Back in 2019, Friendship released their acclaimed third album Dreamin’, it was a record that seemed to almost sigh into existence, a thoughtful and intricate album about the search for human connection and an understanding of the wider world. At the time of that release, I spoke to the band’s front-man Dan Wriggins; roll forward two years and we’re back discussing music again, this time it is coinciding not with a new Friendship album, but the release of his first solo collection, Mr. Chill, recently put out through the ever-wonderful Orindal Records.
Arriving six years on from Friendship’s debut album, Mr. Chill feels like both a natural extension to Dan’s song-book and a side-step into something different. A lot of the recording process seems to have been focused on limiting himself sonically and pushing himself to think differently. Despite recording with Friendship band-mate, Michael Cormier, it was recorded with a spirit of change, foregoing bass-guitar, recording, “quiet drums in big rooms”, and generally finding ways to accentuate Dan’s poetic lyrics in a minimal and open way. The result is a record that feels free of any pre-set expectations, songs that gradually make sense, like finding fragments of a story, and slowly piecing them back together.
Despite being just five tracks long, excluding the addition to the cassette version of previous singles The Diner and Dent, Mr. Chill is not a record short of musical ideas. Opening track, All Things Being Equal, combines a deceptively complex percussion line with distant melodic organ and the gentlest whispers of acoustic guitar, while Yellow Bricks plays much more rhythmically straight with a heartbeat like bass-drum, reverberating piano flourishes and, “pizzicato plucks”, courtesy of Lina Tullgren.
Perhaps the stand-out moment is Lucinda On June Bug, a song that muses on the healing power of old musical favourites, as Dan sings, “I’m healing up, let me stick with what I know“. The track finds Dan, “hightailing it back to my comfort zone” of his favourite artists, whether that’s the poetry of Louise Bogan, “Lucinda (Williams) on june bugs” or “Prince on crying doves”. While Dan offers no real commentary on the pros and cons of hiding in old favourites, I know I’m often guilty of pursuing the next thing, seeking out new experiences, and new sounds, and to me this feels like a reminder to sometimes look back as well, find answers in what I already know, and remembering the healing power of old friends, lurking within familiar books and records.
The EP closes fittingly on Mr. Chill, which Dan suggests, “might be a Christmas song”, yet has none of the saccharine hallmarks of one. Instead it seems to explore the modern artists lot, where a clock-punching day job is a means to a more creative end, and he’s, “hanging on by a thread that could be cut in an instant”. This story of just getting by is deliberately contrasted by the title, Mr. Chill, inspired by past interactions/accusations along the lines of, “hey man your music is so chill”. While he might sound calm, Dan himself feels like he’s on the verge of precipice, “I didn’t realize I was hanging out with Mr. Chill, you be real with me and I’ll be real with you”. It’s a reminder that perception and reality can often possess a vast disconnect, a laid back exterior, doesn’t always mean a calm and at ease interior.
Mr. Chill has not been far from my headphones since its release earlier this month, and yet it still feels like I’m learning a little more with each listen, a record to cherish and explore, and one I can’t recommend highly enough. Read on for my interview with Dan, where we discuss going solo, buying a tour van at the start of a global pandemic and learning to, “operate in the music world without losing it”.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Dan Wriggins?
I’m a songwriter. I grew up in Maine, and I live in Philadelphia. I tour and record with the band Friendship.
FTR: You’re about to release debut EP, Mr. Chill, what can you tell us about recording it?
“Mr. Chill” was produced by Michael Cormier. I’ve been playing with Mike since high school. He also plays in Friendship and runs Dear Life Records. We recorded it with Brad Krieger at Big Nice Studio in Lincoln, RI. Brad’s studio is fabulous, and he’s a terrific engineer. Because we had come from Philly, we slept in the studio, a large warehouse, while we were there. Brad thoughtfully bought us an electric burner to cook on. We took one shower each, with a solar camping shower of dubious effectiveness.
FTR: Why did this seem like the right time to release a solo album?
I had these songs that worked well together, and I couldn’t practice with the band. I probably would have released “solo” music eventually in an alternate, corona-less universe, but the pandemic made it happen much faster, because I couldn’t play with the band.
FTR: Did you approach writing the songs for Mr. Chill differently to how you would approach writing for Friendship? Was it obvious these songs were right for this project?
I didn’t. I don’t think I’d know how. I may well record some of these with Friendship. I certainly don’t think any song I come up with should be designated “band” or “solo” based on how it was recorded. If Friendship wants to play a song from “Mr. Chill” in the future and it sounds good, we’ll play it.
FTR: As with Friendship, the EP is coming out on Orindal Records. What makes the label such a good fit for your music?
So many things. Owen Ashworth (who runs Orindal Records and releases music as Advance Base) has taught me a lot. He demonstrates, for me, how someone can operate in the music world without losing it. He’s great to work with, and I’ve been a fan of his music for a long time. On top of all that, the roster rules. There are a lot of terrific independent labels out there, but speaking as a fan, I sincerely think Orindal’s batting average is the best in the biz.
FTR: It’s obviously a strange world to be releasing the album into, how has the pandemic affected your plans?
I can’t imagine many people’s lives and plans weren’t affected. I’m lucky insofar as I didn’t have any close friends or family who died from the virus. Obviously, my life as a touring musician changed abruptly. Friendship used to tour in my quad cab Dodge Ram. In February of 2020, I sold the Ram and bought a Chevy Express, a 12-passenger van, a much better touring vehicle. We played the first show of a month-long tour to SXSW in March, and then cancelled the tour. Since then, I’ve been driving around alone in a huge black van, feeling like a moron. We were lucky, though, that we weren’t planning an LP release. I worked on my newest songs alone, and came up with “Mr. Chill.”
FTR: What’s the best way for people to support musicians at this time?
Buy records, tapes, and CDs, if you listen to them. If not, buy the download, and donate if you’re ever watching a livestream. If you can’t afford those things, but still want to help, all types of social media engagement are good – follows, subscriptions, comments, etc. – the musicians themselves will probably feel some nice dopamine pings, but there are also a lot of bigger companies that are a little more likely to help musicians out if they see social media engagement. It’s an extremely stupid system, but it’s the system.
FTR: Once you can get back out on the road, what can people expect from the Dan Wriggins live show?
I’m gonna sing pretty loud. Maybe as loud as I can. I might fry some microphones, so bring a face shield if you’re in front, even if the plague is gone.
FTR: Do you have any other creative outlets beyond music?
I write a lot of poetry. That’s a big one for me, and I might start publishing soon. Other than that, not too much. I’m pretty awful at drawing and painting. I learned how to draw one funny cartoon guy in middle school, and I’ve been coasting on him ever since.