5 Questions with
Daria Dzurik

I first heard Daria Dzurik at a performance at the Louisiana Music Factory. I was impressed by her stage presence and her ability to integrate a steel drum into her act. After a short conversation, she agreed to participate in an e-question and answer session.

1. You play a steel drum or pan as part of your act. How did you get involved in playing this rather unusual instrument?

I started playing pan when I was in high school. I went to Leon High in Tallahassee, FL. They have a GREAT steel band, (and now the middle school that I once attended has a steel band class as well!) I’m finding it’s definitely more common in the school systems in Florida than it is in Louisiana. (The first time I busted out my drums here someone asked me if it was a gumbo pot…)

Several universities in Florida (and across the country) have steel bands too, which was great because once I graduated from high school I was able to continue learning on the instrument while I was in college at Florida State University.

2. Your songs seem to have a lot of influences. They are clearly pop songs, but elements of reggae and other Caribbean grooves are obvious too. What is your approach to writing songs?

Not to sound cliché, but I listen to a wide variety of music! I’m definitely influenced by several genres so when it comes to songwriting, it can almost be a little difficult for me to rein everything in and make cohesive sounds at times. Since making pan my primary instrument for performances, I’ve most recently been writing songs based on riffs that are idiomatic to steel pan, and then I’ll hop on my keyboard to work out voicings and harmonies since I’m able to hit more than two notes simultaneously.

I do try to vary how I start to write a song though. Some days I like the element of melody to be my focus, and then on another day I’ll switch and try to create a different song just based off a rhythmic pattern or a harmonic progression. It keeps songwriting interesting for me, and its good exercise!

3. Your pan work interacts nicely with the playing of your guitarist. How do you approach soloing on the steel drum?

I like to think I approach soloing on steel drum as any other instrumentalists would, but personally I like using a lot of blue notes. I also get in the groove of montuno chord blocking patterns, which lends well to my instrument as it can switch the focus of soloing from melody to rhythm.

4. You’re from Florida. How have the musical traditions of that part of the country influenced the way you think about music?

Of course having steel band in the public school system in my town while I was living in Florida has been an influence in obvious ways. I wouldn’t have been exposed to Caribbean and calypso music in the same way—dare I say at all if I grew up somewhere else?!

Also, Florida is a little more diverse than people like to give it credit for! Even within just the College of Music at Florida State, there were so many different world music ensembles, and the school has a great international program bringing in people from different cultures from around the world into the University community.

Now that I think about it, all 4 of my roommates for the last 2 years I was in school were from different countries (Japan, Honduras, Peru, Columbia) so I’m sure I’m influenced in ways that I’m not even aware of. And as a side note, bluegrass and folk music is huge in North Florida. While I don’t intentionally incorporate it stylistically into my original music, having the same aesthetic of an organic sound is important to me.

5. Now that you live in New Orleans, have any New Orleans musical traditions seeped into your sound? And if so, how have you been influenced by living here? (I know that’s technically six questions…)

Ha, yes! I named my backup band “The Hip Drops” after a song by The Explosions for starters. It’s not just the music of New Orleans that’s been an influence, but the community and live scene too! Having support from local venues, other bands, and local radio like WTUL and WWOZ is really special—it’s great to have support and feedback from a local audience from people that you know, only slightly know of, and people you haven’t even met yet.

But for musical influences, I’ve definitely developed an appreciation and better understanding for Old New Orleans funk and soul music since living here, which has really helped my vocal lines and the groove I aim for with my band. I’ve found similarities in the second beats and strumming patterns of my pans since they both have Caribbean roots. I’ve heard fusions of traditional New Orleans brass come together with post-calypso, and rocksteady in local bands like The Local Skank, and Maddie Ruthless & The Forthrights (whom I have both played with and am looking forward to playing with again!) I feel like even Big Freedia has had an underlying influence on some new tracks we just finished up.

Being around so many other musicians helps me to create. I’m always trying to figure out new ways and genres of music to incorporate steel pan into. For a while, I really avoided playing anything that would allow listeners to generalize me as playing “reggae” and so I forced myself to use my pans in atypical styles so as not to be considered “island music,” but at this point I’ve learned to just play what feels good.

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