"It loved to have happened", Dan McGee sang a couple of years ago and the story of how Spider Bags reached the pinnacle of rock and roll while the music world slumbered has the air of the inevitable. A story that that had to have happened. Spider Bags new release Shake My Head is probably the album of the year, but it lives in a tightly knotted rock and roll community, a worldwide sound on a local springboard. Over the phone from Chapel Hill, hours before a release party at the Pinhook, the lead singer and songwriter for the band, Dan McGee, sort of agrees:
"Sure, it would be nice to make some money from it. And I will make some money from it but I don't necessarily want to be a millionaire and as long as I did what I set out to do and brought out a good package: the album I always had in mind and that I wanted with the songs I wanted played the way I wanted them to be played, then that is enough."
"The other two records are still out there and still sell. They haven't gone anyway."
There is a rock and roll inevitability about Dan's story. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dan in his 20s was the blue collar working class man that Springsteen has always sung about being. At first Dan wonders if this is just too personal to discuss and counters with, "My wife always wonders why people want to discuss the drinking." The drinking? How about the hard drugs?not only is his band named after a junk dime bag, the first song on Spider Bag's first album goes "Thank the lord for heroin and thank him for your soul." It goes back to the years before Dan was in a band "I had menial, backbreaking jobs and I would blow it out with booze and drugs on the weekend. Going to bars, having fistfights. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it wasn't. I was in a very dark place, yes, I had considered suicide at that time. Certain things can release you from that. I am very high strung , anxious jumpy, and this was a period where I tried to temper these mood with drugs. But there is no chemical or natural elemental that is going to make everything better."
Dan wasn't writing music then, he was writing other stuff. "I was writing fiction. I was a big Chekhov fan and I wrote stories. I can't do that any more, I think all the drugs I took must have rewired my brain. I did play music but only for myself. And then, at my lowest point, a friend bought me an 8 track recorder, I was 29 years old, and I began recording my songs on it. That's how it all began."
He moved to New York City in 2002 and formed a three piece punk rock band ("We wanted the most obnoxious name we could find") DC Snipers. "It wasn't a good time for rock and roll in the city. "The scene was very polished, nice clothes and getting your hair cut a certain way, we were sick of all those people. We'd see them in bars and laugh at them." I ask Dan to call out some people out but he won't, so I mention the Strokes and he doesn't disagree. "We got pretty big pretty fast. Kids were hungry for our type of rock." Take a listen to the 2004 Live At Maxwells album, it is straight up punk, just a howl of outrage. Some of his younger fans from that time went on to form their own bands, though the trio haven't recorded together since 2010. "We are scattered all over the place but we are still good friends and there is no reason why we shouldn't."
Dan moved to Chapel Hill and formed Spider Bags -a country rock, working class hooliganism, devouring the middle ground between punk, garage and rebel country not like Hank Williams Junior, but dangerous blue collar boys like the young Merle Haggard. The resulting album, recorded fast in Chapel Hill, was 2007's A Celebration Of Hunger. Dan is proud of the achievement and references Johnny Cash's "God Isn't A Stained Glass Window" when discussing his own "Waking Up Drunk". The latter is a classic and is waiting for a whole generation of sick of it all people (men) to wail along to the kiss off "but you just bring me down".
If you are a Dan McGee fan, Spider Bag's sophomore effort Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World, is the heart of the matter. an album with a fault line running through it. Let's be clear, neither Dan nor I consider it anything less than a very, very good album, and it is sophistication to suggest an album with songs as great as "Long White Desert Rose" and "Hey Delinquents" isn't gonna be smarter than your average bear, but on a curve, it doesn't entirely work. At 48 minutes, it is too long and, not unlike Exile On Mainstreet (an album I worship) , it is sludgy and lethargic. " It was a hard record to make and some of the songs were recorded on some pretty dark days, I have songs are still not finished, it was during two years of really intense touring, I like the record but I don't think it is a great representation of the band, the band was changing so much. I feel like I could have made like a better record. Sometimes you can get them and do em and sometimes they are never what you want them to be. It's like I had three albums to choose from and I chose the wrong one.
I wanna stay on the album a little longer. It has improved with proximity to Shake My Head because the ease of the new one is that much more impressive when listened to in juxtaposition with the weariness of World. It's like having a close friend who went through a bad period and then came out of it. You appreciate both her struggles and her new found happiness more, having been through both with her. That's how I feel about World. Actually, I love it flaws and all.
But it isn't Shake My Head. Shake My Head isn't actually much fun to write about. It is too good and neither Dan nor I have that much more to add to the conversation. It stands on its own and the more you analyze the album, the more you get in its way. Both World and Hunger are a musicologist (not to mention a psychologists) dream album, but Head doesn't need me to butt in. Hell, the band covers James Brown AND DOESN'T MAKE AN ASS OUT OF THEMSELVES. We used to have a word for that when I was a kid: collective groove. "It was a positive experience recording this album, it was great. I would start with a phrase, just a rhyme going round and round. Like 'I am cheating on my girlfriend with my ex-wife'.. I laughed out loud when I wrote it, people don't see it but I am writing very dark jokes. I feel like a lot of it is very funny.