QRO interviewed ‘new’ artist Kamtin Mohager of The Chain Gang of 1974. In the conversation, Mohager talked about where he’s been before, new album Wayward Fire, management & labels, the shock of being played on the radio (or Teen Wolf) or being featured in SPIN, great bands like Echo & The Bunnymen, The Stills, Fine China, enjoying hanging on to pain, also doing the bass lines, dressing up like a ghost, and much more…
QRO: I think a lot of people have the perception that you’re a pretty new artist but you’ve been around since 2007.
Kamtin Mohager: We’ve been around for five years but I do have in my head that it’s a new project (with new album Wayward Fire). I’m a firm believer in progression as an artist and if you release the same stuff over and over it’s going to get boring. I’m already bored with Wayward Fire. I’m ready to do a new record; I’m ready to move on. Play new songs. I think every band wants to do that and you’re cheating yourself if you don’t. Going back to the perception of being a new artist, yes I do believe I am. You know I’ve kind of, within the last year, I’ve kind of been given a light to go towards. It’s gone through a lot of different phases, some that I’m very embarrassed of and some that I’m proud of. Been a lot of touring, a lot of shows. A decent amount of releases I think. But Wayward Fire is the first proper record.
QRO: Do you feel in your mind Wayward Fire is almost like a debut?
KM: Of course. I think this is the debut record because the sound I’m working with now is where we’ll continue to go. I’m not sure if the sound will change drastically with future releases. It’s always going to change and I’ve begun work on a new record. There’s hints of where it’s at now but it’s just that healthy natural progression. I’ve been doing this for five years but I’m a new band to 99.5% of the people.
QRO: It was interesting to go back and read three articles cited on your Facebook page from ‘08 and ‘09 and see that you’ve been doing this for a while. You were Westward‘s Best Electro Act in ‘08. How you started as an iPod and drum machine act, released Fantastic Nostalgic album, which was a bit harder.
KM: The way it started was I was in a band for two-and-a-half years [The Vanity] and we were offered a record deal and then we abruptly broke up before we signed it. But we invested in a bunch of recording gear so I taught myself how to do a little bit of it and I was in the head space of just discovering Exterminator from Primal Scream and getting into a lot of Jesus & Mary Chain. So I did a track and my friend’s band had a sold out CD release show and he heard the song and booked me on the show that was in two weeks. And I was like, ‘What the fuck, I have one song?’ He basically forced me and I did a six-song record in two weeks, which was The Dirt. And about a month or so later I released another EP called When The Apple Drops. And so Fantastic Nostalgic is basically those two things put together. Even though some of the songs are embarrassing, even though some are total shit, it’s kind of nice to have it out there. I definitely made sure to title it as early recordings just so people know.
QRO: True fans want to go back…
KM: Even if they don’t enjoy it they can say, “This is where he was five years ago and this is where he is now.”
QRO: They’re going to dig it (the early recordings) up anyway. I was noticing too that there was the White Guts CD (2010), which had five songs that also ended up on Wayward Fire.
KM: Yes. The story with that is I was working on an album that’s like a lost record, Mad Paranoid, and I was working on it for about two years and I just had a sudden change of heart feeling what I’m doing holds no substance. What I’ve been working on, what I’ve been recoding is nothing I believe in, so I scrapped that record. And I called Isom Innis from Foster The People (QRO live review) and, we’d been friends for years, and he had six days off from school and he was in Colorado Springs with his parents, and I called him coming back to Colorado from Los Angeles and I was like, “I have some songs written. Let’s co-write, co-produce a record. Let’s just do it.” So White Guts was five tracks, “Hold On” “Matter of Time” “Don’t Walk Away” “Stop!” and “Devil Is a Lady” along with five tracks from the Mad Paranoid sessions. So I put that together. Started my own label pretty much, made records, hired a publicist, put the record out. And it was a nice change for me.
And about five weeks after I released that record, Warner Brothers and Modern Art Records came and it was a very quick process. They emailed me and three weeks later I signed a deal. So they initially wanted to re-release the album and, going back to progression, I’m always changing, always influenced by a lot of different things and constantly writing music and I didn’t want to just re-release that record because half of it was so old that had no heart while the other half was the beginning of writing of very, very personal issues in my life, heartbreak and pain and all that kind of stuff. And I sent the label a demo and said, “This is stuff I’m working on. Give me the green light,” and they’re like, “Go for it.” So I spent another two weeks recording six new songs and we complied it together and that became Wayward Fire.
QRO: Having White Guts, I synched the songs up next to the same Wayward Fire tracks and noticed some sounded pretty much the same. “Hold On” is the one that stood out to me as having been tweaked a lot more.
KM: It did get tweaked a lot more. Because basically the old tracks we had remixed and then everything was mixed together and remastered. But “Hold On” we definitely put a little bit of change to it. Which is a lot of the percussion sounds and the sonics…
QRO: Straight away, from the beginning you can tell the change…
KM: Exactly, it’s very metallic sounding and like industrial-ish.
QRO: Andrew McInnes (Once In A Row Management), you’ve been with him for quite a while. Way before Modern Art Records?
KM: I don’t remember how it came about. I think he was doing stuff at Epic Records, and someone from Epic saw me at South By Southwest in 2008 and I think she reported back to him. And he emailed me and we just decided to start working together. He’s a cool, cool guy. I’ve been very lucky with my entire team when it come to A&R, the label, the booking, the publicist, the manager, everything. It’s a very, very close-knit group of people who I have actual relationships with so I think it’s very rare these days. I think a lot of musicians and artists work with people who don’t know shit about them. I’ve been very lucky where I can sit and have jokes and conversations with the people I work with and work for me so it’s quite refreshing.
QRO: I think it’s rare too that you have your own Gmail address on your Facebook page.
KM: Yeah, you know what? I don’t get bothered from it, which is nice. I don’t get any emails, maybe occasionally ever two months or so. I get a lot of strange emails from people asking to be in the band. Like people literally are like, “Hey I sing. Can I be in your band?” Like not even hiding the fact they want to play in the band. I’m like, “That’s cool, but… no.” That’s kind of a weird question to ask you know? It’s like going to a family and going, “Can I be part of your family? You don’t know me but can I like live with you guys?” Kinda weird but it doesn’t bother me. If someone takes the time to send you an email, it shows you they care. I’m going to give them the respect back and write back.
QRO: How did you get hooked up with Modern Art then?
KM: Ben Collins at Modern Art has been a friend of Andrew’s for a while and he was introduced to the Chain Gang when it was in the older phase.
QRO: Are they connected with a larger label?
KM: They’re an indie label but kind of have the ability to go with majors on certain projects.
QRO: Like have a distribution deal through the major?
KM: Exactly. With that he [Ben Collins] was familiar with the group and it’s good nothing happened back then because I wasn’t ready to be signed or anything like that. He’d say “hi” now and again, but obviously nothing ever happened. And then when White Guts was released I was in New York and Andrew was like go say, “What’s up” to Ben and I literally said “hi” to him and he brought me into the room and he sat me down and said, “I want to sign you. I’ve already talked to Warner Brothers and we want to figure this out together.” And it was, “Okay, let’s do it.” It’s great. They’re fully supportive of things. I think they understand what this band is and I think they know, I think they take pride that it’s going to be a constant progression and it’s never going to sound the same. I think they’re okay with that. They better be. It’s just the way it is.
QRO: I see your label mate is Foxglove Hunt, and before that Rob (Withem) was in Fine China who I did some work with.
KM: I was a massive Fine China fan! Massive. I still listen to them. Fine China was epic.
QRO: Their You Make Me Hate Music album…
KM: Yeah, “Labor Saving Device.” Still listen to that song man. Fine China was brilliant. I think if they came out today they’d be huge.
QRO: I had seen in one of your earlier interviews that you wanted to have a clause in your contract that you could to release stuff like Mad Mixtape and things like that. Free EPs?
KM: That was then. I’d love to record a new album. It’s not going to be a reality unfortunately. I guess it’s a good thing. Wayward Fire is building which is great so I think we’ll be hanging onto that for a while. But it’s not going to stop me from doing things, you know. I think January I have the month off so I think I’m going to sit down and start the new record hopefully and finish it. When I get it the studio it’s like, [snaps his fingers quickly].
These days you got to keep music going. People’s attention spans are so, so quick. And a lot of times, especially with music blogs and such, bands blow up so fast. I’m not a band that’s blowing up overnight. I’m still a speck right now. It’s a great thing the album is building on its own, which is something I want. I never want to be an overnight band. Throughout all the years of playing music I’ve never wanted to be that way because I feel longevity with groups like that doesn’t last. One, there’s that extra pressure that jumps on you, and two, I don’t think there’s an appreciation of the hard work and you get pigeonholed. Wayward Fire is a record I truly believe no one is doing music like that right now. It’s not an original sound by any means but there aren’t people writing music on this record, and I believe that. I think there’s a group of people who will instantly catch on to it and I think there’s a select group of people who it’s going to take time for them to figure out what the record’s about. I do get reviewed by SPIN and elitist, hipster places like Pitchfork. I’ve always been a fan of SPIN so that’s really fuckin’ cool.
QRO: You were in SPIN‘s ‘35 Must Hear Bands’ at South By Southwest. Then you got the exclusive ‘Break Out Electro Act’…
KM: It was cool. They gave the record seven out of ten. And did a Lollapalooza thing on us. It’s been pretty cool. It’s been pretty awesome.
QRO: It seems like you have that slow build which is good. To have that longevity, to build that solid foundation.
KM: Exactly. And I’ve never been in it to make music for other people. I’ve never been that way. I’ve wanted to do songs I’d put on and say, “Yeah, this is fuckin’ cool,” you know? The bands that have inspired me for years and years and years continue to inspire me. And that’s my goal. I want to make an album that could do that for someone else. You know, I’ll put on Logic Will Break Your Heart by The Stills (QRO spotlight on) that came out in 2003 and in my eyes it’s timeless. I still listen to that record and get goose bumps every time I listen to it. I want to do that. Hopefully I can accomplish that some day. That’s my biggest goal.
QRO: So this year has been big. March at SXSW (QRO recap), SPIN press, “Make My Body” on Scream 4, “Undercover” is released as a single, June Wayward Fire is out, opening for Big Audio Dynamite in August…
KM: It’s been a crazy year. You know there are a lot of times when you’re in the van and you have literally an 1,800 mile drive to do in two-and-a-half days and you get really down on yourself because you’re just like, “Fuck, something’s gotta give,” you know? We’re broke. We’re trying to make it. We got to get a hotel. This and that. But when I can actually stop and look back it’s like, “Holy shit!” It’s insane what has happened in less than a year. CMJ last year (2010 – QRO recap) was kind of the start of things. And from there, all the SPIN stuff, touring with Foster The People, playing with Cibo Matto (QRO photos), opening for ABC, going on tour with Big Audio Dynamite, opening for Jamaica (QRO photos), Tapes n’ Tapes (QRO album review), Lollapalooza, just signed to a record label in Brazil so the album’s coming out there, countless placements in video games and movies. You know, building a fan base the old way.
QRO: “Taste of Heaven” in Teen Wolf, which is my favorite song on Wayward Fire…
KM: Which was a big success for that show. Kids love that show. And I like that song a lot. It reminds me of a modern day Psychedelic Furs (QRO live review). I realized that later. About a month ago I was listening to that song and was like that reminds me of Psychedelic Furs. Which is fuckin’ awesome! I love that band.
QRO: I’m glad that you posted Wayward Fire lyrics on your Facebook page. One of my favorite lines from “Teenagers” is, “This ain’t a comeback kisser”.
KM: The entire album is about one person. The entire record, every single song. I love records that people can truly relate to. Just pure honesty. When you’re at you lowest of lows and you put on that song and you’re just like, “Fuck!” Like this person wrote this song about my life. The whole theme behind the album is complete utter heartbreak. It’s like pain and anger with love and the entire record has to do with this relationship that has been on and off for two-and-a-half years. You know, I’m madly in love with this girl and I think there’s something beautiful that a person can inspire the entire album. And it makes it very difficult because you have to, you have your ups and downs, and when you’re down, you have to go onstage and sing the song and it sucks. It sucks really, really bad but I’ve never wanted to hide anything with what I write.
You know, talking about “Teenagers”, the “comeback kisser,” she’s the kisser, the killer, the thriller you know. But it’s “comeback” at the very end. It’s nothing but honesty in that album. Which is something I take pride in. I’m not going to be clever and pretty with my lyrics. I’m going to be straight up, take it or leave it.
QRO: There’s a line in “Taste of Heaven”, “There’s an answer in the desert sun / When the vulture cries the war is won”…
KM: Well that song, it just has to do with being disappointed and let down. The bridge goes, “Only let downs show that I’m still alive”. Even though you’re feeling this down, you’re still feeling. “The vulture cries the war is won” is another way to put it’s over you know.
There’s a weird thing that I realized that, it might be a selfish thing but I kind of enjoy hanging onto pain. It makes music even that much more special. Like currently I’m in a very happy state with everything. But I’ll listen to these certain songs when I was at my lowest that just fucking did it for me. And then I’m listening to them now and I’m kind of like, I miss that, you know. I kind of miss the depression I had when listening to that song. And it’s kind of like “YES! YES!” you know?
It’s a strange concept that I want to hang onto that pain, and the anger. I’m not trying to sound like a soppy man, but everyone has their stuff. And you can always kind of go back to it. And there will always be fears in life, that what I’ve realized. You’re always going to fear things. Unknowns.
QRO: For people really into music, our years are marked by albums… that album was the year ‘that’ happened. And you put it on and you’re right back there again.
KM: Nostalgia is the best. I spent my early teens being a skate punk guy, early emo stuff. There’s always a little spot in my heart for that. There’s moments I actually feel like I’m growing up, but put on one of those punk records and I’m 15 years old again.
QRO: Knowing that Wayward Fire is really personal, is there one song that you really enjoy?
KM: “Teenagers” is my favorite track on the record. There’s something about that song. I’ve had that song written for a while too. I had that song written musically about a year before I recorded the album. It was a tiny, tiny little demo and I went back to it. I always knew when I got the green light to touch up the record, I’ve got to do this song. It just came out, that riff. It just reminds me so much of The Stills, New Order, that guitar thing to it, and I cannot wait to start playing that song live. I’m really looking forward to it. But that song is very special for some reason. A lot of the newer stuff I’m writing in very reminiscent of that track. It’s a direction I truly love and want to go after. That song’s definitely my favorite on the record.
QRO: I’ve seen other reviewers bring up the ‘80s when talking about Wayward Fire. Hearing your influences in your sound…
It’s obvious. It’s definitely obvious that I take a lot of influence from older bands. And some people will give me shit for it and some will praise it. But it’s critics. Everyone’s going to have their own voice and that’s that. I’m not setting out to be the next Richard Butler but I enjoy that time of music. I truly love it. It makes me feel a certain way more so than today’s music. I don’t listen to a lot of current bands. There’s like a few bands I’ll listen too. Even off the top of my head I can’t think of any. And even the ‘newer’ bands I’m listening too are bands from 2003, 2004.
I think a lot of new bands taking a vintage approach to things; it’s different from what I think I’m doing. Bands today aren’t setting out to want to get as great as Simple Minds. Bands today aren’t setting out to get as great as Echo & The Bunnymen. Put on “The Cutter” from Echo & The Bunnymen. That song just fucking gets me. Every time. That band is legendary. They are legends in my eyes. In my eyes Ian McCulloch is a fucking legend. He’s a genius. And I sit and watch so many interviews of him back when he was young. It’s so inspiring seeing what kind of person he was. I just saw them live in L.A. a few months ago where they were touring off Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here (QRO live review). There’s something very special especially about, I don’t know if you want to call it darkwave or whatever it was, but the darker, emotional bands of that time.
I think Echo & The Bunnymen, they took influences from bands like Joy Division. They sounded like The Smiths at times. Well maybe, maybe not but they did something so special. I think they’re so underrated. There are bands like The Cure, fucking love The Cure, but they can play a show and it sells out like that, Echo & The Bunnymen tours, they might have a hard time filling a room. And it’s a shame. That band put out some great fucking records.
QRO: There are bands out there that follow that template but without the heart. And there are bands out there that follow the template with authenticity.
KM: Exactly. That’s a great way to put it. Thank you. I appreciate what you said. The songs are real. It’s just that simple.
QRO: Do you have plans to release another single?
KM: Right now “Hold On” is the new single and it’s doing pretty well. It’s impacting on radio, which is something I’d never imagined. I was just at 94.7 [Portland, OR] and they’ve been spinning the song all week and I just did a little thing there. We were at The End in Seattle yesterday. It’s getting airplay, which is pretty weird. Before you came I was sitting in the van listening to the radio interview and I was thinking, “This is fucking strange.” It’s amazing only because I hope it can allow me to be on a different platform where I can bring the music to more people and tour a little easier.
But that stuff scares me because, say hypothetically “Hold On” is a hit, I’m not going to write another “Hold On”. I don’t want to write another “Hold On.” That’s always been a fear, like what if I write a hit song? And the second record, people want that same song? It’s not going to happen. I could write another song like that if I wanted too but I don’t. That was it’s time, let it be.
I’ve been listening to a lot of Ride, a lot of Chapterhouse, Railway Children, Slowdive… those guitar sounds on Slowdive records! Been listening to a lot of Disintegration from The Cure. Writing very, very moody stuff. Very moody and I’m happy with it. And I already know the direction of what this next record will be. I really want to start recording it. My mind goes kind of crazy and I’m influenced by this and then I’m influenced by that and I want to write a record like that, so I want to hone in on one thing.
QRO: There something about the bass lines in your show and on record. They just really pull you in…
KM: Thank you man. That’s awesome. It was my first instrument. It’s funny, I went and got lunch with Justin Meldal-Johnsen who, right before Nine Inch Nails broke up, he was playing bass with them for a few years. He was Beck’s (QRO album review) bass player; he was in Ima Robot (QRO interview). Phenomenal producer, songwriter. Just did the new M83 album (QRO review). I’ve looked up to this guy since I was a kid and found out he’s a fan. We started talking and went and got lunch and he asked who the bass player was on the record and I said, “Oh I did it,” and he was like, “I fucking love the bass lines.” And that was just like, “Wow man! I’ve looked up to you for years and years and now you like my music. You’re taking me out to lunch, and you’re complimenting me on my bass playing.”
I don’t think I’m that good of a bass player. And those are moments where you really have to stop and think, “I’m sitting right here with you and you’re a fucking gentleman and you’re everything I hoped you were. And on top of that, you’re complimenting me on something I created. Thank you very much.” It was cool.
QRO: So how was Big Audio Dynamite?
KM: Amazing. Got to meet Mick (Jones) and that was pretty fucking awesome. I mean having him shake my hand and say, “Thank you so much for touring with us…” that’s amazing!
QRO: How did you get that tour?
KM: It just randomly came about. We did three shows with them. We both played Lollapalooza the same day and the next day we started our run with them in Minneapolis and then from Minneapolis all the way to L.A. where we did L.A. and Anaheim with them. And then we had to go all the way to Denver to start our tour with Tapes n’ Tapes. It’s been really cool. We’ve been able to get these shows what I’d call legendary bands.
You know, Cibo Matto, we did their first tour in thirteen years. And having Miho (Hatori) come out on stage and play cowbell on “Hold On”. We had them come to us and say, “We want you to dress up like ghosts during our last show and dance around on stage.” So I’m on stage with Cibo Matto who are legends in my eyes and, God bless them, the sweetest people we’ve ever toured with and so much respect. It was phenomenal. I bow down to them. People I truly respect.
And we got to open for ABC, which was amazing. They were asking for vinyl afterwards. They’re all walking out with my record, and so nice. I got to hang out with all of them after the show, which was amazing. He [Martin Fry] was so amazing. He came to me and was complimenting us and said, “Hey, we’d love to do some shows with you in the U.K.” I’m like, “Martin, please, come on.”
QRO: So last, what’s next?
KM: January I want to start recording the next album. And thanks for chatting. It’s nice to talk with someone who genuinely loves music.