I first saw Landowner right before the lockdown in March 2020. March 6th to be exact. Although we didn’t know it at the time, it turned out to be Flywheel’s next-to-last show at Old Town Hall. I had volunteered to help Chelsey from Perennial, who booked the show, by doing sound. They played with Hot Dirt and Shake the Baby Til the Love Comes Out.
I didn’t know much, if anything, about the bands so I was going in blind. Landowner immediately grabbed my attention with their repetitious riffs, precise playing, and the lead singer’s stage presence. It was a revelation. Wild-eyed and intense, he prowled around the floor jerking his slender frame in time with the throb of the 2 guitar, bass, drums assault; all the while screaming and growling the lyrics as the crowd happily danced, bobbed their heads, and jumped around. It was one of those shows you’re glad you didn’t miss.
The driving force behind Landowner is Dan Shaw. Not that he doesn’t benefit from the essential contributions of his bandmates, but the concept started as a singular effort. Since starting the band in 2016 he has recruited four Western Mass scene heads to join the party: Josh Daniel/drums, Jeff Gilmartin/guitar (both from Hot Dirt) Josh Owsley/bass and Elliot Hughes/guitar (both from First Children). They play exactlywhat he tells them to. It’s a dictatorship, but a friendly one.
The sound of Landowner takes inspiration from the repetition of Lungfish, the clean guitars of Antelope, the crustyd-beat of Discharge, the right angles of Devo, and the intensity of Rites of Spring; and combines it with cutting, sometimes funny, lyrics that tackle heady subjects like redlining, sexism, politicians, masculinity, the environment, housing, and architecture[?]. For his day job, Dan works as a landscape architect for a Florence, MA-based consulting firm that works on projects like site design, urban planning, and climate change resilience planning. Land works its way into everything about Landowner: the name, the artwork, the lyrics.
Landowner began in 2015/2016 in the quiet woods of Conway, MA. After five years of living in Seattle, where Dan played in the band Health Problems, in 2015 he moved to Conway and started writing and recording songs on his own. So as not to alienate the neighbor on the other side of the wall, he wrote and recorded quietly.
He conjured the songs on the first Landowner release, Impressive Almanac, using a drum machine and playing all the instruments himself through a tiny practice amp, and recording the vocals using a field recorder in his car pulled over by the side of a rural road.
“The first Landowner tape, is the result of me just using what I had available, like a drum machine on my computer and a practice amp. And I got this idea of…wouldn’t it be weird and funny, but probably secretly good, if you had this hyper clean, aggressive hardcore punk thing with no distortion, but it was fast too?”
“And I was trying to make music that–you would almost kind of laugh when you first heard it, but then it would turn out that it’s, like, actually good. And then I kind of got into a groove with it and made an album’s worth of songs and my old band mate from Seattle, Ian Crist, released it on a cassette label.”
Their latest album, Consultant, came out in the fall of 2020 on Born Yesterday Records to enthusiastic reviews. The first vinyl run sold out and was repressed. A total of 500 have been pressed to date. “The most copies of anything I’ve done”. New songs are currently in the works and will hopefully see the light of day in 2022, following their one album every other year pattern.
Landowner | “Old Connecticut Money” | Directed by Piper Preston
Dan grew up in Sutton, located in Worcester County in Central Mass, went to UMass “back in the 0’s”, before moving to Seattle, then landed back in Conway before settling on Holyoke. He currently lives there with his wife Margot, a member of that city’s Food and Equity Collective; an activist organization that organizes projects around unequal access to food and farmer’s markets. He also has a 15 month old son, born right before the lockdown, that rounds out the household.
“He was born, right before the whole COVID lockdown thing, so I had a couple months of figuring out how to juggle being in an active band and taking care of a baby, and then it was all just like, ‘Nope you’re never going out again. Just hunker down and take care of the kid.’ Which has turned out great in a way, because he and I get to spend more time together than we would have.”
In person (on Zoom actually), Dan is nothing like his fiery stage persona. He is thoughtful, friendly, and generous. We spent almost 2 hours discussing a wide range of topics. Here is an edited (for clarity and readability) version of that conversation held on February 13.
How did Landowner come together?
So in 2016 I started sniffing around and finding where…what was upwith the local music scene around here. I started more aggressively going to shows again. I would go out to Flywheel. I would find out where the house shows were. And I just started introducing myself to people. Because that’s one of the things I love most about shows, like how I met you, just talking to people after the band plays and just meeting people who have similar things in common with you. So I just started doing that a bunch and if the conversation went well, I would reach into my pocket and hand them a tape, you know? “Well, just check it out”, you know? And by doing that, eventually, a few months of that and I had band mates and we turned it into the band that it is now.
And these were people you didn’t know?
Yeah it’s all people I didn’t know before relocating back here, so it’s new friends from starting in 2016, 2017 on.
So with the second album was that more of a band thing or was it still…you had the demos of songs and you just said “play this”.
It was that, yeah, yeah (laughs). The second…all the Landowner albums, so far, have worked the same way where… So our second album, Blatant; there are demos of it that sound just like Impressive Almanac, where it’s a drum machine and it’s my little practice amps and it’s just me making the songs. And I write them that way and then send them to the band mates and they learn the parts. And all the bands I’ve been in before this were always totally democratic in terms of writing. We would jam and write collaboratively and I never assumed that you could have just a band leader who writes everything and that could be socially sustainable for the other people.
Yeah. But it totally works because they all get…They have their own bands too. They’re all creative, you know? They write music. The music for Landowner is so engineered that it just kind of works to have one person layer it all up and make all those parts interlock and kind of see the vision through. And those guys are stoked to show up to band practice and just have some fun music ready to play and ready to learn.
Yeah that’s good. It’s almost like a way to kind of just keep their chops up for their other bands and do something maybe that they don’t do normally.
It is. The music in Landowner can be challenging in certain ways because there’s a lot of repetition and the music is hyper clean, so if you slip up at all, you really notice it, you know? So it demands a different kind…it’s not necessarily the shreddiest, or it’s not progy at all, but it does demand a lot of, like, a certain part of your brain. Playing that kind of stuff.
Right. Some of the songs remind me…there’s a song on the second Shellac album that’s, I don’t know, it’s ten minutes long or something…
Yeah yeah yeah! Um, it’s the first one on Terraform.
I love that song.
Yeah! You listen to it, you’re like “okay” and it’s going on and on. And I’m sure this could probably happen with some Landowner songs, where it becomes something else. Even though it’s the same exact thing over and over again, you then are hearing it differently and the beat just changes. I don’t know, it’s some weird psychological thing that happens with repetitive music.
Definitely yeah. And we must have talked, when we talked at Flywheel about Lungfish and Antelope.
Because those are two bands, in particular, that got me kind of obsessed with repetition in music and in post-punk specifically. For that reason that you just said. How you start… Your brain starts to lose track of the pattern and you just become kind of, like, in an environment of sound after a while and the thing that… as the music repeats, your own thoughts are changing so it’s like a measuring…it’s like a baseline to measure your own kind of movement through time by listening to repetitive music.
Yeah and there’s a fair amount of African music, I think, that is very repetitious, that I’ve heard, that evokes similar things, like Malian music and other things that…
Yeah, well Fela Kuti is one of my favorite musicians.
A ton of repetition in his music. And his music is so aggressive too and I like that combination of things.
Yeah and then there’s, you know, people like Mdou Moctar who…he does a lot more flashy soloing type stuff, but there’s a lot of repetition there. And the beats are sort of… they’re straight and they’re lopsided at the same time so… It’s very cool. I had a question about the music. So you write the bass part, the guitar parts and everything and you say “okay, two minutes in it does this” and it’s just… It’s that structured usually?
Usually, yeah. It’s hyper structured. I pretty much write everything to a T. And I’ll start with the drums, usually. I’ll just kind of spread out a drum loop on the top bar of the recording program and then usually I’ll noodle around on guitar and…
You do all that with a drum machine?
Yeah yeah. And then…so it’s all to one tempo the whole time and then I’ll noodle around on guitar and then add the second guitar. And I usually add the bass last, for whatever reason. I don’t know. The bass just sort of gives color underneath what you’ve just done. It takes the tapestry you’ve just made and suddenly defines the overall tone of the whole thing. So I really kind of like doing the bass last. And I’ve played bass in more bands than any other instrument, like in the past. And I’ve surprised myself, as I realized that lately I’ve gotten into adding the bass last. I sort of… I don’t know if it’s my favorite part or not but I save it for last for some reason.
Yeah so how…those bands like Lungfish and Shellac and all that, how did you come to discover them? Because you’re not that young but you’re younger than I am and they had sort of stopped playing around that time I think right?
Yep. My…I guess in terms of my age the link would be having an older brother who got into music, like, a decade before me.
He was your portal?
Yeah he was my portal to a lot of stuff. And when I was a teenager I was really into Nirvana. Because it’s easy to discover Nirvana because they were so famous. Yeah, but Nirvana were very good at advertising what their underground influences from the 80s were. So as I got obsessed with what Kurt Cobain would listen to, I would discover things like the Meat Puppets and stuff. And I noticed that he mentioned Fugazi a few times and so I went down in the basement of my parents house and found my older brother, in the early 90s, had checked out Fugazi. They didn’t stick. Like, they didn’t become his favorite band, but he bought, like, four of their tapes. So I just…when I was, like, 15 or 16, popped in Repeater and was not taken with it instantly, but I was really intrigued. I found Fugazi really hard to digest compared to the more mainstream grunge stuff I had been into.
Also lyrically, you know?
Yeah lyrically. And there’s something sly about Fugazi’s groove. It’s just…it’s noisy and it’s a little discontent but there is a groove there, and there is syncopation there, and it… I wanted to like it more than I genuinely liked it right away, so I forced myself to listen to Fugazi. And then it became my favorite band before very long. I got totally into them. So then discovering Dischord Records…I would go online. And that was the tail end of when Fugazi was playing. I got into them and I checked out their website and it’s like “Oh Fugazi shows exist, but they’re far away from me. I’ll wait until…” turns out never (laughs). And they stopped playing.
So yeah, you had heard about them and then that just sent you down the…
Yeah so then I checked out who they are. And Ian MacKaye is super vocal. It’s easy to learn a lot of history. And he advertises the bands that he wants to back. And quickly I learned about other stuff. And so yeah, when I discovered Lungfish, that was…I discovered them gradually I think, because I bought their CD Necrophones which, to this day, is not my top favorite Lungfish album. So I thought it was really cool, but I didn’t get obsessed with them until, like, a year or two later when I was in college. And then I got another and another of their albums. And started to really get it. And Lungfish take that post-hardcore thing Fugazi do and turn it into this mystical, ceremonial-sounding… through repetition. For any readers who may not know Lungfish: when you’ve heard the first riff in a Lungfish song, that’s what you’re going to hear for the next four minutes.
But it’s heavy too. And the lyrics are really full of imagery and constantly changing and really cool to listen to. So I got really obsessed. I found Lungfish were steadying anytime I was going through anything tumultuous in my life, or if I felt stressed out I could, like, listen to that type of repetitious music and feel settled, and feel more grounded that way. Lungfish’s music is both powerful and peaceful, all at the same time.
And then from there, I got into Antelope, who take Lungfish’s formula and do it with hyper clean guitars. And that leads to a decade later when I started Landowner. I was taking the sound that Antelope did and imagining “what if they were reading the sheet music of a Discharge song?” And that’s kind of the riddle that led to my current bands formula. Landowner is a very formulaic band but I believe in that. As a designer, like in my work in landscape architecture, the creative stuff I do is always responding to constraints, you know? I feel like people will sometimes get writer’s block when you’re making, like, electronic music and there’s a hundred different synth plugins you could toy around with and you have any option of sound available to you in the world, it’s… You can get bogged down in that. And I find sometimes it helps to just set arbitrary creative rules for yourself and then work within that and just see “Okay, what can I do if”… in our case, you know, no distortion, no effects pedals; just two guitars, a bass, drum set. And we’re making this style of music. And the way it varies comes from what we do with our hands; with the riffs we play and stuff like that.
So once you got the actual…the band together playing to your “design”, uh, did you go on tour…do any touring, or just…
Yeah, yeah, a little. We played locally as much as we could. Like any person starting a band, at first you just play every show you can. I really believe in that. Just not really being too cool to turn anything down, even now, really. And then with five people who are all in other bands and some of us have family obligations and stuff, it’s hard for us to drop everything we’re doing and do lengthy tours. But, um, we toured for a week in the midwest and Canada back in 2018 for our second album, Blatant, which has all of us on the recording. And then in 2019 we went for two weeks to Europe, which was awesome.
In Utrecht, Netherlands. Photo by Ab Al-Tamimi.
Yeah and how did…did you book the tour or…
Yeah it was a lot of work.
Yeah I bet.
Yeah. Friends who had booked DIY tours in Europe for their own bands gave me contacts and emails of people who set up shows in each city, and they encouraged me to go for it. Other people warned me that “This sounds impossible and it’s going to be a lot of work”. And it just…it just was. It was many many months of constant emailing and keeping track of contacts in a spreadsheet. And you have to book shows so much farther in advance in Europe than you do here.
Well if it was hard in 2018, 2019, think about, like, the 80s and 90s!
And before the internet. So I don’t doubt that it was difficult. But yeah it was probably a little bit easier than in the past.
I don’t doubt it. You’re right! Yeah yeah. At least I have the internet. Yeah I imagine it was a lot of phone calls and keeping track of the time zone difference. Back then.
So how was that European tour in the end?
Really really fun. Yeah. I mean there’s so much infrastructure and culture in place for taking great care of humble DIY bands no one’s heard of, who go over there. I’m just assuming this but I imagine their semi-socialist governments must give out funding for the arts that these booking organizations have access to. Because, usually, we had a guaranteed pay of, you know, at least 100 or 200 euro. Enough to sustain being there, you know? And people cook you food for dinner at the show and breakfast the next day. And we always slept on a mattress. All of us, you know, hanging out with really cool people. And people come out to the show. People are just interested in checking out a band who made the effort to come to their town and play. So every show was just super fun and interesting. We always met cool people and had great hangouts so it was worth the work of booking it.
In Leipzig, Germany, 2019. Courtesy of Landowner
Yeah. I don’t know if it was inspired by that tour, but you’ve got that, on Blatant, the “Floor” song.
Yeah! That was just inspired by touring in general. Just the idea of like…
That’s a fun tour song.
Well that’s good that that’s still happening, because every band I know whose toured Europe has said that the hospitality is amazing and, you know, I think that probably grew out of squats and things in the early 80s. You’d book tours and it was more of a… you’re playing house shows basically.
Yeah, but I think you’re right. I think a lot of that stuff has become formalized with grants and funding agencies and stuff, yeah. We played at a couple squats that were on the range of formal to informal. Like we played one very kind of crust punky, extremely under the radar, squat. And another one in Switzerland we played at supposedly was a squat in the 80s and now it’s like something out of Dwell magazine. It’s like this complex with wood and steel and there’s hanging gardens and gangplank walkways around the inner courtyards and there’s a little bar with wood paneled walls and craft beer on tap. And it’s all run by punks and stuff. But they’re doing really well for themselves somehow.
Yeah so how has the pandemic affected the band? I mean did you basically just shut down? The album, [Consultant] came out, um,…I don’t know what level of production that was in or anything…
So, yeah, the timing was good for us recording the album because we finished…we recorded it pretty quickly; like in the fall and early winter of 2019. And then it was in the pipeline so when the pandemic hit, it had already been recorded. So we got it mixed and mastered and then it got pressed and released in the summer, or fall I guess. September. Yeah, so we all haven’t been playing. Just because with five people in the band, all of our different, you know, bubbles mixing is just too…there’s too much risk. Like I depend on my mother and my mother-in-law to watch my son certain days of the week but one of my band mates works at a job where the public is coming in and out of the facility, and it’s just… there’s too much room for transmitting the virus, so we just haven’t gotten together as a band, which is a shame. We got together once in the summer. We played outside, just for practice and now I’m still writing. And since I write the stuff alone anyway I’ve still been doing that. So I have brand new stuff I’ve made, that I’ve been emailing my bandmates and they’re, you know, gradually learning and…
Have you thought about doing some kind of, you know, virtual recording where… Not on zoom but…
You could track…each person…
We’re doing that. Yeah. Right now we’re working on something like that. We’re taking a couple of the new songs and trying that out where each person records their part separately, but we’re all going off the drum machine demos. Like the tempo is the same and we’re just gonna assemble it and see how we can make it sound.
And you think that’ll be something…and is the drummer going to do tracks for that? Are you going to keep it…
Yeah, yeah. He’s going to record himself on it, um, and that’s the way we’ve always written them anyway. Like I write it with a drum machine and then Josh re-records himself playing the drums. And I have hopes that it’ll turn out well. I mean our first tape, where it’s all me with a drum machine is as artificial as it gets so…and that came out sounding pretty good. So I have hopes that we’ll get something good out of this process.
Yeah but it must be still rough not to be able to play.
Yeah. I mean I miss jamming. Like, I’m ready for a vaccine. I’m gonna be first in line. Sign me up! I am ready! One thing…like, a year ago, everyone in Landowner…we were all kind of…different combinations of us were frequently just getting together, just jamming for fun with no agenda. Not even writing Landowner songs. Just hanging out you know? And I just miss doing stuff like that.
Yeah. So how did you hook up with Born Yesterday Records?
That was from going out to shows and playing shows. So there’s two guys, Greg and Kevin, who are that record label and I met Kevin when he played in the band Clearance. They toured through here and they did a show at Red Kross [house venue in Northampton, MA] and I really liked their set. So I started talking to him afterwards about it and the conversation was going well and we were getting along. So this was back in early 2017. And I just gave him a Landowner tape. I had a copy of Impressive Almanac with me and that was something I would do back then. So Kevin ended up really liking it and then a few months later when Clearance toured through again, Landowner had just started playing shows and we played a show in a garage in Hadley together. And Kevin was excited to see us play because he liked the tape that I gave him. And so we all had fun at the show and afterwards he and Greg and I were talking and they…Greg and Kevin at that stage were thinking of starting a record label and I was all about it. I was like “Yeah I’ll give you a song. Sure!” They were thinking of putting a comp together. Then I followed up with them by email and I was like “Hey, uh, how about a full album? We got all these songs.” And they were down. And so I… It’s like I just didn’t say no. There’d be no point waiting around for your dream label. Sure it’s two guys I met at a show who are starting a brand new label from scratch. Yes, if you’re willing to release it I am all for it. And its turned out really really good. Because they’ve stuck with it and they’ve gone on to release some other really cool bands and we’re just sticking with them. It’s like we’re friends and so I… You know, the short version of that story would be: just by going to shows a bunch and just chatting with a bunch of people to make friends with, who you’re playing with and checking out their set and talking to them afterwards. That’s… I mean that’s one of my favorite parts of going to shows.
Live at the Hadley, MA Garage | June 26, 2017 | Filmed by Sam Hadge
Yeah. And so once you did go out on tour how did the albums sell? You must have sold a lot when you were touring.
Um, yeah. So they pressed 300 copies of Blatant and they eventually all sold out. And for us, our first tour, where we went to the Midwest and back, for a week…it’s not like there were tons and tons of people coming to the shows. They were all good shows. They were just solid DIY shows, like in basements and stuff. And we sold, you know, a few records at each show. And in my experience, just persistently touring and persistently playing shows helps get more people to come out. So I don’t think Landowner has really toured frequently enough to have lots of people purposely come to our shows in out of town places. You know? Europe might be a little different because there seems to be a supportive culture of people just checking out shows. But I was in another band when I lived in Seattle called Health Problems and we toured a little more often than Landowner has. We would only tour the west coast but it was enough to kind of see the change after a few tours. It got to a point where we started to get kind of better shows; where just more people came, you know? And it kind of sounds weird to say a better show is the one that more people come to, but it kind of is. It’s like, you don’t play a show because you don’t want people to hear you, you know? You do hope that your music is going to reach the people who are going to like it. So yeah it’s more energizing when there’s like…when the room feels full, you know?
Even if it’s a small room.
Yeah and I think you could probably agree that there’s been small shows that have been great and not great and big shows: same thing.
Yeah totally. And I mean… from the first Landowner show… We played a house show in Western Mass in Belchertown, and I was like “I’ve achieved my goal. This is it.” I’ve played in front of 15 people in this little room and it was people from the local Western Mass scene who I just really respected musically and I could not believe they were checking out the music I had created. And that’s it. I’ve done it. That’s… I’ve achieved my goal. Every show I play, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to, you know, delude myself that I’m gonna become this rich famous person making a living off music. I make my living in other ways and then I just make music on my own terms. And it’s how I make my friends and it’s how I connect with my community. So I’m content with playing these basement shows and things.
Live at Cold Spring Hollow | Belchertown, MA | April 12, 2017 | Filmed by Sam Hadge
Yeah! So we’ve talked a lot about the sort of music influence. And the lyrics…it seems there’s a lot of influence of your day job lyrically
And is that something that you sort of set out to do or…like in the beginning when you were…when you had sort of said “I want to make music like this” and then it’s time to write the lyrics. So what was your thinking? Has that changed over time? From the beginning when you were writing lyrics, versus now. Did you get more intentional or… how did that evolve?
Um, it evolved pretty naturally. I think the work I do in planning and landscape architecture I do because I’m interested in it. I studied it in school and it brings together a lot of the stuff I get worked up about in this world. So writing lyrics that reference the concept of the illusion of unbounded economic growth and suburban sprawl spreading out until there’s no more room and how just trying to paint a little brief picture of how absurd that is. Those ideas I just think about constantly when I’m in the world. And it happens that my work I’m involved in that kind of stuff. Trying to make a positive difference in the world in little ways through my job. But it…it’s the stuff that I am thinking about anyway, so a lot of that works its way into the lyrics and I also think, for whatever reason, I haven’t been super interested, with Landowner, in writing, like, really personal introspective lyrics where I’m laying out my own inner emotional stuff on the table. So maybe that’s some sort of an unconscious line I usually stick to, just for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because it feels productive to have a message to say. To be saying something about the outside world that you share too. I think that it…there’s a place for writing personal, introspective, emotional music, but I also think that Landowner has a vibe that’s very, very, in your face, you know? And it seems like a good vehicle for delivering commentary on the structures of the world around us that…
So do you think–you said you’re trying to affect change–some of these things, these historic inequities that have happened in landscape architecture and city planning and all that. And do you feel like you’re succeeding at that? Or do you ever feel like the lyrics are an outlet? You know, you experience something at work and you see something going a certain way with a project and the band is a way to vent about this thing. Or do you feel like the place you work is generally positive?
Some of my co-workers have checked out Landowner and I feel like they, by and large, kind of get what I’m commenting on. We’re of a similar mindset, kind of, my co-workers and I. We have to be kind of patient doing public work, you know, writing, planning, visioning, planning vision documents for a town or city. It takes patience to see change happen, so I am confident that the projects we do… Like an example of a project we might do at my job is taking a town that has a lot of chaotic suburban sprawl and helping them re-zone the town center to allow higher density, mixed-use buildings. When back in the 1950s, they zoned everything so it would just be single family houses. Now you’ve got a lot of sprawl, they’re cutting the woods down, and it’s just… So having walkable town centers like Easthampton is… We love it. Because you can live in an apartment above a storefront, walk down to the sidewalk, walk to the Flywheel, walk to the grocery store, you know, walk to your friend’s house. So we kind of help guide towns in directions like that through planning, but it takes years for those visions to build out and they… And as a planner, you don’t see that stuff happen precisely. You’re still at the mercy of developers. You write regulations that they have to follow, but you’re designing from a great distance when you’re doing urban planning.
Have you ever had any situations where there was pushback from either the community or the city? Because I know it seems like the architects sometimes get caught in the middle, in the fray you know? The city comes and says we’re going to do this and then the architect comes and shows the fancy pictures and then maybe there’s pushback at a community level…
Yeah. It can happen a lot in all kinds of different ways. We’ll always have public workshops for these projects, where we invite everybody we can reach to come together and learn about what’s going on, sit at tables with maps and talk through the problems that get everybody debating and then try to come to an understanding. We try to understand where people are coming from and we don’t come in assuming we’re the experts on their community. And people are afraid of change. Kind of just as a general rule. And so when people come to a planning meeting they hear “Oh you’re saying that my town isn’t gonna stay the same forever?” even if there’s something wrong with it. Even if there’s horrible traffic and failing infrastructure and a housing shortage they still just assume change is bad, you know? So you usually have to kind of help people see “Okay look, if we don’t do any planning, change is going to find you anyway.” It’s just going to be unplanned chaotic change that you might not like. It’s going to be buildings falling apart because no one can afford to reuse them, or it’s going to be developers creating more suburban sprawl and the traffic gets worse or just, whatever. So we try to help people see that they can help influence the changes that are going to happen and then, in that way, we can address the kind of disagreements that are going to come up and the conflicts of interest that come up.
In this 1 min excerpt from our video chat, Dan explains the where the name Landowner came from…
So you were in Seattle for grad school, is that right?
Yeah yeah. I went to University of Washington to get a master’s in landscape architecture and then stuck around for three more years because I got a job at a firm out there and started a band.
And you had gone there after UMass?
Yep. Right, yeah. I graduated UMass during the recession, so didn’t feel like there were a lot of options. I spent a year after college…I was just traveling around and gardening and stuff. And then went to grad school because there were no career jobs available.
Right. That’s always…a lot of people do that to just delay the inevitable.
Yeah it was cool. I’m glad to have gone out there and lived on the west coast.
Oh yeah, what was Seattle like then?
Well I was there from 2010 to 2015 which was a window that included a lot of change. The place, you know, like Amazon’s big corporate headquarters is there and that was the time that they were really blowing up and the city gentrified pretty rapidly. And the neighborhoods where I was hanging out were getting redeveloped and redeveloped and, uh, the city became sort of a Disneyfied version of the gritty found hipster dump that they assumed it was. Do you know what I’m trying to say?
The authentic little neighborhood that you kind of assume was there before, now there’s a, you know, a really expensive shiny new district full of beautiful modern design with very hipster-oriented boutiques. And, you know, craft breweries and things catering to a crowd of people who moved there recently to get really high paying tech jobs. And the authenticity of the place and the reason people lived in that place, for years, and what they did, culturally, to make it a place, gets pushed out little by little and suddenly you’re left with this recent image of what architects and developers and computer programmers kind of imagine Seattle was and should be. But it feels like a hyper expensive Disneyworld version of..of…I can’t quite put it into words concisely.
Yeah well I know that a lot of what made those neighborhoods interesting… it was a mix of things, you know? There were certainly things that would cater, maybe, to a working class family, but there was… You could go to a Woolworths, a record store, and a coffee shop, you know? So you…I always use the example of: you can’t buy a hammer in downtown Northampton.
Because it’s all…it’s impractical, sort of, luxury goods…
Soit’s not like things like you’re talking about didn’t exist. But yeah Disneyfication is a good way to describe it. It’s like a shadow of what it was, or an imitation.
Because what I’m describing is…in particular the aesthetic that it’s clad in as it gets redeveloped. A place like Seattle: a booming kind of global hipster city. It was just kind of weird, you know? A concrete example: there was a car mechanic garage on Capitol Hill called the Chop House and you would go down a concrete ramp into the basement and there were some practice spaces where some friends’ bands rehearsed and stuff. And that whole block got knocked down and redeveloped into a beautiful five-story mixed-use building. It is a more efficient use of the space and all that, but it’s catering toward… it’s so…the rents are so expensive and the artisan goods being sold in the storefronts are so, like, upper crusty. The finer of the finer things of artisan life. And they named the new building Chophouse Row. They named it after the thing they destroyed while pretending to celebrate it! Like—“Trivia: did you know that there was a practice space here where this building now stands?” It’s like they go and they find the culture that was there and they kill it and then they prop up its corpse at the dinner table! They’re like “Look at my buddy here, Chophouse Row.” But it’s dead, you know? They flattened it by making a bunch of new stuff and it’s… A few minutes ago in our conversation I was saying people are afraid of change and here I am moaning and griping about change happening, but what’s disturbing to me about it is that there was gentrification. It changed into something that’s just so expensive and the rents are so high that no ordinary person, and certainly no family, can afford to live in that place anymore. But people did used to live there. People and families and communities did call those neighborhoods home at one point. But because “landowners” could make a profit, it causes this disturbing thing where people have to relocate and the places they’re attached to, they can no longer live in. And that’s a disturbing thing, you know? Moving is a big deal.
So did you see change in the music scene too?
Oh yeah. I mean… The spaces where we would practice just kept getting pushed further and further south into the city just as rents got too high. And you would be in a practice space, you’d be paying x amount and then the landlord would say “Okay gotta raise the rents.” And pretty much…yeah. We were in a practice space that we afforded by sharing it with, like, I don’t know 20 other people. It was just, like, the most insane…it was a tiny space. There were just so many bands.
A scheduling nightmare.
Yeah. Tight schedules. And then we moved into an apartment building that was sort of…kind of a falling apart old relic of old Capitol Hill that a bunch of artists and misfits all kind of lived in. And the landlord was way too lax. But then the landlord cashed it in and it got redeveloped. We had to leave and then we were in a space in the International District, which is dicey, you know? Now we’re white kids making music, moving into Chinatown and it’s…you know what I mean?
You don’t want already marginalized communities to be the target. Like “Oh look, there’s hipster culture happening. There’s underground shows happening in Chinatown. That’s the cool place to be now.” Suddenly we’re playing that role. That’s sketchy, you know? But that also didn’t last either. My friends who stuck around in Seattle kind of report almost cynically, this trickle where…as it gets more expensive, the musicians move to Olympia because Olympia’s cool. I mean Olympia is an awesome place and it’s a lot cheaper, so the musicians all one by one moved to Olympia. But there’s no jobs in Olympia so then the clock starts ticking until they go broke and they can’t afford to live in Olympia anymore so then they just—poof—they disperse across the map to wherever they came from: Texas and Maryland and wherever, you know? Everyone you meet in the northwest music scene, it often feels, grew up somewhere else.
So where were the first sort of DIY shows you went to? Was that out near Sutton or…?
No. There’s nothing. Sutton’s a quiet place. Worcester is 10 or 15 minutes away, but really, interestingly, Amherst was the first place… My older sister went to UMass Amherst and I heard a band on a local radio station called Read Yellow…
…from Amherst. R-E-A-D. So they were kind of Stooges-influenced. Almost like party indie rock. But it rocked in a way that I detected kind of a Fugazi influence in their music, which is why I liked it. And I just totally dug it. And I was excited to learn that they were from, like, I don’t know, Massachusetts at least. So I got my sister to drive me to Amherst and I went to a basement show in the Van Meter dorm and I was, like, a teenager and there were all these college kids who, to me, were just like adults, you know? And I didn’t know a single person in there but I checked it out and I said…
Your sister just dropped you off and left or…?
Yeah she’s really nice. She’s not into punk or anything like that, but she…I forget. She went to a cafe or something. She was nice to me just for doing that. Yeah. My sister likes going to bookstores and she… You give her a book and a cup of tea and she’s content for a long time.
So I would do stuff like that and then when I…then I would make friends with people who lived nearby. And my friends who had driver’s licenses and were also into punk, there are like one or two of them, you know, fit that venn diagram (laughs). We would go to Boston, and check out bands. We would learn of shows through word of mouth. I think part of my decision to go to UMass Amherst in 2005 was because I had had my mind blown, like my first punk shows, my first basement shows, were literally in Amherst, where I learned “Oh! The person standing next to me a minute ago is the singer of the next band.” That was unheard of when, previously, I had only been to mega concerts, behind barricades. So it’s a thing we take for granted now, but I didn’t…I had to kind of seek it out through a lot of effort as a teenager because there weren’t basement shows and suddenly, you know, that’s when I finally found them. I just like…”This is it. This is what I want to do.”
So did you say you went to one show at the old Flywheel?
No. I went to a few. Back before I was in college, like the summer before college. I did one of those things again where I drove all the way from Sutton to come to Western Mass to see Ampere play in that storefront with My Disco and I think Off Minor played that too. God, that was a pretty epic show, now that I think about that! Then I went to…I ended up going to college at UMass, and during that time I would regularly catch rides with people to go to Flywheel shows in that storefront.
And that Van Meter show how did you hear about that?
On the radio. I tuned in…late at night there was a show broadcast on one of the, like, rock stations that was…they played New England local bands only. So Read Yellow got on that and then they announced, this is who this band is and they have a show coming up here at UMass. And then I think I went on their website and got the details that way.
And you…did Will Killingsworth, didn’t he record or do some engineering or something?
Yeah he recorded that band’s first demo. So yeah, he was…he recorded that song, that first song that I heard by them, yeah.
Because you worked with him too right?
Yeah I’ve worked with Will on a number of things over the years. I mean I’ve known him a long time. Like when I went to college I quickly became a big Ampere fan. I really liked…actually no! I got into them in high school. I went to a boarding school in Pennsylvania for a couple years and I went to a basement show in Philly and saw Ampere. Oh wow! 2004. And then…so he’s kind of always always been there. So a number of bands I’ve been in have recorded with him, or whatever, over the years. And I’ve always chatted with him at shows. And he’s been a familiar face for a long long time.
Yeah yeah. And Meghan is…has booked at Flywheel for…
Yeah. Same. I’ve known her for just as long too, yeah.
That’s cool. So that just led…and then you came to UMass and went to shows here?
Yeah yeah. I had a two-piece bass and drums band called Birds in Our Backyards, that still has a Bandcamp page. Well Bandcamp didn’t exist back then. We uploaded it since. That was kind of, like, a Fugazi-influenced thing. And we played a few shows. And then my housemates and I, towards the end of college, started a crust punk band. And I fell on to that sort of scene. I had a little crust punk phase—just like rippin’ D-beat stuff. And then I moved to Seattle and that’s where that part of the story picks up.
Well that’s cool that you…it’s like full circle, coming back.
Yeah. It’s been cool. It’s not like picking up where I left off. Living in a place like Western Mass for a long time and the stuff that we…we’re just reminiscing about and moving away and coming back here again after five years made it so that it’s different people live here, you know? I’m friends with…or I have new friendships with old people or there’s old friends I don’t see as much anymore. But there’s a lot of new people who I now know. So it’s just…it’s like a different version of life here now, you know? My family and stuff is the biggest consistent thing really.
Yeah. I mean one of my hopes for after the pandemic is that people won’t take going to shows for granted anymore.
Yeah. Yeah right.
Because I feel like there were so many shows—I’m sure you’ve been to many of them at Flywheel—where there should have been way more people at it and you see an amazing band and you’re like “Why isn’t anyone here for this band?”
And it just…on the booking end it gets frustrating. So I’m hoping that that’s what’ll happen. People will say “You know what? Instead of not going to the show tonight, I’m going to go because I’ve been locked in my house for a year and a half.”
Yep. Yeah. I know. I mean I’ve definitely gone through phases of my own life where after a period of isolation—whether it’s my teenage years growing up in Sutton or a year of living in Conway not as long ago—I come out of it totally soaking it in. Just like “Oh my god. I want to go to shows a) to see music that’s going to blow my mind, and b) just to connect with a bunch of people and just feed that need to be part of a community and have friends and all that basic stuff.
Yeah. Well, I think we covered some ground here. Anything else you want to talk about before we…
No. I don’t think so. I’m just excited to have this pandemic be over and play some shows and see some people face to face and jam and all that stuff.