Dan Haugh interview at defgrip
by Brian Tunney,
Strapped for time? Think again. There’s 24 hours in a day, and a few of us on this Earth actually utilize that time to the fullest. Including (but not limited to) New Orleans resident Dan Haugh.
Dan Haugh is a busy musician. As a New Orleans native, he is involved in more than a handful of musical endeavors, including (but not limited to) the heavy metal prog rock of Pinkysqueak, the spastic but concentrated we don’t give a fuck metal of Smoke and Smoke, the dance leanings of Time Promises Power, and most recently, the avant, instrumental rock of Chef Menteur. (There’s other more recent involvements, but I can’t keep up.) All this from a guy that’s married, knows how to have a good time and works a full-time job as a graphic and Web designer (he’s worked on Web campaigns for Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum along with McIlhinney’s TABASCO BRAND pepper sauce). And since you’re wondering what in the hell this is doing on a BMX Web site, this is the part where I mention that Dan savors the taste of a good feeble grind when the time allows it.
Yes, Dan also rides. In fact, Dan’s first band, a duo from Fargo, Nebraska dubbed Godheadsilo, went so far as to feature a PK Ripper on one album cover and referenced BMX in a few song titles, including ‘Rad 180′ and ‘Master of Balance’ (a tribute to ’80s Schwinn pro Robert Peterson). Godheadsilo was put to rest about ten years ago, but Dan continues to create. Most recently as part of Chef Menteur.
Last month, Chef Menteur released their second album on Backporch Revolution Records, and Dan was kind enough to send me a copy. The array of sounds contained within the latest album (dubbed The Answer’s In Forgetting) range in tone from soothing, instrumental ballads of hope to commanding and ominous takes on atmosphere and reality. It’s, for lack of a better phrase, one hell of an engaging ride. All from a band that’s endured a handful of lineup changes along with the displacement and separation that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Recently, Dan was kind enough to espouse upon the Chef’s latest album, along with what’s in store for the band and himself over the next few months. Take your time, enjoy the read and don’t forget to embrace every hour of the day….
How did you come to join Chef Menteur? And what other projects are you involved in?
Alec (guitar) and I have been friends for many years, but we have very different musical backgrounds, which I think is something that has worked out rather well… One thing early on that we [kinda] had in common was that we liked techno and dance music. When I moved back to Washington, and he was still in New Orleans, we did a music project called “Time Promises Power” that was mostly just synths and drum machines, and we’d trade tracks back and forth using the latest (and greatest, I might add) Internet Technology™… Before long we had an album or two… and a third one that’s halfway done.
So yeah, anyway… that kinda proved somewhat that we could work together musically. That being said, I moved back to New Orleans a few weeks before Katrina, and then the Shit hit the fan. Soon after we all came back to the city and Chef Menteur kinda needed someone to fill in the gaps cuz other people in the band were still dislocated or dealing with their post-Katrina lives. Since I was a friend, played drums, and had also purchased a Moog, I was asked to join in occasionally.
After a while some people left the band to do other stuff and I started taking on a more contributive role, rather than the guy who just shows up for shits and giggles — and I took it seriously, like I do with almost every music project I’m involved in.
I could go on and on…
Wait — you asked me what else I’m involved in… how many pages ya got? We’re about to start a country-blues and sea shanty band…
How does your approach to writing Chef Menteur material differ from other projects you’re engaged in?
It’s not too different… well, that depends. There’s the songs that I write, or contribute heavily to… and those are already mostly conceived and arranged somewhat, or I have a fairly distinct vision of where they should go. Then from there it’s just figuring out what good parts/sounds/instruments would be good to flesh it all out. However, some songs are more freestyle-like, where you just kinda improvise on a certain part… something that I’m usually not a proponent of cuz back in the godheadSilo days, Mike and I worked really hard to get songs dialed and tight (hahaha, it’s true!) — so going at a song with such a loose structure would kinda bother me, but I also started to appreciate what can happen in those moments of randomness… stuff you would never have thought of… so now, in a way, I kinda like a balance of the two ideals and try to write stuff that accommodates both.
I know that CM records most of their practice sessions and improvisations, so I was curious as to how much of the improvised practice sessions become the final output for the band’s music?
That’s how it used to be. The first record, We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire, was mostly just that. Regular (but good) practice sessions that were recorded and later enhanced with various overdubs. When I came into the group I didn’t feel that that was a constructive form of song-writing, grumpy ol’ me. As a drummer, I really wanted some solid foundations cuz I knew that I could play better and do better if I knew at least a hint or two of what was going to come musically. The improvised stuff is great, but in my opinion it’s better when you have at least some idea of what’s going to happen, even the slightest hint is awesome. I just didn’t want shit to be lazy and rely on effects or laptops. A good song or piece of music, I think, should be able to stand on it’s own with one instrument or one type of sound — everything else is salt and pepper, if you appreciate lame analogies…. but also, that can be the part that’s the most fun, but without a solid foundation you don’t have shit to build on. Gnome sane? Not that I adhere to that 100%, but y’know…
Wait - when did I become a HIPPY? Fuck!!!
Additionally, can you explain the song writing process for the band? (Pick any song off of ‘The Answer’s In Forgetting’ and espouse upon it.)
Each song on the record was written differently, with totally different approaches. For example, ‘Trebuchet’ was mostly a collaborative effort between me and Alec… he came up with the chord progression and we recorded that as a demo; just guitar. I took that demo home and plotted out a drum part that I knew had to be very, very slow. I later put his parts into the computer, arranged most of it and came up with synth overdubs. From there we re-recorded and overdubbed all that stuff. The second song was just me messing with my Moog in the studio - it was never meant to be part of the album, but it later it seemed to make a good segue between the first and third songs…
I dunno, I could go on and on, but the gist of it is that some songs come together on their own, and some are already written and arranged…
Can you please explain in detail what instruments you’ve invented (or built) on your own? And what role they play in Chef Menteur?
Well, using the term ‘invented’ might be putting it a bit strong. This morning we had a gas leak and we had to call the gas company to check it out… the guy that came for the inspection had a device that made different pitches of sound depending on the strength of the gas it was detecting, and it sounded just like one of my contraptions. So yeah, I haven’t invented anything anymore than T-1 (hi Joe!) invented the bike frame… I’ve just tweaked stuff to my liking (RE: Bob Haro) and kinda made stuff seem new.
The weird thing is that during band practice I use them sometimes, but never bothered using them in recordings. Maybe the next record.
Does Chef Menteur play live often? And how difficult is it to replicate the recorded works of the band?
No we don’t, and for some reason I kinda like it that way. That might change in the future, but right now we’re more focused on writing songs and using/learning technology. I feel much more satisfaction recording a drum track than I do playing a show. But when we do a show, we play songs that are appropriate for a live performance. Usually there’s only three of us and there’s only so much we can do… we used to have great songs that we’d play live that I wish we would have recorded, but we decided to move forward and let that shit go…
Chef Menteur is currently writing a soundtrack for a book. Can you describe what the book is about, and how difficult it can be to convey and/or deliver certain emotions and themes through Chef Menteur’s music?
Yeah, it has been a fun project so far, but I don’t know if it’ll be part of the next album or a separate project/release altogether. We have some songs already demoed for the soundtrack, but they’re way different than what we’re also working on… But yeah, the story is essentially about an old guy with tuberculosis that finally gets released from prison, and the adventures that ensue. I can’t really tell ya much more than that except that it’s some crazy-ass shit and it’s a great story. I’m stoked about being pumped about working on this.
As far as emotions and themes are concerned, yeah, that can be tricky especially because what I’m working with are my emotions and what we think the themes are. Since it’s a book, we can only imagine what things look like and feel like, and it could be totally different from anyone else’s, or the author’s, vision. But I dunno, we just read a chapter at a time and usually ideas start to creep in - nothing too intense, just stuff like ‘oh, arpeggiated piano would be cool here’ or ‘heavy, heavy drums here,’ and so on… it’s an awesome challenge for sure, and it’s really pushing us to do stuff we don’t normally do.
Additionally, do you think emotion and theme are more easily achieved through instrumental music? Why or why not?
It really depends on who is writing the music and how they perform it. Johnny Cash wouldn’t be the same without lyrics, and Peter Gabriel’s “Passion” wouldn’t be the same if it had lyrics… For me it’s easier not using lyrics cuz I’m such a lousy singer. I have to find other ways to convey my ideas and whatnot. But in the long run I guess it’s probably easier to convey emotion with lyrics - the personal, human element.
Last question. David Simon, executive producer for HBO’s The Wire, is currently scouting New Orleans with the hopes of writing a new HBO series about life as a musician in New Orleans. What advice would you give him?
I guess I’d tell him to scout all sorts of different types of music and musicians. New Orleans ain’t all Dixie-Land Jazz and marching bands, and French Quarter rhythm & blues bands… There’s a whole lot of stuff worth exploring…