Interview: Dangermaker’s lighter sound born out of darkness

Dangermaker, BottleRock

Photo: Jon Ching

The music of San Francisco band Dangermaker may sound happier than it did in the past. The four piece pulls heavily from influences like The Killers, Interpol and their late ‘70s predecessors. It was a conscientious effort the band made by naming their last two EPs, as well as another coming this fall, Light The Dark, volumes I, II and III. But Dangermaker confides that a part of the dark pop side will always remain.

“I think (this sonic characteristic) actually makes us stand out,” bassist Neko Matsuo told RIFF two weeks ago at BottleRock Napa Valley. “We’ll never get rid of that because that’s kind of just a part of each of our personalities. When we get together and we make music … there’s this utter pending of darkness throughout the whole thing. Even when we’re playing these really happy pop songs.”

While Dangermaker have grown into a fixture of the Bay Area indie music scene since 2008, the members call the current incarnation “Dangermaker 2014.” Vocalist-guitarist Adam Burnett and drummer Carlos Rodrigues began as a duo, briefly playing with another bassist. The two didn’t know each other previously; something that holds true for keyboardist David DeAngelis and Matsuo.

“I have done that too and that’s a disaster; close friends forming a band,” said Burnett, who tracked Dangermaker’s first self-titled EP himself. DeAngelis joined in 2010 and Matsuo two years later. “We can be really honest with each other, versus the dynamic when you start something with existing friends and you’re concerned about the friendship. So you might not say things that you might otherwise.”

It took more than two years of the four playing together before they began to really gel, they said. A key moment came in 2013 when the band played South by Southwest for the first time. There was also six months the band spent revamping their sound because they weren’t satisfied with older material. In 2014, the band released debut album Black Dream, a work that was heavily influenced by the sudden death of Burnett’s father during the first week of recording. Burnett wrote much of the material during a break, and the album went on to grapple with mortality. Dangermaker decided afterward to “light the dark” and head in a different direction.

“None of the songs we play are from the old EP or from Black Dream,” DeAngelis said. “Everything is from ‘the dark’ and forward. We keep adding new stuff that really reflects who we are now.”

With their next EP coming soon, the band was happy to answer some questions about how Dangermaker has adapted from their old sound and the new within a shifting San Francisco music scene.

RIFF: Can you tell me a little bit about each of yourselves? What outside of this band drives you?

David DeAngelis: I’m a high school music teacher. That is a big chunk of my life and I’m super devoted. I’m a band director and I’m still doing music, but it’s a very different style of doing music. Dangermaker, doing all this stuff, this is my outlet. It’s a chance for me to work on my own music, which keeps me sharp as a musician.
Neko Matsuo: I try to find purity and passion and rawness in everything I do. Whether it’s music or eating or sex or at work. I don’t have a huge lot of interests but (with) the ones I do, I try to go deep. I’m Japanese (and) it’s like going for Japanese values. I work on computer things, which is terrible because it’s hard to find the rawness in that, but you can. I’m not really good at combining the two. You think that working with computer stuff and music stuff, I’d be this great hybrid and I’d be geeking out, but I hate that. I’m 100-percent analog. I can’t stand any of that stuff outside of work.
Carlos Rodrigues: I went to an agricultural college and studied animal care. At that time, I wanted to become either a vet, a vet nurse, or a dog handler in the Army. I nearly joined the Veterinary Corps to be a dog handler, and then I came full circle actually and became a dog walker at one point.
Adam Burnett: I do graphic art and graphic design. I’ve done art-related things since I was a little kid, and on some level it all connects. For me writing music is just a reflection of whatever else is happening in my life. Maybe I’m opposite of Neko that way.

Let’s talk about your EPs. You have several called Light the Dark. What’s the significance? Does the title signify a transition?

Burnett: We’re doing a series of EPs that are somewhat interconnected in terms of style; in terms of subject matter. The title kind of came out of the stuff we did before, which was a lot darker. Black Dream was a darker album, and the new stuff is a little bit lighter and more fun.
Rodrigues: Definitely, but not just from a lyrical perspective. Lyrically it was darker, but also musically it was heavier and darker.

Your earlier material was inspired by the passing of Adam’s dad. What did it take to go from that to the band today?

Burnett: That sort of stuff takes time and it takes … a cathartic period where you’re just letting stuff out. Black Dream was part of that, but actually that happened more afterward, and that lent to a lot of the newer songs. It is interesting. When you go through a dark thing like that, you get real down about it, and then you get dark, and then you get to a point where you just can’t handle that anymore, and you have to deal with it and move on.
DeAngelis: I feel like (song) “Never Go Back” is that moment. The whole song is where we talk about it. That is one of the staple songs of our new repertoire that doesn’t have the heaviness that the old stuff had. It is a more looking-forward-type song.

What do you think about the state of Bay Area music?

Rodrigues: In my opinion, I’m still waiting on the next Green Day. They were the last big global success. I feel as if there’s the talent and the promise somewhere for that big of a name to emerge.
Burnett: I think the cost of living in the Bay Area has a huge impact on creativity. A lot of my friends have already moved to Oakland and even further out. The state of Bay Area music might mean that the center of music creativity might be in Fairfax or something.
DeAngelis: At the same time, I feel like there is a lot more community happening with the Bay Area music scene at our level than there was four or five years ago. There’s a few key individuals that have really helped give a new sense of camaraderie among a lot of different bands. Maybe it’s just because we’ve been around a little bit longer, but I definitely feel like there’s this community.
Burnett: Shout out to Balanced Breakfast. Having lived here long enough, we’ve seen things go through some cycles and some strong music scenes that have died off. I think there’s always a new group of people that are fighting to come back and keep it going. I don’t believe people who say, “It’s dead,” “It’s gone,” “It’s over.” But that said, it’s gotten more difficult to make it a reality, so everybody’s struggling and fighting to stay here.
DeAngelis: There’s a couple of groups that organized South by Southwest showcases of Bay Area bands that the rest of the country has not heard of that we played, and that wasn’t happening three, four years ago. I feel like there is an interest, a bit of a grassroots movement happening in the Bay Area for bands to help each other out.R white

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