Dan Sartain is a very eclectic and groovy rock musician who I had the pleasure of discovering in 2010 when he opened for Social Distortion. I even ended up preferring him to Social Distortion that night! He puts his own spin on rock and roll with a variety of genres ranging from rockabilly to blues, delivering stellar, creative music. With the recent release of his latest album, Dudesblood, I spoke with Dan about his music tastes, his own music, concerts, and much more.
Alex Obert: What are your first memories of listening to music while growing up?
Dan Sartain: I mean music was always there, but I’ll tell you the first time I saw live music, it was my father. He was singing with a bunch of dudes and they were playing probably some Crosby, Stills and Nash song or some Joe Cocker song or something like that. And my father and another guy were harmonizing into a microphone and I thought they were shouting at each other. I was upset because I thought somebody was yelling at my father because it looked like they were yelling. (laughs) Their mouths were open and their teeth were showing and there was stuff coming out of their mouths, it freaked me out!
Alex Obert: What were your favorite bands growing up?
Dan Sartain: It always changed, it was always a different flavor of the week. Some would stick around longer than others. But I still do that.
Alex Obert: What were your tastes like in high school?
Dan Sartain: Well, it’s hard cause I didn’t really go to high school. About halfway through ninth grade, I stopped and did a homeschooling thing. I was already working real jobs and getting a paycheck. At that point, I’d been playing music in bars for a couple years and then it became a social thing. It was weird cause I was still a kid, getting lots of older ladies buying me drinks when I was thirteen or fourteen! (laughs) After I turned twenty one, bars haven’t really been exciting.
Alex Obert: What is some great advice you got during that time period?
Dan Sartain: Learn all the chords on acoustic guitar first. It makes it that much easier when you pick up an electric guitar. A stick shift is to acoustic guitar as an automatic transmission is to an electric guitar.
Alex Obert: How did you get involved with playing your particular genre as opposed to something like punk or metal?
Dan Sartain: I’d argue that I’ve always played punk music (for lack of better terms). At one point people considered Television, Talking Heads, and Elvis Costello punk music. To me, punk music is music normal people can play and feel good about. Not everyone is an Eddie Van Halen. It doesn’t mean you can’t start a band.
Alex Obert: We were discussing your music tastes earlier and I understand you’re a fan of Van Halen.
Dan Sartain: I like David Lee Roth, yes!
Alex Obert: How did you discover them?
Dan Sartain: I was born in 1981, the same year MTV was born. Van Halen was pretty unavoidable back then.
Alex Obert: Did you listen to their most recent album?
Dan Sartain: Yeah, I did. It wasn’t as good as Eat ‘Em and Smile, but it was pretty great! Sounds like Van Halen to me.
Alex Obert: Have you seen them live?
Dan Sartain: I have not. I would love to.
Alex Obert: Who do you consider to be the biggest name you’ve seen live?
Dan Sartain: I think it was probably Bob Dylan. I kinda hate Bob Dylan. He is a total blow hard. I used to really like him, and my favorite song was ‘The Lonesome Death Of Poor Hattie Carroll’. Later on I found out that all the stuff was talking about in that song was total bullshit, and most of it never happened. The whole song is pretty exploitive and it ruined the rest of William Zanzinger’s life. That and Dylan was a total dick to Donovan in that movie. Dylan never had a song as good as Billion Dollar Babies, so fuck him.
Alex Obert: Regarding your own music, why did you choose to name the album Dudesblood?
Dan Sartain: It caught up to me later that it was something that I’d heard from professional skateboarder, Mark “Gator” Rogowski. I wasn’t trying to do any kind of tribute to that guy, he’s a total scumbag. I found a t-shirt from that particular skateboarder when I was out in San Diego and I bought it, obviously none of the proceeds go to him. I can’t say I’m a fan of the guy, he’s a total creep and the world would have been a better place had he never been born. Definitely not a tribute to somebody like that, but I do find that story and that time period and the place where it all took place pretty fascinating. I just thought it was a cool sounding thing, then later on put two and two together and it was like, “Oh yeah, I think I heard that from him.”
Alex Obert: Do you skateboard?
Dan Sartain: No, but not from lack of trying. I’d say both my feet are goofy.
Alex Obert: If your body had Dudesblood, what would it be like?
Dan Sartain: It’d probably be more awesome!
Alex Obert: What were the influences for this album?
Dan Sartain: I hadn’t originally planned on working with DJ Bonebrake on this album. So when we got him on board, I was thinking about things that worked to his strength. He’s a really, really good marimba player. Might as well get him to flex those muscles while we got him. I just sent him the tracks and very little instruction. I didn’t want to micromanage him. I just gave him full control to do whatever he wanted and he knocked it out of the park.
Alex Obert: What would you say is your favorite track off the album?
Dan Sartain: Marfa Lights. Definitely Marfa Lights, because of DJ’s performance. I get sick of my own music pretty quick, but I haven’t gotten sick of that song yet. DJ makes the song.
Alex Obert: With all of your work concerned, where does Dan Sartain Lives rank throughout your favorites?
Dan Sartain: Every time I make a new record, it’s my new favorite. Dan Sartain Lives was the best I could do in that direction. Liam Watson is a great producer and I’ve learned a lot from him. I don’t think I can top that record, so we went in a completely different direction after that one.
Alex Obert: When Lives had come out, you were opening for Social Distortion. What was that like?
Dan Sartain: Social Distortion have a notoriously rough audience, you know? I expected to be thrown to the lions. I was prepared for that. I expected Mike Ness to give me a black eye just for looking at him, but he was actually a really nice guy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him smile in a picture, but he and his crew were total sweethearts to us. We didn’t get beaten up, so I’d call that tour a success.
Alex Obert: What was it like watching Social Distortion perform after you were done and seeing their crowd?
Dan Sartain: It was fun! I mostly used that time to eat, though. I can’t really eat long before we play. When I get off the stage, I’m usually really fucking hungry.
Alex Obert: When I went to see you on that tour, I recall your drummer doing soundcheck and instead of saying “1, 2, 3, 4”, he said, “Cheeseburger, hot dog, taco.”
Dan Sartain: (laughs) Oh, yeah! We did that tour when the last Devo album had just came out. Not such a new album now, but a new one for Devo, considering they didn’t do one for like twenty years. We were just playing that really hard in the van and that was one of the lyrics, stuff about cheeseburgers. (laughs)
Alex Obert: In my opinion, I preferred you to Social Distortion that night. Did you ever attend a concert where you liked the opener better than the headliner and you were there to see the headliner?
Dan Sartain: I saw Chris Isaak and Iggy Pop the same day back to back at a festival. I was there to see both of them. Chris Isaak was playing first and then as soon as he was done, I rushed over to the other side to see Iggy. I never thought I’d say it in a million years, but Chris Isaak blew him away. This was nineties Iggy, by the way, it was Iggy and a bunch of LA studio guys.
Alex Obert: When you’re on stage, what do you feel makes your show unique?
Dan Sartain: One thing I pride myself on is that I don’t have preprogrammed jokes. Some people can pull that off, but I’m not gonna say the same jokes every night. If something happens that seems to be spontaneous, it probably is. I guess there’s a good amount of spontaneity in our shows.
Alex Obert: What is a favorite on-stage memory of yours?
Dan Sartain: One time I was playing solo in front of a huge crowd of English chavs. Chavs are kinda like American frat boys. A bunch of them wound up on stage and they mooned me. I got pissed and smashed a glass bottle and threw it at them. The end.
Alex Obert: Who would you say are your vocal influences?
Dan Sartain: Ricky Nelson really made me feel like I could sing, even thought he was a rich kid born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He was gonna have the option to do whatever he wanted as an adult. Because he was kinda amateurish, it gave me inspiration to sing when I was an amateur. I still have a limited vocal range, everybody does, but it’s knowing your strengths. Ricky Nelson was one of those singers, like Frank Sinatra, not that they sounded alike at all, but they knew their range. You never heard Frank Sinatra or Ricky Nelson trying to sing stuff that was nowhere near their range.
Alex Obert: Who is one of your favorite singers?
Dan Sartain: Groucho Marx is pretty great.
Alex Obert: With what you listen to, what’s the one album that changed your life forever?
Dan Sartain: Scream, Dracula, Scream! by Rocket from the Crypt. It came at the right time when I was the most influential, soaking up stuff like a sponge. It just completely turned me into a different person.
Alex Obert: If you could have dinner with any three musicians, who would they be?
Dan Sartain: Ringo seems approachable. (laughs) I think I would probably wanna party with Ringo, man. Other than him, I would say John Carpenter, Tuesday Knight, and Chuck Berry. But maybe I’d choose all four members of The Go-Go’s! (laughs) Yeah, I’d wanna hang out with The Go-Go’s, man.
Alex Obert: What do you like about them?
Dan Sartain: They’re so good, they’re so talented. I love the whole package. They’re really, really good, man. Return to the Valley of The Go-Go’s is a really good example of it, it’s all their earlier punk stuff, some harder versions of songs. Those girls were so tough.
Alex Obert: And who are you listening to lately on your iPod?
Dan Sartain: At the moment, I’m in the desert on an Amtrak train. Going cross country from LA to New Orleans. Listening to a lot of Ennio Morricone, specifically the theme to ‘A Pistol For Ringo‘. I’ve never seen that movie, so I’m imagining Ringo Starr murdering people in the old west. It’s pretty funny to think about Ringo having a gun! (laughs). Now I finally get that Dead Milkmen song.
Alex Obert: Which movie do you wish your music was featured in?
Dan Sartain: Any movie with Traci Lords that isn’t a filthy underage porno.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, what are your websites at the moment?
Dan Sartain: DanSartain.com.
Alex Obert: Do you plan to have any shows for the rest of the year?
Dan Sartain: Yeah, we’re workin’ on some Europe stuff and then hopefully do some stuff around here. We just did a bunch of shows with Rocket From The Crypt. It was a blast and a dream come true.
Alex Obert: Hope we get to see you in the states this year. Thank you very much for your time!
Dan Sartain: Yeah. No problem, man! Anytime!