The music was always around…my dad had a guitar…I picked it up and wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll.
We chatted with Dan Sebranek, a musical legend in the area. We talk about influences, his process for songwriting, and playing live again. We also touch on what’s next for this musician, including music abroad and where people find out more.
Dan Sebranek 01:26
Well, my name is Dan Sebranek. I was born here in the La Crosse area. Onalaska really, I went to Onalaska High School and basically got into music when I was quite young. My dad played guitar and sang all his life and there was quite a bit of music around in my family. My aunt and uncle played. And so it was always around and my dad had a guitar. But I started taking four string banjo lessons when I was about 9 or 10 years old. One of my older brothers brought home a banjo, he was taking lessons and I picked it up. I guess if I remember correctly, I picked it up and I was just playing the chord you know, it’s a four string so you could pretty easily put your fingers where you’re supposed to on the chords. And then next thing I know I’m taking four string banjo lessons every Saturday morning with a guy named Andy Anderson, who is pretty infamous in that world of a four string music. I did that for about two years. And you know, like I said I was 9 or 10 years old and I was the songs I was learning. were, you know, songs from probably the 40s and 50s and 30s or whatever. They’re kind of the Ragtime, older, great American songs. What kind of songs like five foot two? Year one, the world is waiting for the sunrise stuff. Stuff that I’d never heard. But anyway. So you know, after a couple years, I just I picked up my dad’s guitar and wanted to play rock and roll. So that learning on banjo at that age was pretty cool as I got older because it kind of had a basis of an almost a jazz kind of thing. Background, some of those chords and transitions. And so anyway, I picked up my dad’s guitar and started to just kind of play in it. My brother, one of my brothers, plays in the bedroom and watch him play. And when he left, I tried to do what he did. And I guess it was maybe in seventh grade, middle school. I was with a couple friends, Dave Solie and Dave Broker. And Dave Solie played drums and Dave Broker wanted to play bass. So we just started getting together and playing songs, you know, in one of our houses back in, I suppose ’73, ’74, in that area.
Brent Hanifl 03:54
So who were you covering then?
Dan Sebranek 03:57
Yeah, like Bachman Turner Overdrive, Black Sabbath and Chicago, you know, those were the bands that were kind of on the radio, I guess and Kiss. So you know, we just played you know, maybe once every two or three months we’d get together. And for Dave Solie, a lot of people know Dave around the area because he’s on Channel 19. He does the show Live at Five and he’s pretty well known around here. But anyway, his father knew Lindy Shannon, Lindy Shannon was the guy to know in La Crosse that booked music. I mean, back then you kind of went through him if you want to do to get bookings. So he came to hear us at Dave’s house and we didn’t have a singer, none of us sang at the time. So he said you know if you can get a singer, I’ll come back. So we got another guy from high school, Steve Hoffman and he came back a few months later and next thing you know, we’re out playing music and we’re all like 15 years old at the time, so we’re all playing in bars and high schools and stuff. And so that’s kind of how I got started. And, you know, luckily for me, it’s kept going. I’ve been fortunate enough to hook up with lots of different musicians over the years and just keep kind of playing after about five years of that band was called Phoenix. And that’s what we played 70s rock and country rock. We did a lot of Hartsfield and Peer Query League. And then we do stuff like Queen, Kiss, which we still do we actually get together once or twice a year, the same guys and still get out and play. So but after that, I transitioned to acoustic guitar and that’s where I kind of stayed ever since I got the electric out, but.
Brent Hanifl 05:46
So going from the acoustic, what are some of the things that have influenced you, or bands or musicians that have influenced you acoustically kind of more of folk, right?
Dan Sebranek 05:55
Yeah, exactly. Well, uh, you know, I was into a band called Hartsfield, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them or not. But I think where I got turned down to them was there was a radio station in town called WSPL, and they did back in the 70s. And they did a lot of Elven rock, so they’d play full albums, you know, like, on Monday night or something. And I heard this band called Hartsfield and, you know, there if I had to categorize them, they’re kind of a cross between the Eagles and Peer Query League, and kind of that style, where the acoustic guitars, they’re pretty prevalent. But the vocals, you know, the Hartsfield man was a huge influence on me. So, you know, we kind of helped me transition from kind of 70s rock to more of an acoustic thing. And then I got into Dancehall, Bieber, definitely more acoustic and great vocals. And anyway, so those two bands are for the biggest influence, Hartsfield and Dan Fogelberg.
Brent Hanifl 06:58
I’ve known of you at least probably, I’m also from La Crosse and, you know, lived here the majority of my life. So you know, I’ve seen you in different iterations from, you know, solo to bands and things like that. For you now, what is your process for songwriting? Is it individual? Or do you work with other people to kind of pull that off? Or is it fast? Or is it? How do you kind of work on that?
Dan Sebranek 07:19
Yeah, it’s definitely more individual. You know, I’ve been working in playing music with a guy named John Smith for 30 plus years. And him and I have written a handful of songs together, but most of the writing I do now is just on my own, you know. I kind of tended to even write a little more instrumental music than the songs was words. Nowadays, anyway, I was never really into co-writing, you know, I mean, I’ve done some of that. But I’ve just always kind of felt, for me anyway, that if you’re writing songs that are personal, I just kind of want to do them on my own. And, I mean, there’s tons of great songs that are co written, but I think, you know, when you co write, you know, you’re kind of looking, you’re trying to come up with something together, it might not be quite as personal. That’s right, go there. And as far as recording, you know, I’ve done a number of things over the years, but I have a little home studio now that I’ve been doing some recording with last year, about this time. I did a little Christmas recording, some original stuff and some other more obscure things and just put it out and gave it to friends. That’s kind of where I’m at. They’re, you know, just I don’t write a ton right now. But, uh, it comes, you know, I’m working on a couple songs right now that I hope to get done.
Brent Hanifl 08:45
See, you kind of reference like your home studio taking place, you know, kind of putting that together last year? How did, being a musician that plays out quite regularly, how was COVID for you? I also noticed on your website that you occasionally did yearly tours to Ireland, Colorado, the Keys, what was COVID like for you?
Dan Sebranek 09:04
Oh, my gosh, well, it was challenging for me, I have to say. You know, you try to make the best of it and be thankful that you have what you have. But as with a lot of people, not even musicians, but just, you know, people working and doing certain things, everything was shut down, basically. And for a lot of people, I mean, some people still kind of did their normal thing. But yeah, it was weird, because, you know, I mean, I flew home from Florida, that was like in March of last year, 2020. And, you know, the next day or two the whole country was shut down, basically. So that, you know, every single gig I had was canceled as with most people. Yeah, it was you know, it’s a very strange time and still is but at least we feel like we can get out and, and do some things now. But as far as music, my wife and I play together a bit. She’s a really good singer songwriter, but it’s not her profession. But we started doing the Facebook Live thing on Saturday nights, not knowing how long it would last. But we just started doing it every Saturday because we were home and then not doing anything else. And we ended up doing 63 weeks in a row of Saturdays before we stopped which all around. Yeah. So that, honestly, that helped to keep me focused on music. And, you know, we’ve learned new songs every week, so you can challenge yourself to, to do some of that, but and then, you know, we found out, you know, a lot of people tuned in, and you know, they weren’t doing much either. So it was kind of a kind of something to look forward to. And then we also met, met some friends who were doing the same thing on Friday night, and we didn’t really know them at all. And now we’ve become friends, because they were doing exactly the same thing, musically on Friday nights, but you try to make the best of it. But uh, it was definitely challenging.
Brent Hanifl 10:58
You’re also playing at the La Crosse Winter Roots Festival at the beginning of the year as well, it’s at the La Crosse Center. What is it been like getting back in front of all the people in the live shows?
Dan Sebranek 11:08
Well, gosh, you know, the first thing I did was the first thing in public was back in, I think early June. And it was pretty emotional. Actually, for me. I mean, it was, it was at the freight house, it was out in the back, outside. So you felt, you know, I guess safe. But at that point, you know, we all of us were vaccinated and felt like we could do this. And it was pretty cool. I mean, you know, hadn’t seen a lot of these people for a long time. And, you know, I have a number of friends and fans that come out a lot. And so the first time it was, it was pretty emotional. Actually, it was pretty special. It was a little weird to set up and, and get in front of people again, but then from that point, you know, we’ve, you know, I was able to do quite a few things this last summer, and most of them have been outside. Yeah, so it was, it was I guess it was good. You know, you try to do the best you can and be positive. But there were definitely times it was challenging, and you just kind of like, man, this is what I do. It’s what I feel I should do. And you can’t really do it, so.
Brent Hanifl 12:17
Yeah, it was definitely tough. It was wild. Is there anything exciting, you know, coming up? What’s next for you? Is there anything you got to you know, you’re positive on your outlook out there? New music, new album, anything?
Dan Sebranek 12:28
Well, no, not really a new album. I mean, I’ve got a bunch of things I want to record and the you’d mentioned, Ireland trips. And, you know, that’s something that I’ve done a lot of over the last 10, 12 years, you know, go into Ireland at least once a year, if not twice. And taking a group of 20,25 people and travel around, you spend like 10 days, there you go, you go to three different countries for a nice day there for three days. And it’s just a very magical, inspirational thing that every time I’ve gone has been really, really cool. And so I’ve got some songs that I’m putting together to do a little, you know, a CD, or whatever we do these days, I guess we can still do CDs. But in fact, I just was in the studio with John Smith here a couple weeks ago. And he’s got some really great stuff coming out. And but I guess yeah, you’re doing a CD, you know, you got to do something. I mean, some of us that are have been around a while. It’s like you need something tangible, your hands, I guess, not just something you know, on the internet, or mp3 or whatever. But so I am hoping to do that recording I’ve got I want to do an expanded Christmas recording. And the one I did last year was you know, six or seven songs, and I’ve got a bunch more ideas and things I’ve just always been into Christmas. We’ve played in a band called String Ties, which is a bluegrass band, over the last, you know, 10 or 15 years, we’ve done these Christmas shows, which have been really cool. We’ve worked really hard to get a show together. It’s all Christmas music, and but it’s done in bluegrass kind of thing. So we’ll throw in little pieces of The Nutcracker. And, you know, we’re not here yet. And so we’re, we didn’t do it last year, obviously and our banjo player Tom Paths and his wife Christie have now moved to Tucson. And so they’re not going to be back for Christmas. They’re coming back next summer for a couple months. So right now I’m working with the two other guys from the band. And then we’ve got a different banjo player and a fiddle player that we’re working with. And we’ve already done three or four rehearsals for that. So, you know, we’re hoping you know, but the COVID thing we you know, it’s kind of strange to plan these things inside, but we have three dates separately at Leo and Leonas in December and then we’ve always done the Pump House as well. So I don’t know if we’re going to do that this year. But looking forward to that we’ve had some rehearsals and it’s been fun. It’s been different but it’s really pretty cool thing. So, you know, I’m planning to go back down to Florida a couple times here over New Years and, and then I go down for three or four weeks towards the end of February and play down there.
Brent Hanifl 15:13
So if people want to find out more, what’s the best avenue for them to go to, website, social media, what do you keep updated?
Dan Sebranek 15:19
Updated the good word because I have to do that with my website. I’m pretty laxed about that, but I’ll get at it. But yeah, the my website which is just dansebranek.com. You know, I’m not much into Facebook, I have a page. But it’s more for just when we put the live stuff out. It’s, I think it’s Dan Sebranek 1, 1, 1, 1. But my website, you know, you can definitely go there. And, you know, I’ll update that, hopefully here soon. And then there’s a way to contact me on that, you know, and then yeah, you mentioned there with the Winter Roots Festival. I’m looking forward to that, because I’ve always thought there should be something like that in La Crosse in the winter, you know, a one or two day kind of a festival and so yeah, I’ll be playing on that one. I’ll be playing with the Josh Rabee. Do you know Josh?
Brent Hanifl 16:08
Yeah, yep. He’s awesome.
Dan Sebranek 16:10
He is awesome. And then it’ll probably be Wayne Beasley from the String Ties band on mandolin and then I haven’t put it fully together yet, but it’ll be probably more it’ll be kind of bluegrass II stuff. And because, like I said, Tom’s town passed down in Tucson, and I think Larry Dalton, our bass player is going to be gone at that time, but I’m looking forward to that because it’ll be something a little different, but it’ll still be in the Bluegrass theme.
Amy Gabay 16:42
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