"CHASED THE SONG on up to Oregon," goes a line in "Caught the Song," from David Dondero's latest record, # Zero with a Bullet. Dondero, perhaps more than any American songwriter since Woody Guthrie, captures the rootlessness of being on the road, moving from town to town; taking odd jobs as they're offered; leaving a place before things get too stagnant. He's not embellishing just for the sake of storytelling: Dondero really does lead this journeyman life, and every word the songwriter sings on the excellent # Zero with a Bullet is true.
The yearning country waltz of "It's Peaceful Here" finds a moment's pause in Laramie, Wyoming. It almost sounds like Dondero might stick around for a while. "I was chasing a girl out there that I thought I was in love with," he explains. "And that actually all kind of dissolved when I decided to go to Portland that summer"—hence the song's line "I took the City of Roses alone."
"There was this point where I was in between touring and albums, and I had no inspiration," Dondero says. "So I went to Portland for the summer to work and get it together, and I 'found the song' in my uncle's living room—[meaning] I started writing again. That's where I caught the song; I got my muse back in Portland." As a result, Dondero actually wrote many of the striking, folk-flecked songs on # Zero with a Bullet here in town.
"It wasn't really like I had premeditated moving to Portland, it was just that I was struggling. And my friend Nate up in Portland offered me the opportunity to train me to drive a tractor-trailer truck. At that time the company was still alive before the big crash, so I went up there, and they trained me. I stayed with my uncle and started writing songs again, so it was a good time. I accomplished some things, y'know.
"But then the company lost over half of their business. They basically trained me and then I didn't have a job. I was like, 'Well, fuck it, I'll book some more shows.' I just booked another tour, and just kept on with that."