Daniel Markham is a big fan of black metal. Now, that's not exactly the first thing you'd expect from a guy who admires Vic Chesnutt and wrote a song about the day REM called it quits. But the Denton singer-songwriter likes to keep busy: He recorded his new album over the summer and has hardly taken any time off waiting for its release this coming May — so much so that, along the way, he released a Halloween record and adopted an alter ego for a black metal album.
That alter ego is Larry Legion, who recently released an album almost in secret. As it turns out, Markham is a huge fan of Norwegian black metal, in particular. “I’m a metal head,” Markham says. “Black metal is more of a feeling than anything. It mellows me out and puts me in another place.”
Markham has a tireless work ethic when it comes to perfecting his craft, so it's perhaps no surprise that it would lead him to such experimentation. He enjoys using Larry Legion songs as a creative outlet for lo-fi metal recordings with fast guitar riffs and screaming vocals. “I don’t expect anyone to actually listen to it,” he continues. “I just put it out there. It’s like a cleansing to me.” Sadly, Markham says you will never see Larry Legion perform live.
“I just made it up for fun,” Markham says. “It’s nothing serious. It’s just a fun thing I do once in a while in my bedroom.” These songs have very different subject matter from the somber songs about personal stories on his proper albums.
But that's okay; Larry Legion's music is but a small part of Markham's increasingly prolific output. Known for rock music comparable to Big Star and Neil Young, Markham recorded an album with Claire Morales called Harmony in Hell. After setting a goal of recording an album in a month, it was completed in October and released on Halloween. This was a rare collaboration for a songwriter who has frequently played every instrument on his recordings. Harmony in Hell is a Halloween album with songs about ghosts, witches and Patsy Cline’s plane crash.
Markham originally came to Denton from Lubbock, and he wrote an album, Ruined My Life, about the move. He left his band behind and focused on a solo career. After living in Lubbock for 12 years, he moved to Denton alone. “It was scary,” Markham says. He left friends, family and a job.
He was also closely connected with the country rock band scene in Lubbock. “There was weirdo, psychedelic, garage-y stuff, but there seems to be a country kind of aesthetic to it all,” Markham says. “It’s a country-rock town.” But moving to Denton was something he had to do for himself.
Markham greatly admires Denton songwriters like Brent Best and Will Johnson; it was one of the things that made him consider moving. “It was cool to have those been-there-done-that kind of guys from this town,” Markham says. “It validated it for me as a place to go and make music. Denton has a slow pace. It’s very easy to live here and just kind of do anything you want. I feel free here.”
He has now been releasing albums under his own name for four years, ever since he moved to Denton. His last album, Pretty Bitchin’, came from a need to write about crazy relationships. “I just write what I feel,” says Markham. “I guess the sadness gets pulled out. It’s easier to write when you’re down. It’s harder to write songs when things are going great. I’ve never really written a super happy record. I guess I’m just kind of brooding and melancholy.” But he’s toyed with the idea of recording a happy record in mono with a bunch of unusual instruments.
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“I guess black metal is probably the happiest music I’ve ever played,” Markham admits. “I have a crazy imagination and maybe too much time on my hands.” The music comes from a completely different world — he can write songs about magic or swords or just being angry. “It’s not even a guilty pleasure,” he says. “I openly love black metal.”
Staying busy writing and recording whatever music suits him is all part of his quest to become a great songwriter. He notices the high level of output from songwriters he admires. “I see their work ethic in all the albums they have released,” Markham says. “It makes me want to be more prolific. I think to write great songs you have to write songs.”
Markham is a great live performer, solo or with his band, electric or acoustic. “I go under my own name, so I can just play however I want, really,” he says. He is thinking of hitting the road for a solo tour in March and then touring with his band after his new album, Disintegrator, is released in May.
“I don’t want to limit myself to any kind of music,” Markham says. “I just do whatever I feel like doing.”