Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Brad Kopplin
It's in the timbre that we're often most deceived, for if you give the kindest soul enough rope and ample time, they'll find a way to hang themselves. They could be candy-coated, but that's nothing to a fire or a heady demonstration by the powerful lure of the dark exigencies. I'm frequently reminded that the nicest people sometimes do the worst things imaginable. A great man or a great woman will almost always let you down or just devour you. People don't gum, they bite and leave puncture wounds that require hours of stitches and staples to fix up. When a human wants to hurt, they're willing to work alone and get all punitive. But it's not that clean-cut. It's not a slam dunk.
The shades of gray are the ones we fall for regularly and they're the ones that David Karsten Daniels labors with on his latest album, Sharp Teeth. Jesus - his notation for the goodness - and the devil - his notation for the bitter side of human nature - are amorphous contraptions that he uses as mirages, substitutions for one another, as one would butter and margarine. The differences are technical, existing this way for most people who struggle with the subtleties of black and white.
Daniels explores the way in which man is most animalistic, when in love. For as wholesome and as endearing a notion as it can be, the love that is most abundant is the kind that backfires and spins out, chucking rapid-fire pieces of gravel at your face and eyes, leaving scars, taking off skin and chipping teeth. There are plenty of moments on Sharp Teeth when the love is over and even in those places where there should be civility, the choice to go the opposite route wins out frequently. He sings in "Scripts," "Even when we give a laugh, it's bittersweet and smug," and there's a painful realization that we typically have to choose to act properly. And then, it's just an act.
People are for themselves, priding themselves on survival at all costs. They survive breakups. They survive an accident. They survive uncertainty. They survive themselves. Evolution has made surviving easier to do, but there's still a romanticizing of that survival, all-for-one gene in everything with warm skin and a beating thing under the ribs. People will do what's best for them and pawn it off as a sensitive gesture. They'll love and make it look authentic, but when the chips are down or when there's something potentially better to be had, they've long ago memorized all of the closest exit doors and they're prepared to let the claws flash should anything impede them.
Daniels is a thoughtful chronicler of these conditions that reside in the soul's coffers and he delivers his own passionate rendition of the most likely aftermaths. We can be assured that there will be destruction disguised as the only way out and confusion seen as a harmless demise, incisive and bloody. We can all be a part of the problem, like it or not, believe it or not.
The Daytrotter interview:
*Is it fair to say that Sharp Teeth is a less personal record than the record that preceded it? What was life like during the writing periods for both?*
David Karsten Daniels: Well, I don't know about less personal but Sharp Teeth is certainly far less confessional than Angles. Angles was written during/after a big breakup. I was sort of shooting from the hip then; and the songs on Angles were written pretty close together, so the viewpoints are more consistent than on Sharp Teeth. Also, Sharp Teeth took a long time. And after having to play those songs out live, I was interested in putting out music that was (lyrically, anyway) a little more mysterious, subtle and non-specific. I think the songs can do more for the listener that way.
*The cover of Sharp Teeth is gruesome. Is that you with the intestines wrapped around your arm? You don't seem like the type. You're nicer than that.*
DKD: Beth Tacular, a painter from Raleigh painted the cover. It's not me on the cover, at least not in my mind or hers. The record is about the animal part of Man, the survival instinct. The cover shows two monsters/beasts/people/creatures. It's winter, food is scare. They are doing what they know how to do so that they can survive.
*Sara suggested in her thank you note that our home was an "oasis in a sea of pot houses." Do you tend to bunk down in shitholes often?*
DKD: Well, we're out with Mice Parade right now, so the crowds are bigger than the previous tour and the hotels more numerous. But yeah, sometimes on tour to save money we stay with people we meet. It's very kind of these strangers/new friends to open their houses to us. But sometimes they're on a different schedule than we are. The drives were really long when we went out West, so we usually needed to crash right after the shows. Sometimes our new friends want to stay up all night partying. I suppose that's what you're supposed to do when you go on tour. But we were pretty weak/sick/sleep deprived most of the time so it's always nice staying with somebody who goes to bed a little earlier; at least when you're doing those long Midwest/West Coast drives.
*Did you play Little League?*
DKD: Ha! Good question. Me and David Crawford (drummer for that tour) used to play on Aranof. They were (are?) a realty company in Montgomery, Ala., (where he and I grew up). We wore black jerseys they bought for us and stood in the outfield and in the sweaty summer and generally waited to get yelled at by the coach. I remember at the end of the games, the two teams used to form two lines and walk toward each other, slapping hands and saying "good game....good game...good game..." as the kids passed each other. I used to think I was really getting the best of them by saying "bad game" instead. (I wasn't very nice then!)
*How do you differentiate between Jesus and the Devil, personally? I think it's something you think about or have thought about it.*
DKD: Well, first off, that song isn't literally about Jesus and the Devil. It's just a song about right and wrong and whether or not that really exists. I spend too much time thinking about moral codes, where they come from, and what they are worth....using 'Jesus' or 'the Devil' is just a simple way to try to illustrate those thoughts.
*How was that long drive from here to Missoula? Bitchin?*
DKD: Oh man...we drove 26 hours. It was supposed to be 20, but somehow our directions were off. On top of that, we added an hour by taking a 3 a.m. break at Mt. Rushmore (it was foggy though, so we couldn't see anything). Also the blizzard we hit in Montana didn't help too much either...
*Tell me about the collective you have there. How helpful is it to have a group of musicians to feed off of and be able to count on for things? John was explaining it and it seemed great.*
DKD: I live in a house with Perry Wright and Alex Lazara (the Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers). Daniel Hart (the Physics of Meaning) lives there too. In addition, John Ribo (Kapow! Music) comes over sometimes to record his music as well. There are a bunch of other folks that contribute as well: Sara Morris sings or plays bass in a few groups. Dylan Thurston (Eyes to Space) helps me and Daniel out with drums sometimes. A collective is better than a band in that it's somewhat amorphous. People can come in and out as they need. Relationships can change. And there is always a wealth of feedback/criticism of the constructive sort. People get a chance to have projects that they are very invested in and projects that are just for fun. We share gear, gigs - it's symbiotic.
*Is drummer David always talking about how he was in the audience at SNL and Letterman? What's his best story?*
DKD: Ha, yes he has a lot of stories and he tells them often. His favorite is meeting Elle McPherson and playing drums on the Disney Channel. He says the Disney program was watched by 55 million people, but I dispute that number. If ever we have an argument about his drumming he reminds me that "55 million people can't be wrong!"
*Where did you grow up? What would be the most appealing reason for going back?*
DKD: I was born in the Texas Panhandle, where I accidentally shut a cat's tail in the door. The tail came off and the cat lived. It was then I discovered guilt. I live in North Carolina at the moment, but at some point I'll probably move back to Texas. Probably not Dallas, where I went to high school, cause the sprawl and traffic is just devastating. But, Austin or Marfa perhaps. I really like those cities and the people I've met there. Galveston is cool too. It's a halfway crappy beach town on the Gulf Coast, but it's totally unassuming and I like that.
*Were you into monsters? Are you into monsters?*
DKD: Mmmm, not monsters so much. But I'm in love with sharks and terrified of crocodiles. Sara Morris (female voice on Sharp Teeth, touring bassist, and former biology teacher) exposed me to the fish that live at the bottom of the ocean. For example, the Angler fish is just fascinating. When I was young I watched the first two Planet of the Apes movies, and I could not sleep for weeks. I re-watched all five of them a few years back and they are still so scary to me.
*What are you reading these days?*
DKD: The other night in Chicago, my booking agent just gave me A Prayer for Owen Meany. I don't know anything about that book, but his endorsement is good enough for me. I hope to put a dent in it on the plane ride over to London next week.
*What do you do for relaxation?*
DKD: At home, I try to do yoga, but I find that I pay attention to the music too much. So, I tried to start working on my own yoga music, like way more chilled, less distracting and much slower moving. Sort of like Brian Eno, slowed way, way down. The only problem is eventually I was just making the music and forgetting to do the yoga. On tour, I can never find enough time to relax, so I just wash the van windows at every gas station, whether or not they need washing. It's repetitive, simple, hard to fail, yet productive AND soothing.