Former Black Swans frontman releases second solo album of 2018, 'Burning Daylight'

When Jerry David DeCicca writes, you won’t often find him hunched over, scribbling on a piece of paper. He tends to write on his feet — pacing, strolling, or at the very least standing with his guitar.

 “It's very hard for me to process creative ideas in my head in a sedentary way,” DeCicca said recently by phone from his home in rural Bulverde, Texas, about 30 miles north of San Antonio. While recording his third solo album — the recently released Burning Daylight — at Sonic Ranch Studios in Tornillo, Texas, last year, DeCicca’s ambulatory tendencies lead to a creative surprise.  

Before recording sessions every morning, DeCicca and his bandmates were treated to a breakfast of huevos rancheros before piling into a minivan for the quick drive to the studio. But not everyone could fit in the van, so DeCicca happily walked, and on the last day of the sessions, he wrote a song in his head on the mile-long stroll.   

“I played it to everybody and said, ‘I think I just wrote an eleventh song,’” DeCicca said of Burning Daylight track “Reach for You.” “We recorded that song within 15 minutes of writing it.”

DeCicca, who used to front Columbus doom-folk act the Black Swans, approached Burning Daylight in the opposite manner from Time the Teacher, the horn-filled, country-jazz record he released earlier this year. For that one, DeCicca handed over his songs to UK producers, who added all sorts of embellishments. But Burning Daylight came about after a gig in Austin, when the owner of Super Secret Records saw him perform and said, “I want you to make me something.”

So DeCicca recruited a roots-rock dream team to cut the record live during the June 2017 sessions at Sonic Ranch: guitarists Don Cento and Tyler Evans, bassist Canaan Faulkner, pianist/singer Eve Searls and — the coup d’etat — drummer Gary Mallaber, an industry vet who has played on albums by Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Gene Clark and countless others.

“When I hear his drumming, it's very nostalgic for me because he played on so many records that I loved growing up. To make a record with him, I'm kind of putting my songs in a record that I would have loved when I was growing up,” DeCicca said. “People like Springsteen and Elliott Murphy and Graham Parker and Tom Petty, even John Hiatt and Mellencamp, they all get lumped together, and to me they're all very different writers. But they all use this combination of early rock ’n’ roll with the singer-songwriter movement and the folk movement.”

“They all wrote songs that feel personal but acknowledged the outside world,” he continued. “They acknowledged geography and politics, but they’re in the periphery of those songs. They still feel like they're singing about themselves. ... Records like Darkness on the Edge of Town or Graham Parker's Squeezing out Sparks were huge records for me, and they still are, because they're heavy, but most people don't recognize them as political records. But ultimately I think the personal is political.”

Burning Daylight, too, may not feel political on first blush, but the characters that inhabit DeCicca’s songs, and the details in the periphery, are personal in a way that’s rarely divorced from a specific place and time. In “I Watched You Pray,” for example, DeCicca processes how two people can respond to the same thing in such different ways.

“I was sitting with my coworker, and I am very agnostic, and she is a person of faith, and we oftentimes talk about that with one another,” he said. “We're watching CNN, and this is right after Trump was elected, and we both had a very different reaction to watching that. And so I'm sitting there pulling my hair out, and she's praying.”

“You didn’t flinch or turn away/As you heard what they had to say/Just bowed your head and let loose one tear,” DeCicca sings. “Was it sadness or was it fear?/I watched you pray.”