When asked to give AUK the inside track on Hayride Casualties, Daniel DeWald replied “I’ve lived in Brooklyn, NY on and off for over ten years now. I grew up on the East End of Long Island, which has lots of farms and remote beaches. So I crave both city and country, and I think my songwriting reflects this. There’s a pull towards a more acoustic, traditional approach to a song, and a pull in the opposite direction: more electrified, progressive, a bit more rocking. “
Can you tell us about yourself? Where you’re from and what you’ve been up to over the past few years?
The last almost three years now have been pretty quiet for me and Hayride Casualties. I have been working a ton to save money for the album, reworking songs, and trying to get everything sounding as good as possible. Before that I had been exclusively involved in activism. I helped start and run grassroots climate groups, had a day job in the renewable energy field, and partook in all kinds of trainings. I was fully immersed in the movement. People knew I was a singer-songwriter and used to ask why I wasn’t writing songs about the movement. I had some notion that it was possible, but I didn’t feel particularly compelled to sing about climate change. My philosophy was and still is that you should sing about what you feel compelled to sing about, not as part of some agenda. But as I got more and more emotionally invested in the climate work, this protest voice just sort of emerged in my lyrics. The songs about climate had a lot of attitude and momentum behind them. I have written a lot of songs over the years, and these are by far the most fun to play.
How would you describe your music?
I would say it’s mostly about an earthy, acoustic sound, but it branches out from there and explores different types of rock sounds as well, like 60’s rock, 90’s underground rock, and newish indie stuff. Tom Waits is the model for Hayride Casualties, even though we sound totally different from him. But I love how each Waits album is about presenting a spectrum of musical and cultural references. His albums are emotional roller coasters, too: really high highs and really low lows. And each song explores a different energy, and a different aspect of Waits’ personality. So that’s what we strive for as well: music where emotionally it’s about fluidity, not being stuck in one tempo or attitude. Instead, we’re creating a lot of contrast to keep the listener engaged. Creating music that way, where you’re constantly shifting vibes and arrangements, it’s crazy fun.
Then of course Hayride Casualties wants to say something distinct with the lyrics. People are being so barraged by news right now over our phones. We can’t keep up. We need synthesis. That’s why John Oliver and Samantha Bee’s news shows are so powerful: they use comedy to synthesize, to distill down all that noise into an insight. Music can do that, too. I think Arcade Fire does that a little, creating a kind of synthesis for people. I love that they’re trying to capture the zeitgeist in their music, and they’re very careful about not being too direct. Hayride Casualties lyrics are trying to synthesize what’s happening in a more focused way, and say something that unfortunately will alienate some listeners. I hate that, but, it’s the only kind of content we can do that has life in it.
Can you tell us a little bit about your influences?
As you can tell it’s hard for me not to talk about my influences. I lean really heavily on the idea of tipping your hat to the artists that inspired you to become an artist yourself. So I could just go on and on here gushing about my idols for pages, but I’ll restrain myself to the core albums that led to the Hayride Casualties sound: Another Side of Bob Dylan and Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, the Beatles’ White Album, Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs and Blood Money, Sunny Day Real Estate’s last album, The Rising Tide, their singer Jeremy Enigk’s solo album, Return of the Frog Queen, Pearl Jam’s Yield, Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine, Elliott Smith’s last album, From a Basement on the Hill, and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs. I’m also really inspired by Father John Misty, but I don’t think there’s any FJM influence on Fossil Fuel Kid. His performance of the song Holy Shit on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert completely blew my mind. It was a masterfully executed performance.
What are you currently promoting?
Currently I’m promoting Hayride Casualties’ new album, Fossil Fuel Kid. It’s our first full-length album, and a big departure from previous work, like the single, A Hundred Thousand Dollars a Day, and our EP, Live at 226 Madison, which we put out back in 2014. Fossil Fuel Kid is much more eclectic, exploring not just folk, acoustic sounds but also getting pretty hard-rocking at times. Lyrically the album explores an individual’s processing of the climate crisis. It’s essentially a protest album. It will be officially out on June 9.
Have you got a particular song you’ve done that you’re particularly proud of, one that might define you?
I’m proud of a handful of them, although the one that comes to mind is Coal Fired Train. I wrote the chorus back in 2013, and didn’t know what to do with it for a long time. Then slowly over months and months I started patching together a song out of it, and demoed it with software instruments. When I listened back I knew it would be something that should be on our debut album. It’s part Fiona Apple, part John Lennon, and has this huge rock outro that is very much inspired by Arcade Fire’s My Body is a Cage. We wanted it to have this over-the-top emotional blow-out. It’s the end of the song so you don’t have to figure out how to recover from it, you can just let the instruments totally unleash. I remember watching Tim McCoy in the studio recording drums for the outro. It looked like he was trying to break his cymbals, he was just smashing the shit of out them, and I thought to myself “Yes! He understands this song.”
Lyrically Coal Fired Train tries to capture that feeling of burnout, despair and misanthropy that I know a lot of people are feeling right now, reading the headlines and watching the world seemingly bent on killing itself: the arctic melting, super-storms, mega-droughts, etc., and also these gut-wrenching, endless wars we’re waging. A coal fired train is a very primitive, but very powerful old machine, that creates a billowing black cloud as it speeds by. It’s not a very responsive or intelligent thing, it’s just this brutish, unyielding momentum. Sometimes that’s what humankind feels like to me, and that’s the inspiration for the song.
What are you currently listening to?
I am really into the Iggy Pop album Post Pop Depression that he did with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age. There’s so much there, it’s so rich, but simultaneously it’s totally stripped down. I love that: when artists can create a powerful sound that moves you, but when you zero in on it, there are very few elements being used. It’s like a mirage. I’m Gonna Break Into Your Heart, Gardenia and Vulture are my favorite tracks from it.
And your favourite album of all time, the one you couldn’t do without?
My first thought is Sunny Day Real Estate’s The Rising Tide. I first heard it when I was 14 or 15 years old, and I basically lived inside of it for two years. I was completely obsessed with it. They create this huge, oceanic sound. You listen to tracks like Disappear or One and it’s like you’re standing at the Cliffs of Moher. You hear a lot of the 80s stuff in their sound, like U2, The Cure and Fugazi. But what they accomplished on The Rising Tide is truly unique. I’ve never really experienced anything else like it. There is not a dull moment or an uninspired lyric on the whole record if you ask me. And lyrically, the singer Jeremy Enigk is really reaching, really trying to make sense of the world, and also trying to integrate that with a very personal, inner experience. It’s a voice of struggle, but it’s clear and grounded. It’s coming from that wide-eyed, open place. That album is so incredibly alive. If I were stranded on a desert island it’s the one I would take.
What are your hopes for your future career?
Really my only goal is to keep putting out music. I see music as a lifelong path. The joy of it for me is about refinement: trying to get at the essence of a song, then throwing everything you have behind it. People appreciate that I think. I want our next album to be earthier and yet more rocking than Fossil Fuel Kid. I’m really excited to start working on that. I’d also like to get a lot more personal and autobiographical in the lyrics. That’s something I really appreciate in other music I hear. I love how some artists are able to keep the stories very grounded in personal experience, and keep things simple. I’d love us to do some touring as well, and maybe link up with a label. We put out Fossil Fuel Kid on our own, and we’re happy to keep doing that, but if a label showed interest it would be cool to see how the sound and message could grow from that.
If money were no object what would be your dream project?
If money were no object I would produce a bunch of animated music videos for Fossil Fuel Kid a la Pearl Jam’s Do the Evolution. I have a ton of ideas, but animation costs about $6,000 per minute. I’ve had some preliminary conversations with an animator friend of mine who worked at Cartoon Network and Disney, so we’ll see what happens there. We might be able to squeeze together the resources to make a video for Coal Fired Train. So some rendition of my dream might come true after all! Other than that, I’m not sure I would do things all that differently. I like to think I have found a way to pursue my dreams in spite of financial limitations, so I don’t spend too much time thinking about how much better it could be.
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
I love this question. The best thing about being a musician is the pure play of it. It’s so hard to find that sense of play as a grown-up. It’s very hard to overcome those sharp divisions in our adult minds between “work” and “play.” But those start to break down with music. You’re in the studio arranging a song, or you’re collaborating with your friends, and you completely forget about how fucked up the world is. There’s no time, no worry; it’s just minds combusting together in midair, and you’re just laughing your ass off, you can hardly breath because you’re laughing so hard, and nobody’s even had a drop of alcohol.
And the worst?
The worse part is that I have to do it. Even when I really ought to be taking care of other responsibilities, I feel hopelessly compelled to make music and play it. It’s like eating. That kind of sucks sometimes, because it’s goddamn expensive: recording, gigging, carving out time to write and practice; a person could be making money during that time I guess, or building a relationship, or helping others: things that have a clear payoff. The payoff is not clear with music, especially when you don’t see it as a business. But if I don’t do it, I get very sad because all those unborn songs just die inside me. That’s tragic. If you’re lucky enough to have a muse, you should let her have her way with you as often as possible.
Finally, have you anything you’d like to say to the readers of Americana UK?
Thanks for caring enough to read about Hayride Casualties. The sound, as you’ll hear, is far from pure Americana; it’s very much a mash-up. But there’s definitely enough twang there to satisfy all kinds of acoustic listeners. So thanks for giving it a try.