smiling Socha. He says many of the songs stemmed from personal problems and served as a way for him to work through and express those darker times. One song in particular — his favorite track, no less — called “Other People” was written as a tribute to his dog, Riley, whom he put down this past summer. Socha says his dog was deaf and would often bark incessantly at night, and the song’s lyrics: “You wouldn’t let me back into your house with all of your people/And I begged and I howled, and I scratched and I screamed” reflect an intentional dualism between both Socha’s and pet’s misunderstood suffering. But the vivacious drums, Socha’s bright vocals and Tibbs’ smooth sax give the song a feel-good quality that masks the pain and loss that lies beneath it.
“For me, personally, I think Dan’s songwriting ability is easy to overlook simply because of his vocal talent,” Graening says. “Songs like ‘Miserable Escape,’ ‘Heartache’ and ‘Waiting’ were written as far back as five years ago, and Dan would continue to tinker with the lyrics, melody or chords until they were just right. These are my favorite tracks on the album because there’s such a history attached to them, and they bring about so many memories for me, personally.”
Socha says that while he’s been used to playing his material solo in the past, and the album was recorded under his first and last name, he hopes to come up with a proper band name soon so each party involved with the release can be involved on a more permanent, regular basis. The idea for the album title itself came from the artist Cassandra Jerman who designed the cover after the words “wild race” from a track on the album stuck out to her. It’s evident Socha appreciates and values the input from the local artists he’s worked with, and the future is open to greater collaboration with the creative community.
“All the pieces are finally coming together,” Socha says.
“We are playing a lot of shows with the full band coming up, and hopefully it won’t be another eight years before he comes out with another album,” Meadows says. “But I think that with the renewed vigor he shows with this release, he won’t be slowing down anytime soon.”
DanSocha.jpg — Daniel Socha performs at Standing Rock Cultural Arts in Kent, OH, with Bethany Svoboda on vocals and Evan Graening on keys.