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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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…
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.
Photography provided courtesy of The Dark Clan