Jimmie Linville knows what it's like to be poor.
"I grew up in a single-parent family with three brothers and sisters in a trailer in Baraboo," says the 24-year-old guitarist and songwriter. "We were very impoverished. We didn't have electricity half the time."
He knows what it's like to be an outsider, too. "I weighed 300 pounds in high school," he says. "When other kids started going to parties, me and my friends were making movies or writing songs or playing 'Dungeons & Dragons.'"
But Linville sees the silver lining in the experiences of his youth. He says the hardships he endured helped turn him into an artist. "The cool thing about outsiders," says Linville, "is that they see the world in different ways."
These days, Linville finds his sustenance in music. He and pianist Daniel Pingrey, a fellow Baraboo native, perform as the Madison-based folk-rock duo Daniel and the Lion. On May 4 they'll celebrate the release of their new CD, Sweet Teeth, at the High Noon Saloon.
Joining them on stage will be drummer Adam Cargin (Blueheels), guitarist Daniel McMahon (Cameron McGill) and bassist Miles Nielsen (Rusted Hearts). "We like to play as a full band about once a year," says Linville.
Linville and Pingrey attended high school together, but they followed different paths to music. Linville didn't start playing guitar until he was 18. By that time, Pingrey was pursuing a music performance degree in percussion at UW-Madison.
Linville enrolled at the UW campus in Baraboo, where he studied literature and writing. When he wasn't in class, he played guitar for hours a day. "I knew I wanted to pursue a music career," he says. After Pingrey attended one of Linville's solo shows in 2008, the two began their collaboration.
"I like the dichotomy in where we come from musically," says Linville. "Daniel learned everything there is to know about theory and arranging. I developed more as a pop songwriter."
Linville's affection for pop grew out of his childhood fascination with Michael Jackson. "I listened almost exclusively to Michael Jackson when I was a kid," he says. "I wouldn't let my mom put on any other record."
But stylistically, Daniel and the Lion are far from "Billie Jean." Sweet Teeth is rootsy folk-rock steeped in a bittersweet mix of feelings. "Love, loss and hope are the emotions that come through on the album," says Linville. "The sound is upbeat, but the lyrics have a darkness to them."
That's true of "The Chase," the leadoff single that gradually unfolds into a lush mix of layered guitars, acoustic piano and gentle percussion. The sound is easygoing, but the words trace a twisted path of broken relationships.
The disc's most poignant song is a tribute to Linville and Pingrey's childhood hometown. "Baraboo" reflects on a place where "we never did a thing we didn't do the day before," a haven that yielded "sleep beside the fire without the fear of burning away."
The band plan to give a free copy of Sweet Teeth to anyone who preorders a ticket to their May 4 High Noon show. They'll be pressing vinyl copies of the album next month. "We'll put the vinyl in the back of a hardcover book that will contain poetry, lyrics and art," says Linville.
No matter how well Sweet Teeth is received, Daniel and the Lion aren't eager to do business with a record label. "There are labels that contact us because they like what we're doing," says Linville. "We don't want to go down that road."
Music is about an artist and a band connecting, he says. "Any band I've ever talked to says they had the most fun when they first started. That's when they had a direct connection with their fans. Artists who keep those connections keep writing great songs because they continue to be inspired."