DL Rossi // A Sweet Thing
You can’t rush recovery. Americana-blues man DL Rossi learned that the hard way in the wake of a very painful divorce. On the verge of burning out completely, he turned to music as a way to cope and confront his past. His new album A Sweet Thing is a cathartic emission of everything he thought he knew about life, himself and what it meant to process such overwhelming heartache.
Despite it all, or perhaps because of it, he’s amassed an impressive resume. His first BIG break was when he became a member of the Free Credit Score band. Yep. You remember that commercial - right? He has also shared stages alongside such acts as Better Than Ezra, Liz Phair, Mayday Parade and Citizen Cope and made appearances on the George Lopez Show and at the Sundance Film Festival. Before he started playing his own music he played with Quiet Company, Flint Eastwood, Charlie Whitten and Michigander.
Rossie has weathered the unimaginable, including a bout with testicular cancer, and those crippling, yet necessary, experiences have only equipped him with the resolve to take his brokenness and make damn good music. “I lost a lot / But I also lost myself / Doing things I never thought I’d do,” he teeters on the brink of sadness and regret with “Better.” In between gently-wavering guitar tremolo, ethereal keyboards and a slow-burning melody, he makes a charge against himself that there’s no better time than the present to change. His tipping point came at a crucial moment in his life when booze and girls were only delaying the inevitable crash. “I started letting myself down in how I was acting,” says Rossi, whose voice seems to crackle under the fire. “I was getting in this pattern of going out, getting drunk, meeting people and going on a date.”
“Right around this time last year, I had gone on a string of dates, and I just acted like a complete asshole. That was not me,” he says. Previously, he had never been one to overindulge and fly off the rails, but his misery charted a one-way train to hell. “Something was happening to me. The freedom I was allowing myself, which was a good thing, got to the point where I needed to get my shit together.”
Years before pursuing music, he displayed a curious disposition for adventure and often gave himself permission to trust his instincts. Youngest of three siblings, he was homeschooled and raised in a predominantly Christian household. His father played countless shows on the local bar scene, and once a month, his buddies came over for off-the-cuff jam sessions of old Beatles and Chicago records. At just 11 years old, Rossi’s older brother started a band, and the seeds were planted for Rossi’s ongoing love affair with music. “I was the little brother hanging out at all their shows,” he recalls wistfully. From there, he picked up the guitar himself, even though his heart had fallen hard for the songwriting.
Later, at 15, his parents bought him a drum kit, and he soon took lessons. After only a few short months, he hopped onstage with his brother’s band after the former drummer departed. But it wasn’t until he turned 18 that Rossi’s artistry really began to blossom, and he started to come into his own as a storyteller, exercising his penmanship with much of the band’s own material. He stayed with the group for five years, and even though they received several offers from smaller record companies, released two albums and an EP and felt the high of local fame, their time was up.
Rossi remained involved in the church for a time, started doing his own music and attended college. Alongside his oldest brother and other players, they mounted a new project called the Victoria Secrets and went on to win a local Fox Sports affiliate song competition and try their hand at writing a jingle for the national Free Credit Report ad campaign. Sailing through the online submission round, they boarded a flight to Los Angeles to shoot a commercial. They were then selected to become the face of the brand for a one to two-year commitment. As a result, they made several TV appearances, including on the George Lopez Show, and played gigs at SXSW. They eventually landed on Mayday Parade’s Fearless Friends Tour.
During such exciting artistic endeavors, Rossi’s health took a dark turn. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 27. Following a recording session at NYC’s legendary (and now-defunct) Magic Shop, he returned home for surgery and was laid out for almost two months afterwards. The cancer, fortunately enough, was discovered in stage one, and it proved to give him the jolt he needed to focus his attention on his solo music. “I realized I wanted to do more than what I had been doing. I really wanted to start writing my own music and see if I could do this,” he remembers.
He released his self-titled album in 2013, but his church community didn’t take too kindly to such a brash, punkish record that sought to question his religious beliefs and upbringing. “I released the record and got completely booted out worship. They were friendly but passive-aggressive about it,” he says. “Some people didn’t like it; others didn’t care. Some thought it could be threatening to some people. It was the first time I was choosing to be honest as a songwriter.”
Nearly two years later, he underwent a nervous breakdown that shattered his love of music completely. “I got super depressed and suicidal, and I decided to give up music and try to get my life back together. I stopped playing and got a job at a Starbucks. I would play drums here and there if I could make money.”
He got married soon after, but it, too, was short-lived. “In the first year of marriage, shit hit the fan,” he admits, “and all of a sudden I was writing songs to cope with my life.”
A Sweet Thing is not only wrapped snugly in post-divorce trauma but also in a new-found appreciation for life itself. “I called my mom, called my dad / Let ‘em know I made it,” he weeps, his tears flowing profusely down his face. “This Road” opens the record with a soul-shattering story about his close encounter during a deadly shooting at Opry Mills in Nashville. “I was there in the food court when it happened. There was a wave of 80 people running and screaming, ‘Run!’” he recalls. When the stampede made it out to the parking lot, no one could escape as all the exits had been closed.
So, he kicked up gravel. “I walked down the freeway to get to a point where an Uber would actually want to pick me up. There was a weird moment when I was calling my family and saying, ‘Hey, none of you know what’s happened, but I just have to call and talk to somebody,’” he continues. “It was a bit of a lonely experience for me. Coming out of a divorce, there was a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, something shitty could have happened to me, and the only people I have in my life right now that I want to call are my family, and they didn’t know where I was today anyway.’”
Rossi’s gutting performance sets the tone for the entire record, evoking a ghostly Townes Van Zandt-like quality. The heaviness in his heart spills out onto the record in spades, but The Sweet Thing is never overwrought or too grim. Rather, it’s as much an emotional release for the listener as it is for Rossi. “There’s a lot of hope and expectation when you get out of a divorce. It takes a real fucking long time to go through it. You’re kind of hopeful, and you think everything is going to be positive,” he says of the album’s backbone. “You learn things about yourself and how broken you are. You start then to let yourself down. You’re just trying to figuring things out and level it all out.”
Drawing inspiration from Ryan Adams’ 2011 studio record, Ashes & Fire, Rossi’s turn at the mic is a tremendous one. He tugs his pain back to his chest, and in doing so, he’s finally able to say goodbye to a past and its many demons for the very last time. A Sweet Thing is at its core a record of conviction, and frames exactly what it feels like to have one’s heart so completely and brutally broken. Consider this a cautionary tale of misery from a man who’s been to the other side and back.