One of Iowa City’s busiest and most accomplished sidemen is stepping into the spotlight for a new solo project. Guitarist Dan Padley will release his new album, “Perfectly Whelmed,” Friday. If you’re a fan of the Iowa music scene, you likely know Padley as one of Elizabeth Moen’s backing guitarists.
Padley has been making music in Iowa since he landed in Iowa City to attend the University of Iowa, starting school as an astronomy major who quickly became infatuated with jazz.
Introduction to jazz
“When I went to Iowa and decided to switch to music, I just knew that I wanted to play guitar, and the only way to do that was through the jazz lens,” Padley says. “So it was kind of a means to an end, but I came to really appreciate jazz because it gives you the tools to be successful in so many other genres.”
Before coming to the UI, Padley lived in Rochester, Minnesota, where he took up the guitar at age 12. He was inspired by bands like Green Day and Nirvana, as well as guitar legends Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page. Padley took lessons through a private instructor while a senior in high school.
As a UI student, he began performing with River Glen and Dan DiMonte and The Bad Assettes. Around this time is when he realized he wanted to pursue music for a living.
“It's the only thing I feel truly employable as, so that was reason enough to take it seriously,” says Padley. “I definitely treat it as a job, but I always keep in mind that I'm lucky to play as much as I do with such talented people, and that ultimately I do it because playing music is simply really fun and rewarding for my soul.”
An essential musician in Moen's band
In 2017, Padley joined Moen’s band as she was preparing to open for singer-songwriter Margaret Glaspy. Blake Shaw, a bassist from Iowa City who is also part of Moen’s band, suggested adding Padley as a second guitarist.
“Dan brings several things to the table that not everyone can do,” says Shaw. “He’s one of those musicians that literally makes everything and anything sound better. When I think back to all the different bands we’ve played in together it just blows my mind how good he can be in so many different situations.”
After using him as a part of her act for the Glaspy gig at the Englert, Moen says she told him he had to play with her forevermore. Now when she tours without him, people ask where he is.
“Everything he brought to my songs really enhanced them,” Moen says. “He really understands what a song needs. He loves all music, and that really shows in his guitar playing and his songs that he writes.”
Perfectly Whelmed is an all-instrumental jazz album
Padley’s latest effort, “Perfectly Whelmed,” is an all-instrumental album that represents a bit of a musical departure, and is more of a “midpoint” of his previous work.
“I went in with the intention of making it more about the sound of it, and less about the performance of it. Jazz is more performance-based than sonically-based,” Padley says. “I took a lot of care in finding good textures and creating these kind of soundscapes. There’s not many solos. It’s very ‘vibey,’ and very textural and sound-based.”
Padley cites guitarist Bill Frisell and the film score work of Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood as major influences on “Perfectly Whelmed.”
Shaw performs on most of the record, along with drummer Christopher Jensen (another frequent Padley collaborator). Most of the album was recorded at Voxman School of Music, or at Padley’s home with the exception of a few guitar parts recorded at Flat Black Studios by Iowa music great Bo Ramsey.
Padley will be playing an album release show this Friday, August 23 at Trumpet Blossom Café in Iowa City, with Shaw and Jensen as his backing band. They’ll also be joined by Drew Morton on upright bass.
Tickets can be purchased through Little Village, and CDs will be available for purchase: the CDs will be “pay what you want,” for Friday night only. Despite having played countless shows, Padley is a little nervous about being front and center, with his name on the event.
“It is very different to have my name out there. It’s foreign to me,” says Padley. “I’m not really into fanfare for myself.”