By Blake Maddux
“I just completed the eyes of the jack-o-lantern face. The show tonight starts the nose.”
This is not the typical way for a musician to describe the progress of his tour. However, Somervillian Dan Blakeslee is not a typical musician.
Blakeslee recently began his Misshapen Jack-O-Lantern Tour, starring Dr. Gasp, his musical alter ego. The first date was October 5 in Lowell, MA, and the final one is October 31, when he will play the thirty-first show in Dover, NH. The Boston performance is on October 29 at O’Brien’s Pub in Allston.
When one connects the dots of the towns along the tour route, the result is, indeed, a misshapen jack-o-lantern.
“Some of the days I’m doing two shows,” Blakeslee says, speaking by phone from Northampton, where he stayed at a friend’s house in between dates in Orange and Shelburne Falls, MA. “There’s not one day that I’m not playing a show.”
The tour includes stops in all of the New England states as well as New York. He is doing it to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his Halloween songwriting side project.
Blakeslee explains how it started, saying, “10 years ago, I was playing a show in Portsmouth, NH, two nights before Halloween, and I said to myself, ‘I want to play a Halloween song, but I don’t want to cover anyone else’s.’ So I started writing my own.”
One of his friends heard him perform his first Halloween song live, and offered to record it and release it on vinyl for him. Shortly thereafter, Blakeslee recorded a full-length CD of such songs.
He created the Dr. Gasp character in 2005 because people would approach him throughout the year and ask him to play Halloween songs. Blakeslee says that his Dr. Gasp songs and the ones that he records under his own name “are like oil and water. They just do no mix, no matter how hard I try.”
The idea of the jack-o-lantern shaped tour map was not something that Blakeslee conjured up specifically for this tour. He says that he and a friend came with the idea about five years ago after playing an art gallery in Harvard Square. They half-seriously mapped it out, but nothing immediately came of it.
However, Blakeslee unearthed the map – “which looks nothing like this tour” – this past summer.
“I was so excited,” he said. “I mapped it out on July 2, at like five in the morning. I started dropping in dots in places where I’ve already played and always wanted to play the Halloween show. For some of the other shows, I looked for towns that had something to do with Halloween, like Orange, MA.”
Among the other Halloween-related stops on the trek are Sleepy Hollow, NY, on October 19 and Salem, MA, on October 30.
As for the “misshapen” aspect of the jack-o-lantern map, Blakeslee says, “I like them lop-sided. When I carve a jack-o-lantern, I don’t want it to be perfectly round.”
Although Blakeslee has been focusing more intently on music recently, he has spent many years a visual artist. A native of South Berwick, Maine, he graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1994. He started playing music there as sort of a divergence from his artwork.
He moved to Somerville at the suggestion of a friend the summer after graduating from art school, and started playing as a subway busker.
After living in Somerville for a year, Blakeslee returned to Maine, hoping to get back his job at the lobster restaurant where he had worked prior to moving to the Boston area.
This did not go as planned, but in a good way. “My boss wouldn’t let me work there,” Blakeslee says. “He said, ‘Nope, you’re supposed to be playing music.’ He was one of the people who gave me a huge, huge push to really consider doing music as a career. That was mighty kind.”
He did stay in Maine for about six months, and then moved to Jamaica Plain. He has lived in Somerville for the past five years.
“Somerville is really the place in the Boston area that I feel for me is the perfect setting. Artists, musicians, poets, it’s a very creative environment, always, everyday. I always feel inspired just being in Somerville,” Blakeslee says.
He describes the Somerville arts scene in general as “absolutely overflowing and flourishing.”
He adds, “Something that I found out later on, after I had already been living in Somerville [is that] Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett, who wrote Monster Mash, grew up in Somerville, and that’s where he wrote the song. It’s kind of crazy because I’m living in Somerville making monster music.”
As stated previously, however, he also has an impressive portfolio as a visual artist. “I’ve done a bunch of album covers, book covers, beer labels, a pretty wide range of stuff. Drawing, and a little bit of painting. I’m much more comfortable doing colored pencil or black and white.”
So what is next for Dan Blakeslee when the Misshapen Jack-O-Lantern Tour wraps up? On November 1, he plans to start recording a new Dr. Gasp album with his back-up band The Eeks. The expected title is Vampire Fish for Two. After that, he wants to record an acoustic solo album, which he hopes to release in Spring 2013.
And sometime amid all of this, he needs to find a place to live. He recently moved out of his apartment in Teele Square and into his car, “a 1996 Nissan Altima named Aladdin.”
Thankfully, he has been able to stay with friends while on the road. He did, however, recently spend the night in a Walmart parking lot.
For more information please visit www.danblakeslee.com