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Dan Sartain - Interview

  by Mark Rowland

published: 23 / 3 / 2007

Dan Sartain - Interview


Dan Sartain has been receiving a lot of acclaim for his brand of garage blues/punk rock. Mark Rowland chats to the Alabama-based singer-songwriter, who has recently signed to One Little Indian, about his recording career to date, and his dissatisfaction the current music scene

Bands crop up every now and then that have write songs with one eye on the past. They look at vintage rock n roll, blues, folk and country, and they desperately try to recreate the same scratchy feel in their own music. The White Stripes, of course, are a prime example, playing with punky energy songs that deliberately reference the blues, old rock n roll and 60's pop. This often results in music that’s stripped down, direct - the kind of music that hits your central nervous system before it hits your brain; you don’t have to think about the music, it’s there to enjoy, to dance to. Dan Sartain is one of those artists with his eye on the past, and indeed, when you listen to his music, you can hear Sun Records bands, old country music, a healthy dose of rhythm and blues. He does differ in one way from many of this contemporaries, however. Rather than singing words that attempt to sound exactly like they were written in the 50's, Sartain sings about things that effect him now, as a young man in southern America. He also manages to play rockabilly convincingly without sounding like a dodgy cartoon punk band. Sartain has been writing and recording music since his teens, developing his sound over that time. His first release was self-pressed and distributed, not really reaching the wider music communities until it was picked up by Rocket From the Crypt. Some of those recordings, plus some new studio songs, made up his debut full-length, ‘Dan Sartain vs. the Serpientes’, in 2003. It took that record some time to make it across the pond to the UK, by which time Sartain had worked up some new songs, which went on to become his latest record, ’Join’, which has been met with critical acclaim, resulting in features for UK music papers like 'Mojo' and 'Uncut', as well as a few appearances on digital radio. Sartain has been sporadically touring ‘Join’, playing the UK and Europe at the beginning of the year. He was back at his home in Birmingham, Alabama when Pennyblackmusic spoke to him. PB : Am I right in thinking you’ve just got back from a UK tour? How did that go? DS : Yeah we were there a few weeks ago. We were over there for about a week then we were in Europe for about a week. It was good, you know. I’d been to the UK more than Europe so Europe was kind of a new thing for me.I know as far as album sales are concerned they aren’t as high as the label had hoped, but I was really surprised at how big some of the crowds were. I tried forever to get crowds in the States sometimes and some towns never come around, but some of the towns in Europe I’d never been to and it was liked packed shows and stuff, so for me it was surprising. PB : Moving on to your latest record, ‘Join’. Did you have a strong idea of how you wanted it to sound? DS : Yeah I did, and it didn’t end up sounding like that at all. My first album came out in 2003, and it didn’t come out in the UK until a couple of years after that, so I had a lot of time to think about them and those songs were pretty old by the time I got into the studio to do ‘em, like ‘Flight of the Finch was probably from later on in 2003, so it took a long time to record them so, yeah, I had pre-conceived notions of how I wanted them to sound and as we started recording them I realised that it wasn’t sounding exactly like how I wanted it to. Sometimes it sounded better and sometimes I didn’t quite get them to sound how I wanted, but at the end of the day I was more pleased with how it sounded I was really pleased with it. It’s the best one, it’s a personal best, and you never know. I might not do another album better than that one. Who knows ? PB : How does it compare to the previous record, ‘Dan Sartain Vs the Serpientes’? DS : The first one’s more dirty and grimy. It’s not as slickly produced, but I was more of an immature musician on the first one. PB : You recorded some of the new songs in London’s Toerag Studios> How did that come about? DS : Well, some people at the record label were all stoked about it and telling me there’s this guy and we were going to ask him to work with you, and he’s done this, he’s done this, is this ok? And I was like yeah, whatever, you know, cynical about it, White Stripes, whatever - I don’t dislike the White Stripes but I’m not a huge personal fan of them, or Holly Golightly for that matter, Billy Childish, all of the stuff that he’s (Liam Watson, Toerag‘s owner) done, I haven’t really sat there and rocked out to it. But when I met the guy and checked out his studio, and talked to him and went through all his stuff, it was just me and him and we talked about these records, and it’s like, alright, well if you know exactly what I’m talking about when I talk about a certain part on a Gene Vincent record, you’re probably pretty good to work with. It’s kind of hard working with him too, because we’d just end up nerding out and talking about records, but that’s really the only hard part about it. PB : Do you consider yourself a music nerd? DS : I’m more of a comic book nerd, myself, but there’s record nerds who definitely wouldn’t consider me a record nerd. I can’t stand it. You’re out on tour all the time, and if you’re touring with a bunch of musicians if you have some free time you inevitably end up in a record store. I fucking hate that. I hate shopping for records. I can’t just go to a record store and look around until I find something. I have something in particular in mind, and if they don’t have it I leave. I’m pretty particular about what I like though. I don’t like very much music. I’m definitely a critic of music, but I don’t think I’m a music nerd. I can nerd out with other guys but as far as my collection goes - serious collectors will buy three copies of a record, one to trade, one to listen to and one to keep sealed. I’m definitely not one of those guys. I’m much more like that about my comic books. PB : That’s quite surprising considering your record has a variety of influences. DS : Well, I think every form of music has a good ambassador. I mean, 90 per cent of any type of music is going to be bullshit, and then there’s one per cent that’s exceptional or extraordinary. They all kind of have one thing in common that they’re all great. The Bee Gees are a good example of that. It’s like most disco fuckin’ blows, man. Most disco really blows and the best disco records were made by bands that didn’t start out as disco bands. Like the Bee Gees were kind of this Beatles-y threesome of guys that harmonised like the Chipmunks and sang songs like the Beatles do, then they did the disco thing and found their niche and it was really good. The Bee Gees also weren’t confined to disco. They wrote songs for Lionel Richie. They wrote songs for Dolly Parton. They wrote good songs for Kenny Rogers. They weren’t restricted to disco, or rock n’ roll or anything like that. And most bands that are confined to that, that don’t stretch out from the category that they chose to put themselves into, or their record label chose for them, they usually are pretty fuckin’ bad bands at the end of the day. Like Limp Bizkit,you don’t hear about those fuckers anymore. In ’98 they were like a big threat, those guys were the enemy to guys like me. There’s no other way to put it - they were the enemy, that kind of balls fucking metal was the enemy. It doesn’t mean I hate all metal. I love Slayer. I was listening to Slayer right before I talked to you. It doesn’t mean that metal’s bad. It means that those guys are just fucking horrible. PB : Yes. Yes they were. DS : It’s even lame to diss on them nowadays, because no-one even thinks about them now. In the 90's, Marilyn Manson was the horrible rock thing that everybody loved, and it’s like where is that guy now? He didn’t reach out and do anything else. He didn’t reach out outside of his category. The BeeGees are always going to be a bit corny and silly, but they spanned genres. They spanned British, Beatles-y sun and shit, into disco, into writing songs for country musicians, writing songs for r’n’b musicians. They all have a good ambassador, you know. Pb : What sort of music got you writing songs in the first place? DS : My dad’s a musician, and I always admired him for that, because my dad’s an accountant. I think that 'Mojo' wrote that my dad was a coal miner, but he’s an accountant, and he’s totally college educated. He’s not a rich man but he’s not a blue collar man by any means. But he played guitar and that was the interesting thing about him. He’s like this business man during the day, then he plays in a cover band at night, in Margheritaville. He was in a band like that so I kind of learned form him, but the stuff that made me want to learn guitar specifically was Sabbath, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, all this shit that kids are wearing now on T-shirts to be ironic, and I still like it. I hate those fucking kids, man! It’s not really the same in the UK I don’t think, I don’t see it as much over there, but have you heard of Target, the department store we have over here? It’s basically like Wal-Mart. You know when the decade started and kids were wearing like heavy metal t-shirts to be funny? Well, Target is the same as Wal-Mart, and it’s pretty much exactly the same and they have these AC/DC T-shirts and they’re selling them to kids to be ironic, and now there are adults wearing them and people in their 50s, and it’s like, you don’t get to make fun of AC/DC, motherfucker. AC/DC are one of the best bands I can even think of, and you ain’t got no fuckin’ place making fun of AC/DC. I would switch my life with Bon Scott’s who died at 33, as opposed to your fucking lame ass! PB : There are ironic band T-shirts here, definitely AC/DC T-shirts, and the Ramones. You see a lot of Ramones t-shirts in the high street shops. DS : That’s bullshit dude! What’s funny about the Ramones?! The Misfits are really like that too, I’ve been thinking about Danzig a lot lately, I think people are forgetting about Danzig, man. Danzig was a force to be reckoned with at one point. He was a huge influence on me when I was 18, then I turned my back on him for a while, but lately I’ve been getting out my Misfits records. That motherfucker is bad. I think that big music fans who are just getting into the Misfits, a lot of the time don't twig that Danzig is the singer of the Misfits a lot of the time. I think they think of Danzig and they think of the Misfits as two separate things, but the Misfits is just early Danzig. I don’t care what anyone says. PB : Are the Misfits being used for ironic clothing? That’s surprising. DS : Me and my wife were at the shopping mall the other day, and we saw a pair of sneakers that were obviously meant for very young girls and it was some kind of checkered pattern, like a fake Converse, a fake All Star, and it was like some kind of goofy-looking, hot topic, Avril Lavigne skirt pattern, and it had the Misfits’ logo on it, and it was like, a) does Danzig see a dime off of this, and b) does he endorse this? And it turns out that some guy in Chicago owns it and licenses it out to companies so I don’t know if the Misfits see any of that money, but it seems like the Misfits are becoming one of those ironic things. Fuck that - the Misfits rule, AC/DC rule, the Ramones rule. Who are they to make fun of them ? They’re bad ass. Kids are making fun of them and then putting on their My Chemical Romance albums! PB : That certainly doesn’t bode well for their sense of taste. DS : I think I might be taking it the wrong way as far as this T-shirts thing goes, because a couple of years ago, with all the hip hop culture, all the hip hop kids were wearing these Nascar jackets. It’s a really big sport around here. I live in Alabama, and one of the really big Nascar races happens around here. And all of a sudden these hip hop kids start wearing these Nascar jackets, like the drivers wear, and they were kind of ill-fitting and kind of squar, and I was wondering why they were wearing them, but I think it might be because now all these little white kids are like (adopts squeaky kid voice) "What up, y’all2, start talking in this slang and blasting hip hop out of their cars but are obviously over-privileged white kids. I was thinking the proper hip hop community was like "alright, if you’re going to steal our culture, start wearing our clothes and listening to our music, we’re going to steal your culture. We’re going to steal this Nascar redneck bullshit that you like." But I was wrong, and I still don’t really know why they’re wearing those Nascar jackets. Like the new thing with hip hop culture out here is T-shirts with Chucky from the 'Child’s Play' movies all blinged out. I don’t know, but he’s the new logo. It’s weird. I don’t understand it, but I think there’s things I’m not supposed to understand about it. PB : It’s hard to keep up with the trends sometimes. Some kids in London are buying clothes and leaving the label on and making sure people can see them. It doesn’t make much sense. DS : That used to be a sign of a lady that was cheap, you know- someone who’d buy a dress and wear it for one day but leave the label on it so she could take it back the next day. It used to be a really bad thing. PB : Back to your current projects. You’re currently working on a DVD, what kind of thing will appear on it? DS : Well, it’s going to be mostly live. Then I’m compiling some videos and live footage and old recordings and demos and stuff, which are still good, but they’re old and didn’t really get to see the light of day too much. I put them out myself but they were on CDRs, or whatever. It was when I was doing everything DIY, and it’s a lot of stuff that just didn’t get out there. It’s ging to be like an anthology basically, if a 25-year-old deserves an anthology. It’s all this old shit, and live shit. It’s good. I basically just finished it, but don’t tell my record label that as I don’t want to give it to them right away, cause there’s still some stuff to look at and tweak a little bit, but I think it’s done. It’s a lot of Birmingham stuff, and stuff like that. I didn’t really think of my self as a film maker until I got done with it and thought, damn, that’s pretty good. PB : Was your first record a DIY, self-released album? DS : Well, I put out a record in about 2000, 2001. I made it. I recorded it on a four track at my parents’ house and stuff and I put it out, I pressed it on 12” vinyl, and I gave it to - do you know that band Rocket From the Crypt? Well, they’re my favourite band, and I gave them the record. They are my favourite band. I kind of have to chop up my favourite bands by decade, because there’s different things going on in each one, but Rocket From the Crypt are definitely my favourite band of the 90's. I gave my record to them and sure enough they called me and wanted to put it out and record some new stuff, so I said yeah. I went out to San Diego and recorded with them and John (Reis-Ed) the guy from Rocket, he produced it, and recorded me and we got a bunch of new recordings. Then we basically took the best off the first record I gave them, same recordings and everything, then we put the new stuff we’d recorded on there too. So the last record is the first one for a long time that has all new songs on it. I want to do another one real soon. I’m ready to do another one. I’ve got enough songs. PB : I can hear a little Rocket From the Crypt in your music. DS : That’s great, though I don’t want to sound too much like them, because I don’t want to sound like I’m ripping them off. They were one of a kind in the 90s, man. Rocket From the Crypt were these violent-sounding, greased up, well-dressed guys. People didn’t really want that at the time. They wanted these really safe, nerdy guys. They didn’t do hugely well over here. They did well, I would be happy with their career, but I think they were heading for higher goals. Some bands that you like you don’t want a bunch of idiots liking them, but I really wanted them to be huge. I thought they could handle it. It’s probably for the best that they didn’t though. PB : What do you think of modern music? DS - There’s not much I like. I look at modern culture and all these new bands that are cropping up and I just think that they suck. Modern culture sucks. I don’t get most of the modern bands but I know they aren’t good. PB : Do you get many modern British bands in the States? DS : You can guarantee that anything we hear about has already been huge over there. Everything breaks in England. They’re just now starting to write about Pete Doherty here at the moment, just to show you how far behind we are. How long have people been writing about him out there? He’s always in all the papers and they always call him "rocker Pete". PB : What do you think of the coverage of Doherty in the UK? Do you know much about him? DS : I know the story by now, I’m pretty much up to date on it. Not that I care, but the thing is over there you don’t have to care to find out about it. The thing over here right now is Anna Nicole Smith’s baby, and they are having a huge custody battle over it. That’s on the TV all the time now, as far as entertainment news goes. I don’t really care about it but I’m as up to date on it as much as I know what my parents are doing. It’s the same with him over there, I don’t care about what he’s doing, but I still end up finding out. My friend sent me that Babyshambles album before I knew he was a media darling and my friend was really into it, telling me it was really good. I popped it in and I listened to it. The worst thing about it is it sounds like it could be good. It sounds like they’re not trying very hard. It sounds like the guy doesn’t have enough energy to get up in the morning. It’s like give me a little bit of oomph, show me that you actually want to be here. Are those Bloc Party guys from over there? PB : Yes. DS : What the fuck is up with that one guy in that band. Do you now which one I mean ? the one with the kind of Tony Hawk haircut? Do you remember how Tony Hawk had his hair in the 80s. He has his hair like that. He is striking the same pose in every fucking photo. My wife was recently over there. She took her first trip over there with me, and were looking at these magazines cause these guys are all over the place. And I was looking at them and I was thinking; "something’s the same about all these pictures" and I realised it was that guy, and he always makes the same face like he’s pissed off like he doesn’t want to be there. Like he’s mad to be on the cover of a magazine. If someone asked me to be on a cover of a magazine I’d be smiling, I’d be stoked, but he’s the same in every picture. Google Bloc Party when we’re done, you’ll see what I mean. The guy has the same face every time, and I don’t know why. He’s a poser. That’s what it is. He’s literally a poser. And their band sucks too, I’ll go ahead and say that. PB : Some would say they’re a little dull. DS : I’ll tell you a story about those guys. I went to the NME awards a couple of years ago and I sat at the table with those guys, and they never talked to me. It was like a big round table with those guys on it and Kanye West and his people were behind me, and I was talking to them all night. I was talking to the people with Kanye West. They were funny and nice, and giving use drinks and the guys who are in the same game as me, these Bloc Party guys, we were sitting literally on the same table as them, the people who were at the table with us didn’t talk to us once. They were really douchey. I’m not even in the same game as Kanye West, I’m not in the same ball park as Kanye West. I’m not in the same league as Kanye West, but I can hang out with them and talk to them, and Kanye West is a way bigger star than Bloc Party will ever be. They’re in a rock band, I’m in a rock band and we can’t even talk. PB : Thank you.

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live reviews

100 Club, London, 7/2/2007
Dan Sartain - 100 Club, London, 7/2/2007
Dan Cressey finds acclaimed Alabama-based singer-songwriter Dan Sartain to be like a reincarnated Bill Haley in a fantastic show at the 100 Club in London



Too Tough to Live (2012)
Infectious lo-fi mini-album from Birmingham, Alabama-based singer-songwriter Dan Sartain, which merges late 50's rock 'n' roll with a punk edge
Lives (2010)
Join Dan Sartain (2007)
Dan Sartain Vs The Serpientes (2006)

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