Dane Larsen performs at Music on Main in Brookings.
• He’s shoveling soybeans now, but South Dakota ‘country boy’ is headed to the bright lights of Music City
VOLGA – It’s a big city. Music City. Nashville, Tennessee. Home of the Grand Old Opry.
“It’s like heaven,” says Dane Larsen. He’s never been there, but he knows the city’s streets have been paved with gold for many young artists like Taylor Swift and Jason Aldean.
The 20-year-old Volga musician is aching to make Nashville his destination and to make a name for himself in country music. It’s a long road that he knows will take voice lessons, presentation skills, instrumental brush-ups, good representation and better-than-average luck, but Dane has been singing for as long as he can remember.
It’s a God-given talent, and Larsen doesn’t regard it lightly. Singing comes as naturally to him as breathing. If he’s not talking, he’s singing.
The young redhead is skilled instrumentally, too, playing the drums, bass, keyboard and piano. In the past couple of months, Dane has taught himself to play rhythm guitar.
(There’s one country-style instrument he has yet to tackle – the harmonica. “I just got a harmonica for my birthday,” Dane said. “I have no idea how to play it, but I plan to learn.”)
Dane said his family isn’t particularly musical, although his mom, Shawna, does sing. “My dad, David,” he adds with a chuckle, “well, he sings a little.” A young sister, Chloe, plays trumpet in the school band and is taking guitar lessons, and younger brother, Silas, “sings pretty well for a kid.” Older brother Levi attends a vo-tech school and doesn’t have any musical pursuits.
Dane gives most of the credit for bringing him into country music to a high school friend, Matt Hageman.
“After Matt made me listen to his favorite songs wherever there was a radio, I gradually fell in love with country music,” Dane said. Like most singers, however, his tastes in music are eclectic. “I like all kinds of music,” the singer noted. “My dad is getting me into some jazz now.”
• Unabashed patriot
It’s said America’s national anthem is one of the hardest scores to sing, yet it’s one of the first songs Dane learned. He sang it at school sporting events and was asked to perform the anthem before the hundreds who attended Army graduation ceremonies at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Dane was one of those soldiers, a member of the South Dakota Army National Guard. He signed up when he was just 17.
“I’ve always been passionate about being a patriot,” Dane said, “and I’m very glad I signed up. My transportation unit out of Flandreau is fun to be in, and the experience has been life-changing for me. I’ve seen lots of country I probably never would have seen otherwise.”
Driving truck for the company has also given him time to practice his vocal skills. “I always sing when I’m on the road,” he smiled. “I think it makes my vocal range better.”
After graduating from Sioux Valley High School in Volga, Dane started classes at South Dakota State University. But the idea of moving to Nashville and his passion for music forced him to drop out to find a job to earn money for the trip south.
• Saving for the move
“I’ve saved money from working at the soybean plant, but I still need a few thousand dollars more before it makes sense to go,” Dane said as he thought about the journey. “I’m a little worried about the trip, but I hope to get an apartment, find some little clubs to play in, get discovered and get a record deal.”
High expectations for a good ol’ country boy from Volga.
“I’m determined to save the money, even though I just turned 20, and it’s hard not to spend it,” Dane says, grinning.
A major coup in country music is to have your own style and voice, Dane has discovered. While he finds deep-voiced country star Josh Turner as an inspiration, Dane also is influenced by newer stars like Aldean and Luke Bryan.
“Toby Keith is a favorite musician, too,” Dane said. “I like that a lot of his songs are patriotic, and he always has fun with his music.”
Larsen himself has a rich baritone, not unlike Turner’s, but he’s got enough range to carry a song in the upper register, too.
“I strive for my own sound,” he says, and some of that is reflected in the original tunes he has written. His first composition, “Then & Now,” was started in his freshman year of high school but wasn’t finished until he was a senior.
• Sing what you know
“It took me a while for that first one,” Dane recalls, “until I really figured out what I wanted to do. I want to write songs that come from my own experiences.”
“Then & Now” is about an ex-girlfriend.
Another of Dane’s original songs is “Think Drive.” “Whenever I need to clear my mind, I just go out driving,” Dane says. “‘Think Drive’ is just about me – thinking about going to Tennessee, some rough times my family has been through and how, even though I would miss them, I needed to follow my dream.”
Dane performed both songs recently at Music on Main, an outdoor venue in Brookings. While he didn’t earn any actual cash for the gig, Dane is just happy to get the exposure. Right now, he’s looking for any opportunity to perform.
• Building a fan base
“I’ve put both my songs on YouTube, so I hope to get enough views to promote myself that way, too,” Dane says. The new site got 1,500 views in three days. He hopes many people remember him from his performance in Volga during Old-Timers’ Day.
Like many things in life, only one thing is standing in the young musician’s way – greenbacks.
“I’m ready to go any time the cash is in the bank,” Dane says. “I would really like to go in the fall, get settled in and register for school. I know it’s a huge dream, but I’m both optimistic and realistic.”
He’s not lacking in encouragement from his family, buddies and local fans, either. In fact, an upcoming song from the young artist will be about how his journey started and the help and encouragement he got traveling on the fast road to Tennessee.
In his country boy hat, faded blue jeans and boots, Dane is a mix of shyness and confidence. With a wide grin and sparkling blue eyes, it’s not hard to picture him on a stage somewhere. It might as well be in Nashville.