Let there be folk rock

By Troy Doetch

No, Daniel isn’t the lion.

Despite keyboardist Daniel Pingrey’s thick mane of blonde frizz and silent intensity like that of a jungle cat or percussion major (Pingrey, a UW Madison alumnus, is the latter), vocalist Jimmie Linville is the growl of Daniel and the Lion, the Madison folk duo that played Saturday at the House Café, 263 E. Lincoln Highway.

And no, the two aren’t as Old Testament as their name suggests. Linville, who studied English at UW Baraboo, said he grew up in a religious household, but is more intrigued by the Bible’s parabolic literature than its moral pillars.

“We don’t really like Christian music, but some of those themes come through,” Linville said “We did a song on our old record called Saul, which is named after a character in the Old Testament. It’s one of the Old Testament stories that are really pretty epic, like fantasy stories. They’re just so crazy.”

Linville, the lyricist behind the duo, has an ambitious list of poets: from the Renaissance plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries to the pastoral lines of Robert Frost. Not exactly what you would expect from the man who wrote the sweet lil hook, “I don’t mind livin‘ in a bubble, baby, long as I got you.” But Linville said it would be weird to write as dense and verbose as pre-modernist poets. He’d rather say something more conversational.

“I think poets inspire life more than they inspire writing,” Linville said. “You can read a poem and be like, ‘Man, those are really great. I feel moved by these poems,’ but you’re not going to immediately write a poem. Often times, you’ll just go and have a sandwich or do something else in your life and then come back and write later on, and it comes through.”

Lyrically, Daniel and the Lion’s songs are candid, and Linville and Pingrey perform them just the same. Sometimes with an acoustic guitar and keyboard, other times with a glockenspiel or a xylophone, the duo keeps their set simple and specific to the space. Linville said the band does its best to act with dignity: its performance isn’t influenced by drugs or alcohol.

“I think it’s cool to inspire people to make choices that are atypical,” Linville said. “The typical choice is to party in your early 20s, go out and drink from the time you reach 21 (and before) until you’re like 27, and you start taking your life seriously. But that’s six, seven, eight years that a lot of people waste just going to bars, and it’s just like, if you spend that time getting good at something and making art and changing the world, you’ll be a lot better off when 27, 28 rolls around.”

But don’t start thinking they’re the Jonas Brothers. Linville and Pingrey are very much rock ‘n’ roll musicians.

“I don’t think that we’re G-rated,” Linville said. “I’m incredibly crude…The only reason you would say we’re family-friendly is because certain aspects of us are seen as something you can bring your family to. For example, our sound is very sweet and very warm and very folksy. It’s non-aggressive. It’s not electric guitars and blasting, in-your-face screaming. It’s very pleasant songs. Also, we are nice guys with beards, and we’re friendly as people. When we meet people we shake their hands and give them hugs and say, ‘Hey,’ because we’re nice to people in general. But just because we don’t do drugs or drink doesn’t mean that we don’t swear and doesn’t mean that we should be hanging out with kids.”