Daniel Markham, One of DFW's Best Songwriters, Has Found a Way to Pay His Bills with Music, For Now
Daniel Markham, with his shoulder length, straight brown hair and soft-spoken demeanor, is one of those rare breeds of cat who is both incredibly talented at his chosen craft of songwriting and sharply handsome, and were I a little farther toward the middle on the Kinsey scale, I'm sure I'd have a swooning crush on the guy.
He's been in the Denton music scene for a couple of years now, and two months ago in June, he released his fourth album independently, entitled Daniel Markham Ruined My Life. It's a fantastic rock album that steams and boils with the percussive disdain of Lou Barlow and the pristine musical poignancy of the indie mid '90s.
One of his favorite bands is still R.E.M., and you can also hear that influence in the album as well, especially on the third and fourth tracks, "Best of Luck" and "Favorite Band" respectively. In fact, he wrote "Favorite Band" the day he found out R.E.M. broke up.
A couple of months ago, he played a minimal acoustic set with DFW violinist extraordinaire, Petra Kelly, opening for the Baptist Generals for their record release show at Dan's Silverleaf.
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"Chris [Flemmons, lead singer of the Baptist Generals] approached me one night," he said. "He told me that he really loved my stuff and really wanted me to open for them. He also said that they couldn't have a band [open for them] because of all the stuff they were going to have on stage," he added, perhaps with a bit too much earnestness, but truthful all the same.
Aside from his four official albums, he's also put out a few EPs that he released on the Internet for free, but none that he would call as serious as his four official albums. The 32-year-old musician has been playing the guitar for 21 years now, but didn't start writing and producing music until 2003. After he graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in advertising, his parents gave him a guitar as a graduation present, and from there he attended South Plains College in Levelland, Texas for music. It was there in Levelland that he formed his first band, an alt country outfit.
He quit South Plains a semester shy of obtaining a degree, but in spite of this, he is proficient in music theory and can sight read music.
Markham is originally from Arlington, but it was in Lubbock that he formulated some of his greatest musical connections and friendships. Case in point, he plays guitar and bass for the Lubbock great (now Denton great) Charlie Shafter, and Shafter is the main reason that Markham moved to Denton. He also occasionally plays with indie country heroine Amanda Shires out of Lubbock (though her main home is now Nashville). She'll often ask him to go with her to play a string of shows in New York or do a "one off" in Minnesota.
As for his current plans, he doesn't place any import on the prospect of making a comfortable living playing music, although it remains his sole passion. "It would be nice to be able to live off of making music," he relates. "But I don't think that that's a very wise goal." He laughs a little bit as he says this.
"I think I could do it if I put everything I had into it," he adds. "But I also teach kids music and I was thinking about going back to school for a little while to teach. To be an English teacher." And speaking of his day job, the work he does to pay the bills is actually something that he rather enjoys. He had just moved to Denton, and his buddy and fellow bandmate in Charlie Shafter's band had been working at the School of Rock in Frisco and hooked him up with a job subbing for teachers there.
From there, seminal Denton bluesman Isaac Hoskins started getting Markham to sub at the School of Rock in Southlake, and he got along so well with everyone there that once Hoskins left his job, Markham took over and has been there ever since giving lessons in guitar, bass and vocals and sometimes consulting in the 101 band class. Last year he helped consult in the corporate rock band class, which has a curricula consisting of songs from the pantheon of Boston, Journey, Foreigner, et al.
Even though he calls it a cool job that he enjoys doing, he still sees it as temporary. "I like to teach kids and I like to teach music. It's fun and it's what I know," he says. "But I don't see it as my life." While his attitude toward his job might change if it came with better pay and benefits, it also explains his desire to go back to school and teach. But there's also something else. Markham is a true talent, and really the only thing that separates him from an artist that can pay the bills with music is luck. In the infinitely saturated world of modern popular music, a very select few make it, and the majority keep trying until they do or die. And some just quit.
Markham seems poised to pursue his passions for the long haul, and behind that is a pragmatic desire to have a job with benefits that will sustain his true love of making music. But for the time being, he can hold out just a little longer.
You can buy Markham's latest album, Daniel Markham Ruined My Life, at danielmarkham.bandcamp.com, Mad World Records and Recycled Books in Denton, Doc's Records in Fort Worth, and Good Records in Dallas. He also plays at Dan's Silverleaf with Brent Best and Christian Lee Hutson on Thursday, September 26, and a couple of weeks before that at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios on September 7 with the Baptist Generals for free week.
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