By Johnny Griffith
Life takes us on strange journeys at times. Twists and turns make life not only interesting but can serve as character building exercises that define who we are. Local musical phenom Daniel Rocha has been on one of those crazy journey’s that has taken him from East Texas to music venues all over the country and back again as his path continues to unfold.
Originally from Whitehouse, Texas, Rocha was a product of Whitehouse ISD and Grace Community school. Exposed to R&B at an early age, Daniel spent his formative years obsessing over guitar licks and perfecting the instrument. Taking a left turn, he decided to pursue a sports career briefly before realizing his true self was found in the secret chords of the melodies he had floating around in his head. Rocha decided to pursue a music degree at Greenville College in Illinois, majoring in Jazz while honing his craft in performance, production, and writing.
After graduation, Daniel returned to Texas and took up the role of ‘guitar for hire’ until the desire to be the master of his own destiny became too strong, and he struck out on his own. A couple of albums and countless live performances later, Rocha takes his blend of blues, jazz, soul, funk, and pop to fans of all demographics as much as he can. We managed to slow him down just long enough to give us a better idea of what he’s got going on:
Johnny: What got you started in music?
Daniel: My mother used to sing at churches, and so I was always exposed to music growing up, sitting under the record player listening to everything from Ronnie Milsap to Hendrix to Bob Dylan. I was staying up late listening to Austin City Limits, I dug that.
Johnny: Who were your early influences musically?
Daniel: I loved Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, Eric Johnson, Elvis, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Springsteen, Segovia, Django, Marvin Gaye, Prince; anyone doing anything well, I loved.
Johnny: When was the moment you felt that you could do this as more than just a hobby?
Daniel: I saw guys playing guitar that I knew and said to myself, “You know it doesn’t look all that hard, I could do that.” So I did. The singing and the music theory was harder to digest because I took it up so late. It’s like a language. You should start kids early with basic music theory exposure; it’s much easier to expound on it later after that.
Johnny: You have an extensive background in jazz in college and an eclectic musical resume along the way. How has this shaped you for a solo career in music?
Daniel: Yeah I’ve done a lot of things up to this point: led bands, produced hip-hop, been a country sideman lead player, played in party bands, done the blues thing; other than metal I’ve run the gambit. I think being able to play and sing really anything is a blessing as well as a curse. I’ve seen guys that know a handful of chords and a couple vocal runs go far because they keep writing the same song and playing the same thing. They’re easy to pigeon hole, so they’re met with success often times. Jazz, theory, and technique are great for writing and playing, but it’s harnessing it that can be a struggle. I think wanting to do something well and refine it is tough. Sometimes the greatest things get thrown in the trash because it didn’t meet expectations of the artist or they got bored with it. Sometimes it’s the simplified version that’s so readily palatable.
Johnny: Your music seems to be an amalgam of several different genres, each shining through as the mood or song dictates. How would you describe your original music?
Daniel: Singer Songwriter. I write about what’s going on in the world or how I’m feeling or about a movie I saw. When inspired, I can churn out a song in a matter of minutes and generally that’s the best way because if I pick at it too long I generally chuck it. I honestly hate recording music; it seems like such a process to me. I prefer live performing because it’s real and creating in the moment. Most music these days is so DJ formulaic and fit for public consumption that I’m guessing the lyrics, changes, and breaks 30 seconds in. Almost every hit song these days I can trace directly to another song or pieces of a couple popular songs both the music and lyrics have been plagiarized from. This is done intentionally because it’s easy to sell something to folks that’s already part of their subconscious.
Johnny: What have been some of the biggest personal challenges in pursuing this as a career?
Daniel: Just keeping on. Most folks unacquainted don’t see it as a real career. They come by that honestly because we’re browbeaten by society to fit the mold and chase the dollar so much so that sometimes the arts take a back seat to other conventional careers. Artsy dreamers don’t help the matter much because they’re generally lazy or can’t get out of they’re own way long enough to accomplish much. I do really well; I don’t struggle, but I should push harder towards being a national touring artist versus just putting in my day’s work.
Johnny: What have been a couple of your most memorable successes?
Daniel: I played solo for 25,000 people at the Gaylord last year and entertained them successfully for a full hour-and-a-half show. That’s incredibly hard to do by yourself with just a guitar. I’ve gotten calls to play lead on tours for lots of artists, just never one that interested me enough to do it for any prolonged period of time. I’d have to say even with all that, my daughter has been one of my greatest achievements up to this point.
Johnny: Are you typically a one-man show or do you collaborate with other musicians during live sets?
Daniel: I’m typically a one man show, though sometimes I’ll book some stuff as a band.
Johnny: How many originals do you have? Do you have a favorite cover song you like to include in your sets?
Daniel: I literally have hundreds of originals I’ve written over the years. When it comes to cover songs, it would have to be “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins or “Purple Rain” by Prince. I have always just dug those tunes.
Johnny: If you could share the stage with any living artist, who would it be?
Daniel: Well, since Prince is gone, it would have to be Stevie Wonder.
Johnny: What kind of experience do you want people seeing your set live for the first time to go away with?
Daniel: I used to want everyone to be in awe of what I can do and that has its place, but these days I want them to feel good, warm, loved, interested, and nourished in a way that they’ve been lacking. If I can make that connection with people through the groove or through a couple really nice moments sonically that touched them, that’s what I’m most interested in.
For more info about Daniel Rocha find him on Facebook or go to danielrochamusic.com.