This week on The Songwriter Series, we’re delighted to have English artist Dan Michaelson, occasionally of Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards, and former frontman of Absentee.
With Dan Michaelson, strong comparisons are ready to be drawn with the otherwise incomparable – the likes of Bill Callahan and Leonard Cohen. His songs are the rich, subversive sort which sneak into your system, trapped in your consciousness days after a first listen, leaning against the walls.
At what point did you know that you wanted to be a songwriter professionally? Was there something that made you realise it was the best thing for you?
“After I left University, I was working in an off license. In the hours I wasn’t selling alcohol, I was drinking it. I had no idea what i was supposed to be doing with myself or my time, and I was wasting most of it. I took a trip to New York via Iceland to get some thinking space, and ended up staying in Iceland for 3 months. It was during this time that I decided to try writing my own songs.
I’d been in bands before this but as a guitar player, not a writer or singer. Though I wrote some pretty awful songs in this period, the sense of purpose it gave me was enough to convince me that this was how I wanted to spend my time. And consequently, something that made me feel that there was not something huge missing in my life.”
Is there a song on your setlist that you look forward to playing a little bit more than the others?
“I always love playing the song Something Awful/Dancing... I have no idea why. It just stays with me. Aside from that, the new songs are always something to look forward to, as they still have a little mystery for me.
There are songs I dread seeing on the setlist too. Mostly because they refuse to be played well, or I just cant play them very well, So we battle…”
What do you hope people take from a Dan Michaelson record? Is this different to what you hope people take from a Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards album?
“Theres a little more intimacy with a Dan Michaelson record, but essentially I think there is little difference between the two. Each new record is a marker of a passing year, so there’s a diary quality to it all.
If I think about what I hope someone would take from a record of ours, I’d want to feel it was enveloping them, a giant pair of arms wrapping them up in the cold.”
Can you think of a gig, or a moment during a performance, when you realised you were doing something bigger than you had been before?
“The first time that the audience fell completely silent during a song felt significant. Whenever we play now, there is always a point where I realise that there is utter silence in the room, and it affects me. Whether that silence is from the audience feeling a little uncomfortable or enjoyment, I have no idea, but I prefer to think the latter.”
Is there a song that you wish you’d written?
“There are many songs I wish I’d written… far too many, I think. Lou Reed’s Make Up, Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat, the entire Chess Records back catalogue… the list is endless.”
Please describe what it is that you experience when you’re on stage.
“Extreme fear followed by complete calm, then I bounce between extreme ego and terrifying insecurity for the duration. It’s a lot of fun.”
What are ‘Knots’, as you mean them, in your song of the same name?
“Knots mean a few things. It’s how you tie your shoe laces, it’s a word for the feeling of stress you get in your shoulders. Sometimes, it’s a way of tying two things together, and its also a way of expressing when you get confused with a situation… you would say “I’m in Knots”. The last two meanings are the closest to what I mean by the word in this context.”
What are Dan Michaelson fans like?
“Dan Michaelson fans are ever hopeful that I will repay their patience and support by one day becoming incredibly successful. They are generally warm and very talkative. I’ve met many people who may have referred to themselves as fans, and although they are usually drunk, I cant complain.”
Check back this Friday as Dan adds to The Songwriter Playlists, revealing the artists he’s been enjoying lately.
Last week on The Songwriter Series: Katie Herzig.