By: Sarah L. Myers

Almost two years ago a small article in NME led me to Dan Sartain. The Western-style headline shouted “The Newest Outlaw in Town.” The man in focus stood before a old beater with an acoustic guitar in his hand and dark glasses on his drawn, pale face. I had to read international music magazines to find this Birmingham, Alabama, native, and now it seems the rest of the world is catching up. A stint on the road with Ukrainian gypsy punk animals Gogol Bordello has certainly exposed Sartain to his type of audience - devout and loyal extremists. His first record, Dan Sartain Vs. The Serpientes, mashed punk, rockabilly, mamba, surf, and garage. Join Dan Sartain (Swami Records) serves up jukebox jamboree boogies, mariachi melodies, and delicate strings against lyrics too honest and tragic for a 25-year-old.

I sat down with Sartain backstage before his show at the Metro in Chicago. After we finished talking about horror flicks, Transformers, and Alice Cooper, we reached the scheduled questions.

What changes did you go through between the first and second records? The sound is a lot different, production wise. The first record sounds a little busier, and there are a lot of additions to it.

That first record is about three years old and by the time it got out, some of the material was almost two years old by the time it got out. So it’s just been a lot of time difference. I’m just kind of better at doing what I was doing then. We recorded this new one in just as many different places but it doesn’t sound as chopped up because, the first record I recorded a lot of it in Alabama with just a four track. And all these low-fi kids got into it, you know? So it was one of those things. And with the new one, the only complaint that I’ve heard from anybody is that it’s not low-fi enough, but it’s like...

when I was doing all those low-fi recordings, I had to. I was poor, I was like nineteen, twenty years old. I’m twenty-five now. And I was living at my parents house, and I had to. I was poor. That was all I had to record with, and I made it, and they were charming, and some of them turned out pretty good. So it was good, it was honest. But it’s like, if I kept recording on this shitty old equipment it would be like forced to be low-fi. It would like be trying to sound bad on purpose. I’m not gonna do that.

How did the “Cobras” trilogy on the first record come about? Had you written the songs that way?

I wrote the first “Cobras”, and it was good. It’s still one of my best songs, I always play it. I wrote it and then I started writing the second one. And I didn’t sit down with the purpose of writing the second one, but then I realized the subject matter was about the same thing. So I realized I had three songs that were the same subject matter.

Tell me a little about your imagery. On your first record, you’re shown hanging from a noose. On Join Dan Sartain you’re shooting yourself.

That’s a good question. I just kind of think that if you appear morbid… I mean, I’m not going to go as far as to put Misfits skulls on things. I mean, I like the Misfits, but not really going for that Horror Rock thing, but it’s like if you’re kind of morbid, you can sell more stuff. I mean, Tupac sold more dead, and Jim Morrison sold more dead. So maybe I can have the best of both worlds if I appear dead touring the tour.

In reading about you, it seems like everyone always comes back to that. You’re always referred to as the new Man in Black, Horror Rockabilly. Everyone always says you look like you’re dead!

Yeah, I do. (I went tanning because) I just kind of wanted to turn orange, and I do look gaunt sometimes, and skinny. But we were washing clothes, me and my wife were washing clothes at the landromat, and there was a tanning booth there, and I’d never done that before and I had a bunch of time to kill. So I went into the tanning booth, and I went in for twenty minutes, and now I’m burned. So I’ve got this shade of burn all over my whole body now. I thought I’d be funny right before I went on tour if I turned myself orange.

How did you discover the older music that inspires you? Not just country and rockabilly, but surf rock and hip hop?

Well, my parents were kind of hippies, you know? I mean, my mom saw Hendrix in his time, and all this stuff. And my dad’s completely nuts about Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and all this stuff. And I like some of that stuff, too, but you know, when I was like 13, 14 years old it’s like, “How do you rebel against hippie parents?” They’re pretty liberal. If I came home and told them I was gay, they probably wouldn’t be shocked or disappointed. It was like, “How do I rebel against these hippie parents?” I got into rockabilly music, pretty much, started greasing my hair back, and looking like what they were rebelling against! So it was kind of that.


October 2007 : An interview with Dan Sartain

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