In January, Anthony D’Amato ’10 played an acoustic set at a fundraiser in Asbury Park, N.J., that featured Bruce Springsteen. For the finale, the Boss invited all the performers to join him on stage for rousing renditions of “Twist and Shout” and “Thunder Road.”
“Bruce is one of my musical heroes. To be on stage with him is incredible,” says D’Amato, who had performed at two previous benefits with Springsteen. At the second one, Springsteen told him, “You’re a good songwriter, my man.”
D’Amato, who describes his music as “folk ’n’ roll,” has a rockin’ career these days. Publications from The New York Times to American Songwriter are noticing D’Amato as a performer with promise. National Public Radio’s “World Café” called him “warm and magnetic” and posted two songs from his third album, Down Wires, which he recorded as an undergraduate with a laptop and microphone in his dorm room. A fourth album will debut in May.
The Blairstown, N.J., native began studying piano when he was 6 years old, and his music-minded parents took him to concerts at the Jersey Shore’s hot spots. In high school, he performed in a band and started writing and performing his own music. As a high-school student, he also became a freelance writer for a local entertainment monthly as a way to write about music, meet songwriters, and “learn behind-the-scenes stuff,” says D’Amato.
By the time he reached Princeton, he knew he wanted to become a singer-songwriter. “If it’s just you on stage with your guitar, you need compelling lyrics to keep the audience quiet and engaged,” says D’Amato. An English major who earned certificates in American studies and musical performance, D’Amato honed his craft through independent study with poet and professor Paul Muldoon, and music professor Paul Lansky *73. Muldoon, who also writes lyrics for a band, helped bring a “cohesive structure” to his lyrics, says D’Amato.
“I encouraged him to pay attention to the integrity of the lyrics as much as the melodiousness of the music,” said Muldoon in an email. “One of Anthony’s great strengths is that he understands that the two have equal billing in a really great song.”
D’Amato’s creative approach starts with the music, which he records and then listens to on an iPod. “I’ll keep running lyrics through my head and I’ll come up with what the song could be,” explains D’Amato, who works as a music publicist at Shore Fire Media in New York.
His songs often involve stories told by characters he imagines. “They’re about moments, seeing the light and figuring something out,” he explains. “My Father’s Son” — which NPR called “a modern folk gem” that begins with “an irresistible melody” — is about a son with troubled parents, with lyrics of defeat and rebirth. Other songs deal with universal themes of identity and mortality.
In his early albums, D’Amato played guitar, bass, keyboards, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and pedal steel by himself. Today he mixes his own playing with contributions from other musicians to brighten the musical palette. Down Wires, for example, includes harmonies by vocalist Katy Pinke ’10 and instrumental work by fiddler Brittany Haas ’09.
D’Amato will send his new CD to record labels to see if they have interest. If not, he will continue going the “totally independent route” and promote the disc online and through live shows. On March 21, he was scheduled to perform at New York’s Rockwood Music Hall.
If he runs into Bruce Springsteen at a gig, he may slip him a copy: His long-term goal, he says, is “to get Springsteen to play one of my songs.”