Dan Donovan: Dancing Backwards Eats your Brain

Dan Donovan first came on to my radar back sometime around 1992 when he released Shook Up Shook Up with his band Tribe of Dan. If you blinked, you might have missed this release over here in the states. Shook Up Shook Up was one of my favorite releases on Blonde Vinyl Records, but after that came out and got me hooked, I lost track of Tribe of Dan and Dan Donovan. The pre-internet era was much harder to keep up with bands, and if they weren’t featured in your music magazines or they weren’t fortunate enough to find their way onto the local music store shelves, they were difficult to keep up with. It wasn’t until around a decade ago that Matt (editor at DTL, and knower of all things Blonde Vinyl) asked me if I liked Tribe of Dan, and it was from there that I realized Dan Donovan had been creating amazing and unique art and music that I was completely unaware of… and when I say amazing and unique art and music, I mean it.

Dan had not only released several solo albums after Shook Up Shook Up, he had also started the band King Kool. Let me just say that King Kool takes your defined genres, sets them on fire, and forges a sound that is raw and dirty rock and roll. Donovan has put out solid release after solid release. His solo work has one of my favorite albums of his, The Leaven Dell. It was one of those albums that captured me upon first listen. It is still one of the most honest and absorbing albums that I listen to regularly, and we are fortunate that Donovan goes in to detail about that album in this interview. There is an energy to Donovan’s music that is infectious. He has the ability to connect emotionally through his music. For me personally, music expresses the stuff for me that I cannot always express myself, and finding artists who connect on a deeper level than just getting you to move your feet are not always an easy find.

My goal was to have this interview out a few months ago when his new Mojave Sessions E.P. came out (I blew that), but there will be plenty of links at the end to go check out his output. Stay tuned for what he is doing next! Check out his social media links at the end also – Donovan is a photographer as well, and shoots his own videos too…

EO: Was music a part of your life growing up? When did you first start playing and what influenced you and drew you to music?

DD: I can’t say music was particularly a big part of my early growing up years, although my sister and I would always watch the chart shows religiously. I would always be more into the rock tunes/bands of the seventies that charted, T-Rex, The Sweet, Alice Cooper, etc. Mid-seventies I discovered Larry Norman which was a pretty big buzz for me being a Christian in those days. By the late seventies I was into Deep Purple, Dylan, Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Rush, The Police, my tastes were getting pretty broad and usually guitar based music was the hook.

My sister taught me a few guitar chords when I was thirteen and I started writing around the age of nineteen I think.

Your bio says your father was a Welsh preacher… I would assume being raised by a preacher was an interesting experience, my father became a pastor later in my life… what are your thoughts on religion and faith? I know that is a broad subject, but the older I get I find my beliefs changing… do you consider yourself spiritual, or a Christian, etc?

Well my Dad was a Pastor and church planter, sadly he died when I was four but my Mum brought us up in the church. The church really was my social life, most days of the week we were doing something connected to church, Sundays were hectic I remember. I struggled to be honest with the established church as I knew it and as I started to read the Bible from head to toe at the age of sixteen I was amazed at some of the stories in that book that were never talked about at church or Sunday School. I wanted my own experience of faith, not one that had been handed down to me. I realized that the length of my hair and wearing a shirt and tie had little to do with my new found understanding of Christianity and I wanted to be a real person, someone that connected with those of my age, my culture beyond the church.

My experience of Christianity had alienated me from the real world. As I broke free to become me, asking questions and growing my hair long I was confronted on many occasions by well-meaning church folk but it was clear I didn’t fit the mold anymore. I continued to wave the Christian flag through to my late twenties to a point that I knew I didn’t need to do that; only Christians needed me to do that. I am who I am and my spirituality; thoughts on faith continue to evolve without any flag flying. Believe me, this is the short answer ha ha.

Going way back… I was completely unaware of Back to Jordan, was this your first band? Is there any place to purchase the 2 releases from the band? Did you also play guitar and sing?

My first band around 1980 was a band called Sword, lots of heavy riffs more like Black Sabbath. I sang and played bass. I then left my hometown to join a pop post punk band called The Reps. We toured up and down the UK playing in schools and Christian festivals, I was just the bass player and the music wasn’t purely my thing but it was a great experience for a couple of years. We got to know the 77s around that time which was fun. We were both playing at a festival in north Wales, we went out for a meal together and a lady saw us and said you look like you’re in a band. She said my brother is in a band called The Alarm, she was Mike Peters’ sister. Back to Jordan was my next band around 1986, we played mostly around the London club scene and played Greenbelt Festival a couple of times. It was quite a cool outfit for its time but I got tired of band politics so after that I went solo. Well I didn’t want ‘The Dan Donovan Band’ so I called the new project Tribe of Dan, I think you know the rest from there.

Tribe of Dan live in 1991

So tell me how a guy over in England ended up on the Blonde Vinyl label back in 1992? There has to be an interesting back story there? Did you already know Michael Knott, or what was the connection there? Can you share the backstory on how that came to fruition?

Tribe of Dan had floating personnel, a guy called Chuck Cummings was over here from the US for a while and he had played drums with ToD on a number of occasions. When he moved back to the States he was working with Michael Knott at Blonde Vinyl. Chuck arranged the licensing deal with Blonde Vinyl for me for a stateside release, unfortunately the label went bust not long after our release. Chuck had played with Common Bond, The Altar Boys and then went on to play with Aunt Betty’s Ford and Dakoda Motor Company.

Tribe of Dan, 1991

Your catalog is pretty unique, King Kool is such a genre smashing band… there are elements of surfer punk, punk, rockabilly, blues that are heavy and have this gothic hue, and straight up dirty rock and roll. That is a huge sound for a band that is comprised of two people, it’s really great stuff! Are there any plans to release any more King Kool in the future? How did King Kool come to be, were you just looking for a different musical outlet? Do you write all the music for King Kool?

A genre smashing band, I like that. I started King Kool in 2005. I wanted a clean start musically, no back catalog, something stripped down with minimal personnel. There weren’t any bands doing the two-piece thing then really, now it seems to be more the norm. Myself and drummer Matt Middleton started King Kool, Matt had played with ToD and on a lot of my solo albums, Leaven Dell, Trashbone Thang to name a couple. King Kool was my longest musical project and after ten years I was ready to break the formula and do something fresh again. I pretty much wrote all the tunes and sang and shared the line up with another two drummers after Matt left. Joe Mason and eventually Pas Struthers took over the drum position. I have no plans to do any more King Kool.

King Kool

Who are some of your biggest musical influences? Your bio mentioned Bob Dylan and the mighty Tom Waits, who are some of your other influences? Are you influenced by other creative things like books, literature, art, films, etc? Any books, films, etc. that you recommend?

My biggest influences, mmm, you know my long term influences have to be Dylan, Waits, Iggy Pop, The Pixies, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, I always come back to these mavericks you can’t really put in a box. Jack White is pretty inspirational too particularly The Dead Weather. I don’t read, I’m quite dyslexic so reading is hard work. I watch a lot of movies, I operate mostly on an aesthetic sonic plain.

As far as movies… Fight Club, anarchic anti corporate establishment and unorthodox. I love the double character, archetypal duel personalities in one. I’m very into Carl Jung. Great soundtrack. Domino, bounty hunters good/bad personalities and again the unorthodox character of Domino herself. I like the fact that this is based on the real person Domino. The brave cinematography has been and will continue to inspire me and of course Mr. Tom Waits puts in an appearance. Monsters, a totally unscripted movie, very much how I approach my art and film making. I love the gentle beautiful twist on the alien ‘monsters’ and the sense of awe when they finally appear. I’ve just seen Annihilation, amazing film again challenging on many levels. The cinematography and soundtrack are beautiful. I’m not into horror really but this is intelligent and thought-provoking. I’m a big fan of futuristic films and anything with a post-apocalyptic theme. Blade Runner is up there for me with many others.

King Kool 2013

Your solo albums are exceptional! The Leaven Dell remains my favorite, that album really connected when I heard it. I really enjoy the more stripped down albums you’ve done. I just found out about 12_12 Acoustic Sessions, and it’s great! Hearing all these tracks from various projects done solo was a great choice. You also released 12_12 The Journal with the album. Was a book/journal something you had been wanting to do? Are you also a photographer? The Journal bio says that the photographs were from you… how long have you been into photography?

Well thank you. I am a photographer, film maker, graphic designer and I run creative workshops mainly painting workshops. I have self-published a couple of books previous to the 12_12 Journal so it seemed only natural to complete the 12_12 album release with a lyric/photo book.

Dan Donovan – 12_12 Sessions

Your bio also mentions new music coming! The band is you, Jonny Quinn (Snow Patrol) on drums and Dave Catching (Eagles of Death Metal)? Are these all your songs, or was this a collaborative get together? I’m sure it is probably hush hush still, but is there any news you can tell us regarding what’s coming? Will it be an album? Tour possibly?

So, the Joshua Tree recordings. I’ve known Jonny for many years, way before Snow Patrol. I still see him from time to time and we were chatting about cool recording studios. I said had he come across Rancho de la Luna in California at all as I was obsessed with the place, its location and the albums that have been recorded there. He said he’d done some recording there with Snow Patrol and that I’d get on really well with Dave Catching the owner. Next thing I received an email from Dave inviting me over.

Jonny had sent him an email with some of my tunes. I had a bunch of new tunes I’d been writing and this was a great opportunity to record them. Jonny was over in LA recording the next Snow Patrol album so I booked five days at Rancho and he took some time out to come and play drums for me.

Dave was around so naturally I asked him to offer some parts to the session which he did. It isn’t a new band as such but they were involved. I go under the moniker of The Dan The D taken from a line in the King Kool track ‘Missing a Bone,’ but it is essentially my latest solo offering.

At Rancho with Jonny Quinn and Dave Catching

I will be putting out a double A side single in June this year with the aim of getting a bigger label to put out a mini album of the rest of the recordings. There will be gigs no doubt, would love to bring it stateside. A nice moment from my time in California was to hook up with Chuck Cummings and his family for a day after all these years.

Outside of music, you care to discuss your thoughts on the world around us? We have Trump over here, you are dealing with Brexit over there… do you mind discussing your thoughts about Brexit, I would like to hear it from someone who it directly affects. Also, although not important, I’m curious about your thoughts on Trump over here on this side of the pond…

You know, I find it difficult to understand the world, the media paints so many pictures it’s hard to get a proper handle on things. Brexit is a mess, and no one over here understood it or understands it, I don’t think the politicians understand it either; it has just served to divide us.

I don’t want to live under the European government any more than I do the UK government, they’re all untrustworthy. Trump is certainly an interesting character, he’s not very well respected over here, the UK news is very negative about him. But all these profiled world leaders are puppets eh? The political climate is always scary.

When I was at Rancho I avoided talking about Trump. Interesting however though that one of the songs ‘Dawg Eat’ was written in response to watching the Clinton/Trump campaigns leading up to the US elections. When I wrote the song I had never imagined I would record the song in a Californian desert studio that flew a tattered US flag on the roof. Also the song ‘Sand Boy’ was a collection of sketch book lyrics I had written over many years but I’d never used them. Ironic with lyrics like: ‘I got my eye, I got a spy, and you are the fly, there’s something fishy about ya.’ And… ‘A bed of sand is all he built on, a dirty trail to a gilded high.’ The song is a call to people to wake up and has quite a post-apocalyptic vibe to it. The song is generic but could have been written about the Trump empire.

fly, there’s something fishy about ya.’ And… ‘A bed of sand is all he built on, a dirty trail to a gilded high.’ The song is a call to people to wake up and has quite a post-apocalyptic vibe to it. The song is generic but could have been written about the Trump empire.

References to the Jesus parable of the foolish man who built his house on sand sit in there. I shot a video for the track in the ghost town Bombay Beach on a staggeringly hot day (113 degrees) at the bottom of the Coachella Valley. ‘There’s talk of some heat, talk of burning and its right under our feet.’ is another line in the song.

What are you listening to right now, what’s in your turntable / iPod / cassette deck, etc… are there any  bands / releases that have caught your attention recently?

I’m listening to a lot of The Kills, I always have Queens of the Stone Age floating around somewhere. Iggy Pop’s last album (recorded at Rancho) gets a lot of plays in my house. I discovered Mohave Lords when I came over to Cali, they’re pretty amazing, another Dave Catching band. Also I’ve been getting into Mark Lanegan after many years of not giving him much time.

Dan Donovan in the Mojave Desert

Dan Donovan Live in 1996 (bonus picture not in article)

Dan Donovan Live in 1996 (bonus picture not in article)

Tribe of Dan and Split Level in 1988 (bonus picture not in article)

King Kool 2005 (bonus picture not in article)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *