For a bit of a lark (ha!) I thought I’d turn the tables and interview someone else. Conveniently it’s also someone I’ve been working with, so #EVERYBODYWINS.
(Like I would stop the ME ME ME ME parade. This blog’s been here for 4+ years; I expect you to know by now)
Magpies and Vagabonds is the stage name of Dan Kiener, singer/songwriter/Emmy-nominated sound editor and producer – another UK solo act defying the modern-day music industry and the natural laws of pluralisation. He also is responsible for the Dustcover Mix of my track, NOW NOW. So press play, motherfuckers, and read all about it like EXTRA EXTRA – the way Nicholas Cage playing a badass Buddy Holly would want you to. Foie gras not on offer.
I met you in a photo booth in New York city during CMJ a million years ago. What compelled you to work with me, despite knowing what a pain in the ass I am?
It was while I was living in Canada and you were over here in the uk. I couldn’t legally work and I don’t think I’d started my foray into the world of sound design for tv and film. I imagine there were promises made about bottles of champagne. I was down with exploring something a little more synthy and poppy than what I’m most comfortable with – strange new worlds. I liked the idea of making music for people on guestlists, wearing their best kicks.
You’ve traveled all over the world mixing live shows for The Gaslight Anthem, Frank Turner, Polar Bear Club, ¡Forward, Russia!, Rolo Tomassi, Fair To Midland, and Blue Roses, but didn’t release anything yourself until 2012. Did that limit your output, or was it sheer producer perfectionism that kept M&V under wraps so long?
I think that my own stuff sat on the back burner for the best part of 4 years purely because I didn’t think my songwriting was good enough yet and I was under the impression that I needed a whole band to even begin the project in earnest. Working with Gaslight was basically the impetus for getting my ass in gear and honing my writing; Brian from that band is a very inspiring person and it was his attitude towards music and writing that really made me want to get out and do something. T hat said, it’s much much easier to concentrate on your own stuff when you aren’t on tour and working for someone else.
When I moved back from Canada in 2012 there was this huge jolt to my system and I was finally ready to let my first EP fly the nest. By the time I released it, the songs were old and I knew I was better than it, I was just treating it as a milestone. A starting point. Something to reference. Bit cathartic, too. I’ve never felt more confident about my music.
Your bio says you dashed around the globe in pursuit of a bastardised English version of the American Dream. Does the concept translate into your sound?
Yes and no. I think being English doesn’t afford you the same inherent sense of pride that being American does. The number of flags you see flying outside houses when you drive through buffalo or something blows my mind. Fucking beyonce sung the national anthem at Obama’s inauguration – who the fuck sung “God Save The Queen” when the coalition limped past the finish line at the last general election? It’s confusing, because I miss this place when I’m away from it, and we have so many years of history and great achievers to be proud of, but I have never felt as emotional as being at NFL, NHL, or MBL games in Canada or the states. I want that. A Wordsworthian sense of pride when you wander the Lake District is amazing – why can’t I have that permanently? I’ve tried to capture my confusion in my music – pride, elation, desperation, optimism, openness – everything that makes me the Briton I am and sums up the Britain I want to see. I want to give the country some serious cognitive behavioural therapy.
Also from your bio: ‘Few expectations combined with really high standards’ – seem either an impossibly perplexing or, alternately, super-freeing state for an artist. Do you feel the same way when producing other artists, or is it all lowered standards and increased demand?
The standard is always higher working for someone else, because you’re trying to realise a vision which is not your own. I guess I haven’t perfected my tact in this field yet, but I’ve tried to take what I learned from film and tv work and apply it here. You have to make something better than what you’re happy with, if that makes sense. Don’t be too precious if the boss says “no” but at the same time you have to fight for what you feel to be right creatively. It’s complicated. I see my friends at Monochrome productions working their asses off trying to make everything the best it possibly can be, all the time. That’s how producing should be, how dedicated someone should be.
How has working in the industry behind-the-scenes altered the way you approach it as an artist?
I have a respect for everyone that goes into turning a record into a record or a show into a show. These days I know I’m not big enough to make outrageous demands or anything, so I’m not going to get pissy if I don’t get foie gras on the rider or something. I’ve seen bands be utter cunts to people who will survive in the industry way longer than those bands ever will. You can’t be a dick.
I remember touring with a great band called Grammatics many years ago, and the singer once called an impromptu band meeting in the van, saying “if anyone ever says ‘we just make music we like and if anyone else likes it then that’s a bonus’ in an interview then they’re fucking sacked.” I wholeheartedly agree. Be interesting. Appreciate that you have to win people over. Not everyone, but some people. Otherwise stay at home.
Touring the world, being nominated for an Emmy, releasing your own self-penned/produced project – all in and of themselves definitive goals in some artists’ whole career. What’s next on the M&V to-do list?
Assemble the band properly, release my new EP (to international critical acclaim), unveil my new line of Merch, tour, escape my day job. Complete the album. I would say “find a girlfriend” but I just bought a new guitar so I don’t think I’ll need another lady in my life for at least 12 months. I have Samantha now.