After surpassing each academic milestone, DASHpf brilliantly takes poetic license with his musical endeavors.
The Stony Brook University postdoctoral associate and New York City attic folk singer-songwriter openly reflects on life changes, internal revelations and professional accomplishments on Fully Licensed, now available on all streaming platforms.
“In 2020, the pandemic slowed things down, and I’m a little backlogged on academic milestones to mark, but Fully Licensed is sort of a catch-all marking my full license as a therapist along with a PhD and other stuff,” said Peter Felsman, aka DASHpf or “-pf,” who earned a doctorate in social work and psychology from the University of Michigan in 2019.
Filled with intimate, thoughtful storytelling, DASHpf’s Fully Licensed chronicles the rewarding, yet challenging parallel paths Felsman pursues in his personal and professional life. Each track highlights an achievement or contemplation that invites listeners to deeply connect with Felsman’s rich, concise tales.
“I have a creative process where between recording and releasing an album I get severe writer’s block, and I’m excited to release this album so I can free my brain up to keep writing,” he said.
Like Father, Like Son
Felsman first shares the creative fruits of his latest DASHpf writing spurt on the heartfelt opening track, “Not Not a Morning Person,” which honors his late father. Tender acoustic strums, sorrowful vocals, buzzy electric guitars, thumping drums and spirited bass elegantly capture Felsman’s vivid memories and sorrowful moments.
He reflects, “When you first got your diagnosis/And I was stuck laying in bed/You said, Kid go smell the trees/And I knew exactly what you meant/I’m not not a morning person/I just wake up missing you/Missing all your motivations/Missing all you’d love to do.”
“It was a tribute to my dad who died of lung cancer the summer before I moved to Ann Arbor to start my undergrad. He knew that I would be a student at the University of Michigan, and I did that for 10 years. It felt important for me to acknowledge the role of grief in my Ann Arbor life,” Felsman said.
“At one point in the song, I say, ‘Stay close to your brother/Take care of your mother, too.’ Those were his last words to me. He was always supportive of my musical life, which I think was partly a consequence of his music teacher as a kid telling him to lip sync in choir because he couldn’t carry a tune. He lived vicariously through his kids being musical.”
Felsman delightfully captures his father’s fun-loving spirit on “Minivan,” a lighthearted ode to the family’s 2004 Mazda MPV that graces Fully Licensed’s cover. Crashing cymbals, pounding drums, intergalactic bass, jittery piano, distorted electric guitars and jubilant organ provide a nostalgic sonic highway for Felsman’s decade of memorable adventures.
He soulfully admits, “And I would be remiss/If I didn’t mention this/I’ve had to call AAA a couple of times/But if you’re interested, I could sell you this/And then watch as you drive away.”
“The minivan on the cover of the record is a minivan my dad purchased when I was a kid. I learned how to drive on it, and my brother learned how to drive on it. It was the car I drove knowing that it was very unsexy in high school,” said Felsman, who later used the minivan as a DASHpf tour bus.
“I took the minivan when I moved back east and went from Long Island to Brooklyn. I’ve had a lot of experiences with it, and I think I’m probably going to let it go soon.”
Dissertation and Dreams
Felsman seamlessly travels back and forth between his personal and professional narratives on Fully Licensed, especially on “Be Right Back.” The refreshing track eloquently weaves an ongoing conversation with Felsman’s oblivious friends as he trudges through writing his dissertation.
Solemn drums, pensive acoustic strums, vibrant organ, introspective bass, buoyant electric guitars and steady cymbals capture Felsman’s prolonged academic journey. He tiredly responds, “Be right back/Just gotta write my dissertation/I’ll be right back/I just gotta change a couple of things/And reflect a lot on my life/On everything I’ve ever learned and what it is I’ve got to say.”
“We wanted to have different songs carry different sensibilities while also feeling like a cohesive record. In the past, we had a band, and everyone would find parts for all songs and stick with the instruments they were playing. Maybe somebody would overdub something,” said Felsman, who practices improv theater on the side.
“We were more flexible with the instrumentation and arrangement choices for this album. This record takes the listener to different places.”
Finally, Felsman takes listeners to a hypnagogic realm on the cinematic album closer, “Awake, Tired, Dreaming,” which serves as an enchanting anthem for the future. Atmospheric keys, whistling synths, shuffling electronic drums, hopeful piano and vibrating electric guitars whimsically welcome a new start.
Felsman gently sings, “When this dream is over/Can I get one more/I’m awake but I’m tired/And I’m so damn bored.”
“That whole song is two sentences repeated like four times. ‘When this dream is over/Can I get one more’ is a little bit of sensing some sources of purpose in my life are coming to an end,” Felsman said.
“Maybe I’m looking for some new kind of dream that’s forming. It could be a different musical thing or a next chapter. It’s feeling depressed and wanting something else.”
Unlike his four previous releases, Felsman recorded Fully Licensed with two childhood friends instead of a full Ann Arbor-based band. He teamed up with classically trained percussionists, multi-instrumentalists and producers Sean Lowery and Brian Heveron-Smith to record the album over a January weekend. Darlingside’s Don Mitchell also mixed and mastered the project and added production on several tracks.
“I reconnected with them through comedy and moving back east. We had hung out a few times and made an improv trio and did Zoom improv rehearsals during the first half of the pandemic. It did help create a really connected atmosphere when we got together,” said Felsman, who’s also a percussionist.
“I had sent them eight voice memos the week before we got together and then we just listened through them. They have a bunch of instruments in their house, and they pulled them out, and we played around with different ideas.”
Felsman sought additional creative inspiration for Fully Licensed from his improv theater training and performances. The album is peppered with cerebral humorous skits that mock highfalutin conversations held at stuffy dinner gatherings, especially on “A Party I Briefly Attended” and “Be Right Back.”
“The party sounds are more like a couple of Midwestern music students hanging out. After Brian talks about walking on to the football team in the intro, Sean talks about whether a specific kind of marimba mallet is all you need. That’s a very niche kind of dialogue for the percussionists out there,” he said.
Felsman recently celebrated the release of Fully Licensed with Chicago-based comedian and “Spotted” Gossip Girl podcaster Cass Ostrander. The pair livestreamed a humorous discussion about The New York Times’ 36 Questions that Lead to Love, which explores how mutual vulnerability fosters closeness between two people.
“Cass is someone who’s willing to be honest in a public way that many other people aren’t and also a delight to talk to. Recently, I’ve been thinking about these 36 questions that lead to love for a couple of different reasons. One interesting tie-in is the author of it is a psychologist who’s on the faculty of the psychology department at Stony Brook,” he said.
“The other is that it’s hard to do a release show given the way this latest album was put together and because of COVID. I don’t have the audio engineering or solo performance chops to make a livestream performance sound and look good. I thought this event would be a fun way to celebrate the record and be interesting for people to check out.”
Musical Beginnings, Academic Adventures
Felsman honed his musical skills while growing up in South Orange, New Jersey. As a kid, he took piano lessons and played flute and drums before joining his brother in a band. By eighth grade, he focused on drums and sought inspiration from Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, Keith Moon and Ringo Starr.
After high school, Felsman majored in percussion and psychology at the University of Michigan. By grad school, he traded drums for guitar and vocals and released his debut album, Grad School (The Album): Part 1, in 2015. The project marked the completion of a master’s degree in social work for Felsman.
These days, Felsman is finishing a two-year postdoc focused on science communication and clinical psychology at Stony Brook University. The program combines Felsman’s expertise and experience in improv theater, psychology and research.
In August, he will relocate to Marquette to become a social work professor at Northern Michigan University. Felsman also will start writing new material and seeking creative inspiration from his new Upper Peninsula lifestyle.
“It’s going to be mostly a writing time. I’m getting better at hearing different harmonies, and I also want to get better as a musician and writer. I see myself putting in time to do that. I have a little bit of time between the postdoc and starting a new job. During that time, I’ll be looking at Lake Superior, drinking some coffee, scribbling some words down and playing a little keyboard,” he said.