Interview with Dangermuffin’s Dan Lotti
by Miles Hurley
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South Carolina-born and bred Americana groove artists Dangermuffin will be storming their way through NYC this Wednesday, when they play American Beauty on April 12.
The band has just recently released their sixth album, Heritage. Following a tradition they’ve done for years now, they celebrated the release by performing the album live in its entrety a few weeks ago at Charleston, South Carolina’s The Pour House–a special hometown venue for the band. With a more stripped-down sound than the band has ever had, Heritage boasts a breathtaking sonic simplicity, which allows for the songs’ beautiful, and also thought-provoking, lyrics to shine through nicely. But the grooves the band is known for, which draw from all kinds of influences from the coastal to the jazzy to rootsy, are better and more infectious than ever.
To gear up for what is sure to be this enthralling performance, Dangermuffin guitarist and lead singer Dan Lotti gave us a fantastic conversation, about the roots of the band’s music, his roots and inspirations, and more.
LMNR: So, let me start with…March 25th at The Pour House, that was sort of the first place you played stuff from Heritage live?
Dan Lotti: Well, we did the album in its entirety on that night…but there were a couple of tunes there that we had been playing for a little bit. Sometimes, it’s fun to do that, to let some songs kinda get some different legs and jams before we release it. So we had been playing a couple of tunes, we laid out the whole album for everybody.
LMNR: Can I ask what the response has been like so far? You’ve also played a bunch of dates since then, too. How are fans taking to the new material?
Yeah, well we’ve had a couple of sellouts over the past couple weeks, so that’s definitely a good sign. You know, it’s kinda funny, man…Dangermuffin has always been this very grassroots, self-managed, independent sort of band, so it’s nice to finally be working with some great publicity, and getting the word out…
But how have the new fans been liking this material, I would say fantastically….Over the years, we’ve built this very loyal following, like many fans of the band, we’ve become very good friends with. So there’s been a lot of support for it. It’s kind of a bit different for us, with this new album, because it’s acoustic instruments. The original drummer has switched to upright bass, and we’ve hired another drummer. So we’ve kinda grown a little bit as a band, but also returned to some rootsy stuff. And I think that really resonates with people that have been longtime Dangermuffin fans.
LMNR: Oh yeah, I was gonna mention that. I’ve been spinning this new record all weekend and one of the things that really comes through is the sound of that stand-up bass. So that’s a bit of a newer element for you?
Yeah, well it’s an interesting story, because…well gosh, I’d say the band has been together for almost a decade, but it’s been as a trio. So the interesting thing is, I have been playing bass on an acoustic guitar, it’s sort of a hybrid, stage acoustic guitar. And I’ve made a couple modifications, and I play bass on this thing. And it’s a lot of fun.
But…over the years, the drummer has been working on his upright bass chops. So he was really the one that wanted to get in on the songwriting with the upright, and really bring that part of his musicianship out, which we’re happy to do. And he’s also a phenomenal percussionist, so the live show now consists of him being on upright bass for half the show, and then him being on congas, or different percussion instruments, for the other half. So it’s really kind of created exponential growth for the stage show.
LMNR: Yeah, well from listening to just this new album, and then some of your live stuff, it seems as if all of you guys have some real musical chops.
Well thanks, man. It kind of started with the guitar player, Mikey, and I gigging in Charleston. I actually lived in New York City, for about two years after I graduated school. And I was chasing that whole dream for a little bit, when I was pretty young (laughs). I have some really good folks up there… and Charleston, we were playing fix or six nights a week at the bars, and we’d have regular residencies. So I ended up going to New York, and then kind of saying, “All right, it’s time for me to head back to Charleston, and I sort of made that decision a while back, and we had the opportunity to play in that town a lot, and really get a lot of gigging in. And I think there’s pluses and minuses to just gigging, but yeah we were able to really just build up our chops.
And there’s such a great scene and community of artists and musicians in Charleston…and I’m actually in Asheville, right now, so between those two towns, the music scene and the art scene is pretty phenomenal. We’re definitely happy to be a part of both of those.
LMNR: Nice. Well, I live up in Connecticut and do stuff around New York mostly. But I have done some work now with some people based down in Asheville, and from their work and different stuff I’ve seen online, and their whole attitude, I can definitely sense a strong musical community and support system down there.
Oh yeah, it’s really interesting because I think that…if the shit hits the fan, in any particular hills, Asheville is kind of the place you want to be, you know? (laughs) Because you head for the hills, and then the whole town is so based on locality, and local agriculture, and it’s like the craft beer mecca, of at least the SouthEast…so it’s really a renaissance, and it’s this whole different level of community coming together, and it’s really special to be up here.
The reason why we moved up here is my wife has always been passionate about herbal medicine, and a lot of the Native American traditions are here, in Northern Carolina, as well as a number of medicinal plants. It’s sort of a temperate rainforest where we are, so it’s a phenomenal place to be where we are, especially right now in the Spring. Everything’s just coming alive. So that was the main reason we moved up here and it’s just the best of the Carolinas. I may be a little biased there, but that’s the way I feel (laughs).
LMNR: Yeah, I wanted to ask also about…your music deals with some pretty deep, amazing things. On this last album, especially, is conceptually about discovering our relationship with nature, and understanding our connection to everything around us…So, I’m really curious about how you guys, as a band, or any of you individually, got interested into these themes, either growing up or as part of your musical career?
Thank you for the question. I really appreciate it, because it’s definitely at the heart of what inspires me to continue the path that I’m on, and sort of helps me to ground and stay balanced. It’s a huge part of it, in terms of the inspiration for the songs, and album concepts. I think if you look at the past records, it’s always sort of been about natural archetypes, in the sense that, what do they mean collectively to humanity? I think that everybody has a relationship with the ocean, and everybody has a relationship with the sun…I’ve been in this perspective where I’m writing based around these archetypes. So you have a song off the new record, and this is how it maybe ties in with my wife, because one night we were making dinner, and she had some rosemary, which of course is a very medicinal plant, that’s very anti-viral…And she was cooking, and rubbed it in her hands, and said “Smell this, you can smell the ocean, they call this the Sea of the Rose.” And she’s learning so much about all of these relationships that are so old, with the plants being the medium…
And I sort of took that moment, and translated it into one of the songs on the record, called “The Sea and the Rose.” And it’s sort of about the wisdom of plants, and what they can offer, above all of the nonsense, and the swinging of the pendulum…there’s so much wisdom there that’s really hanging on by a thread, and it’s really awesome to see someone like my wife dedicating her life, and aligning her passion to bring back something that is so important right now. I can’t think really of anything else that’s more important than herbal practice,
So I think you could use the word shamanic, in the sense that it means, ‘right relationship.’ Like, there’s a certain balance that has been there for a long time. And we as a society, I think, despite our technological advancements and our creature comforts, we’re very out of balance. And I think we get little reminders of that from time to time, from the way the planet is treated in this and that. But it’s such a deep, psychological conversation within each individual person, that projects into the collective.
So, yeah I spend a lot of time in this study, uncovering as many rocks as I can, be it psychological, or conspiratorial, and I just try and take the message and simplify it, so that anybody could connect.
LMNR: I think the kind of messages coming from your music are for sure, important now more than ever.
Yeah, that’s what I hope. I mean…there’s a group of people that really seem to move me, I think they call them catastrophists, and a guy named Immanuel Velikovsky, and a lot of people for whom you could use the word post-velikovskian…He made the connection that there were a very significant events in the solar system, that something significant happened to the planet. And I think you can see it in a lot of the historical and archeological records about, like, the flood., and the deluge? It was a global event that happened, and there’s a line in the first song, “Ode To My Heritage,” where it says, “I’ll take you way back, to before the flood.” Because I think that the flood itself is such a metaphor for this event that washes away the past. And if we don’t know where we’re coming from, as a society, and we’re just walking around, with this potential trauma creating all this amnesia for us, and we all wonder where we’re coming from, and we create religions, and this and that, right? I think that that’s a big part of the music, for me, and what I can do to express some of these philosophies. Because it just makes a lot of sense to me, and resonates with me.
And so I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where I’m posting about Immanuel Velikovsky, because it’s maybe very polarizing, but we have art. We have art, and we have music that can take these perspectives, and nobody can say it’s right or wrong, it’s a conspiracy or not, it’s just a song. So there are no limits with the art that can be made to express those energies, and that fruit, if it’s resonating with you, you know?
And on top of that, my brother, I try to do it in a very casual way. Because I think it’s very easy to externalize and collectivize spiritual experience, and make it religious, and then it insists upon itself. So, my approach is to be very casual with it, just kind of drop a hint in a song, and just let people feel the vibe, without having to take in all of this extra stuff that may take a little extra time to process (laughs).
LMNR: I did read, too, that you referred to this new album as a kind of “rite of passage,” of its conceptual main character, of sorts. And now, as you mention the significance of the flood…Is that what the ocean means for you, this kind of renewal of yourself and things?
Exactly, yes. Making peace with that, with that energy. It’s an interesting thing, we’ve lived on the shores for about eight years, and the band really was born in all of that energy. So it’s quite a contrast, that’s the interesting thing about it. You know, the mountains, are this whole different thing, I’m not really ready to write about them yet. But the ocean, there’s a line, you know what I mean? It’s a contrast, a totally different thing. So you hear a lot of the metaphors of the mother energy…and I think it’s a really interesting way to look at the mother energy of the planet herself, and how we’re connected to that.
In terms of a rite of passage, on the album, I do think it’s conceptually that, because you’re sort of asking these questions, and then getting tossed about, and then realizing you just have to flow. And connecting to ancestries is a big part of that, as well. And then it takes this sort of patriarchal turn, with “Ol’ Fidel,” which we have a music video for which we’re really excited about. It tells the story of this old, and nearing the end of his life dictator, that has been trying so hard to be in control of everything, but really, you’re not in control.
Last month, my wife and I took a trip to Peru, and we went down to the Kuzco region, and in particular to a town called Ollantaytambo, and had a wonderful experience down there. And one of the conversations we had with a shayman was that, he was saying that man thinks that he owns nature, but he dies, and so he never really owns anything. Man is always owned by nature. And that was sort of the point that he made, and it just came around full circle for me, for the songs that I’m writing, and the truth that I’m trying to resonate with.
LMNR: I had a couple of musical questions for the album…On a couple of the tracks, like the one you brought up now, “Ol’ Fidel,” and then another track, “Waves…” Those tunes hit these cool tempo upshifts into these almost string-band speed parts…was that something written into the songs, or was it more an organic thing that came about between the band’s playing on them?
I feel like they were pretty organic directions to take the songs, and it was definitely a collective that we all kind of felt. I think you could say they both kind of pick-up, into double-time, so it goes from a reggae thing to a ska thing at the end of “Ol’ Fidel,” and then at the end of “Waves,” it goes from this swinging, island type of thing to straight bluegrass. And those are definitely two of our favorite ones to play live, because it has that musical, instrumental energy that just kinds of builds and crescendos, and everybody kind of takes that journey with us, you know?
LMNR: Cool. And I’ve never seen you guys live yet…but our mag will hopefully be catching you at your show at American Beauty in NYC, coming up. I can’t wait to hear this stuff live.
Right on. You know, it’s been an interesting thing, like I said, we’ve been just learning as we go for this whole process,..we started as these beach bums that played the bars five or six nights a week, in the area. And then we were able to start writing…In 2010, it happened for us real fast. We got a really great agent connection, and some awesome things like opening for The Avett Brothers, played all these huge festivals. And it’s such a game, you know? And we’ve been trying to learn it ever since.
So when it comes to our shows, some of them are really great, some of them are lightly attended, but really what it always is for us is, what’s the vibe? You know, we don’t mind playing to thirty people, and then finishing the set, and coming down off the stage and playing unplugged acoustic, and get everybody singing. You know? Like, some of those experiences we’ve had are the most special. Because of the energy of the people in the room. We love to do that, that’s our goal.
LMNR: Something else I had read, that I really liked, was you talking about a set that you did with Yarn at Gathering of the Vibes…apparently that set had produced a pretty profound, in-the-moment experience for you?
It really did. It was…you know, you can get into the whole topic of the chakras, certain experiences can be really profound, energetically. And I would say there was something definitely about that set that…you know, it was pouring down rain, all these people had tarps over them, and maybe it was being right there in the center of Bridgeport, I don’t know what it was, but it definitely was this physical sensation, where I felt my heart opening, where I was with my brothers. You know, we’re tight with Yarn, we’ve been with them for years, and I absolutely love those guys. And to be able to be on stage with them, and have that experience with them…it’s a hard thing to put into words, but my heart in my chest just opened right up, and just filled with gratitude.
LMNR: And you’re setting off on a long tour, now. Are any of these dates shared with other bands?
Actually, the American Beauty show is going to be with a band called the Dead 27s, who are a Charleston band, they have some really great players. I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase what’s going on musically in Charleston, I mean it’s special. There was definitely a point in time where I thought it’d be the next Seattle (laughs). But maybe things are different now.
One guy in particular, from the band, his name’s Wallace, he’s the guitar player. Each show we did with them last weekend, we had Wallace come up and had him and Mikey trading off licks, and it’s really impressive. So, we’re definitely going to do that at American Beauty.
LMNR: Well, again, I’m excited for it. It’s a cool venue for sure, although not one super connected to nature, or humanity’s roots, I’d say…
(Laughs) You know, some of these clubs we play, these clubs that have been there for fifty years, and you can just smell the broken dreams, that kind of a thing (laughs). It’s interesting, energetically, because we come out the van, and there’s a wide variance to how these places feel, so a lot of time we will get to the soundcheck, and smudge the stage…by that I mean, like sage and incense. We like to use this stuff that…it’s a tree that grows in the jungle in South America, it’s called Palo Santo, and it smells really good, and it just has this effect where it seems to clear the room out, and create a little energy, that seems to make a difference. It’s a very old tradition, I’ll say that.
LMNR: Now, just one more question for you, because I’m curious about that. I have heard from, and talked with, other artists about what they do to preserve energy on a crazy touring schedule…what’s that situation like for you? Even just musically speaking, your stuff- it’s all over, from high energy to quieter, more introspective stuff…
Yeah, the balance of it all is the goal. There’s times, in certain songs, when there’s a lot of that energy available…and for me, personally, like I’ll finish a show sometime that’s such an energetic experience for me, and I’ll be completely buzzing. And I’ll be completely sober. Like, I gave up drinking a good four years ago, for no particular reason, other than, I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that…and I’ll finish a show and I’ll be not tired, but revitalized. It’s a very healing process for me, and then I think it kind of pushes itself out, it’s like the wounded healer, this person that’s walking on this path and then is transformed…I do feel like it’s a transformative experience for me, each show.
So it becomes something that I hope would resonate out, and transform others. Not because that’s my goal, really my goal is to transform myself, through the music. Really, it’s a mix of everything, the vibe is to heal myself, and to connect with the people I’m playing music with, and the people that are there, and to have those energies there swirl, and to go back from something that’s laid back and mellow, to something that’s highly energetic and around and around within the set, that’s sort of how we approach it.
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