[Interview] Dan Lotti of DANGERMUFFIN: Positive Grooves and a Preview of The New Album
It was ten years ago when lead singer/guitarist Dan Lotti, along with Mike Sivilli (electric guitar) and Jim Donnely (now Steven Sandifer, bass/percussion) began a new adventure filled with existential bliss and surrealism. Today with the addition of Markus Helander on drums, this groovy four-piece band continues to impress with dream-like melodies and heartfelt lyrics that encompass a love for nature, humanity, and music itself. Dangermuffin is a truly unique band bursting with positive energy that revels in fun. I sat down recently with lead singer Dan Lotti to discuss the group’s new album, Heritage, available March 31, and their upcoming show this Thursday night at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta.
Dangermuffin is certainly a unique name for a band. Where did you come up with it and what is its significance?
Well, it’s been with us for about a decade now. It started out as a name that we chose to keep things light-hearted; it was kind of silly for us at first. We were a little crazier back then, so we just sort of came up with that name. It’s interesting, though, over the years, how it developed into a moniker of our own original artistic effort. It’s become this really cool logo that’s very iconic… we had this t-shirt design a few years back a friend of ours did featuring the garden of Eden; it’s got Eve and she’s at the tree of knowledge, and she’s picking a muffin off of the tree (laughs).
Some of my favorite songs like “Cicada," “Lady of Fire,” and “Ancient Golden Star," have very playful lyrics and metaphors about nature and the cosmos. Is that an association that materializes organically for you as you write, and what connection, if any, do you feel toward the universe?
For me, the whole artistic process is rooted in a sort of spiritual practice. I’m not outwardly yogic, but every single day I’m involved in a yogic practice of meditation and stretching. I think that practice inevitably breathes and inspires the music. It opens you up to a lot of different perspectives. Sometimes when writing lyrics I’ll hear a melody, and then there be words already attached to that melody in my mind that I can’t get away from for whatever reason (laughs).
That was the case with “Ancient Golden Star." I was kind of digging around and researching, formulating the concept if you will. And I sort of realized that the lyric I was playing around with was loosely connected to Native American mythology and traditions. There are a couple Native American tribes for instance that believed they are from a collection of stars called the Pleiades. And I’m familiar with some of the new age association with that sort of thing, but I was unaware and really impressed that it was a very old area of importance for some of the Native traditions in this country. So that’s where that song came from. There was one star in particular that was very important to them, so our song is kind of like a metaphor for putting that star up above us, having it shine and lead the way while looking back on those Shamanic roots. Which is definitely a theme in our new record, and it’s something that’s ever evolving.
Can you tell us a little about your new album Heritage, which comes out Friday, March 31?
Yeah! I mean, I would continue that previous thought, because I think a lot of it is a personal journey of mine, sort of where I’m at lyrically. I would add here the other band members bring a lot to the table musically, so it’s a very collective effort. But when it comes to the lyrical content, I’m sort of the one putting that stuff together, so that’s the perspective for it. I think we’re in an interesting spot in our world. There’s a lot of friction that’s not really going away; it’s just kind of manifesting in different things in our society. I think we really have to get at the root of the problem. Way back in the day we used to have these methods of helping people to heal, by cleaning the psyche out through Shamanic traditions. And now, we just have pharmaceuticals (laughs).
Everybody is traumatized, and we don’t really realize it, but I think the number one thing that’s going to heal us is the music, and coming together as a community in that regard. So that’s what this album is about. It starts by asking the questions, “where are we from?” and “what’s our heritage?” And then you go from song to song and it begins to reveal itself through natural vibrations and energy, showing that everyone has a relation to the ocean, and the sun. So we use those natural archetypes to connect with everyone on a really deep level, and help to show people that they are a part of it all. But we try to keep it casual. There are a lot of great spiritual movements going on, but our approach is we want to be casual, not insisting upon ourselves, but framing the songs in a light way so people can just enjoy the melody and the theme. And if they want to dig deeper, there’s so much there, and they’re welcome to it.
Some would say you guys are strictly a jam band, but that can mean many things. I also hear a sampling of folk, blues, and reggae influence. Do you find it hard to place a specific category on your brand of music, and how would you best describe it?
I really like the word roots. I think that folk music and traditions are always about people, one way or another. A lot of the grooves that we play and that Dangermuffin has always embodied are very eclectic, and we love to play all different styles. That’s sort of who we are as Americans, but Americana is not just country anymore; we really have all these influences from many different directions of amazing music. And if you’re rooting them in the awareness of any varying traditions, you make music that is organic, and that’s where we like to be. We’ve had some decent success within the “jam-band” genre/world, and we appreciate the music communities around that, but I definitely think there’s more. The songs increasingly take the center stage.
You guys obviously play a lot of festivals- where can we catch you this spring and summer?
We’re really excited that we’ve been breaking into the west coast and Northern California. There’s one that we’re really looking forward to out in Grass Valley, California called The Strawberry Music Festival. So we’re stoked about that. We have played a lot of large festivals in the past, where we’ve had early time slots (laughs) so it’s nice to be on smaller events where you have your set a little bit later, and are more prominently featured.
But we’re playing all different kinds of shows. Some are festivals, and some are club gigs. Anytime we can play outside, we all prefer that as it helps the vibe. It’s always about that for us man… we’re just trying to create a vibe for ourselves. I kind of go through this healing process when I sing a song or perform, and it seems to be the case that people are picking up on that vibe and feeling it for themselves, and having a similar experience. That’s kind of what we’re looking for.
You guys perform great covers, “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison comes to mind, do you have a favorite song cover you’ve taken on?
There are certain songs that move us quite a bit; certainly a couple Grateful Dead tunes we like to do, and Pink Floyd as well. We get into some traditional bluegrass stuff, a little Doc Watson. For live shows we’ve been playing a version of “Jump in the Line” by Harry Belafonte for years, and we even segway into some Bob Marley, who’s obviously the greatest ever, so if we can find a spot to pay homage to him we try to do that when we can.
You are performing at Smith’s Olde Bar this Thursday in Atlanta. For someone who has never experienced one of your shows, what can I expect?
A good energy; just a good vibe. People can come enjoy and leave feeling a little bit better. That’s what we hope. It’s laid back, not in a sleepy kind of way, but sort of just being able to kick back and enjoy the songs. It really becomes about the community for us. We’ve played in Atlanta quite a few times over the years, and it’s a contrast to where we’re coming from; I’m way up in the sticks of North Carolina and the band is from Folly Beach, S.C., so cities for us seem like a head scratcher. But we just hope to play and establish a pocket of goodness, and for anybody who wants to hang out and be a part of that, we would welcome them with open arms.
Photos by Sean Money/Elizabeth Fay