Oct 2015 29

Dan Clark invites ReGen into the inner workings of The Dark Clan, with insights into the band’s numerous musical endeavors and just what fans should be looking for in the state of the new art.
 
The Dark Clan

 

An InterView with Dan Clark of The Dark Clan

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Ever the musical enigma, The Dark Clan has never exhibited any sense of fear or trepidation at incorporating whatever style tickles the band’s fancy. Led by the immensely talented Dan Clark, The Dark Clan has showcased equal parts musical versatility and virtuosity with a healthy dose of nerdy humor and in-your-face attitude. Having closely associated with fellow Sonic Mainliners Caustic, Everything Goes Cold, Null Device, and The Gothsicles over the years, The Dark Clan has now found a new home with Jim Semonik’s Distortion Productions for the release of Hall of Fame, the band’s first release of original material since 2010; that’s not to say The Dark Clan has been languishing in silence or obscurity since then, continuing to release music in various formats, all the while the members cultivating their individual talents with other projects. Hall of Fame, however, showcases the band and its tightest – now settled into a cover three-piece lineup headed by Clark, this new album is perhaps the band’s most thematically consistent and lyrically poignant ever, while still losing none of the humor that many associate with The Dark Clan. Taking some time out from his numerous musical outlets, Dan Clark now speaks with ReGen Magazine on the band’s trials and tribulations over the years, culminating in this latest album, along with a truly independent musician’s outlook on the music industry and the state of art over commerce.

 

Your newest album, Hall of Fame comes five years since The Dark Clan’s last release; what can you tell us about your activity during the interim? What have you been up to?

Clark: Oh, plenty. The Dark Clan put out a covers album in 2012 and a three song EP in 2013, along with some singles and compilation tracks. Back then, we had a drummer and a violinist in the band and I really wanted to do a full-length with them, but they moved away before I could finish the writing, so I settled for the aforementioned EP. What I didn’t expect was how much losing those band members would take the wind out of my sails – it really crushed me. I had a lot invested in their skill and talent and was enjoying their contributions and the extra options for orchestration that they presented, and sort of subconsciously had built a good portion of the album concept and music around their presence. So losing them, well… I just needed some time to reset things and figure out what I wanted to do instead. I had invested more of my heart in them than I knew, and it took me a while to recover.

In addition to that, I started a couple new bands and did some one-off side projects that were lots of fun. In 2012, Andrew Sega (of IRIS) and I formed The Mighty Chouffe, so we could release the five song West Town EP, which is a celebration of all the great times we had as musicians working in West Town in Chicago from 2006-2010. Eric Oehler (of Null Device) and I have a side project called Justin Vernon’s Goddamn Cabin and we did our debut EP in 2013. I also started a symphonic power metal band called Magma Dragon, and we dropped our debut full-length in 2014. I did a lot of writing on the new Am.psych album, and we’re just a few vocal tracks from having that finished. John Verbos and I have a solid record ready and are really eager to share it with everyone. I’m hoping to get that out next year. Besides Am.psych, I did some other mixing, mastering, and production work in that time period too, though I stopped taking new clients back in 2012 or so. I was so swamped with audio work for other artists that it took me a full six months to clear my backlog. In terms of side projects, I most recently put out my first EP as Postilion and Dream Horses, and am currently working on a full-length jazz album, which is a mix of Latin jazz and bop. That project is tentatively titled Milwaukee Jazz Authority. Both of these last two projects I’m doing with vocalists from Studio Pros in L.A., who are just ridiculously great.
Outside of music, I spend a lot of time doing tabletop RPGs, with Pathfinder being my current game of choice. I pretty much always GM the games, and, in fact, entered the Iron GM championships at GenCon last year and this year. I am just ridiculously proud to report that last year, I placed second, and this year I won the whole thing! I love, love, love GM’ing, so to get that kind of recognition, and to be the world champ, is really huge for me – both gratifying and humbling at the same time.

In what ways do you feel – either lyrically, technically, or just conceptually – your experiences in these last five years has culminated in the material presented on Hall of Fame?

Clark: For whatever reason, the last five years I’ve seen a lot of my friends deal both with terrible illnesses and substance addiction. I lost two friends to suicide and almost lost three others. I watched (and helped best I could) friends struggle with depression, body dysmorphia, and bi-polar disorder. I also watched a half-dozen people go through fights with substance abuse. These events all directly influenced the songs ‘That One Friend Almost Every Night,’ ‘Nijmah,’ ‘Pakas Taabarats,’ and ‘Nou Nou Pak.’ ‘That One Friend…,’ in particular, deals with alcoholism. I was inspired by a lot of the artists on the Electronic Saviors compilations, and guys like Jim Semonik, Brian Graupner, and Eric Gottesmann, who all do incredible work dealing with really heavy topics without resorting to the usual clichés of being mopey or maudlin or histrionic. So yeah, it’s cool how The Gothsicles and Rein[Forced] and whichever of Gottesmann’s 293,749,237 bands that he writes for can tackle heavy subjects with both humor and dignity, and I wanted to try it, too.

On the other side of the coin, the last five years have seen a number of friends of mine become parents, which in every case was something they very much wanted, so it was always a joyous occasion. Also, having just mentioned all the various struggles many of my friends faced, all of them have since found some kind of balance and forward progress and are currently dealing with things very well. On top of that, I had a number of amusing and thought-provoking encounters and conversations with these same friends about life, love, aging, and illness. These things all led to songs like ’40 Is the New Sexx,’ ‘Homecoming,’ ‘Kayakoy,’ and ‘Danser Comme Un Bebe.’
So yeah, lots going on, and as always, all of it finds its way into my music in some way, shape, or form.

Past albums have usually featured a revolving door of guests and regular contributors, while Hall of Fame seems to find the band stripped down to the trio of you, Mercy, and Lane; was there any particular reason for this?
In what ways do you feel this configuration strengthened the material on Hall of Fame?

Clark: That’s a really good observation. I think a big part of it was just my sheer frustration trying to keep drummers in the band – they all kept leaving! After the last one left, I decided I’d had enough and was going to work with the people I could count on, who are Mercy and Lane. It’s a strong and reliable lineup that does everything I need the band to do, and using just the three of us on the album also allows our live show to be much more similar to our recorded material, which I think will make everyone happier.

As for guest artists, one of my big issues that I always struggle with is assuming that just because someone has asked me to do work, they like me; I conflate collaboration and approval. I know a big reason why I do this, too; I myself regularly ask to collaborate with people I like and think are cool, and so in a classic example of ‘we assume of others what we know of ourselves,’ I assumed the feeling was reciprocated, which is of course a big mistake; maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t. To a lot of those people, I was probably just asking them to do work, you know? I was being a pain in the ass. Also, I was getting my collaboration jones from all the side projects and other bands, so I didn’t feel any particular impetus to do any collaboration in TDC.
Lastly, I’ve been so divorced from the scene that TDC used to be part of (however peripherally) that I don’t feel I have the acumen or political capital to ask anyone. Studio Pros kind of solves that need for me these days, anyway.

 

 

While the new album is available as ‘Name Your Price’ item on Bandcamp, The Dark Clan has released the album with Jim Semonik’s Distortion Productions; what are your thoughts on the rise of online outlets like Bandcamp through which artists and labels are able to release music more directly?

Clark: Oh, I love them. I mean, at this point in my erstwhile music career it’s beyond obvious that I’ll never make a living doing music, I’ll never be famous… hell, I’ll never even be popular. I’ll never… I mean, there are a lot of things I’ll ‘never’ in terms of music. I’m far more interested in just being heard than anything else, and the SoundClouds and Bandcamps and TuneCores and Spotifys of the world make that way easier for a nobody like me than it has ever been. Aesop Rock has a great thyme in his track ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ where he says, ‘Are we supporting the artist or enabling the addict? / I mean, I guess it matters to me / I wish it mattered to you,’ and that’s always really resonated with me when it comes to questions of artist compensation and, indeed, of just making art in general.
But with regard to Distortion Productions in general, my approach of ‘just get the music out there’ meshes well with Jim’s more measured and thoughtful approach of actually doing promotion and distribution – I’m definitely learning a lot and look forward to future releases with them. I really like the way they do things and consider myself extraordinarily fortunate they chose to add me to their roster.

There does seem to be a conventional wisdom that labels are still necessary for distribution purposes. Firstly, do you find this to be true?
Secondly, in what ways do you feel this applies to your experience with Distortion Productions so far?

Clark: I agree with you that that is the conventional wisdom, and it does seem to be true, though maybe more for physical product than digital. I suppose if the label with which a given artist is associated has a good contact network in general, then they can use it to boost digital sales, as well. I guess I feel that it comes down to not just distributors, but contacts; the overall network the label has, and how comfortable they are promoting their artists’ work via their own networks. It’s all who you know, right?
As for Distortion, I know Jim and Chase and the crew haven’t hesitated to use every means at their disposal to promote all their artists, and are tireless champions of music they love, so I’ve definitely seen benefit from their involvement. I know not every artist is so lucky, but I’ve been fortunate. Every label The Dark Clan has ever been on – Sonic Mainline, DLVN, Radio-Active-Music, and now Distortion – they’ve all been incredible to us, and I’m honored.

Because of the wider availability of music via the internet, and presenting a wide range of styles as you do, have you found that there is a greater willingness on the part of audiences to engage in different kinds of music outside of straightforward genre divisions?

Clark: I find that it makes it easier for people to engage with our music on a track-by-track level, that’s for sure, but I don’t know if it wins us many fans who like our albums as wholes. From what I’ve seen, folks tend to find a song or a few songs of ours they really like and just dig on those, and they talk about them and share them quite a lot; they cherry pick from our discography, which is of course, totally rad with me. I’ve received feedback from plenty of lovely people who say they love our albums because of their variety, which is always very gratifying, but I also get a lot of confused reactions from people, too. Maybe people prefer to make their own playlists or mixes or whatever and so our genre-hopping is annoying because it makes it tougher to catalog us on an album level? I’m guessing here; I really have no idea. When it comes down to it, we tend to get two kinds of feedback from fans; they either say ‘I love this one track of yours!’ or ‘I love your music!’ with pretty much nothing in between. As long as I know that at least someone is listening, I’m happy. I mean, to be perfectly frank, our listening numbers are minuscule. For example, in the last month, we’ve had seven listens per day on Bandcamp and two per day on SoundCloud. I don’t have numbers on iTunes or Amazon or Spotify or Pandora or the other big ones, but I’d guess it’s even lower. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who already own our music and listen that way, but my gut tells me that if my band is seeing numbers that low, we’re dealing with a very, very small audience.
Anyway, I’ve gone on a bit of tangent, I’m afraid, and this is all by way of saying that I’m extremely thankful for every listen I get, and my small audience just makes me that much more thankful, whether it’s by album or single or what.

Being a musician and a producer and incorporating many different styles while also demonstrating great instrumental proficiency, what do you feel is (or should be) the next evolutionary step for music as a whole? This can apply to music as a business, as an art form, or whatever angle you feel you’d like to touch on…

Clark: Gosh that’s a great question. I guess the main thing I would love to see is a de-emphasis on the ‘fame lottery’ aspect of entertainment and more of an emphasis on music (and art in general, of course) as a way of life, as something that is its own reward, you know? Vonnegut’s famous quote: ‘The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow…’ Just because you can sing doesn’t mean you have to like be on The Voice or whatever, or even be in a band. Just enjoy it. Let it nurture you. I’d like to see more people focus on the state of the art and less on the state of artistic commerce. So many folks worry so much about whether Spotify is paying them 1/60 of a cent or 1/30 of a cent when maybe they should be worrying more about whether the music they’re making is even worth 1/30 of a cent. I’m being glib, here, of course, but I find that a lot of the stuff done for love and for the sake of making cool sounding music sounds every bit as good as the made-by-committee pro-grade music in the CD bins and on the bigger labels, and tends to be much more enjoyable for those involved in the process of making it.

Regarding your skills as a singer/performer/instrumentalist, what sort of regiment or routine do you follow to keep those skills sharp (y’know, besides practice, practice, practice… or is that all there is to it)?

Clark: Well, the three Ps are certainly the most important thing, that’s for sure, but I also think it’s important to have hungry ears and listen to and learn from everyone. Sometimes it’s tempting to latch on to one particular ‘old master’ or a specific genre, but the new generation of players has just as much to offer. Plus in regard to genre, just because you may not be thrilled about a particular style of music doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it. I think one of the best things about being a musician these days is the massive quantity of excellent learning materials that are out there, even just on YouTube, not to mention all the great paid content. There are so many great learning resources. It’s so exciting!

 

 

What’s next for you and The Dark Clan?

Clark: Magma Dragon has an EP about the Jaina and Arthas mythology from World of Warcraft that we’re going into the studio to record end of November; then, we’ll be starting on our second full-length right after that. I’m two songs into my jazz album, and have a second batch of Postilion and Dream Horses songs to start on. Things will be quiet for The Dark Clan for awhile, though we’ll still be releasing a new music video every month – we have one for every song on Hall of Fame. We’re hoping to do another short tour with our buddies in Null Device next spring or summer, but we’ll see. I don’t think there are very many people out there interested in Dark Clan shows, so I’m not sure if it makes any sense for us to play live. Time will tell.

 

The Dark Clan
Website, Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Photography provided courtesy of The Dark Clan

 

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