Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards
Bill Cummings 07/10/2010
33 year old London singer Dan Michaelson and his band The Coastguards released a new nine track album earlier this week entitled 'Shakes'. It's a gorgeously initimate long player that should be on everyone's to buy list this winter. In a world of over fancy gimmicky singer songwriters 'Shakes' is a study in gentle delicate instrumentation and Dan's effortlessly lovelorn whiskey baritone that trickles its way through his poetic words that detail microscopic observations of every day love and life.
Dan and The Coastguards heartfelt work provides aching melodies and uncluttered live sounding stripped back instrumentation that places you at the center of these refreshingly honest emotional vignettes. These songs have echoes of everyone from early period Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits to Ed Harcourt and beyond. This is Dan's second album under the Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards name and the fifth in his entire musical career, spending his formative time in a band called Absentee. I caught up with Dan through the medium of facebook for a brief but enlightening delve into the work of his band.
Hi Dan, can you firstly give me a bit of brief history about your previous projects ?
This will be my 5th studio album, we did 3 Absentee albums before "giving it a rest" in 2008.
Artistic differences or just time for a change?
Quite the opposite, I felt we'd begun to start writing the same song every time. We all see each other every other day and are very close, we just needed to jar things a little to keep it fresh. Plus we all had bits on the side
So your first album under the Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards banner 'Saltwater' sounds like it had quite a cast list and was released on a 'name' label(Menphis Industries). With Shakes was there attempt to par everything back including the people involved?
Very much so, some of that was natural and some planned.. The first album had 10 players on it, after the first few tours there was a clear natural selection in terms of the people that could physically be around all the time. That resulted in the core group that we recorded this new record as. And with regards to the label, I just felt it was the right time for me to make a change and they were really supportive and helpful.. There's just some stuff you can't do with an “official" label.
It says in your press release that the album was self produced and recorded in two sessions, was there a sense of not over egging the strength of the songs and the melodies?
Absolutely... Id never really made a stripped back record before, the others were very produced.. I was listening back to the albums that had inspired these songs and noticed that I wanted the sounds but didn't want all the overblown strings and brass so we just tried to give everything as much space as it could handle.
What are the albums that inspired that sparser more direct sound then?
The key records we by Etta James, Glen Campbell, Lee Hazelwood and Franki Valli and the 4 Seasons. I knew that I could never reproduce what they had done, being a white English guy from east London. So I looked at what i really liked about those records, they all have quite a brittle sound at there core, wirey guitars, live sounding drums, very intimate vocals. The kind of sound that makes you feel like you're in that room, so that's what I took.
You describe song writing as "a process of trying to externalize a load of jumbled internal noise." Is it a case of trying to find that balance between expression and what works and isn't sugary or over bearing and within the framework of the delicate instrumentation?
It's an odd balance, yes. I always have a core of truth in my songs then build a fiction around them, the truth is my life isn't that interesting, most tend to only have moments, so I focus on those. The lyrics and melody come at the sae time then i take it to the band and we thrash out pretty much what you hear on the record. It's like hanging wet rags on the clothesline!
The lyrics appear quite intricate like little observations of a relationship or moments in time, do you keep a note book?
No I don't, oddly I'm too worried someone would find it.. I prefer to offer things out fully formed. Control freak, goes with the territory but I always thought lyrics were incredibly important, its how i started
Do you find it easier to actually communicate emotions in song lyrics, rather than just plain old words?
God yes, I'm typically English in that sense at least. Also, it makes my emotions seem more important!
Also were you trying to kind of deconstruct the love song in a way or is it less contrived than that, are these just the words how they emerge?
I'm with you! It is pretty much how they come out I'm afraid. There are some basic rules in place like things have to rhyme and not be overly sentimental, that changes what could have been written. But it just comes how it comes and I either deal with it or discard it.
You and the Coastguards have done support duties for The Magic Numbers, The Dodos, Duke Special, The Leisure Society, and The Broken Family Band amongst others. Was that a good way of whittling down the group to its core, and present members? And what's more important to you about playing live the experience itself or actually having the ability to move people?
It's defiantly about trying to connect with people. The whole "just enjoy playing it" that's for the studio. We record and just really get into playing. When you play to an audience, its about giving a bit more... not so self indulgent... though still very self indulgent of course!
Have you written any more songs and do you have a rough idea when your next release will be?
I've really enjoyed the releasing bit this time round, it's been amazing to hand screen print everything then hand it over to someone who wants it. it feels good to know and be able to talk to the person that wants your record. I think I'll release some more stuff in odd ltd editions like I did with this record. I'm about to start a soundtrack project with a friend of mine and also looking at working with some other singers but it's all pie in the sky at this point.
About the screen print edition of the album is that the artwork or the entire album on screen print? And can you describe the importance of creating every part of the album in these special editions is that what leaving your last label has allowed you the freedom to do?
Yes, exactly! I printed the album and the single in 7 separate editions ( each a different colour) distributors and labels a just too big to deal with this kind of faff alot of the time, and when they are involved the costs just go crazy.. Self-releasing was the only way to be able to do it. I'm still a sucker for a good-looking record, which means by extension I want to make a good-looking record. When I buy a record I want to be able to feel like 'I'm learning something about the group,' not just listening to the music. I can do that on spotify!
Are there any modern day albums/or acts that you're enjoying at the moment?
I loved the last Beachhouse record, and Phosphorescent are a new favourite too. Both are just really striking.
Also what are your tentative future plans?Tours?(We covered records I think!)
We plan to tour in December, I've also been involved in my first ever soundtrack to a comic. We had a track on Babak Ganjies Hilarious Consequences. It's a story of one man trying to keep his life on track Babak Ganjei's find out more here:
Thank you for answering these questions Dan!
The album 'Shakes' is out now and available below in Hand Screen Printed limited editions.
More information here: