Dan Sadin is a talented guitarist ready to put his name on his own work after years of recording and touring with other acts. He primarily is known for his role in FRENSHIP, and has also worked with the likes of Sabrina Claudio, Jessie Ware, and MØ, but it is his new solo project that he is predictably most excited and proud to release. His debut self-titled EP comes out this Friday.
I had the chance to pick Dan’s brain about coming into his own as a solo artist, continuing his grandfather’s legacy, rediscovering his own creativity, as well as the role of politics in music. Read it below.
Dan Sadin will be performing at the Lodge Room on June 28th with some notable supporting talent, including FRENSHIP, Holychild, and Liv Slingerland; more info here. Follow Dan Sadin on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
You go by ‘Sadin’ to honor your maternal grandfather, someone who shares a lot of your character traits as a dedicated player and songwriter. Can you talk about what his legacy meant to you when you were young, and how it fuels you today?
Dan Sadin: Music has always been intertwined with the memory of my Grandpa. I can recall many foggy scenes of him playing at his Baldwin grand piano. His fingertips would scratch the finish from headboard, as he sang songs to both my brother and me about a pelican named Peter, marching ants, and other children’s fantasies. He passed away when I was pretty young. Those memories, a few old tape cassettes, and some sheet music are pretty much all I have left of him.
He was an arranger for the big swing bands in Chicago during the 1930’s and, from what I’ve been told, started to see some moderate success as a musician. He and his writing partner were asked by Walt Disney to come out to California and become staff music writers. Grandpa Sadin had to turn down the Disney offer, while his partner moved to California and wrote Zip A Dee Doo Da. I think subconsciously a lot of my drive as a musician – to make this happen – is to do it for my grandfather. To carry on his legacy, live out a dream that he wasn’t able to have. I like to think he’s with me on this journey.
Your music channels a lot of my dad’s favorite artists, like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, but you take it to a modern place. What influences you outside of music?
DS: My dad is an architect and when I was young, he would ask me to lend a hand while he worked on projects around the house. I’m grateful for all of that tactile experience and love to build things, especially furniture. I built my own garage studio with a friend – it’s where I record. It has a real, special cabin-like vibe, and it’s become one of my favorite rooms to work in. There’s something rewarding about it: creating in a space that you’ve built yourself.
I also love to cook. Ever since I saw the first Mind of a Chef on PBS with David Chang, I’ve been a big fan of his. I think he can be stubborn but he sticks to what he believes in and I have a lot of respect for that. Also, he’s not afraid to push the boundaries, or look at the larger context of where his food sits in a cultural setting. I’ve been binging his Netflix show, Ugly Delicious, on tour. Both cooking and building are so hands-on and immediate, it provides a nice change of pace from music.
I also love to read and explore writing – something I think I get from my brother, who is a poet. Patti Smith is probably my favorite writer right now. Just Kids is my favorite book. And I always carry around a copy of Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” with me wherever I go.
This solo project came together during a break between tours, and it’s been described as a fresh start after a particularly chaotic period of your life. Nothing could embody that more succinctly than your lead single, “The Way That It Hurts.” Would you say this release is a cathartic one?
DS: Absolutely. I think this whole EP is a cathartic release. With “The Way That It Hurts,” I almost didn’t keep the line at the end of the chorus, “Tell me what you want, what you want from me.” It was the first line I wrote and it just came out of me without knowing what I was saying. Looking back now, I was speaking to my past relationships, to myself, to my pain, all at once, just begging to understand what the hell was happening in my life. There were so many important relationships ending and new ones sprouting up. I was looking for a way to move forward. I hate overthinking things, and I do it too often. I stopped thinking and went with what felt right.
Also, I have a lot of anxiety letting songs go. Putting “The Way That It Hurts” out and launching this project was hugely cathartic, just to let go and say to myself, “see…you can do this.”
In describing your songwriting process to Music Musings and Such, you said: “I never want to be fighting myself for a song.” This begs the question: which of the tracks on your upcoming release was hardest to write?
DS: Honestly, “The Way That It Hurts” was the hardest. It was the first song for this project and it took the longest (almost 2 years). I went through too many different arrangements, multiple choruses, there’s a pile of lyrics that never got used. I recorded the music, and then re-recorded it. Then went back to the original parts. I was exploring what I wanted to say, how I wanted this project to sound. I’m still learning from the song every time I play it live.
After “The Way That It Hurts,” I’ve been able to look at other songs I’ve written and see them in a new light. I was recording the organ on “Here Comes The Heartbreak” and my girlfriend walked into the studio. Immediately she asked, “What song is that? Who is that singing?!” I laughed – she’s heard me sing for many years. It was in that moment I realized, through “The Way That It Hurts,” that I had found a piece of me I didn’t know existed–something different, more fully realized and set apart from what I had been doing before. Despite the difficulty of finishing that song, it’s undeniably the starting point for this project.
I do have a handful of songs I worked on for this EP that aren’t finished – the others felt more appropriate for this first release. But I plan on continuing to work on them, to finish them for future releases. Hopefully they’re not as hard to finish as “The Way That It Hurts”!
You also told them that you feel like you grew up twice. We probably don’t need to hear about your experiences with puberty, but you also mention: “I rekindled a creative fire I never knew had gone out.” What made you recognize this recent creative awakening?
DS: I’ve had some incredible experiences with the projects I’ve been involved in–we’ve toured the world, played in front of crazy big crowds, and even played Red Rocks (WTF!!). And when I looked back on it all last year, that’s when I woke up. I recognized that I was only scratching the surface of these dream scenarios. It felt like living in some alternate reality. I wasn’t playing my own music.
It’s weird trying to make a living as a musician. You have to make decisions about how you’re going to pay rent, eat, survive. Often times those decisions result in doing work for others before doing it for yourself. And then you end up living on somebody else’s schedule and not your own. Too much of that burnt me out and resulted in me shutting off my own creativity. I have so much love and gratitude for all of the work I get to be involved with, but it’s not the same. I’m ready now to do all of this with my own music, my own voice, and my own direction.
“Here Comes the Heartbreak” stands apart as a calm, quiet track, but ironically, it feels like numerous guitars contribute to that soft feeling. The lyrics also seem to describe a tornado of emotion; a fairly intimidating image. What went into this recording?
DS: This might be my favorite song on the EP. It came quickly through the room and I was lucky enough to catch it.
I saw my job with this song as more of getting out of its way, letting it be sparse, rather than trying to think of parts I could add or what it might need; I tried to let the song speak up. The guitar is a natural extension of my voice and so those parts just kind of came out and it seemed like the right move to make them the backbone of the song. I see the organ and bass as the connective tissue. And the harmonies as little pixels of color that help add depth. I definitely had Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” in my head as I was writing this one.
I also wrote it at a time when I was beginning to process a breakup with my longtime girlfriend. I had previously put aside all of my feelings in an attempt to not deal with them. And then they all just came crashing in and hit me like a wave. I think this weird, out of body experience resulted in a song that acknowledges the pain of a breakup, but is ultimately rooted in gratitude for the life we shared together. I think that’s why there’s a contrast between the lyrics and the music. I never wanted this to be a depressive breakup song.
You’ve said that “Lost on Nothing” refers to the extreme division in American politics. For all the stress our current administration causes, especially to marginalized communities, it sure doesn’t feel like nothing. Can you explain why you chose that syntax?
DS: If you peel back the layers of what’s happening today, even on a global political scale, you can see that all these labels, preconceptions, rhetoric, etc, are just diversions from what is actually happening and I think we’re missing the deeper root of these issues. This has created an unwillingness to approach any situation with any sort of empathy. The “nothing” in the song is trying to get at that root level so that we can have a clear conversation without mishearing each other. Where we seem to have gotten lost is that we fail to see each other as humans, as equals.
When we’re born, we don’t immediately see skin color, race, background, or class. These things are not innate; they’re taught to us and institutionalized. What is innate is that as humans, we all want the exact same things, among them: love, trust, and happiness. We all want to feel safe and to be heard. We should have equal opportunity to access these things. And I do recognize that there is a very deep scar of hurt that exists and will be difficult to get past – I’m not in anyway trying to negate that or write it off.
We (I co-wrote this song with my friend, Colyer) used the verses to speak to that hurt. Saying that we got lost on nothing after building up that tension in the verses felt like the right, hopeful way of saying all of this. If we want to move forward, we need to be able to communicate clearly and see each other as human beings, not left, right, red, blue, white, black.
On “Lost on Nothing” in particular, you use your songwriting to address a larger issue in our society, which you have said you believe is important for musicians with a platform. What impact do you hope to have on national conversations?
DS: Honestly, I just hope to start having conversations. I think people are so averse to speaking up about their beliefs because they’re expecting to end up in an argument. It’s important to create a safe space for people to express themselves clearly. If we don’t talk about it, we’ll never be able to solve it. I don’t know that it’s necessarily appropriate for only artists to take on this responsibility, but luckily we have the ability to communicate with an audience. And since I am using music to reflect my life, it would be dishonest or inauthentic to not talk about these issues that affect me and others in my life. I’m not looking to make political music. I’m also not looking to be silent.
Once your EP drops later this week, what else do you have in store?
DS: I’m going to be working this release as hard as I can. I’ve got an EP release show coming up to celebrate getting the EP out into the world. I am lining up more shows and tours to get the music out to as many people as possible. I’ll also be working on more music that I’d like to release later this year. Off the road, I’ve been doing a lot of work for my friend, Stint. He’s been producing on a lot of really great albums and songs (recently, Jessie Ware, Gallant, MØ, Portugal. The Man). In addition to some of that back catalogue, I’ve worked and played on a handful of tunes that will be coming out later this year. I’m really pumped on all of that, excited for those songs to come out.
I’ve also been working with my close friend and collaborator, Colyer, on his music, which he will be releasing later this year. And I am producing and writing with Frenship’s keyboardist, Celeste on her debut EP. Excited to finish that up and watch her put it out into the world.
In short, shows, music, more music, more shows. Let’s do this!
words by: Zoë Elaine