Baylor alumnus shares experience working as musician in Nashville

Claiming the 1:30 to 2:00 P.M. main stage performance during the 2011 Dia Del Oso celebration, David Dulcie and the Rag Tag Army provide the featured Uproar Artist entertainment for Baylor and Waco residents. Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer

Dia Del Oso '11 Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer
Dia Del Oso ’11
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photographer
By Brooke Bailey

Former Uproar artist David Dulcie headed to Nashville, Tenn., in July with hopes of making it big in the music industry. During Dulcie’s time at Uproar, he was the lead singer in David Dulcie & The Rag Tag Army. Dulcie graduated from Baylor in May 2012.

How has life as a musician been since graduation?
Well I knew it was going to be different going to Nashville as opposed to Texas. In Texas you can be somewhat successful just by having a band and then having some songs to play. In Nashville, it’s a very saturated market. It’s kind of like being an actor in L.A.

So I didn’t expect any success quickly.

I’ve got two part time jobs to pay the bills, and then I write songs for different people about six days a week. So life as a musician is busy, in a single word.

What are your two part time jobs?
I valet cars and walk dogs. Not quite a strenuous use of my college degree, but I’m able to work around my schedule really well that way.

What was it like the day you packed everything up and moved to Nashville?
I mean I had just spent five years in college because I wanted to stick around for an extra one, and preparing for a career, and then I packed everything up in my little car and
went off to a land with no guarantees and no real need for a college education, but I was really happy that I had it. I was really laying everything on the line. Yeah, it was frightening. I was scared out of mind. Doing something so contrary to what …I don’t know…what we’re told: that we get to grow up, and then we go to college and then we get a job. It’s just how we’re supposed to live. And I packed everything up in order to go pursue a dream with no guarantees and no leads. Just going. Yeah scared out of my mind—that pretty much sums that up.

Has living and playing music in Nashville always been a dream?
That developed in college. I came here thinking I’d study psychology and be a counselor of some sort. Then I heard about Uproar. I’d always loved music, and I though I’d give it a shot. Then, during the three years I was with Uproar, I discovered I really had a passion for music and being in a band and writing music and affecting people, hopefully in a positive way with music. And I found out that was a whole lot more fulfilling than any amount of learning I could have done.

Can you tell me what a typical day looks like?
A typical day is kind of long. I wake up early and usually write a song with somebody, usually as a co-write about 9:30 or 10:00 every day, and then do that until about 1:00. This is Monday through Friday.

And then about 1:00, I go walk dogs a couple of hours, eat lunch, try to write a song by myself or work on the one we wrote that morning. Then I’ll, dependent on the day, go work as a valet or I’ll go play a show. So Sunday through Thursday I’m usually playing shows, and Friday and Saturday I’ll do my valet job.

How many hours a week would you say you spend performing?
I perform maybe six or seven hours a week. That’s just an average week. Sometimes it’ll be upwards of, depending on what kind of shows I’m playing, 12 or 13 hours. It’s a long time singing.

What do you do with your time when you’re not playing music?
There’s not a whole lot of time when I’m not playing music. Something I started doing was going back and reading books that I was supposed to in college and try to absorb some of that knowledge I never really had a chance to while I was in college. So reading and then staying in shape, but that’s just another part of the music thing or an expectation more or less.

When and where was your last gig?
Let’s see, the last time I played was right before I came here. I left on Tuesday. I played Sunday. Yeah, I played Sunday at a place called Belcourt Taps and Tapas in a writer’s round.

How many of your gigs are paid?
Maybe one out of five. Usually it is the writer’s round type thing, where you sit on a stage with three other writers and play tunes. It really is what you get out of it that you put it in, same as any other job. Most of the time you’re just trying to make connections, and every now and then, you get to play for somebody that is somebody already, which is kind of nice. But you work for tips every gig. I make about $10-15 bucks.

Have you got to play in front of anyone big?
Nashville is really known for publishing. It’s more about you write a song, and hopefully a country artist picks it up and plays it. I’ve played in front of a few publishing companies. Didn’t know it at the time. Turns out they were in the crowd, and they approached me about maybe becoming a staff writer for them. Maybe not famous people the way we picture famous people in Nashville, like Garth Brooks walking around, but it’s people that have the power to give someone like that song, and they can sing it. It’s kind of nice to be recognized for being able to do what you think you can do.

Are you touring?
I am not. I’ve gotten offered to be an opening act on a couple of tours, but it wasn’t really anybody with a kind of following that I’d be looking for to uproot and go on the road.

When you do travel, what do you do when you arrive at a city?
Honestly, the first thing for me is just getting together with the band and making sure all of the bases are covered. If I’m traveling with a band, we can skip that part and go to the pub and have a beer. Usually, I’ll be finding a band in the city that I’m going to and get to practicing as soon as possible. See, if I can find some local food that’s interesting.

Have you been to Waco since you’ve been gone?
I opened for The Rocket Summer in November at Waco hall. Uproar Records hired The Rocket Summer to come play a show, and they were looking for people to open for them, so they had me and Layne Lynch play.

Any spots that you like to come to when you come to Waco and Baylor?
Campus is always really nice. This place meant a lot to me, when I was here. First place I ever played a full band gig was Common Grounds. Went there last night. I’m going to hit Vitek’s before I leave and just put myself in a food coma. Where else have I gone? Oh Whataburger three times so far because we don’t have it in Nashville, and I’ve had a huge craving for the past three or four months. So it was time. I’ve been to Whataburger more times than my heart really wants me to go.

Do you ever miss home?
All the time. I love Texas. Love being home. You know I’m from Glen Rose, Texas, which is just a little over an hour from here. So just being back and forth between Baylor and Glen Rose and being with family. I mean it’s a 12-hour drive to where I live now, and I was always super close to my family. And it’s very strange not being able to see them, so yeah, every day I miss home.

When’s the last time you were home?
I was home for Christmas and New Year’s, and not since then. I’ll get to spend a few days at home after I play a show today.

Do you still perform with a band? Is it the same band you had in college?
When I come to Texas, I perform with a band, and yes it’s the same band. We’ve had to switch out a couple of people because people graduate and move on, so I’m playing a show today, and we had to find a guitar player. But yeah, when I usually come back it’s usually the same band.

And then when I’m in Nashville, it’s usually solo. But I do have access to a band up there. Actually, my roommates I live with are a bunch of musicians. We have a bass player, a drummer and a guitar player, so it makes finding a band pretty easy when you wake up a room away from them.

How has your experience with Uproar Records affected your pursuit in the music industry?
That’s actually something that labels have liked about me. Even publishing companies like that. It’s a different thing to just be an artist, but to be an artist and to have been managed before is almost a skill because you know what to expect and what not to expect.

Who gives you inspiration?
Musically, it would be like James Taylor, Zac Brown, let’s see there’s a lot of them…Ben Harper is great, John Mayer. Those are the ones that lyrically I tend to connect with. That’s a short list. And then there’s other types of bands that you listen to for different feelings. Yeah, sometimes if you want to write like an almost surreal song, you listen to Death Cab for Cutie for a couple of days, and that will kind of sink in.
For the most part, the ones I named earlier. If I just want to listen to good solid lyrics and music that kind of say something as opposed to a sell–out song about trucks and tractors, I listen to those.

What’s your relationship with your music? Is it work or play, or both?
I’m not good at working. So I guess it’s passion and play mixed together. I can’t not wake up and write music. I’ve been like that for a while, so I mean if it turns into work, I’ll have to quit. And I hope I get rewarded for playing and being passionate about music. If I ever feel like music turns into work, that’ll be the last time I play it.

When’s the last time you played music just by yourself for fun?
I try to do it every day. When you get stuck writing a song, and ideas just aren’t flowing, especially when you’re alone, it’s nice to just go back and play a song that you’ve written or somebody else has written that kind of inspired you.

Can you describe in detail how you write a song?
It’s different. It’s constantly changing. I’m not one of those guys that sits down and writes out the music completely and then puts words to it, but I’m not the guy who writes a poem and then tries to put music to it. It usually starts with an idea, maybe a line or a story that’s either happened to me or somebody else, and I try to figure out the best way to say that and make it mean something to somebody else. Sometimes it starts out with a guitar part, and it feels right, and then sometimes you do just start writing the words down and really making sure that you’re telling the right story. But there’s not exactly a process, especially when you’re writing with a different person every day. Hopefully you find something organic and comfortable to go off of, otherwise you’re going to force a song. But there’s no exact science to it.

How much of your song changes once you play it for the first time with a band?
A lot of it. I mean I think most songwriters would agree that we write music for ourselves because it’s an outlet that we can’t stop. I know I’m that way. I have ideas, and I just have to put them in a song. But then bringing a band in is like the most exciting thing in the world. Because you have this idea of a song that’s very simple, then you add drums, and electric guitar, and if you’re lucky you can add brass to it or some cool effects. It brings life to it. A world without bands and only songwriters would be a very boring world indeed.

What current music projects do you have going on?
On my own stuff, mostly I’ve been working on kind of a duo with a friend of mine. He and I are very different. He’s more of a pop singing guy, and I’m definitely more on the Texas country side of it, but something about us blends pretty well, so we’ve written some songs just to see if it goes anywhere.

And I might be starting a projet, kind of a long distance just experimental thing, with a guy I’ve mentioned before, named Max Helmrich. Just write some songs and see how it feels and if it’s something we might like to pursue further. We’re both busy, but you know, you have to keep your eye open and ear open to something inspiring coming up. So I’d figure we’d put in some time and write some tunes down.

So would you say trying to make a living as a musician is worth it?
I mean you have to believe it’s worth it. I love playing music, and I love writing music. You just have to believe that if you keep doing it for long enough, and you keep doing it well, that something’s going to come and make it all worth it monetarily. And if it doesn’t, you didn’t waste your time doing something you love.

Do you worry about your financial security?
It’s hard not to. I mean, I was raised in a middle class home in Texas, where money was an issue. And then being flat broke and with just enough money to pay the bills is concerning, especially as somebody that went to a school like this. We expect to get out and be secure, and yeah it is scary not having that. It’s scary that if I break my leg and both of my jobs go out the door, that I mean, I’ll have to go back to school or something. So yeah, financial security is something that’s always in the background, saying you gotta hurry up and do something with your life.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I don’t want to be a super star. I don’t want to be John Mayer. I don’t envy his life and his people following him around. I don’t know if I would handle that very well. But I would like to have a loyal following that I could tour and play my songs and just really mean a lot to enough people to where I could make a living with music and not have to work any part time jobs. If that means writing somebody else’s song, and them picking it up to get my name out there or maybe the right label wants to pick me up, and we see eye to eye on things, then great. But yeah, I’d like a loyal following and the ability to just make a living and play music and not have to worry about my financial security all of the time.