From the very first sound of electronic deliciousness, you just know The Dark Clan is going to be a soundscape experience and you are not disappointed. The trio of Dan Clark, Lane Ellen, and Mercy Skye bring you their darkly luscious, sometimes humorous brand of “dance, swoon, and drum-n-bass meets shoegaze.” It’s definitely different, effortlessly engaging, and fabulously vamp-y.
The Dark Clan was created by the talented Dan Clark in 1998. When one of The Dark Clan’s tracks received some success and he was offered live gigs, Dan knew it was time to put together a live band and bring his music to the masses. Since 2005, that is what he has done with albums such as The Vampire Wore White and Fade/Dance Magic Dance.
I had a chance to ask Dan some questions about The Dark Clan and his musical career in general. Here is what he had to say:
SM: Before I say anything else, let me say that I really like your stuff. I found it instantly engrossing and very catchy. How did The Dark Clan start? What were you doing before you started TDC? And do very many people notice the band name is a play on your name?
DC: Thank you so much for the kind words, glad you dig the tunes! ^_^
The Dark Clan started in 1998 because I was teaching myself how to write and record electronic music like what Crystal Method and Prodigy and Chemical Brothers were doing. Seriously the first few songs I wrote were total knockoffs of songs like “Setting Sun” and “Keep Coming Back” and “Smack My Bitch Up.” Well, except I had no idea what I was doing at that point so things didn’t sound very good, but it was fun to do, and a pleasant break from the other stuff I was doing.
My overall background is: I’ve been making music since I was 5, and have been in gigging bands since I was 14. I remember there was a fuss at one of my first bar gigs; my age didn’t go over well with the bartender. She was all like “He can’t come in here OHMIGOD!” But I was in the band, so they at least had to let me in to play. I learned to keep a low profile to avoid that kind of thing going forward. But yeah; I started out in cover bands in high school, usually playing a few of my originals, then in college I was in a bunch of different bands; punk, funk, jazz, prog, lots of stuff. My degree is in Music — composition, to be precise, and my major instrument was voice, so I got to meet and work with all kinds of great musicians, which led to me playing around in pretty much every possible genre, which is probably a big part of why I still jump genres a lot.
Anyway, when I started TDC after college, I was already in a really busy, hard-working punk band, an arty metal band, and a gothy, industrial, kind-of glam band, and this is of course on top of some composition things I was still doing, and a day job, so I had a lot going on, but I really wanted to learn what the electronic guys were doing, and anyway there was a lot of other music I wanted to do that didn’t fit in with any of my other groups, so I started a solo project. I called it The Dark Clan because that was something that a couple dudes in high school tried calling me to make fun of me back in the day, you know, just being high school idiots, being like “Hey, it’s the Dark Clan! Hahaha! Dark Clan!” But they realized that “Dark Clan” was actually pretty cool, and it didn’t bother me at all, and no one used it to make fun of me, so they gave it up really fast, but I kept the name in the back of my head.
It’s funny — some people have gone years before realizing that Dark Clan is an anagram of Dan Clark. Others get it right away. I think the main thing is that if people see the two names next to each other in print, they tend to recognize it faster, but if they just hear “Dark Clan” it’s harder to make the connection.
SM: You categorize The Dark Clan as “dance, swoon, and drum-n-bass meets shoegaze.” As a fellow musician I know that it isn’t always easy to categorize your creations. How did you decide what elements to incorporate into The Dark Clan and would you say it is an evolving sound?
DC: Well, to be fair, that’s how I describe the Goths on a Boat EP in particular. The tagline I use to describe The Dark Clan sound in general is “Like Jimmy Eat World trying to stop the Dragonforce guys from stealing Postal Service’s lunch money.” Regardless, that is a totally excellent question.
I tend not to limit what I use, sonically, in TDC. For example, on our latest album, which is a double album called Fade/Dance Magic Dance, I’ll go from a song like Anthem, which is just straight-up pop-punk, to Jus Sanguinis, which is Euro majestic metal, to sex sex sex sex sex, which is like UK funky breaks, to Old Blue Quarry which is all congas, tablas, triangle, rainstick, etc. All ethnic percussion. So really, I don’t limit my sonic palette at all; for me it’s more using those elements to contribute to the overall vibe of whatever track it is I’m currently working on. If there’s an overarching aesthetic to the music of TDC, I suppose it’s that I tend to work in broad gestures for that band. In terms of specific elements, TDC will always have lots of vocal harmonies, species counterpoint, guitar solos, and big booty-shaking beats, just not always necessarily in the same song at the same time, though I’ve certainly tried on occasion. 🙂
SM: You stated in your bio that the first few live gigs you ever played were just “you and an iPod.” Can you tell us a little more about that and why you decided to incorporate an actual live band into your shows?
DC: Hahahahaa! Ugh, yeah, the infamous iPod shows. I hated that. See, The Dark Clan was never really supposed to play live at all; I just started it as kind of a lab experiment and paid absolutely no heed to what it would take to do the songs live.
But then, in…man, was it 2005? I think it was 2005 a couple good friends — Jeff Seabright, who used to be a promoter here in the Milwaukee area, and Matt Fanale, who you may know as Caustic — asked me to play a couple shows after a couple of my songs got some pretty heavy club play here in the Midwest throughout 2004, after my first album as TDC came out. I was in Null Device at the time, and had just joined Stromkern, so I was way too busy with other things to get a full band together and do all the arranging that would have been involved and so I threw everything on an iPod. The shows were fun, don’t get me wrong, but after the second one I was like, okay, never again. I just felt so ridiculous up there all by myself singing and sometimes playing my guitar, with an iPod as my backing band doing, really, all the work. I mean, if I was doing most of the work and the iPod was just supplemental that would have been one thing, but the iPod was definitely doing the heavy lifting, so it was basically karaoke where I had written all the music, and that’s just not my thing. It works great for some folks, but I prefer a more “live” live experience.
When I got offered a slot at the 2007 Reverence festival in Madison, that was the final kick in the tail to get a band together. I’d just spent the last three-ish years playing and touring with Null Device and Stromkern so I had a lot of great contacts to help make it happen, and my chops were in great shape, so the time seemed right. And really, like I said, I’m a live playing guy first and foremost. I used to practice guitar and voice and piano and everything else for 8, 10 hours a day through high school and college so I’m comfortable working that way. In fact, a lot of times I’ll play a synth line instead of programming it ‘cos it’s just faster and I prefer the feel. I know that doesn’t make me all super unique or anything; I know others do it, too, I’m just using it as an example of my preference. I’d always rather have a full band and spend time making careful, thoughtful, effective song arrangements than just chuck everything on an iPod. It’s just my background and what I love to do. In other words, you can take a dude out of music school, but you can’t take music school out of a dude. Man, does that sound douchey? I’m sorry if it does. It probably does. Ugh.
SM: Where/how did you meet the people who are now in TDC with you?
DC: Mercy Skye (keys, vocals) is my girlfriend, and she I have been together a long time now: 14 years. We met in music school. She was a composition major, too, in addition to being a woodwind performance person and so we met in class and eventually started dating and then just stayed together. Ironically, she just officially joined the band in late 2008 and it’s the first time we’ve played in a band together, even though she’s a ridiculously talented musician; we were both always too busy with our own things to start a separate project together. Lane Ellen (keys, vocals) I met in a “friend-of-a-friend” kind of situation; I needed a new bassist or a second keyboard player who could also sing ‘cos I wanted a second lead singer, and Lane fit the bill. She’s also just amazingly talented. She wrote a bunch of lyrics on the new record, plus she’s a really skilled dancer, does some acting, has a terrific voice (as you can hear on our records), she does lots of stuff. Just a great person.
SM: What is your favorite live show you’ve done? Any interesting stories about that?
DC: Well, my favorite of all time probably happened in a different band, but still, man, there are a bunch of highlights for TDC; we did a gig in late 2008 with Wreckreation and ThouShaltNot in Pittsburgh, it was a show put on by the mighty Jim Semonik and it was just a blisteringly good time. A lot of the live tracks on our album Perspectives came from that show. But I guess I’d have to say now that our collective favorite show was our gig at The Engine Room in Tallahassee, FL this past July, on the Fading Belief tour. It was just one of those gigs where everything went right: the venue was awesome, the crew was amazing, the sound was godlike, the other bands were all good friends and amazing people, and the crowd was an absolute delight. I mean, some people flew in for that show; it was us and ThouShaltNot and Spider Lilies, another great band. it was just one of those “perfect storm” gigs where it was a storm of perfectness, and not like a storm that wrecks your boat. Also notable, to me, was that at the show, a bunch of members of the Cruxshadows and their social circle drove to the gig and even though they had an event to go to, and had probably come mostly to see their friends in Spider Lilies, they ALL stayed for the whole night, and I was just totally honored and flattered by that; they’re such an amazing and wonderful family of people.
SM: What do you try to communicate to the audience when you are on stage?
DC: E N E R G Y !! Energy, energy, energy. I mean, I try to use gesture and facial expression to complement the message of each song as well of course, but mostly I just want to exude energy. I love being up there, on stage, it’s the only time in my life I’m totally comfortable and happy, so I want to share that joy and energy with everyone who came to see the show.
SM: Do you have a favorite album that TDC has released? If so, what is it and why?
DC: Well, our latest album (again, Fade/Dance Magic Dance) is my definite favorite because it’s our best-written and best-sounding album and because so many friends, like Donna from Ego Likeness and Brittany from I:Scintilla and Eric from Null Device and Matt from Caustic and darkNES from the Gothsicles and Jai from Sensuous Enemy and Patricia Wake and SO MANY MORE! all came through with such ridiculously great guest performances that really the whole album just lines right up with what I had conceived it to be months before I started putting it together and I still love listening to it, even after spending so much time with it both recording and then touring it.
BUT! I also have to say that the Goths on a Boat EP really holds a special place in my heart because it’s so focused and so effective. It is exactly what it needs to be, it does exactly what it sets out to do, and then it gets out. It really came out delightfully well.
SM: Some of the music seems darkly humorous, like the song Goths On A Boat. I love that. Is that something that just comes naturally to you and do you find people respond negatively or positively to it?
DC: Oh it’s very natural. I’ve always loved artists who can be serious and funny in the same record. Honestly it’s one of the things that drew me to hip-hop at an early age: in middle school I listened to Run-DMC’s Louder Than Hell over and over and over and those guys go back and forth between being all clownin’ and being serious as a heart attack and that was so amazing to me. Zappa, too. Man, talk about mixing in humor. But anyway, I always loved that kind of stuff.
I was talking with br0d from b00le a while back about how people react to goofy songs and serious songs in the same record and he had a great quote. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said: “people get worked up if you try to have funny songs and serious songs and sad songs on the same album. They want you to just be one emotion or another, but in life people aren’t like that. Real, complete, mature human beings aren’t like that. We all have a lot of emotions in us so it’s only natural our music would have a lot of emotions in it if it is to be an honest expression of ourselves.” I stick to that.
I’m glad you like the humor! Most people, actually, respond positively. In fact I’ve had a couple folks tell me “man, don’t ever start taking yourself too seriously; keep making that funny shit, keep it tongue-in-cheek.” I think people get more annoyed with self-important artists who are all capital-S serious than they do with artists who crack a joke sometimes. And let’s face it; in this day and age, we all need all the laughs we can get, so I’m always happy to help people out in that regard if I can.
SM: Speaking of Goths On A Boat, I read that it is now sort of a “theme song” for the now-famous annual Goth Cruise sponsored by Vampirefreaks.com . How did that come about and how do you feel about it?
DC: Oh man, there’s no “sort of” about it, when Zaida at All Genre Travel got the song she put it on the agency’s MySpace and they spun the track a billion times in the boat’s dance club, they put it on the free compilation CD all the passengers got, it really /was/ the theme! Or at least it was for that year.
That track came about, quite frankly, because Kassi from Cruciform Injection is a super cool and nice person. Seriously. We did a show with them at Darkroom in Chicago — it was a famous David Schock/WTII records showcase show — and she overheard Lane and I strategizing on how best to speed up our changeover and offered to let us use some of her gear to make things faster. So I thanked her and said “hey, I owe you one.” And she said “no you don’t.” And I said “no, no, it’s cool! I totally owe you one.” And she said, out of the blue, “okay, write me a song.” Now, for me, writing a song is easier than doing the laundry, so I was all about it. I asked her what she wanted the song to be about, and at that point Cruciform already knew they were going to be playing the Gothic Cruise so she said “write it about goths. On…on a boat. Goths on a boat.” So really the title came from her, too.
We were on a short tour at that point, but I started working out some ideas in my head, and then as soon as we got back I went into the studio and started laying down tracks. I knew it /had/ to be super dancey, but also Gothic, plus I started imagining the story of what it must be like for different fans of different subgenres to be on a boat with so many different bands and cool things to do, and it just kind of wrote itself. Honestly the hardest part was keeping the song short, there were so many lyrical and musical possibilities open to me.
So yeah, I LOVE the fact that AGT used it as a theme song. I think it’s great!
SM: Who would you say are some of your musical inspirations for The Dark Clan?
DC: Oh, everybody, anybody. I tend to distill whatever I need/like from everything I listen to. For example in our old song “Beauty” there’s a line from Bach’s “Die Kunst der Fuge” in the breakdown, and I quote both Ani DiFranco and Charles Baudelaire in the lyrics. On our album “The Vampire Wore White,” I do a version of a Bach two-part invention with Andrew Sega (of Iris/Alpha Conspiracy), and there’s a Tori Amos quote in our song Fade on the new album. Jus Sanguinis and Aged & Evil are influenced by Within Temptation, DeLain, Epica, Leave’s Eyes, bands like that. Old Blue Quarry is influenced by Tom Waits, Silent K (also on the new record) is influenced by The Atomica Project and Portishead and Halou. Anthem and Seething Under Smiles are heavily influenced by Jimmy Eat World and Run Kid Run. Maybe You Fall was inspired by The Weakerthans and Patricia Wake, who also sang on it. On Goths on a Boat, the song Starwash is my attempt at fusing KJ Sawka DnB with shoegaze guitars. On Vampire Wore White, Look To The Night is straight-up show tunes.
So yeah; pretty much whatever I can get my hands on. You get the idea. 🙂
SM: How would you say TDC has evolved as a band and for you personally?
DC: For me personally I guess the main thing is the production value. I was just learning some of the things that I’m now much more experienced at in terms of mixing, mic techniques, synth and drum programming, all that kind of stuff. I’m constantly working on improving my skills as a songwriter and as a player and singer, too, of course, but I was a lot farther along in those areas than I was as an audio engineer when I started working on Dark Clan music.
As a band, well, it’s gone from nothing to something; not an album, no radio or club play, not even a live show, to having six releases (1 double album, three full-lengths, and two EPs — oh and a couple singles, too), radio and club play quite literally all over the world, and touring nationally, occasionally sharing the stage with some reasonably big names. I also added two other permanent core members and have a rotating cast of amazing drummers, and really all that’s just in the last three years since I didn’t start seriously pushing The Dark Clan in any way until 2007. Before that it was all very low-key and local.
SM: Is there any particular message you want to get across with TDC?
DC: Yes! Big. Serious. Fun. The band puts a huge amount of effort into everything from writing the first note of a song to polishing the CD and prepping for tour, and we love every minute of it, all the hard work, and it’s a lot of serious work, but it’s also a lot of fun, and we like to be a band that you can take super seriously if you want to, or just have fun with, or both. But we like to go big; big hooks, big beats, big guitar solos, big fun.
SM: What’s next for The Dark Clan and Dan Clark?
DC: For The Dark Clan, right now we’re taking a little break from live shows, though we’re already booking some gigs for next spring. In July, as I mentioned earlier, we had the Fading Belief tour with our good friends in Null Device, and right now we’re working on a free split single to kind of celebrate the success of that tour with them that we’re both going to put up on our bandcamp sites, so it’ll be available as a download. We’re thinking by the holidays people will be able to get that. I’m still putting out random songs; I just released a free track called “Goals” that people can download from The Dark Clan Website. I’m working on my track for the Electronic Saviors 2 compilation; we were honored to have the first track on Disc 2 of the first ESav comp so we’re really excited to be getting a track together for the new one as well. Plus I’ve also got some other things in the hopper that are kind of just getting going, so I don’t wanna jinx ’em by talking ’em up before I have them off the ground. Suffice it to say I’m also working on a metal album and a few other collabs.
For me personally, I do a /lot/ of freelance mixing, production, and mastering work. For example, I co-produced and mixed Ego Likeness’ Breedless album, their debut on Metropolis records, I produced and mixed am.psych’s debut EP on WTII, which just came out, I produced, mixed and mastered XUBERX’s last three releases, I did a mix for Spider Lilies on their last EP, there’s other stuff too, those are just some recent highlights off the top of my head. In the pipe currently I’m mixing the Prude album, which is Jared from Chemlab and Matt from Caustic and Sean from Cyanotic, I mixed and co-produced the new Sensuous Enemy EP which will be coming out later in the year, I’ve been doing a lot of mixing for The Gothsicles, I’ll be working on the new Dharmata 101 record, I’m producing Cheetah Dave’s (from XUBERX) solo work, I’m producing, mixing, engineering, etc. a Chicago-based metal band called Silent Nightmare, plus I’m negotiating with a few more artists but I don’t want to name anyone since those deals are still being worked out. I also do remixes, but listing everyone I’ve remixed would take too long, which I’m sure any other remixer out there can identify with. I’ve done a decent amount of mastering, too, most recently the new Reaver album, which is a terrific record.
So yeah. I like to stay busy! Anyone out there looking for a mixing engineer, producer, mastering engineer, or any combination of the three, hit me up! You can check any of the bands I mentioned above, or of course anything by The Dark Clan for samples of my work.
And there you have it. The Dark Clan in their own words. We love this band and we will look forward to what they bring us next.