Listen to Dan Michaelson and a couple of things hit you immediately. The first is how rich and embracing a baritone he possesses; the second is how his songs show a lyrical mastery far outweighing anything we’ve heard for a long time. Think Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen and you’re not far away – Plan B has been quoted as saying he’s as close to a prodigy of Cohen as tastefully possible. He’s bang on. Having started out with the much overlooked, and now disbanded, Absentee, Michaelson founded The Coastguards and released the second album ‘Shakes’ in October last year. What does 2011 hold? A string of dates supporting I Am Kloot, some headline shows as well as their much anticipated third record. We caught up with Dan to find out more.
Dazed Digital: Describe your sound….
Dan Michaelson: Right now I'm going to describe the sound as a mixture of Leonard Cohen and Etta James cleaning up in a country themed bar in Hackney. That doesn't make perfect sense but I keep trying.
DD: You were originally in Absentee who disbanded because of “lack of ego” – what happened and how did the Coastguards come about?
Dan Michaelson: Absentee just ran out of steam, and with that, motivation I guess… We all wanted to do something different. Disbanded is slightly misleading as we all see each other at least twice a week, making music together just never comes up in our conversation. The Coastguards started with a handful of songs I originally wanted to do on my own, then I wanted some help with them, then I got some help and named the help the Coastguards. Nothing ends the way you think it will when you start.
DD: How have you found the reception to Shakes?
Dan Michaelson: I’m enjoying the long winded response to Shakes. New people keep finding it, and finding new things in it. I'm used to quite a short window of interest in my records, a month after release people move on to the next thing. With Shakes I seem to be curating a long and painful descent into obscurity... which is much better than my usual speedy plummet into the void of last weeks reviews.
DD: What differences are there between the records?
Dan Michaelson: The differences between my first Coastguards album Saltwater and this new one are quite internal. In that the first record started as a solo record that turned into a band record, the second record was written as a band record, in that I worked through the songs with the Coastguards very quickly after writing them. So then there's a kinesis that occurs between everyone as we battle the song into a new shape. The writing then takes on more than one personality and the results are further away from the original idea but new ideas then come from that. It’s more straight forward than I made that sound.
DD: Your voice takes on the qualities of many past greats – Cohen, Cash - how important is emotion to your music?
Dan Michaelson: I don't think my voice is particularly emotional, at best a narrator's voice, but that’s why I try to write as emotionally as I can, to readdress that balance. And by emotionally I mean describing the nuances of an emotional situation rather than trying to sharpen my pencil through the tears.
DD: Your lyrics mainly cover issues of love and heartache – personal experience?
Dan Michaelson: It’s the only experience I feel moved to write about, though not the only experience I've had. There's a core of truth in each song but it’s not a diary... just a starting point. The truth is the spark of an idea then I write a (hopefully) slightly more interesting story around it. Even I wouldn't listen to my own experiences set to music... too much undefined time.
DD: What’s next?
Dan Michaelson: I'm halfway through another record... not sure where its going yet but I'm hoping that will become clearer in time. Whilst that’s showing itself, we're off supporting I Am Kloot followed by our own tour in March. After that, I'll deal with these new songs.