Dangermuffin is a three piece outfit based out of Folly Beach, South Carolina. I've been a fan of their music for years but haven't had a chance to see them live until the night I interviewed them at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh. Raleigh was still a fairly new market for them and on this night they would be the support act for the band, Yarn. Much like myself, there were many people there who would see them for the first time. And some of them, perhaps most of them, didn't really know what to expect. Mid way through their set this guy next to me said that he was expecting something way more "mellow". "I wasn't expecting to be blown away by these guys!" He was sure happy he got there early. I can definitely say that everyone in attendance was impressed by this band. Musically, there's this thick, sandy groove in their sound that's very engaging. It isn't muffled or distorted but very comforting and unambiguous. Dan Lotti's vocals and lyrics are equally powerful; they are like this hybrid of Americana and classic rock.
Each month we feature artists/bands we feel deserve some recognition. I can't really say that Dangermuffin is underrated, not while their new CD "Olly Oxen Free" remains at the #1 spot for radio eight weeks in a row. This will simply be one of many spotlights to come for these guys because they've hit their stride. This is a band that has been consistently great throughout their career. With four albums and several years of touring under their belts Dangermuffin only seem to get better, constantly evolving on what I always considered to be perfect. If crafty lyrics, sharp hooks and an Americana- rock-solid groove entice you then by all means check this band out. Their latest album, much like their previous three, is a true gem. I will even go as far as to say that it is one of the best albums I've heard all year.
Interview by: Chris Robie
Photos courtesy of Dangermuffin and Ryan Musick
Dan Lotti - Vocals, acoustic guitar
Mike Sivilli - Electric guitar
Steven Sandifer - Drums
HGMN: When did you guys first meet and get together?
Dan: Mike and I met in 2005. We started playing around Charleston as an acoustic duo, like five and six nights a week. We were kind of making a living off of it. I convinced him to quit his job at the city paper doing graphic design.
Mike: (Being sarcastic) I was making a lot of money.
Dan: We had a lot more freedom, didn't we?
Dan: When you quit your job?
Mike: Oh, I thought you meant while I was in the job. When I was in the job it was like jail. I had to break free.
HGMN: So it was a no brainer?
Mike: It was a no brainer. I just needed a little bit of motivation, finding another musician to play with. Let's do it, man. We started playing with this drummer back then for a couple years before we met Steven. Once we met Steven we started really doing some heavy touring all across the country, that's really when the band started propelling forward.
HGMN: When was this?
Dan: When was that, Like 09 or 2008? It was just about four years ago. We recorded "Moonscapes" and that kind of changed a lot for us.
HGMN: Tell me a little bit about the EP that you guys did, "Emancee". I like that EP a lot.
Dan: Mike and I and a couple of our good friends lived in this house in a neighborhood on James Island, called Riverland Terrace. It's like these old brick homes. We found a great place on Folly Beach. We took that and still had a couple weeks left on our lease at the Terrace place. So it was just an empty house. It was these plastered walls and really old wood. So we attempted to capture that...
Mike: We did the whole recording using very modest gear.
Dan: Very modest.
Mike: We brought in our musician friends for a very low budget. Dan did a whole bunch of mixing on it. It was what we were feeling at the time. It has a very unique sound. It's not like any of our other records. I guess may be that's why it's an EP.
Dan: It was a year after "Beermuda". We never even printed it. We never actually made physical CDs.
HGMN: I listened to it for the first time a couple days ago. I actually never knew it existed. I was just talking to someone here tonight who lived in Charleston during that time and when I brought up the EP her whole face just lit up. She said that it was a really special album to her because it came out around the time when your local fan base began to feel the momentum you guys were making.
Dan: The songs, lyrically, at the time were inspired by...I watched this documentary that kind of fucking blew my mind. It's called "Zeitgeist". I watched that and it really just moved me so much, like I had to do something, so some of those songs are inspired by that. And it was a very quick moment in time, let's just record it. We never even practiced them, no stage time...
Mike: I played banjo on half the songs...we had a bunch of our friends come and sit in on some tracks, some acoustic guitar, some violin, bass guitar...some great musicians that just kind of came over and hung out at the house. So it was just kind of like an experiment for us, I guess. It's like, "hey, can we record an album with a lap top in our own house?" We kind of did.
Dan: That's the beauty about that record; there were just no expectations for it at all. It was kind of like building a fort when you were a kid (laughs).
HGMN: Any plans to re-release it?
Dan: Well, I suppose that we probably should.
Mike: It's hard to say. It is available on itunes...it's kind of like our little secret.
Dan: It is one of my favorites.
HGMN: Who is the primary song writer?
Dan: We are all the songwriters.
Mike: You are the lyric writer, though.
Dan: I do write the lyrics but that's just one part of it. The way that the grooves come together, we all have different ideas. Mike will have a riff and Steven will have a groove. I'll have like a melody...
Mike: It's pretty collaborative.
Steven: The great thing is that it's pretty much a group effort. We'll start with an idea, a groove, taking that and running it through the ringer. From there are so many options, what's a good intro? A good outro? Where does the verse come? And how many times do we do the chorus? That's totally a kind of mad science thing between the three of us. We figure out what fits the lyric, what fits the melody, what fits the song...
Mike: It is a very collaborate effort on so many levels.
HGMN: Where do you get the inspiration for some of your song writing?
Dan: Lyrically, it has a lot to do with the beach because...it's just so fucking comfortable out there (laughs). The Ocean is right there, that energy...it's just unavoidable. A lot of "Moonscapes" is about that. The beach there is massive. The tide will go way out and then there's like these little craters everywhere. And if you catch a buzz or something and you're out at like midnight or 2AM on the beach, it's kind of like the sea of tranquility vibe. It's great.
Mike: The art work on the front of that album, the artist made this moon kind of floating in the ocean, totally otherworldly. And there's people sitting on the beach by a campfire. There's all this symbolism in the lyrics and the songs.
HGMN: Who did the artwork for the new album?
Mike: Nathan Durfee. He's an amazing painter in Charleston.
Mike: We really wanted to keep that one close to home, record it in Charleston; we had an artist from Charleston. He's a very talented painter. We just love the symbolism in his paintings. It represents a lot of the concepts on the album.
HGMN: Do you consider the new album to be a concept album?
Steven: I don't think that we set out for this to be a concept album. It's just that the way the songs relate to each other have a concept, like inherently. And once the artwork came together and once the title came together it kind of became a concept album.
Mike: "Olly Oxen Free", the title, it's like a play on the whole childhood chant. It's like a hide and seek sort of reference.
HGMN: When I first saw the artwork I immediately thought of the stories I read during my childhood, such as "Where the Wild Things Are."
Mike: Yeah. That's what we wanted...We were feeling that too, for sure, a playful kind of thing.
Dan: Yeah. It's got to be playful.
HGMN: How would you describe the new album compared to your previous albums?
Dan: I think conceptually it had a lot to do with...it was inspired by where we've been the past couple of years and what we've seen, the people that we've met and the energies that we've kind of connected with, and the feeling of being so far away and coming back and returning to your roots. So it's a lot of that and redefining the idea of home.
Mike: A lot of the ideas for the songs started while we were on the road out west. There were a lot of conceptionally stuff happening while we were on the road.
Dan: We were in Centennial, Wyoming. We were there for a few days that we had off. It was...
Mike: Quite a town.
Dan: ...way up in the mountains. How many people, what's the population?
Dan: Yeah. It was in the middle of no where. We had a good 2-3 days off, which is not good from a business perspective but great from a writing perspective (laughs).
Mike: We had time to relax in this pretty surreal kind of place...
Dan: With this really weird dude who ran it.
Dan: That's how he laughed, just like that.
Mike: He had this evil laugh.
Dan: He would just sit there and look out the window all day. He didn't do anything. It was crazy. We started smoking bowls with him and shit...anyway, we got a lot of writing done. "Loneliest Highway" is a good example of a song I wrote that's about the drive that we took from Eugene Oregon to Denver. We did it straight.
HGMN: Let's talk about Acousticmuffin. How would you compare it to Dangermuffin?
Dan: The main difference is Steven playing an upright bass instead of the drums.
Dan: And we have acoustic guitars...there are different songs that we would play on an Acousticmuffin set, to a more chilled out audience. There will be a lot more folky tunes. We like to play a lot more bluegrassy stuff, more Doc Watson, more John Prine. We kind of lean more towards that, we love to do it.
HGMN: Have you written any material just for Acousticmuffin?
Dan: This is an interesting question; Acousticmuffin is a sort of an extension of Dangermuffin, but it too in itself is Dangermuffin and has always played a role in each record with AM's instrumentation. That said, yes, we have written songs that have developed as simple acoustic songs, and we also have plans to release an acoustic album in the future.
Mike: We love that side of the band, Americana, folk kind of thing.
Dan: It's much more laid back and reserved and...
Steven: I think it's another common ground between the three of us .We all really appreciate the organic feel of acoustic music. We all have a relationship with it and have listened to a lot of it and it has been a part of our musical lives. We love it on stage and to rock out but there's just something about being stood in a corner with an upright bass and two acoustic guitars and that's it. That's about as genuine as music can get. There are no microphones; there are no amps, nothing. It's just music.
HGMN: It's interesting. Most band members, when they do other projects outside of the band they would often perform with other musicians. You guys step away from Dangermuffin and do another project together, just using different instrumentation. It's two different bands but with the same band members.
Mike: There's a really good music scene in Charleston. We do some gigs with other people here and there but...yeah.
Dan: The way that it developed, we were on tour with the band and would then come home and we still had to make money somehow, so we would play acoustic around town. And then we would play the Pour House and it would be an event. But that's kind of how we started it. We loved it. We opened for Hot Tuna last night in Atlanta. It was fucking sold out. We had a great time. We broke our merch records.
HGMN: You performed as Acousticmuffin?
Dan: We played as Acousticmuffin.
Mike: We were sitting down playing in front of a whisper quiet crowd in a theatre, The Variety Playhouse.
HGMN: How does a gig like that get set up, between Acousticmuffin and Dangermuffin?
Mike: Hot Tuna contacted our agency, New Frontier, for an acoustic opener. So our agent, Jon, asked us, "Can you guys do an acoustic show?" We were like; we would love to do it! We played in Orlando with Hot Tuna the first time. It was a huge success. We had a blast. We had so much fun. So it's kind of like a promising future for Acousticmuffin.
HGMN: Do you tend to write more music playing acoustic?
Mike: Sometimes we'll write a song when we're jamming out. We'll do some improvisational stuff in some songs and sometimes it will just click one night. We'll hit this one thing, like for the first time ever spontaneously and then later on we'll talk about it, "Dude, what did we do? We hit this disco-ey, triplet thing in the middle of a song. Let's just keep playing that." And then the next thing you know it becomes like "Moonscapes" or something. It really spawns out of nowhere sometimes.
HGMN: How do you manage to cover so many genres, especially on the new album, and still maintain your core sound?
Dan: We enjoy playing a variety of styles of music, and this is prevalent on "Olly Oxen Free"; the songs are written and arranged from a very simple instrumentation of drums, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar, which covers the low end. This allows for us to go song to song, genre to genre, and still keep our fingerprint.
Upcoming Tour Dates
08/17/12 - Charleston, SC - The Pour House
08/23/12 - Wilmington, NC - The Soap Box
08/24/12 - Chapel Hill, NC - Local 506 Opening for Big Something
08/25/12 - Kill Devil Hills, NC - Outer Banks Brewing Station
09/13/12 - San Francisco, CA - Brick and Mortar Music Hall
09/15/12 - Coloma, CA - American River Music Festival
09/15/12 - Lotus, CA - Gringo's
10/06/12 - Myrtle Beach, SC - Oktoberfest on stage at 2:00pm.
11/02/12 - Asheville, NC - Jack of the Wood
11/15/12 - Morgantown, WV - 123 Pleasant St
Olly Oxen Free (2012)