Illustration of Dan Didier

The Makers Dozen: Producer, film editor, drummer Dan Didier

14 May 4:16pm

There’s a rhythm about Dan Didier. It’s technical, buoyant, and productive. He’s a drummer to his core. Dan’s frenetic tempo drives him to create and produce music and film and storytelling and photography. He humbly claims he’s simply trying to avoid boredom, but this man is focused. Dan is a perfectionist who has figured out how to channel his creative urges in a productive way that both centers him personally and delivers remarkable work.

Dan’s career is colorful and diverse. He was the drummer in the band The Promise Ring. For seven years he frequently toured, both nationally and internationally, and recorded four full-length albums. The band’s signature album Nothing Feels Good, which was released in 1997, continues to be cited as an influential work of post-punk emo. In 2019 Rolling Stone ranked Nothing Feels Good as number three on its list of “40 Greatest Emo Albums of All Time.”

Dan’s lesser-known work as a film and sound editor, storyteller, and producer might be even more impressive than his music. As the producer/editorial supervisor at September Club, Dan creates compelling visual content for corporations and creates inspired documentaries. His recent projects include Don’t Break Down: A Film about Jawbreaker and Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, which won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special.

Cory Ampe: Why are you creative?

Dan Didier: I attempt to be creative to beat boredom. I need to be busy and I’m a curious person. I have a lot of questions. Musically, through the recording process, in the editing room...I’m always seeking answers to questions through creativity. I enjoy solving problems.

CA: What is something you do outside your job that keeps you creative?

DD: I’m in a couple bands. I record music. Creativity carries everything I do outside of work. I like to do side jobs in graphic design and editing. I’m always combatting boredom. I like to chill but I don’t like wasting time. The time we have is so short. I’m not religious; I don’t believe in reincarnation. This is it for us. We gotta make the most of it while we can.

CA: What’s something you saw recently that inspired you?

DD: When I watch television or films, I can’t resist picking projects apart from a storytelling perspective. It’s always fun watching shows with my wife, analyzing and critiquing together. I also like a lot of graphic design and typography. When I need inspiration, that’s where I go. There’s not a specific person or designer I follow. I don’t want to go too deep or force it. I leave my receptors open.

CA: What’s one thing you’ve created that defines who you are the most?

DD: For better or for worse, the thing that defines a big part of my life was being part of a band called the Promise Ring and the album Nothing Feels Good. Specifically, that record is associated with me and the guys in the band. People really gravitate towards it. It’s great. I love talking about it. It’s still appearing on lists. More recently, I really enjoyed working on the Jawbreaker documentary. I’d almost rather have people look at that than an album I did 20 years ago, but I’m grateful for all of it.

CA: Name an influential/inspirational book everyone must read.

DD: The problem is that I don’t remember most of the books I’ve read. I do think everyone should read—especially if they are musicians—Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys by Lol Tolhurst, who was the drummer for the band The Cure. The book details the genesis of The Cure and Tolhursts’s personal journey including his substance abuse struggle. I just read it recently, so it’s top of mind. But it’s really good.

CA: What do you carry around with you every day that is indispensable?

DD: My wallet? I always have a thumb drive in the little weird pocket within the side pocket in my jeans. Thumb drives are almost obsolete now, but you never know when you need one. So I always have one. I’m prepared. Come at me.

CA: Most influential person in your creative life?

DD: I have two influential people to name. Thomas Fisher taught me how to play the drums. He was indispensable in my life as my band teacher and mentor. Maybe I could have learned from anyone, but Tom Fisher taught me something that would become a huge, defining part of my life. Tom Fisher laid the groundwork. And more recently in my career, Barry Poltermann has had a huge influence on me. He taught me how to be a storyteller. He showed me the ropes and shared so much of his vast experience with me.

CA: How do you silence the doubts?

DD: I wish I didn’t have any doubts. They are hard to ignore. Simply put: Keep busy and keep at it. I tackle doubt the same way I deal with boredom. Keep trying; eventually, something will work.

When you’re stuck, it’s important to take a step back. Reassess. Ask yourself, “Is it really worth it? Is there a better way to handle this?” I use the same approach regardless if I’ making music, playing drums, or editing. Step back and let your subconscious take over.

When we were recording Maritime’s Magnetic Bodies/Maps of Bones album, we brought music producer Brian Deck up from Chicago to help support the project. We were working on this one song and I couldn’t figure out how to handle out a drum part for the chorus. It was really bugging me. I got frustrated and said to Brian, “I tried this and that. I’m stuck.” Brian wisely told me to stop. He recommended that I move on to another song. He told me to let my subconscious figure it out for me.

I had a ton of doubt at that moment. I even asked myself, “Am I total hack? This shouldn’t be this hard.” But Brian was totally right. After a break, I came back to the song with a fresh perspective. It’s the same thing with editing. When you can’t figure something out, go away. Step back. Let the other part of your mind wander and come back to it. Sometimes you’re too in it to think about it until you don’t think about it at all.

CA: What’s your morning routine?

DD: I wake up early and go for a run. I try to do a 5k every morning in my neighborhood. This is a pre-Coronavirus question, right? On a normal day, I run, shower, and make breakfast for my wife and daughters. While they are eating, I make everyone cold lunches. I get them off to school and then I have some me-time. I need meditation before I get to work. I consider my run my meditation. I focus my breathing. I don’t listen to music. I focus on being in the moment so I can clear my head. I make space for thoughts to flow in or out, whichever is needed.

CA: Favorite/most productive meeting spot?

DD: Again, pre-Coronavirus, my go-to spot is Anodyne. When I meet with clients or my team, I like to go there because afterward I can stay there and continue to work. I feel productive there. I can knock out whatever I need to do.

CA: If you weren’t a ____ what would you be?

DD: I don’t know what it’s called. My dream is to be an artist that finds old furniture, rehabs it, rethinks it, and sells it. That’s what I want to do in retirement. I need to come up with a name for that. I want to add things to the furniture, tear it down, reconstruct it, and give it a new life.

CA: Greatest piece of advice you ever received?

DD: I’m going to return to the story I told you about Brian Deck. My interaction with him was fleeting, but his advice to let my subconscious take over has really helped me. For so long, I would beat myself up for not solving the problem. It turns out, in most cases, the solution was actually really simple. Brian’s philosophy works. Especially when I’m editing and trying to figure out how to piece things together in a logical, narrative way. There are so many options with film editing, it can drive you insane. As Brian said, let your subconscious carry you.

About the author

Cory Ampe

Cory Ampe has worked in marketing and communications for more than 20 years. She is currently the Content Marketing Director for Jigsaw, volunteers for Sculpture Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Downtown, and Islands of Brilliance. She is also the mom of two crazy kids.

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