From The Vaults: Interview With Dan Schafer From Dan Vapid & The Cheats/The Methadones/Sludgeworth/Screeching Weasel/Riverdales/The Mopes
Critical Mass: Thanks for taking the time to speak with Critical Mass, Dan. I know you have a lot going on, so we'll get right to it. You've got a new band, Dan Vapid & The Cheats, and your first show is May 27th at Cobra Lounge. Who's playing with you, and how did you get the band started?
Danny Schafer: The band is me on lead vocals and guitar, Simon Lamb (The Riverdalesredux) on bass, Mike Byrne (The Methadones) on lead guitar and Mike Soucy (The Methadones) on drums. The idea behind performing as a solo act has been a suggested idea of sorts for a few years now. It started a few years back with a promoter in Genova, Italy who asked if I would be interested in touring over there playing my back catalog of songs from various bands I played in: Riverdales, Methadones, Mopes, Sludgeworth, Screeching Weasel etc... I thought it was a cool idea and a great chance to see Italy again, but never came into fruition because of other musical obligations. But since the unfortunate events with Screeching Weasel at SXSW, I would soon be left without a job. I got a call from Mike Byrne the following week and picked up some temp work through the company he works for. While working, he got a text message from the people at Cobra Lounge asking if I would be interested in doing a solo show on the same weekend that the Weasel anniversary fest was scheduled. At first, I wasn't very interested. I was still feeling very out of sorts and emotionally wrought from SXSW. Mike really liked the idea when we started talking about it and he offered to play guitar. Within a week, I began gravitating towards the idea of doing this show. I was getting lots of support after the SXSW fiasco from friends, bands and fans and that meant a lot to me. Not to mention all the people that booked airfare, hotels, etc... to see Weasel Fest, which is now canceled. It's a bad situation and not what most people made plans to come to Chicago to hear. But If there's a silver lining in this shit cloud, people can still stick around and get a chance to hear my back catalog of songs and get to see Kurt Baker and The Jetty Boys. So far, the response to this has been positive. As long as there are people who want to hear these songs, I'm more than happy to play them.
CM: In the past you've played "Make Way" and "Back To You" by The Riverdales and "Someday" by Sludgeworth during Methadones sets. Can we expect those songs this time around? Or is the set list being kept hush for the moment?
DS: There are no secrets. We'll be playing all the songs you've mentioned and more. A whole set full of them.
CM: What can we expect from The Cheats this year? More shows or maybe some new recorded material?
DS: I'm working on doing some more shows. I've already have had a few offers and will be playing Insubordination Fest in August. I have plenty of songs written for a new record so hopefully they will have a home with this project and we can generate some interest with some record labels on that front as well.
CM: You're a legend in the Chicago punk scene and you have been an influence on many, not just in Chicago, but around the world. Who influenced you as a musician and a songwriter?
DS: Lots. Here are some songwriters. They range in genre, but here they are: Dee Dee Ramone, Joey Ramone, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Kim Schattuck, Pete Shelly, Buddy Holly, Leslie Gore, Hank Williams Sr., Jeff Pezzati, Pierre Kedzy, Ben Weasel, Paul Collins, Cliff Johnson, Rick Nielson, Blake Schwarzenbach, Matt Skiba, Josh Caterer, John Samson, Ben Gibbard, Elliott Smith, Rhett Miller, Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould and many more. Also, autobiographies from musicians, books or documentaries on bands, producers or studios like Sun Records, novelists like Charles Bukowski and John Fante, comedians like George Carlin or composers of film scores like Bill Conti and EnnioMorricone; they all play a role, even if it's very subtle. I try to take what I like about something and give it my own twist or sensibility.
CM: You were recently involved in the Black Sheep sessions, and recorded a single. How did you get involved in the band and what was is like playing with such legends as Eric Spicer and Jake Burns?
DS: Mike Byrne had told me about the project and how it was associated with a new restaurant opening and I thought it was cool. Many years ago, I went to culinary school and cooking has remained and interest with me ever since. I never had the opportunity to mix music and cooking; two things that I have so much interest in. So, I e-mailed James Toland (Black Sheep Restaurant) and asked if I could write a song for the project and it was done. I was really excited about the project and to work with musicians who have had such a big influence on me. Years ago, if somebody would have told me that I would write a song and Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers and Eric Spicer of Naked Raygun would play on it, I wouldn't have believed it. It was a bit surreal. As soon as Jake started playing guitar, I got goosebumps. Although not a S.L.F. song, it had all the nuances of his playing and I was totally eating it up.
CM: I heard some of the proceeds from sales of the Black Sheep single will go to charity. Is that correct?
DS: Correct; the Children's Memorial Hospital.
CM: Are there any plans for another Black Sheep recording session in the near future?
DS: It's hard to say. There are lots of people involved, all whom have projects of their own. But if everybody was down for doing it again, I'd love to.
CM: With all the bands you've played with, what do you feel is your greatest musical achievement thus far?
DS: This question is always difficult for me to answer. But some of the Sludgeworth songs and my contributions to Screeching Weasel's "My Brain Hurts" were big achievements for me. They were breakthroughs as a musician. But, ultimately, I'm just happy to make a connection with the listener no matter what the song is. Being able to make music, travel the world and having people appreciate what I do is what means the most to me.
CM: You've been recording music for more than 20 years now. How do you feel the scene has changed from the early '90s to now?
DS: The mid-'90s was the merging of 'punk rock' into the mainstream. There was the success of bands like Green Day and the influx of bands that followed. Some of it made for positive change and some of it was really stupid. Since about 1999-2000 and on, there have been so many sub-genres of punk rock not only in Chicago but around the world. In a populated city like Chicago, these sub-genres have grown into many scenes, some tightly knit, and spread out over the city and suburbs. It can be hard to keep track of them. I've read some of your other interviews with guys like John Haggerty, for example, who say when they started, it was much smaller and everyone knew each other. I totally agree. In my experience, it was also less fragmented. The guy who listened to Flipper and Husker Du was friends with the guy who liked Minor Threat and The Misfits. It was all kind of part of the same thing. It's not like that as much anymore. You have pop punk kids, emo kids, hardcore kids, etc... with scenes that have little or nothing to do with each other. Then, of course, technology and the Internet played a big role of changing the punk scene. There wasn't MySpace or Facebook, etc...
CM: When The Methadones decided to call it a day, people seemed to take a step back, kind of shocked. I know I was blown away by the news. Was it hard to say goodbye? And do you see the four of you playing together or recording ever again?
DS: We were a band for 10 years, had internal problems for about 5 years and we still kept going. We tried to work through it, hoping there was some spark left. Even though I was a little sad about it, we were all ready to move on. We got to the point where we were going through the motions and it was getting very stale. We all went through periods of giving a shit and not giving a shit, all at different times. We're all still good friends and I'm sure we'll work together in some capacity, but likely not as the Methadones.
CM: Before I let you go, is there a website that you would like to plug for any of your former bands? And where can we go to find out about upcoming shows, releases or merch?
DS: Since I'm not playing in those bands anymore, I'd rather plug who I am currently playing with. Look out for Noise By Numbers, which will have a new record on Jump Start Records titled, "Over Leavitt" out in July. Also keep an eye out for Dan Vapid & The Cheats- we'll be playing at Cobra Lounge on May 27th. Hope to see you there!
CM: I would like to thank you again for taking time out to talk with us, Dan. I am excited to see the new group live, and want to wish you and the band all the best in the coming months! Thanks again, Dan.