Dave Menzo is an Ann Arbor, Michigan musician who wrote to us with a story about his new album, “Shhh…”, which was produced entirely using equipment that he checked out–wait for it–from the Ann Arbor District Library! We posed some questions to Dave, and he put together this nice response for us. Enjoy this feature as well as Dave’s music, which you can find in the links below. ~Laura

by Dave Menzo

Dave Menzo. Courtesy of the artist.

Dave Menzo. Courtesy of the artist.

I’ve always been interested in unusual things you can check out from libraries. When I was about 7 years old I learned that I could check out CDs, and felt like I had unlocked a secret treasure. I had a strong passion for music at a very young age, and the library seemed like heaven for me. I love books, and usually check out a book or two every time I go to the library. The inclusion of musical tools (and other nontraditional items), however, takes my love for libraries to a whole new level.

A year ago I saw someone tweeting about the Ann Arbor District Library and how he had just checked out an analog synthesizer from their downtown location. “Yeah, right” I thought. “This must be too good to be true” – but sure enough they had a whole collection of electronic instruments and whacky musical tools that anyone in the community could check out for one week at a time. Suddenly I had the same feeling I had as a kid in the CD section, discovering that I had an untapped musical resource at the library, just waiting to show me a world of inspiration and wonder.

http://www.aadl.org/musictools  (a link to the AADL’s Music Tools collection)

It was at that moment that I had a vision of recording an album using these instruments exclusively. Since I had just released my newest album Color Wheel a month earlier (which had extremely different instrumentation), even a casual mention to a few people about my idea to make this new album with library instruments spread very quickly through my community. I had only began demoing out a few ideas when word was already getting back to me that people were excited to hear it! I immediately felt the urgency to make it a legit recording project, and not just sound like someone who decided to experiment with random things. Doing it for the concept was one thing, now I wanted to make it a worthwhile piece in my body of work.

Recording the album was a very exciting journey. The first phase was all about discovery. “What does this knob do?”

With all the many synthesizers, drum machines, noise makers, effects, and other items there was so much new ground to explore for me. With only my voice, the library’s instruments, and my vision I wanted to create something great. Fine tuning the album into something cohesive is always a mission of it’s own. I’ve recorded concept albums before but this was the first album I have done without guitar, and limited to a certain collection of instruments. Using these instruments gave the album a certain tone and seems to balance my shifting songwriting style in an interesting way.

Dave Menzo Ann High res

Community awareness was definitely one goal, as most people still have no idea the program exists. Even after a year of talking about the album and program to friends, posting about it on the internet (nearly every social media platform and my website), telling audiences about it at shows, etc… I still regularly hear people say they have never heard about this program. “I didn’t know you could rent this from the library…” – That is one of the main reasons I decided to record this album. I wanted to be the person who shined the light on it in the community, and hopefully inspire other communities to adopt similar programs. Also, I wanted to be the first person to record an album only using instruments from a library, and to my knowledge that is true.

Another, much larger goal I had with this album, is that it could be used as a model for future music makers. I dreamt that if the album I made with these instruments was so good that it created a hype, that when people learned it was recorded using only instruments from the library it would help push the cause for these programs nationwide. I’m not a household name, at least not yet, but I sure have dreams the size of Jupiter.

Any person who has an interest in music deserves the chance to explore it. I’ve already started talking to members of other communities in Michigan to help me gauge interest in their areas and hopefully form a team that could launch a similar program. I’ve already jokingly been dubbed “Johnny Applesynth” and “The Synthesizer Ambassador of Michigan” by some people, although I don’t do this for any status or recognition. I simply believe that this type of resource is amazing and belongs in every community. That’s it. It needs to exist so creative minds can thrive. It became a mission of mine, to make that happen.

It’s hard to say what my ideal library would look like, because I already feel so lucky that my local library in Ann Arbor has music tools, DVDs, telescopes, art, solar panels, and other unusual things besides books to check out. Is it crazy to want more? Honestly, I don’t think it is. With how much money is spent on our military for example, just imagine if we poured even a quarter of that into libraries, and other public resources. It’s time we empowered our communities, and our people. You could have programs like this at nearly every library in our country, and not just music tools. You could check out anything. Any dream you had, you could find the resources in your community to pursuit it, without creating a debt, by going to universities. With the college debt crisis at hand, it seems like maybe there is a connection between public debt, and the resources you empower them with. If our infrastructure was geared more toward the empowerment of communities, our dream could be as big as we wanted.

I recently finished a Kickstarter campaign that will now fund the production of this album, “Shhh…”  and I am very grateful to my supporters who have got me here. May 16th is the public release date and anyone can check out my website www.davemenzo.com for more information on how to purchase or listen to it.

People can stream a few tracks from my Soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/davemenzo

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