What does a dangermuffin taste like? One might think it's as simple as dangerberries, flour, butter, and milk. Even on the surface, they're delicious, but undecorated. Two guitars, drums, and a raspy, authentic tenor voice rounding out the batter.
But as it turns out, despite a reputation built around playing danceable, beer-fueled music in party atmospheres at Charleston bars like The Brick and Snapper Jack's, there's a deeper, even darker side to Dangermuffin.
That's never been more clearly evidenced than it is on Emancee, the six-song EP they're due to release this Friday at the Pour House. Hot on the heels of 2007's Beermuda, Emancee clocks in at just 18 minutes. Even at first listen, it sounds markedly heavier than its predecessor.
"We're the king of the two-and-a-half minute song," jokes guitarist and banjo player Mike Sivilli. "But it's a more serious album, which is another good reason it's short. There's a lot to take in."
While maintaining its jangly acoustic feel throughout, opening track "Tumbleweeds" is more of a Neil Young hard-rocker than typical acoustic trio fare.
"I always think about an album conceptually," says singer, guitarist, and songwriter Dan Lotti. "Emancee [slang for "emancipate"] starts with a tune about a personality that's holding onto a lot of shit, followed by the song 'Tyranny,' which is about contemplating these forces in your life that kind of keep you down. 'Outlaw's Plan' is a story about making the conscious decision to go against the grain and dealing with the complications that can happen from that."
"People have a false sense of security because we don't see hardships like other nations do," says Lotti. "Because something's there, people think it's always going to be there. We're completely flooded with images from big corporate news companies telling us what's happening, but we don't really know what's true."
Drummer Jim Donnelly sees a song like album closer "Angry Ocean" as demonstrative of Dangermuffin's approach to abstract political songwriting. "You could interpret it as symbolism for revolution. It says, 'I'm planted like a tree,' and [the establishment] doesn't like that," he says. "You've got to listen to what they say, you know? There's a lot of turmoil going on in the song. Or you could look at it from a natural point of view, standing out in front of the ocean."
Even though the songs might be based on his feelings about the state of world affairs, Lotti says they're all up for interpretation.
"That's an important part of writing any kind of music with a folk influence. Less is more," he says. "Every song is written broadly enough that you can conjure different stories from different points of view."
Sivilli singles out "Real Monster" as another track with multiple meanings. The "monster" could be the childhood fear under your bed, corrupt politicians, or an abusive relationship. The point is that monsters, whatever they may be, do exist.
"It's nothing to really be afraid of. There's a lot of good in the world too," says Lotti. "And that's how it ties into Emancee. It's freeing yourself, understanding truth, what's what, back to nature, being rooted, and understanding who you truly are."
Lest it sound like your favorite Saturday night bar band has taken a turn to the dark side, Dangermuffin is still firmly rooted in Americana music. The gravity of Emancee's themes is certainly deepened by the bass-playing of guest musician Jake Holwegner on each song, but it's also buoyed by the lightness of Jesse Prichard's guest fiddle.
The project was recorded in a month this winter as Sivilli and Lotti moved from their home on James Island to Folly Beach. With a month left on their prior lease, they realized that the open space, wood floors, and unique archways of the now empty house would make an ideal place to record. They set up mics and spent late nights after shows perfecting the songs.
"We had a very short window to put it together, and it's only six songs because of that," says Lotti. "Beermuda was such a process. When they say the word 'release,' it's very literal. You let an album go, and it's a clean slate. We felt it again, and with Emancee, we've got something to say."
Together less than two years, Dangermuffin has found their voice, and more and more people are hearing it. They're in regular rotation on Asheville's WNCW public radio station, known for breaking bands on the bluegrass/Americana circuit, and in September, they'll perform at Jazz Aspen in Colorado. This summer, they're touring the South extensively, including a headlining gig at Myrtle Beach's South by Southeast festival.
"I heard awhile ago that if you want to try to make a run with any band that it takes at least five years," says Lotti. "We're just so happy to be doing these gigs, and as far as the potential of being more than we are now goes, we're really not concerned. We're glad to be putting this music out. We know that all we need to do is just keep together, keep writing, and keep gigging."