Fascinating conversation with Dan Price about lifestyle design, consumerism and art. Known as the man who lives in the hobbit hole, Dan shares his handpan story and philosophy.
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Watch the documentary about Dan Price's Hobbit Hole below:
Sylvain: Hey, it's Sylvain. And this is the handpan podcast.
Today's episode is one I'm excited to share because it touches on intentional living. If we are blessed enough to have the luxury to decide how we want to live our lives, we can make lifestyle choices, big and small, that will take us closer to where we want to be. Dan Price is a friend of mine from the handpan world who has designed his life around simplicity. Through a series of major life decision but also minor everyday edits, he now enjoys a life that's free from financial stress and crazy schedules and that allows him to live simply and to follow his artistic pursuits. In this conversation, you will hear why Dan chose that path and how it has changed his relationship to making art, through the handpan. Let's get to it.
Sylvain: Hi Dan. Thanks for being on the podcast.
Dan: Hey, thank you. Appreciate you getting this gone again.
Sylvain: My pleasure. Where are you calling from today?
Dan: Yeah, I'm in my little two acre meadow in Oregon that I've lived in for about 30 years. I just live a real simple life here and a little underground hobbit hole.
Sylvain: Yeah, and that's sort of why I'm asking because most people know you as the man who lives in the hobbit hole and I know you live part of the year there and then you spend part of the rest of the year surfing. Is that right?
Dan: Yeah, I lived, uh, I've been doing this for 30, almost 30 years, 29 years and about 10 years ago I got tired of the difficult winners and went out and learned how to surf and now I go away for half the year, the winter months, and just live in my van and surf all winter.
Sylvain: Oh, that's fun. And it's funny because the latest guest that I had on the show was pierce flynn, another fellow surfer. Sure. I know. Have you guys ever surfed together?
Dan: Well, we tried and then he took off with another guy down on the beach and I never did get to surf with them, but I think it's going to happen this winter.
Sylvain: Oh, fun.
Dan: Yeah, he's a great guy.
Sylvain: Absolutely. So you kind of hinted at it, but there's a lot to your lifestyle. Would you mind sharing a little bit more about sort of what set you on a path to tiny living and how that journey has evolved over these past few decades?
Dan: Yeah, I think, I mean, I was an odd little kid I built fort all the time. I built a cabin when I was 15 years old and um, I was always in the woods building things. We lived next to a wood, so always wanted to live simply. And then I went out and had a career in news photography and was a regular guy with a mortgage and went through a divorce and decided when I came back to Oregon that I don't want to even rent. I don't want to own land. I don't want to own a house. And so I went out on a quest to find some property that I could put a tee-pee and darned if I didn't find it right almost in the middle of town, but it's on a river. And that was 1990 and started out in a tee-pee and went through about five different structures, um, to find the most ideal little teeny thing that I could live in and just kept weeding things out and editing my life. And now it's down to practically nothing and I just really enjoy living that way with no things around. I think the reason I liked that is because I can focus really strongly on my heart, which was photography that it was drawing and writing and then it was surfing and now it's hand-panning and I can spend all day sitting there playing a handpan if I, if I want to.
Sylvain: There is a documentary on Youtube about your journey with the tee-pee and then the, uh, the beach cabin that you built and now the hobbit hole, which is sort of what most people know you for. Um, it's about a 30 minute long documentary and it's got over a million views. Um, but it's a really good way for, for people to get to know you a little bit more. Um, I watched it a couple days ago before our interview today. And I would recommend for folks who are interested to check it out because it's really fascinating.
Dan: Yeah. That's just right there on my youtube channel. My website is moonlightchronicles.com and there's a youtube button right on the website and that's where you can go look at some of the videos. So, yeah, you know, I think the reason it has so many views is, and I get an email every day from somewhere in the world, someone's saying, Oh my God, I love that video. I wish I could live like you do your, you know, you're an inspiration. I have. My life is too busy and on and on and um, it is unusual to live so incredibly simple. But the joys, uh, that I find in living that way or just endless, it's amazing. Like I said, I have simply, um, there's one thing that stands out in my mind, is it gives you so much more time to do what you want to do rather than going off everyday, leaving some house that you're renting or buying and um, to pay for it, you've got to go away to your job every day and you're gone all day. So I get to stay right here in the meadow and, and do, do my thing right here in the meadow. So I'm pretty lucky.
Sylvain: And you're obviously very handy. You've built all these rooms, these structures yourself and they look really nice, really comfortable, warm. You've got electricity. What's interesting to me is that you got into minimalism and tiny living before it became popular.
Dan: Oh, for sure. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and I learned how to build back in the day when I got out of high school. I got into construction and learned how to frame houses and was building houses in Sun Valley and way back then, um, I got a tip that there was a teepee up a canyon and some girl was living in a teepee. And this was back in the in the mid seventies. And I go, really? That's amazing. I got to go see that. So my gal and I jumped in our pickup and found it. We drove up this canyon and there was this big teepee sitting there and we, and she wasn't home, but we peeked inside and we just looked at each other and said, oh my God, that's, that's our ultimate goal to live like that because it's all about being free. Like I said. So that was quite a long time ago, you know, that that was a big influence.
Sylvain: So minimalism is about the concept that less is more and it's a very intentional lifestyle to sort of minimize the distractions in your life so that you can maximize the things that matter for you. I wonder, how did the handpan make it into your very selective and intentional lifestyle and why?
Dan: Yeah. Um, I actually had a podcast called sound journal back in 2011 and 12 and I kind of burned out and quit doing it. But what I was doing was, because I was a news photographer for 10 years, I knew how to interview people and find stories out in the community and I was going around sort of making a sound journal of source where I can read people surfers and I was also doing electronic music on a little like electronic handheld device. And it was really getting into that, um, spent a couple of years messing with that thing and pretty much squeaked every sound I could out of it. And it was time to go get the next bigger device for $1,000. And I had remembered my first go around with a handpan in 2010 and I actually got a halo from Kyle and decided after three months I couldn't play it. Didn't know how to figure it out and send it back to them, which is amazing. And then I got into electronic music for two years and when I was getting ready to buy this bigger piece of electronic gear, I just said to myself, you know, I said two things. First of all, electronic music is kind of cool, but it's electronic. I don't know if I really want to do that, don't I really want to go back and figure out how to play a handpan. And also the other thing that I was thinking at the same time was the world needs that beautiful sound, you know, that the crazy world that we all live in now really needs handpan sound. It's so calming and you know, when you're busking, you see how it affects people. So I decided, no, I'm not going to get the electronic device, I'm going to try and get a handpan. And of course it was really difficult to get one and in 2014 I was able to get a Zen. So that's, that's how it all started again. And those were the reasons why I got got back into it.
Sylvain: That's fascinating. And um, it's kinda crazy that you returned your halo.
Dan: Oh my God. Yeah. And it wasn't an Agean, but I mean the reason why is I was in Hawaii surfing everyday and I mean I would surf for six hours a day. I was just crazy about it and I come in in the evening and here's this amazing expensive $1,650 by the way. And I thought, Oh my God, I've spent $1,650, here's this thing. And I was nervous about it and I, I couldn't seem to because I was a visual artist. I was trying to, when I would come up with a good little pattern, I was trying to draw it on a piece of paper what I had done and that just did not work, but I was going about it totally the wrong way. And also my arms were also tired from surfing all day that I remember reaching out for the far notes going, Oh man, I don't know if I can do this. This is too hard to reach out to those notes. And I didn't realize this because my arms were so tired from surfing. So those are the reasons I sent it back.
Sylvain: Yeah, I understand the feeling about surfing. I used to do surfing in France and um, after a day of surfing you are just wiped out. You're exhausted.
Dan: Yeah. You're, it's like you're swimming for hours and hours. This is pretty amazing.
Sylvain: So you got a handpan, obviously you still lived in essentially what most people will, um, sort of conceptualize as a tiny house. So you have limited space. What's your relationship with the instrument when, you know, our culture is sort of entices us to always crave for more handpans to always get the latest, you know, get the latest iphone, get the latest handpan. How do you keep that in check in, in your tiny.
Dan: It's not in check. I mean I was just going to tell you, I wrote down here that the instruments I've had now, the reason that I would switch instruments was always because I found a better sounding instrument. That was why. And the list goes really quickly. Halo, Zen, Orbipan, Sunpan, Oval I got a digital oval, sierra sound sculpture, a nirvana, a Symphonic, Makai, Karumi and now I'm back to Makai instruments with David and so no, I haven't, I haven't been good. I mean it's a good thing I'm not married because I know the store is about wives getting down on the handpan owners. But I did do this. I've never really lost any money on handpans. I've always um, made enough money busking to pay for a handpan and I have always sold a handpan before I got the next one.
Dan: So yeah, that's Kinda how I did that. But you know, getting back to the idea of simplicity and, and not being a consumer, I don't think that applies for me anyway that that concept doesn't apply at all for handpans because to me I handpan is such an, an etherial otherworldly thing. I mean of all the amazing things I've done in, in all the fun that I've had in my artistic career, in photography, drawing and writing, surfing, all those, all those mediums. You have tools in photography, you have cameras. Well, I always dig down and go for the, the best and most durable or just I always, always looking for the best. And then photography, it was German Leica camera. So I was walking around with German Leica cameras and some of the most expensive cameras you can get. Surfing, I've kind of gone a different direction where I don't get an expensive surfboard, I get the cheapest one and I, and, and they, they ride just fine and I can drag it around on the beach and not worry about scratching it and all that. So the whole idea of simplicity and boiling stuff down to its essence to me is I'm figuring out how to get the best of the things. Um, and not, not, not being a consumer about it.
Dan: Of all the things I've done, the handpan is way, way above spiritually and more meaningful to me than any art form I've ever done. It just so amazing to sit and play music. People are around and they come up and talk to and, and uh, I, I just, I just would never have believed that I, that I could experience that. It's so special
Sylvain: And you must get a lot of interactions since you're more mobile because of your lifestyle. You travel a lot in, you play in a lot of different places. Oh yeah. So you introduce a lot of people to the handpan.
Dan: I, I do. And you know how it goes when you're busking. About 80 percent of people don't hear it, but the 20 percent that do stop and people talk to you and I have a funny story to tell you real quickly how that all happened because when I, when I had a handpan land in my lap, I was just like, oh my God, this is the most special thing I've ever encountered. And I instantly felt like I needed to share it with other people. Now you wouldn't know me being a photographer and everything, but I'm really pretty introverted. I had to learn how to be more extroverted, talk to people, but I'm pretty introverted actually. And so when I got the handPan, I thought, oh my God, what now I'm, I, I have this inner urge to share this beautiful sound, but there's just no way that I would ever be able to play in front of anybody. There's no way. First of all, I'm an idiot on it. I don't play that well. And second of all, I'm, I'm just too shy around people. What would they think? And the funny story is, is that I got the Zen when I was in bend, Oregon, and there was a big park, big, huge park, 200 acres or something outside of town. And I went out there and right off the bat, the first or second day I had it. I wanted other people to listen to it. And so I took it and went up. And this is in the wintertime, not hardly anybody out in the park. And I took it on the floor of this trail on the edge of the park. And then I went up behind these rocks hoping that someone would walk by and hear it, but I was going to be hiding way behind these products. That's how shy I was. Now six months later, a year later, I look up and I go, oh my God, look at I'm on the Huntington peer and I'm busking. And I've learned how to just focus on the instrument and not be nervous about the people stared at me and darned if I couldn't figure out how to do it. And now I busk all the time, wherever I am. And I play that thing everywhere. By the way, I mean I could go on for an hour about how I display a hand pan in churches, train stations. Everywhere I go. I just tried to play it and sometimes you get kicked out. But I've had some of the most spiritual man, and I'm not religious, but some of the most spiritual and special experiences I've had are in churches where people come up to me who are in there praying and they go, oh my God, that is an amazing sound. Thank you for playing it. Because I just had best prayer session of my life.
Sylvain: You touched on a lot of really good themes here. Um, you know, from, from simplicity to just how the handpan helps us to bypass status and bypass fear and to fully own our passion to be empowered by it. And also this last point which is spirituality and for people who are into sports, they make their, you know, the sport athletes, their idols. We do that with nature, with music, with art. And I think it hints at, you know, this desire, this need in our heart to worship. And I think sometimes it can be misplaced worship. Uh, we're, we're focusing on the wrong thing. Um, but we all have that in common. We all search for it and the handpan gives us, you know, kind of a hint, it, it points us in the direction of beauty and where this, this beauty come from.
Dan: I really agree. It's, it's such an incredible thing in hiring. And how lucky are we in this day and time in history to be able to be the ones who are, have, have found this thing and play it. You think back a thousand, 2000 years ago, the, these instruments weren't around a couple of hundred years ago. All the people that came before us, they didn't get to play these things.
Sylvain: Yeah. I mean 20 years ago that, you know, we, we are the first generation of people whose lives have been transformed by the handpan.
Dan: I was going to say, I made a note here that if I'm having an off day and can't seem to play it, I just totally set it down and I don't think about it again. I come back the next day or the next day after that. And it's all wonderful. Again. I don't, I don't attach any negativity to that, those instruments ever. It's such a special thing to me, you know. And um, I don't think there's any right way to play it. You know, my mom was a concert pianist and a piano teacher and she had a certain way. She was taught to play classical piano. And she taught all these kids how to play it that particular way. Um, a handpan. What I, what I tell people, if someone sits down next to me when I'm asking and they go, oh my God, that's amazing. I want one. I said, well, it's touching your heart dude, and you really should get one first of all because it will change your life. And by the way, how you play it will be different. The way I play it, the way Sylvain plays it. Anyone who picks up a hand an and get serious about it, will play it differently through their rhythms and sounds they like.
Sylvain: yeah. And once we get past what it's supposed to be like, you, the proper way of playing. And once we just start and embrace the creativity and the joy, we actually, we get there essentially. We not only do we get better, but we enjoy that journey and it's clear to me that that is your approach to the instrument. And really it kind of bleeds into other areas of your life. And I can see that you alluded to your career as a photographer and an illustrator and I know you're working on some creative projects around the handpan as well. Um, what are some of those that you could share with us?
Dan: Yeah, for a couple of gathering, I got people up against a wall and said, hey, let me get your picture here and I want you to tell me why you love your hand pan. And you're like, oh. And we did that for several gatherings and I've made it an ebook out of it and I think we're going to put it up on your website there. And so I did that for two gatherings and as about 60 people, a lot of makers, a lot of really famous people are in that ebook. And that's fun to share with people.
Sylvain: Yeah, it's a celebration of our handpan community. It's really a wonderful ebook. Um, I, I browse through it a couple of days ago and I think you keep updating it, but yes, we will put a link for folks to download the pdf in the show notes of this episode at thehandpanpodcast.com. And I really appreciate you doing this because it's a gift. I know my wife and I are in the ebook, our picture is there and it's just sort of a celebration of, of how rich our community is.
Dan: Yeah. And you know, what's neat about it being an ebook and electronic book rather than something that's printed, you can just constantly add to that thing. In other words, there could be a thousand people in that thing eventually and it was really, really a fun project. And I'm, I'm the next gathering I attend, I'm going to get that going again.
Sylvain: That's wonderful. And it's a really nice creative, uh, you know, visually beautiful project. It's simple. I think it reflects the simplicity that you've sort of designed your life around, but it's refreshing. And so I encourage that everyone would go check it out on the show notes of this episode.
Sylvain: I want to thank you so much for sharing your very unique lifestyle and perspective on simplicity, consumerism, creativity and art.
Dan: Cool. Well thank you. And you know, what I was thinking this morning is we're going to have to get someone to interview you because it seems to me you're one of the old timers, aren't you? Somebody's going to have to find out what your story is in the handpan world.
Sylvain: Uh, yeah. I don't know how that'll work out. I, we'll find out. Thank you Dan. Talk to you again soon.
Dan: Okay. See Ya.
Sylvain: I hope you found this conversation enriching and helpful. I really enjoyed Dan's honest answer to my question about his relationship to the instrument. With him being a minimalist and all, I was kind of expecting he would o