Q&A: Austin R&B singer-songwriter Daniel Fears


360°Sound had a chance to speak with up-and-coming Austin-based R&B singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Fears. Originally from Houston, Fears moved to Austin in 2008 to study trombone at the University of Texas. He would go on to Yale for a master’s degree, returning to the capital of Texas in 2015.

Fears’s new single, “Keep On,” is out now. The song was written during the pandemic with his longtime collaborators Moses Elias and Casie Luong. In this exclusive interview, Fears talks about the single, his background in classical music, sync licensing, and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

360°Sound: You began your career as a classical musician. What drew you to classical?

Daniel Fears: I grew up playing music in church, playing drums in a really musical household where my mom and my dad really encouraged me to practice and do whatever instruments I wanted to play. I spent a little time playing piano, spent a lot of time playing drums, and joined band in school and started playing trombone.

I practiced and worked hard and finally met a teacher and trombone player named Brian Logan when I was about 16. He was just super influential. He teaches probably about 30-40 private students a year. He’d play with Houston Symphony, salsa bands, churches, and off-Broadway shows in Houston.

[Logan] was always so encouraging and kind of opened my eyes to the world of classical music. He showed me it was possible to be a musician that wasn’t like a starving artist. I told him I wanted to do what he was doing. That pushed me in the direction of classical music.

I had no idea I was going to sing R&B/soul. I just knew I wanted to be around music, and I knew I wanted to be doing it all of the time. His encouragement was to go to music school. I studied at the University of Texas, got my bachelor’s there playing trombone, playing with a bunch of different ensembles, and then I went on and studied at Yale and did more of that, studying classical music.

I came back to Austin. That was how it got started. I had a great family that encouraged that and a great mentor who showed me that life as a successful musician is possible.

You grew up in a household where you weren’t allowed to listen to secular music. How did gospel and contemporary Christian influence your musical trajectory?

They forbade non-Christian music in the house when I was a kid, so we listened to a lot of gospel and contemporary Christian. I feel like that in gospel music, there’s this unique way of looking at it. It’s almost like music isn’t to serve me or the musician or the singer so much. It’s to create this moment, this unified moment where we’re all here together. We’re all singing and creating for the same purpose.

In ideal situations, there’s no ego about it. It’s about helping people reach a certain level of openness and awareness. In the church, it’s for God or Jesus, but I think the way I’ve carried it into what I do now is bringing awareness to the present moment, where you are and what you’re really feeling and thinking. That’s what it does for me singing my music and writing this music. Hopefully, I can do that for other people.

You described your forthcoming single “Keep On” as your most personal release to date. Tell us why that is.

I started writing this at the height of the pandemic. It was the beginning of 2021. So much uncertainty. Things had been opened then closed. It seemed like things were better and then we were forced to go back inside.

I was living in close quarters for the first time with my partner. We were about six months in. I think, for me, there’s been that honeymoon phase and then after that period it’s like we start to see each other for who we are when it’s not so pretty, when we’re having difficult conversations and when we don’t agree with each other.

This song took a lot of inspiration from that. Those moments when you can’t run away. You had an argument, but you can’t really go anywhere. You were offended or hurt, or maybe you hurt their feelings but you gotta sit there and deal with it.

There’s a line in this song, 10 o’clock and I’m heated, and I can’t believe what you said/Can’t run away too far with you sharing my bed. That was kind of the feeling we were stuck in. No real way out besides just quitting and just having to face your issue and come back and swallow your pride.

I think that’s why it feels so personal. It’s really coming from my experience. I think the moral of the whole song is that even though we have these difficult situations, you’re the person for me, I’m the person for you. Let’s keep on. We need this. We need each other.

You wear military fatigues when performing. Do you have a military background?

That was something that started with the last EP. Basically, I had an uncle who passed a few years ago unexpectedly. He was a pretty incredible dude. He was a police officer, then he was in the Secret Service. He was in the Army before that. His sister, my aunt, gave me his military jacket and said you need to wear this at your performances and take a picture and let me see it. It’s from the 1950s.

It’s got a really unique “Fears” logo on it. We spun that into a jumpsuit, and it became my performance attire. To me, it’s the uniform. I’m here for a purpose. I’m here for a reason. It’s carrying that family name and that tradition. That legacy is living on through the music that I make and through me.

For this next cycle, I’m not wearing a military suit, but I am keeping that “Fears” patch. And that’s going on a work jacket that I’m wearing. It’s this evolution of it, keep carrying the family name.

What are your goals as a musician?

I’m getting to take part in this songwriting camp for people who are wanting to work in the realm of sync licensing. Sync means music combined with film, combined with TV, combined with commercials – whatever you need music for. There’s a whole world there. I’d like to explore more of that.

I’m also working on creating events where it’s not just showcasing my music but finding ways to tie in different communities into the music that I’m making. Make the events that I throw be sort of community for people of color in Austin, for creatives in Austin who don’t quite fit in. I’d like to just keep following this path. I’m not attached to any particular way of living this kind of musical life, but that’s the path that I’m pursuing right now.

Check out Daniel Fears on Instagram.

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