Singer-songwriter Anthony D’Amato hasn’t taken a traditional career path.
Instead of just hitting coffee shop open mic nights and plunking out tunes in his dorm room (which he also did), the 28-year-old New Jersey native turned his time at Princeton University into an experience that would inform his songwriting, by working with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon.
“Before, I thought songs just come out of you and that’s the song. With Paul, I learned you can refine it, but not lose that (emotion and spontaneity),” says D’Amato, who plays a free show at U.S. National Whitewater Center with his band Thursday.
After graduating in 2010 with a degree in English and American Studies, D’Amato spent four years as a publicist for the NYC public relations firm that represents A-list artists including Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello.
“It was a great vantage point to see what worked for (clients) and what didn’t,” he says.
The experience comes through on both sides of the music. Despite being signed to New West Records – which employs its own publicist and also counts Steve Earle and Ben Folds among its stable of artists – D’Amato still reaches out to his own established contacts when on the road.
His new album, “The Shipwreck From the Shore,” exhibits his gift for storytelling and his ability to stand out from today’s influx of singer-songwriters.
The album, as well as D’Amato’s live performances, have garnered praise from NPR, Spin, Magnet, Entertainment Weekly and American Songwriter magazines. It was produced by Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter’s band) and features members of Bon Iver and Megafaun.
Like Ritter, he’s a literary songwriter who doesn’t only rely on words to keep listeners interested.
“I didn’t want to do just a singer-songwriter record. I didn’t want to do a (straight) Americana/folk record,” says D’Amato, who plugged in except when Kassirer suggested otherwise.
D’Amato does a good job of presenting a whole package. Take the video for the catchy single “Was a Time,” which features a wedding that turns into an all-out brawl – bride, guests and all. The Cooper Brothers-directed clip and the track reflect D’Amato’s knack for pairing darker subject matter with brighter music.
Focusing on music full-time now, D’Amato tries to be the kind of artist he enjoyed working with: one who’s willing to work the release.
“Now that I’m in their position, I can see how it’s tempting to blow something off and sleep in,” he says. “I try to be involved 100 percent. I still have that publicist blood in my veins.”
It helps that his parents instilled that work ethic in him.
“They were really encouraging, but no matter what I was doing, they stressed I do it 100 percent and don’t take anything for granted,” he says. “The minute you slack off, someone else will come in.”
Courtney’s blog: cltsoundbites.blogspot.com.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday.
WHERE: U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway.