Sometimes I find myself wishing I could show you all the correspondence that takes place in behind the scenes of talking with musicians & people we meet here through SBS…and if I could, I’d most certainly show you some incredible conversations I’ve had along the way!
A supreme gentleman and extremely thoughtful personality – it was completely awesome to talk with a guy as down-to-earth as Dan is. Here in our latest in-print interview on our pages, we get right into it all, right out in the open – no behind the scenes necessary when someone puts it all out there like Dan McLean Jr. We talk about life, love…music of course…and how it all plays into the songs that Dan writes and performs…future plans, upcoming shows…all kinds of information to the point where even I’m surprised at just how much we were able to cover in this one interview! Great guy – have a read through on Dan’s thoughts on what love is all about and what’s coming up for his music in the near future! Enjoy!
Interview With Dan McLean Jr.
SBS: Mr. Dan McLean Jr. – a sincere welcome to our pages my friend…or welcome-back I suppose I should say! It’s been a while since we last reviewed your music…but not too long; was only a couple of months back I believe… So what’s happening and what’s changed since then? As far as I understand it – you’ve got a brand-new single already…
Dan: Thanks, Jer, and it’s great to be speaking with you again! That first single release, “I’ve Seen Love”, went real well, and releasing the “Let’s Stop Hurting Each Other” a couple of months later felt right. The single & video are being really well received
SBS: Are all these songs leading you towards a full-album or EP…or is the plan to go after the singles-strategy? There are advantages to both of course … just curious as to what the long-term strategy might be from ya! Trying to find any of that info out through your pages at the homepage … but I’m not seeing it! All I’m finding right now are the cute-words from Jamsphere (golly they ARE cute in their writing aren’t they?) but no hard info on when a full album might be near or if that is the overall goal. So … you tell us direct Dan – what does success look like to you for your music? How do you envision that?
Dan: The plan is for singles accompanied by videos. When the first ten singles are out, it’ll be released as an album. I think it’ll be vital to have a video for every single, because folks are much more likely to click on video than audio, and are much more likely to engage with a video, and therefore are much more likely to watch more than once and to share. I think that releasing as singles also creates more incentive to make sure every song is good enough to stand on its own. Back in the albums-only days, you could often tell which songs were “filler”. Arguably, singles force you to write & produce better stuff.
SBS: In reading the information on your background on the homepage … and being a word-guy myself … it was almost impossible to see the difference between the ‘long’ bio and the ‘short’ bio, Dan! I mean … call me crazy man … but you’re quite obviously skimping out on about a million of the details that make you who you are in your ‘long’ bio if it’s barely 60 words longer than the short one! Now … truthfully … that’s NOT the kind of thing I’d normally notice … but you’ve got your long & your short, back-to-back on your main press-kit page – and those redundancies are crystal clear to anyone that’s continued to read on! Once you get to the short-bio, you instantly begin to wonder as a reader, if you did in fact use the scroll-bars at all! Maybe I never moved the page and maybe I’m just reading what I’ve already read over-again kind-of-feeling … know what I mean? I don’t want to accuse you of ‘fluffing up’ the size of the page with a whole bunch of info we already know … but … well … well Dan … I’m sure you could understand how it would be hard NOT to, right? And here I am, now left in the position of trying to extract ALL of what you should have put into your long bio … the stuff that really matters man … where is all that info? Where’s the personal part of Dan that exists in music and why have we been reduced to read the robotic/automated/personality-less parts of your life from your very own homepage? It doesn’t add up to the person I heard you as when hearing your music … seems like two separate people altogether and that the one that wrote the bio has no clue about the one that sings…
Dan: Ha! I appreciate your candor, Jer. First, lemme say you’ve convinced me, and I’ll be re-writing both bios this week. They’ll be longer and more revelatory. For now, though, please feel free to ask anything you like! Fire away!
SBS: Because there certainly ARE important details and things that are hinted at … but really, that’s all we get. Bios … in my experience … aren’t really there to provide more mystery so much as they are a few more of the answers we’re looking for! For example – you mention that much of the songwriting you take on deals with heartbreak, love, betrayal … even ‘new-found love that makes a man feel like a teenager again.’ I mean … if I’ve EVER read a statement in a bio that I’d believe was truly meant to impress that new-found love with a profession in writing – that would be it! Like, as in, whomever it is you want to know that, is more than likely the person you’re with right NOW. But here ya go – that’s what these interviews are all about right? A chance to clear the air and tell me that my presumptions are inaccurate! So where is the ol’ love life right now Dan? Are you currently in that ‘new-found’ love like I’m so willing to believe you ARE … or are you still in the post-heartbreak or breakup phase?
Dan: Almost everything I write is like a scene from a film or a play, with me inserting parts of myself into the protagonist, so mostly, they’re about a fictional version of myself. Once in a while, I later realize that I’ve injected so much of myself that it really did end up being autobiographical. One good example is “I Don’t Believe In Love”. Live audiences frequently chuckle at some of the things he says because they can see what he can’t. That he’s a guy full of denial and self-protection. “I lust. I crush. I fantasize. Why NOT for me? Why NOT right now?” The moment I realized that song really was about me, was the first time I performed it on stage at The Wychwood Theatre in Toronto. I can be quite open about my emotions, but realizing the song was about me while I was singing it to people was pretty frightening! There I was, singing about this fool, and while everyone was chuckling at him, I realized, even if they didn’t, that they were chuckling at me.
Man, I just talked quite a bit about part of your question, and slyly (or not) avoided the “how’s your love life” part. I’ve never looked for a relationship. Never. Not even as a young musician. I love being in relationships and being in love, but I’ve never actively sought a relationship. I’ve never thought, “I wish I had someone”. I think I’m quite good at being single. So, no, I’m not with anyone now, but I have little doubt that I’ll fall in love with a wonderful woman again.
SBS: When it comes to writing about love in music … is there such a thing as like, one ‘type’ of love is easier to write about than another? Or is love, just love, and no matter what the kind or where it’s placed … maybe it’s always an easy/difficult thing to write about? What’s your feeling on all that Dan? Does it come naturally to you to want to express your innermost feelings in music?
Dan: For me, as with most songwriters, writing deep lyrics is much easier in sad songs, because in sad periods, it natural to be much more reflective and analytical. In happy love songs, there’s usually not the same need for self-exploration, and all you wanna do is celebrate. As a middle-aged guy, I still do fall for women, and it really does feel the same as when I first fell for someone as a kid. All I can do is grin from ear to ear, and think about her. I think that, with a happy love song, I’m just careful not to do any more thinking than the emotions dictate, so if all I want to do is tell the world how in love I am, then it’s in the song’s best interest not to get in the way of that, and just let the song be happy. Once I came to that realization, writing “in love” songs became much easier. Sometimes, I’m naturally kind of a funny speaker, so I just let my own idiosyncrasies seep into those songs. Like the line “Now that I’m as smile as smile can be” from “I’ve Seen Love”.
SBS: I also noticed that the bio mentioned painting love on a ‘mature canvas.’ What the heck is that? And since when is love consciously mature? LOL – I think I have an idea of what you meant … you’re older now, you’ve experienced love in many forms…you know how to look back on it, examine it, discuss it and right about it … but … ’mature canvas?’ Dan … you’re at risk of taking all the excitement OF love away when you use such a librarian’s point of view! Not only that … but after it’s mentioned in the bio, that leads straight into two negative-aspects of what love is (or parts of love) rather than bust right into the positive. Does ‘mature canvas’ suggest that not all things can go ‘right’ in a relationship involving love? Do things have to go south or be awkward to become ‘mature’? If that’s the case brother – I think I’ve just decided that I never, ever want to grow up …
Dan: What I mean is that different things are on the line in a mature relationship. Once you have money together, and a home together, and kids together, love is a whole ‘nuther ballgame. Breakup can mean hiring lawyers, dividing assets, and having the kids every other weekend. It’s not the “love” part that’s mature. It’s the “relationship” part. Love is always beautiful.
SBS: You’ve got a busy spring/summer lined-up from what I can tell! You’ve got a show in the 28th of May in Guelph, Ontario that is even being filmed & recorded LIVE – which is awesome right? In that kind of scenario … do you personally feel any added pressure to be ‘on’ that night and at your best – or is it just another show, just happens to have a camera rolling? What’s your perspective on that?
Dan: I guess I do feel some pressure to make it a real good show, so I’m doing all I can to ensure that everything will be ready. At the show, all I’ll have to do is perform, and chat with the audience. Although I’m producer & promoter of the show, I’ll have people handling all of the logistics that I’ve prepared. For example, I’ve done a lot of work as a live sound man, but I’ve taken on one of the best sound engineers I know to handle the live sound and the multi-track recording. The same goes with video & lighting. When show day comes, I’ll just be the artist, with well-trusted people making sure everything happens. I won’t have to answer a lot of questions about sound, video, lighting, merch, tickets sales, or anything else. Knowing all that will take a lot of pressure off me, and I’ll just be able to sing & play, and hang out with the audience. I think the biggest mistake many artists make when producing their own shows is that the try to wear too many hats on show day. Just one for me on show day, thanks.
SBS: Dan … if you weren’t writing about love and creating love-songs … what else do you think you’d write about? This might be all theoretical right now … my experience with your music has certainly revolved around its themes of human-emotion and love … so it might not have happened yet. But what other subjects interest you … and is there a way to communicate those interests through the music you make or would they stay entirely separate from your writing somehow?
Dan: A few songs are about morality from my own humanist perspective. Actually even most of the love songs are like that, but it’s easier to deliver an ethical message in the context of a story. If the message stands on its own, it can feel preachy, and that can be off-putting for listeners. Some of my favourite writers deliver social commentary without feeling empty & preachy, like Todd Rundgren and Adrian Belew, but their level of mastery is astounding. Most of us mere mortals have to wrap morality in a story if we hope to reach a wider audience.
“The Man I Am” likely won’t be on the album, but I still play it live sometimes. “I will change as I learn. Self-rearrange as I discern. I refuse to be bound by irrational views I can’t wrap my head around”. Some folks have thought I’m talking about religion, that that’s not really it. I think everything needs to be looked at and evaluated. Critical thinking is key.
“Everything Out In The Darkness” likely will be on the album, and it’s an anthem that declares, “For most of my life, I’ve been afraid of the dark. But now I finally realize the truth is right before my eyes. Everything out in the darkness is more afraid of the light. More afraid of the right”. That’s a vitally important, core philosophical concept for me.
SBS: “I’ve Seen Love” was the first experience that we had with you and your music. As much as I enjoyed it and as much as you’ve put into it … I think we both recognize that there’s more of an uphill battle for that soft-rock/pop sound in today’s world than perhaps there has ever been before … you know, just to get the music HEARD by people kinda-thing. So how do you get around that? Has that even been your experience – or is that just a presumption I make from behind my computer screen here? It’s somewhat counter-intuitive to what’s being played out there on the majority of radio-stations … which leads me to believe that making music for you personally, has always been more about that freedom of self-expression than perhaps pleasing the masses. Always nice if we can do both of course … but certainly not an easy thing to do. Do you feel like it’s been tough to get your music heard as an independent musician outside of the modern-day rap/pop/techno styles that tend to dominate our airwaves today?
Dan: I think that trying to find mainstream-Beatles-Stones-Madonna-MJ status is even less possible than when they all started. I think I need to find my niche, and look for listeners that love that niche. Although I get lots of 20-somethings out to see me play, most of my audience is over 30. I can’t compete with Taylor Swift, Drake & Rihanna, and I think I’d be a fool if I tried to. Ultimately, I want to play what I want, the way I want to play it, and I want people to listen. Since that means I won’t change what I write & sing, I have to find the people who want to listen to what I do. It’s that simple. I have to invent ways to find more listeners in more cities, and that’s what I’m doing.
SBS: Besides … all that crapola I’ve just stated are all arbitrary parts of making music anyhow! We can’t make music with other people, places or venues in mind when we’re writing it, or it won’t come out sounding authentic at all, right? But one of the things that consistently cracks me up the most, is the mere suggestion that a certain style, sound or song might not have an audience simply because it’s not what’s on the radio today. Radio itself, hangs on by the fact that it can act as an emergency broadcast system – or in my opinion, it’d already be long, long obsolete. But what I’m getting at is … there is ALWAYS a home for our music, always a place for our creations, always an ear to listen … and who even CARES if we find that in the mainstream? You must have experienced that kind of confirmation with the release of “I’ve Seen Love” right? Even places like here at sleepingbagstudios, where we might not normally jump to that style or genre … there’s an acceptance here, and a willingness to listen. Whether radio will ever get a clue or not … it’s gotta be comforting to realize that the world is actually quite large when it comes to listening to music isn’t it? There are sooooooo many places to put your music out there Dan … tell us the truth – it’s not nearly as intimidating, scary or negative as many people like to make that experience seem is it?
Dan: Yeah, so we’re definitely on the same page, Jer. No matter how you slice it, trying to promote your music is a lot of work. I think most fans have no idea how much time & effort goes into promotion. It’s frequently much more time than is spent writing, recording & playing. So, if you’re gonna do that much work, why swim upstream reaching out to get fans of Justin Bieber, Deftones and K-Pop when my potential listeners more likely listen to Adele, Hall & Oates and John Legend? I’ve been having good success by acknowledging my fans, and by looking for more people like them.
SBS: In order to really make that cut … to make that impact with YOU and for you to want to record it to begin with – what does a song from Dan McLean Jr HAVE to have in order to make the grade? What are the defining qualities in a song you’d write that make it one you’d want to put out there for others to hear and what separates that sound from anything else we might experience in music to make it identifiable to you specifically?
Dan: The songs have to be very true to my own views. Like I said, although I write mostly fiction, I inject myself into the protagonists. There’s an underlying ethical base of love, respect, honesty & decency. Again, there are also snippets of rationality. The characters have flaws, and have moments of anger and inner-conflict, but the message always is about what I believe to be right.
Lyrics aside, when Dave & I started writing these songs together, I laid out three criterion. The songs have to feature my voice, they should have distinct elements of Soul music, and I must be able to play them alone on guitar. My solo versions have much simpler guitar parts than when Dave plays them, and I’ve had to learn a lot of guitar skills to make them work, but that just means my guitar playing has gotten better.
SBS: SBS Open Floor Dan! My friend – we could have talked about a million different things throughout this interview … and of course, there’s never enough time. Please accept our many thanks for being here with us to answer the questions we did get to ask … and by all means, take this last spot here in the ‘open floor’ to mention anything else at all that you’d like to …. the floor is yours my friend!
Dan: I gotta tell you, Jer, that this is, by far, one of the best interviews I’ve done. Usually, an interviewer just listens to the song once, and pretends to ask original questions, but you really challenged me. Thank you!
Find out more about Dan McLean Jr. at his official page: http://danmcleanjr.com
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