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Song Premiere: Danny Schmidt Solves for 'Standard Deviation'

Chris Carson

Danny Schmidt has been compared to Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. It might feel grandiose but the Austin, Texas native singer-songwriter has earned the high praise. Though Schmidt began playing guitar when he was 12, at the age of 20 he traced his heroes' musical lineage back to Jimi Hendrix back through Muddy Waters, Mississippi John Hurt, and Lightning Hopkins and knew he had up his acoustic game. From there, Schmidst studies songwriting at the feet of Bob Dylan, Young, Tom Waits, and John Prine. He's been recording music for almost 20 years, so by this point it's fair to say he knows what he's doing. Schmidt got his start playing and writing professionally in Appalachia with Devon Sproule in the late '90s. He found his way to Charlottesville, Virgina where they formed the King Of My Living Room group. By 2007, his earthy poetry won him the Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk award. On his new song, "Standard Deviation," Schmidt once again illustrates how deserving he is of the award.

"Standard Deviation" is the first single of a 2019 album of the same name. Schmidt has won fans from his music's appearance on the weather report of the popular surrealist radio drama Welcome to Nightvale. His song "Echo in the Hills," performed alongside acclaimed singer-songwriter (and wife) Carrie Elkin, was also featured in the podcast on August 1, 2014. In early 2015, Schmidt toured with the crew of the podcast, performing live versions of his songs with Elkin as a part of the live episodes. "Standard Deviation" is due to be played on Welcome to Nightvale in August.

"Standard Deviation" tells the oldest story in the world: two people meet, finding each other against the odds, and fall head over heels. In this case, the two people are women working in separate areas of science who have retreated to the library after a sexist confrontation. Schmidt cleverly invokes mathematical and scientific theories to describe the pair's emotional state. The song reaches a joyful climax before returning to its soft beginnings. It's a song that's quietly hopeful in a world that would prefer stories like these didn't exist.  As fellow songwriter Jeffrey Foucault put it: "Everything about the man is gentle, except for his capacity for insight, which is crushing."

Schmidt himself notes, "At its most stripped down, though, it's just about how there's someone out there for everyone, regardless of how esoteric their passions and obsessions.  And it's about how sexy a smart mind can be when it's set totally and wildly free. It was also fun to try and write a song that started pretty straight forward and folky, like a traditional narrative ballad almost.  But then allow it to soar off through a worm hole in the middle of the song . . . to god knows where.  I liked how that song structure ended up mirroring the emotional experiences of the characters themselves.  I feel like they were both caught a little by surprise when their chance meeting sent them careening off into an unexpected place together, in some new state of entanglement."

"Standard Deviation" Lyrics

A chalkboard full of secrets, it was like some kind of code
To tell the stars and planets how to fall and how to glow
But when she turned to face the classroom there was chalk upon her nose
Like the ghost of Madame Curie or a clown in women's clothes
And the boys dismissed the work so quick, they laughed at her instead
As just a girl who spilled some numbers from her head

Late night in the library in the basement by herself
Alone amongst the books again, at home between the shelves
She was searching for some answers when she stumbled in the dark
On a girl with colored pencils and black eyes like question marks
They said hello in stereo, then they both just stood and stared
As a normal sort of silence filled the air

The girl asked her what she studied, what she read so late at night
The thoughts that filled her notebooks and the stars that filled her
eyes But she said she couldn't tell her, she said she'd just get bored
It was story told in numbers not a story told in words
But the girl just laughed and leaned right back, said "Try me if you dare
A story's when there's something more to share"

So she shrugged and her hands began to speak
A dance of differentials and of poetry in Greek

She solved for new dimensions and vibrations of the strings
From a single derivation all the worlds could rise to being
And she drew concentric circles with her finger in the air
And they glowed where there were nodes along the manifold they shared
To be in perfect symmetry, joined in all degrees
They touched in ways that no one else could see

The girl's eyes lit with fire, like milk and kerosene
It was the smartest thing she'd ever heard and the hottest thing she'd seen
So she grabbed her by the brainstem and she threw her to the floor
And they kissed like their equations had never balanced quite before
Cause every lonesome thesis just describes the unobserved
There's always one who'll fall upon the tail of every curve
There's so many locks, so many doors, so many twisted keys
Within the standard deviation from the mean

There's so many locks, so many doors, so many twisted keys
Within the standard deviation from the mean

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Song Premiere: Danny Schmidt Solves for 'Standard Deviation'