Santa Fe-based songwriter and author David Berkeley writes songs capable of both breaking and mending the heart. The San Francisco Chronicle calls him a “musical poet,” and the New York Times praises his “lustrous, melancholy voice with shades of Tim Buckley and Nick Drake.” He’s released five studio albums, one live album and authored a book. Berkeley’s current release is his most exciting and ambitious yet: a novella comprising ten intertwining stories and an album of ten accompanying songs (one for each story).
The album Cardboard Boat features Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek) on background vocals and Berkeley’s all-star band, Jordan Katz (De La Soul, Sara Bareilles, Dan Bern), Mathias Kunzli (Regina Spektor), Lex Price (K.D. Lang, Peter Bradley Adams), Will Robertson (Shawn Mullins, Eliot Bronson), Kort McCumber (Moors and McCumber), and Bill Titus (Dan Bern). Recorded by Jono Manson in the wilds of Chupdero, NM, it features Berkeley’s most compelling writing to date. Each song is sung loosely from the perspective of the main character in each story of Berkeley’s book.
That book, entitled The Free Brontosaurus (Rare Bird Lit) is a collection of stories all set in the same fictional city. The characters are all off kilter and struggle to find connection. Each sees (or creates) beauty in strange places. And ultimately it is art and, when they meet, each other, that brings redemption. These are narratives of isolation that, like Berkeley’s songs, manage to uplift in the end. It’s a bit like Olive Kitteredge if authored with the whimsy and humor Miranda July.
“I’m fascinated by the relationship between stories and songs,” Berkeley explains. “What experiences make for a good story? And what is only expressible in song?” Indeed, this was something Berkeley explored with his first book/album combination. 140 Goats and a Guitar accompanied Berkeley’s album Some Kind of Cure (2012). Both were written primarily during the year Berkeley lived on the island of Corsica. Goats tells thirteen stories, the stories that lay behind the writing of the album’s thirteen songs. This unique concept allowed Berkeley to perform in bookstores across the country, as well as his usual clubs and theaters.
“Dashing singer-songwriter David Berkeley delivers his warm, thoughtful songs, along with a reliably hilarious line in onstage banter.” - Time Out New York
Berkeley tours extensively all over the country and world (he spent a month in Europe this summer touring with Peter Bradley Adams and Robby Hecht, and he’s back solo to the UK, Germany, France and NL this month). He’s opened/toured with Dido, Don McLean, Ben Folds, Billy Bragg, Ray Lamontagne, Nickel Creek and many more. He was a Kerrville New Folk Finalist this year and was a finalist at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. He’s performed on Mountain Stage, The World Café, the Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest, XM Loft Sessions, Acoustic Café, to name a few.
Berkeley has also been moonlighting of late as a sort of Cyrano de Bergerac, writing high-ticket personalized love songs, serenades, and songs to accompany wedding proposals. Perhaps inspired by the hilarious tale Berkeley told on “This American Life” of one such private serenade, Berkeley is frequently flown in to perform these songs in the most intimate situations. “It’s been an honor,” Berkeley explains, “to get to play a role in such important moments in other’s lives, but it can also be incredibly awkward. Some of these situations, wedding proposals for example, are really meant to shared between only two people.”
In addition to this curious arm of his career, Berkeley has also made a name for himself in the dance clubs of Europe. He is in high demand by some of the world’s best-known DJs to write and record vocals and lyrics for trance songs. Beatport named Berkeley one of the world’s top 50 male trance vocalists. “It is a bizarre development,” Berkeley admits. “I never really listen to music over 70bpm. Now I’m singing hooks that are more than twice that fast.”
“Berkeley crafts his songs like watercolor paintings. Intimate and introspective, his gentle yet colorful melodies are graceful and resonate long after the last note fades.” – Creative Loafing, Atlanta
David Berkeley’s gift as a songwriter and storyteller is that he sees both the tragedy and comedy in life, managing to both reveal the sorrow at the heart of the human condition and the blazing joy and beauty in the same. It’s a duality that audiences experience at all of Berkeley’s shows as he tells uproarious stories between cathartic songs. It’s also why his fans respond so deeply to his music and why so many look to him to express what they are often unable to articulate. Berkeley’s songs are at once hard and hopeful.
“If you're into literate soulful singer songwriters, David Berkeley is the Gabriel García Márquez of beautiful-voiced troubadours.” – KRUU