Dangermuffin will be baking a fresh batch of tunes this Saturday night (3/25/17) at the Charleston Pourhouse celebrating the release of their sixth album, Heritage. This is the very same venue they released their first album, Beermuda, back in 2007. I had the chance to catch up with lead singer and acoustic guitarist, Dan Lotti, about a variety of topics including their move from a trio to a quartet, smashing guitars in his earlier years, the conceptual making of their new album, which was partially recorded in a local church, the importance of melodies in songwriting, and why he loves playing the Charleston Pourhouse so much.
For those not familiar with Dangermuffin, they’re a challenging band to describe verbally. They’ve been carrying the “jam band” label for most of their career, which they’re OK with, but listening to their albums it’s clear their music sprouts in many different genres. Personally, if I was baking a batch of Dangermuffins based on their latest album, Heritage, I would say the ingredients list would look like:
|2 cups jam band
2 cups folk music
1 teaspoon of rock
1 dash of reggae
2 tablespoons of Sublime
1 tablespoon of Paul Simon
Bake for 2 hours in a large venue with
(A fantastic review of their album can be read here.)
Writers On the Storm: I came across a Guitar World article where you talked about growing up a huge fan of Kurt Cobain, Hendrix, Pearl Jam and Sublime. You guys have that “jam band” moniker but I definitely here some subtle rock riffs in your tunes.
Dan Lotti: “Yea, for sure. I love those bands from back then because it was such a legit movement. The grunge movement. All those melodies really influenced me. Like what Bradley Nowell [Sublime] had. Even the shit he covered, it was all about melody. Pearl Jam, Nirvana and 311 especially. It’s all about finding these melodies and working with and bringing it out vocally and with your guitar and having that balance. I think you can hear that influence with our music.”
So, when you’re recording songs, well, for example, when you hear Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”…you know right away “this riff is amazing.” Do you listen and look for that when writing songs? Your song, Homestead, comes to mind there.
Dan Lotti: “With the inspiration and way songs come out, I feel like I get little glimpses of melodies. I’ll be about to fall asleep or I get into meditation some and it ends up being like something that I hear out of the blue. I’ve trained myself as a songwriter to seize that shit and put it down. Pick up a recorder and hum it into the iPhone or whatever. Then after a while you go back to it and something about the melody reignites you and you start to build the song around it. That’s how Homestead came about.”
So, with stage presence, a lot of the guys you talked about like Cobain, Hendrix, Vedder have huge, energetic personas. I read that early in your music career you used to smash guitars.
Dan Lotti: “I did!!!” (laughing)
Looking at you YouTubes of your shows, it’s more of a Phish vibe. In order to get the crowd buzzing, do you have an approach for stage presence?
Dan Lotti: “I think it comes down to how the musicians feel about the songs as they’re playing them. When it becomes something that is captivating, the musician has to be feeling it like that. It has to go to that spot and then people pick up on it. I’ve never been and I’ll never be that guy that says, “Alright everybody!! Come up closer!!” I don’t like to do that. That’s just me. I prefer to let people do whatever they want to do and be part of a vibration. A lot of the times I have my eyes closed and go into it and push the music that way by focusing. Other times I’m eyes open and moving around. Not everything on YouTube will be like that! I feel great about it. We’ve played for thousands of people so I don’t have expectations going into it. It’s a healing experience for me, personally. It fills me with energy. I’m grateful for that. If I keep that going it’ll be a good show.”
Let’s talk about your new album, Heritage, that comes out this week. I came across an old quote in 2008 reviewing your Emancee album where you said, “I always think about an album conceptually. Emancee starts with a tune about a personality that’s holding onto a lot of shit, followed by the song ‘Tyranny,’ which is about contemplating these forces in your life that kind of keep you down.” So, if you think of albums conceptually, what is Heritage conceptually about?
Dan Lotti: “Heritage is conceptually about returning to your roots and your heritage that is all around you. And every ocean and mountain and tree that is there for us. We’ve become so disconnected with that for a number of reasons. I would probably use the word, ‘shamanic.’ Watching my wife grow into her herbal practice, it’s really about restoring the relationship with what is around us and the truth that is in that. That ends up being a very liberating thing.
And I think it’s ancestral, too. We as Americans, the country that we live in…like Charleston [SC], it’s a beautiful city and we go, ‘Oh, it’s a very historic and old city.’ It’s not that old, bro. It’s a few hundred years old but if you travel around and get out anywhere else you’ll see how much older everything else is and the traditions that are there. We just got back a couple week ago from Peru. It was our second trip in less than a year. And that’s just such a great example of these deep traditions that still exist there and they are healing people and are just so precious. And they’re just hanging on by a thread. These people have like nothing but they still have such a peace in their eyes. I think there’s so much to that.”
Looking at your track list, it seems all your songs are about nature. Things that upset you in life politically or with bandmates never get in to the song writing?
Dan Lotti: “I get a little political on a song in my own way called, Ol’ Fidel. It’s about despotism and when you’re not in the flow of nature. It’s about a dictator who is old and reflecting back on his life. We have this kick ass video for it that’s all animation and he wheels himself up to the ocean and he’s all sad. And these natural energies come out and take him over more or less. It’s to remind him that’s where all the energy you have comes from anyway.
So, the album goes through this thing, where it asks the question “Where are you from?” And then with these energies connects with the ancestry. And then walks through this patriarchal thing with songs like Ol’ Fidel and Kindred Son. Then it returns back to the ocean with the end of the album with the song, One Last Swim. So, it’s the most conceptual album I’ve ever done. It’s almost like Hero’s Journey style where you’re going through the rites of passage.”
I heard a touch of reggae in the song, “Ancient Family.” Do you guys mix in other instruments when recording?
Dan Lotti: “Yea! On this record, we did. On past albums, we were minimalists where we were just going to have the instruments we play. But this album, we have a glockenspiel in there. We recorded a lot of it at the Unitarian Church on Archdale. It’s a beautiful room. We brought in all these kick ass mics and put them all over the church. We got a lot of the reflections. You can hear the tambourines. So, yea, the glockenspiel. There’s a little bit of piano. Almost like accents into the song. This album is different because it’s pretty much all acoustic. There’s only two songs where Mikey plays the electric guitar. Other than that, it’s acoustic guitar all the time. It’s a different thing for us in that regard.”
I saw a quote from you that you don’t want a bass or keyboardist because “we lose our fingerprint,” which is fair but I can’t imagine the Stones or Beatles without Billy Preston.
Dan Lotti: “Yea, that’s an interesting thing because we were able to figure out how to add a bass player. We added another member to this album. We added a drummer. So, our original drummer who can just play all kinds of shit over the years got really good at upright bass. We had this thing called Acousticmuffin where we would play Juanita Greenbergs every Tuesday night and we would just gig around town but still tour as Dangermuffin. All the while Steven’s chops are getting better and he’s also a great percussionist.
So now the shows and new album are Steven at upright bass, another drummer who just crushes it, and then we’re playing acoustic stuff. And then we’ll be on stage and switch where Steven plays congas and I’ll go back to playing bass on acoustic and Mikey will play electric guitar. So, the spread we have as a quartet sort of grew exponentially from adding a member. The drummer is from Finland, so he lives in Charleston during the winter and goes back to Finland during the summer. So, we’re looking for a summer drummer. But, we’re not going back to the trio anymore. This is the new thing.”
How much does it suck from a travel van perspective adding an upright bassist??
Dan Lotti: “Hahaha. Let me tell you. That shit is packed. It’s like an advanced Tetris master has to put that together.”
You’ve been doing album releases at the Pourhouse since 2008. What is so special about that place to you?
Dan Lotti: “Alex Harris. That’s his second location. He opened the Pourhouse when he was 21 years old. He’s been running that place and building that community for a long time. It’s a no brainer. We use it as the gold standard to find the right vibe of places for people to discover our music. So, it’s special. Their capacity continues to grow. It’s a great room. Every venue you go to, when you meet the owner and he shakes your hand and says, “I’m glad you’re here,” you know it’s going to be a good show.”
|Heritage Track List
Dan Lotti: Lyrics, Vocals, Acoustin Guitars
Mike Sivilli: Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Harmony Vocals
Steven Sandifer: Upright Bass, Percussion, Glockenspiel, Harmony Vocals
Markus Helander: Drums, Grand Piano, Percussion
Upcoming 2017 Tour Schedule