Daniel Markham put out a new single, and it’s like nothing he’s done before.
“Don’t it Feel Good” debuted recently, heralding Markham’s return from the studio with a new album, Burnout. The track is a nod to 1990s grunge with a riff that chugs like Weezer and bites like Alice in Chains. It’s an edgy departure from Markham’s catalog of alt-country and indie-rock tunes.
And it's all because of Dimebag Darrell.
In 2017, Pantera released a special vinyl record in memory of their late guitarist, Dimebag Darrell. The record had five or so unreleased tracks that Darrell had recorded before Nathan Gale shot and killed him onstage during a show at the Alrosa Villa club in Ohio in December 2004.
Markham grew up listening to Dimebag, and the album made him nostalgic for younger days when he was learning riffs to play along with the songs he heard on 1990s rock radio.
“It kind of got me feeling nostalgic,” says Markham, “just kinda missing Dimebag and his presence, his humor and his beautiful guitar playing. … I just think he’s the best thing ever on guitar.”
Markham’s nostalgia led him to look for a replica of Dimebag’s iconic guitar, the “Dean From Hell.” He found an Indonesian replica online and bought it.
“It was super cheap and it had like a tag line that said, ‘Unleash the fire inside you,’” Markham says.
“I was like, ‘That’s kinda cool,’ and when I got it, I just kind of had that in my mind, like, ‘It’s totally OK to unleash the fire inside you.’ And it just came out of me. Those songs just poured out of me.”
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Markham says as soon as he took the guitar out of the box, the riff for Burnout’s title track hit him like a bolt of lightning. In the course of about a week, Markham wrote all 12 of the songs that compose Burnout, and he recorded all of it in just over 20 hours at Elmwood studio with his buddy and engineer Justin Collins of the Raised Right Men.
Markham says that cheap Dimebag guitar was the key that unlocked the creative block.
“It was a tool to get me to the next level of what I wanted to do. I don’t know if I could’ve written those songs on my Telecaster or my Jack 'Stang. I don’t know if it would have come out of me like that,” he says.
“It allowed me to feel like I had zero limitations, like I can do anything that I wanted to do, and I wrote all these crazy guitar solos, and I really went for it. …I didn’t care about being cool. I didn’t care about anything. I was just like, ‘I’m going to do exactly what I feel like doing.'”
When Markham got into writing, he made his entry via the alt-country world. He says it felt like an easy way to start. The genre was forgiving, and he was drawn to it at first.
Before writing Burnout, Markham was feeling the innate limitations of alt-country. The genre is built upon simple orchestration and approachable progressions that put the emphasis on the storytelling in the lyrics.
“I was getting into alt-country and whatnot at the time. It seemed like an easy way to get in to write like that, an easy way to find my voice as a songwriter,” Markham says.
“The further along I got, I kinda lost interest in alt-country altogether. …I still kinda had a little bit of that in me, but I kinda wanted to start putting in some of my influences.”
So, he bought the Dimebag Darrell guitar.
“I’m getting older and I don’t really care about being cool anymore,” he says.
“I’ve been playing guitar for so long now, and I feel like I don’t really get to let loose when I play. …This will be kind of fun. It makes me kind of nervous, but I think it’s going to be a good time,” he says with a laugh.
Markham is lining up his next tour and prepping for the release of Burnout early next year.
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Ironically, Markham no longer has the Dimebag guitar. He got rid of it after he wrote the album. It didn’t work live.
“I played a couple of shows with it, and I didn’t like it,” he laughs.
“It wouldn’t stay in tune, and I felt like I was gonna hit everyone onstage and hurt someone. So I took it back and got my money back for it,” he says.
“But it was cool to use it to get a record’s worth of songs out of it.”