Exactly 31 days ago today, Dan Hochhalter hit the stage for the first time with Dierks Bentley and his band of brothers. This historic moment marks the long awaited addition of a fiddle player to complete the posse! We asked Dan, aka @fiddlinDan on Twitter, how to pronounce his last name. His reply: "@dbcongress Hoke-Hall-Ter. Hochhalter. Just like it looks! Ha!"
Get to know Dan in this third exclusive DB Congress interview in the series introducing the new guys on Team Dierks! Check out Brian Layson and Cassady Feasby, too!
DBC: Welcome to the DB family! We are so excited to have a permanent fiddle player in Dierks Bentley’s band! How did the opportunity to work with Dierks come about? Were you a fan of his work before that?
Dan: Absolutely...I've always enjoyed the music that Dierks puts out there. I've had several of his albums long before I ever got the chance to tour with him, so getting to share the stage with him and the guys is a blast!
Nashville is a pretty tight-knit music community, so I heard about Dierks possibly auditioning fiddle players through a few friends of mine. I was thrilled that I wound up getting a shot. The audition was pretty straight forward...I met Dierks and the guys at a rehearsal space in Nashville and we ran a couple songs..."Free & Easy," "Fiddlin' Around," "My Last Name," and "Come A Little Closer." I know that they looked at a lot of great players, so I was really honored that I wound up getting the call.
(Photo Credit: Stephanie Lanham, Du Quoin State Fair)
DBC: You are originally from Minnesota? What was life like there and what brought you to Nashville?
Dan: Minnesota is great! I'm a Twins and Vikings fan, and love the vibe up there. I grew up dividing my time between school, playing hockey and baseball, and music. When I was younger, I did a few fiddle and talent contests, but then got more into playing in local bands. I was always the youngest guy in the bands I worked with (by anywhere from 15-60 years!), so it proved to be a valuable experience. Through those guys, I learned how to improvise, learned how to read charts on the fly, and fake it if you didn’t know the song!
When I was 20, I decided to move to Nashville and try to get a gig with a national touring artist. Luck was on my side, and I landed an audition with Lonestar pretty quickly. From there, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to play with many more talented folks.
DBC: Could you share a little about your family life?
Dan: I’ve always had a supportive and loving family. My parents and older sister live up in Minnesota, and my younger sister lives out in LA. My mom and dad are both music lovers, and have both recently retired. My sisters and I have always been pretty ambitious, and I know that we’re all proud of each other.
As far as my family here in Nashville, I am married to an unbelievable woman named Crystal. We met at a Gretchen Wilson video shoot several years ago while she was working at Sony Records, and hit it off instantly. Through the years that I've known her, she has been unbelievably supportive of my career while she pursues her own. We've now been married for just over two years, and have a lovely daughter named Roxy. She's a border collie and black lab mix. :-)
DBC: You’ve toured with Easton Corbin, Gretchen Wilson, John Fogerty, Lonestar, and others. How will you use all of that collective experience to interpret Dierks’ catalog when you’re on stage?
Dan: Every tour and every artist is different, and it’s the job of a sideman like myself to fit in both on-stage and off. Every artist’s show is different, so what works for a classic-rocker like John Fogerty may seem out of place with a country traditionalist like Easton Corbin. I guess being exposed to a lot of different styles of music and types of performances just helps me figure out what will work best with the artist I’m working with.
(Photo Credit: Stephanie Lanham, DuQuoin State Fair)
DBC: August 14 marked your stage debut with Dierks and the guys in California. How would you summarize your experiences of your first 30 days?
Dan: It’s honestly been fantastic. I’ve always heard such good things about Dierks and his tour, and it has really lived up to my expectations. The guys in the band and crew have been great, and Dierks is a great person to work for and work with. He’s always looking for ways to improve his show and ways to further his career. I really respect his work ethic.
DBC: If you had to sum up your new band-mates in three words, what would they be?
Dan: Justin Bieber fanatics
DBC: We’re looking forward to hearing you play some of the Up On The Ridge songs, especially Fallin’ For You, Draw Me A Map and of course Fiddlin’ Around. What other songs are you looking forward to playing from Dierks’ previous albums?
Dan: I’ve always liked “Free & Easy” and “Trying To Stop Your Leaving,” but honestly, I just love playing the hits! There’s nothing better than looking out into the audience and seeing a crowd singing along. I like seeing everyone having a good time and not staring back at the stage with their arms folded.
DBC: What other instruments do you play?
Dan: Fiddle has always been my main instrument. I also play some guitar and mandolin, but really try to be a true utility guy for the artists I work with. I play some ganjo (6-string banjo) with Dierks, have played lap steel with Fogerty, cello with Gretchen, keyboard and cowbell with Easton, and played some odd-ball instruments, like a ukulele and a jaw’s harp, on recording sessions. I really try to bring all that I can to the table with any gig that I’m on.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Lanham, DuQuoin State Fair (Dierks, Dan on the ganjo, Cassady & Steve on drums)
DBC: You state on your MySpace page: “I equally love both playing in the studio and performing live.” Tell us about one of your most memorable studio sessions?
Dan: Probably the most memorable session for me was the first master session I ever did. A master session means that the project you are working on will be distributed nationally. The CDs that people buy (or used to buy!) at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc. are all considered “masters.” While I was touring with Lonestar, I was invited to play on the last track of their “Let’s Be Us Again” album. It was a really cool and nerve-racking experience for me, and I learned a lot about the recording process at that level. It was a really cool thing to get to buy a CD and see my name in the album credits. Since then, I’ve gotten to play on a few other albums as well.
(Photo Credit: Janet Marlborough, California)
DBC: What are your thoughts on Dierks taking the risk with Up On The Ridge, to step away from the tried and true formula that has brought him so much success so far?
Dan: I have nothing but respect for Dierks for making the “Ridge” album. Even before working for him, I had heard a lot of skepticism around Nashville about what he was doing. I think that the fears were that it would be some sort of step back for his career, that country music radio wouldn’t play the singles, that it would be lost on his fans, etc. But he made a record that he wanted to make as a creative artist, and it turned out to be a truly great record. In my opinion, too many artists, record labels, and songwriters in Nashville try to follow the trend instead of just making the music that they want to make. “Ridge” is honestly one of my favorite records to come out of Nashville’s country music in a while, and I’m not just saying that because I work for him! To see it get nominated for a CMA album of the year has gotta be cool for Dierks and everyone else who had a hand in making that album.
DBC: Are you a “hide in the bus” or “get out and meet the fans" kind of band mate? *We hope for the latter!
Dan: I’ll always stop and say ‘hi!’ See you on the road!
We also asked Dan to give us the scoop on the "Draw Me A Map" video shoot from last Thursday, September 9, and here's what he told us:
"I don't want to divulge too much information about the video, but hopefully it will be released soon! Dierks brought the band with him for the shoot, and we did several performance shots at a few cool locations outside of Nashville. I think that it's going to have a really cool vibe, and I KNOW that we all looked great!! haha"
Thanks, Dan! We hope to see you on the road and meet you in person! Oh, and I don't think I'm alone when I say I hope to hear you play (and Dierks sing) "Gonna Get There Someday".... someday soon! It's a long time favorite of many DBC reps!
DB Congress Chair