I interviewed Dr. Dan recently.
It was the best interview I’ve done in a long time.
This feature on Paint it Black is almost 1,700 words. Tell me what you think.
It’s not uncommon to sometimes see Dan Yemin referred to as a God or a hero. Check punk rock message boards, fanzines, or music news outlets. The musician has performed in four well known acts within the punk scene – Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Armalite, Paint it Black. He’s been on guitar or bass for all but Paint it Black, where he’s on vocals – mostly screams, “It’s been established that I can’t sing,” said Yemin. But how does he respond to hearing that someone claims him as a god or a hero? “That’s ludicrous,” he said. Not only does he believe “the God part is offensive,” but he also said “I hope people can choose more inspiring heroes.”
However, he’s not all that vexed by the notion, “When people refer to me as a hero I’m flattered . . . if I’m a positive figure for people that’s awesome . . . but I can’t take credit all for myself,” he said, suggesting that all of his projects have been collaborative efforts. He also admits that he tries not to keep his worshippers and fans in mind when creating new material with his bands. “You’ll be dishonest if you’re writing for fans . . . it’s to them not for them,” he explained.
It seems his most recent project, Paint it Black, is where he is investing a lot of his interest lately, especially after the release of their third full length, New Lexicon, in late February. Yemin admitted he is super hyped about this album, naming it as one of his most proud accomplishments musically, “The new album . . . I haven’t been that excited for an album since Hello Bastards (Lifetime’s first record released in 1995),” he said.
New Lexicon has been getting great reviews and all of Paint it Black’s members are happy with the response aside from Jared, drummer, who is the newest addition to the group and had been too apprehensive to read reviews. He joined two years ago and New Lexicon has been his first chance to showcase his talent with Paint it Black on an album, but his band mates assured him that everyone loves the new album. “We sound the tightest and most bludgeoning that we have. You know, I think people are always shy about complimenting people to their face, but at least one person every night on this tour has come up to me and said ‘I was a little nervous about the change in drummers, but God damn!’,” said Yemin. Paint it Black recently played a select few dates on Strike Anywhere’s tour with Riverboat Gambler and they stopped at DC’s Black Cat on March 6th.
Paint it Black has had a few line up changes as far as guitarists and drummers, but the two originals, Dan Yemin and Andy Nelson, bass, agree that the lineup is solid and they’re playing the best they ever have. Dan also expressed that “this band has the best work ethic of any group of people I’ve ever played with,” he said. Bassist Andy feels “I think that with Josh (guitar) and Jared . . . for the first time we have become a cohesive unit as opposed to a series of people playing songs that are written,” he said. The band might work so well together because “As a band in general we’re friends outside of it and that definitely comes through. We can hang out and do other things outside of it,” said Andy. They also try a lot different things during the creating process to get the best result, like playing all the songs at half speed. Andy explained why they chose to do that while recording the last record, “Hardcore bands and punk bands tend to favor velocity and volume over precision and detail, really . . . when we slowed it down, played it quiet and really paid attention to every note…it yielded a lot of things that probably wouldn’t have been there if we were just playing hard and fast,” he said. The creating process generally follows the pattern that Dan explained, “I write the lyrics and I write the skeletons of the songs . . . these guys cut it open, pull all the organs out, rearrange it so that the head is sticking out of the ass and like wrap the intestines around the neck,” he said. Something he’s come to learn while working with so many different musicians in various bands is “learning to trust other people with my songs,” he said. In the end, “I’m really proud of the dynamics on this record,” said Dan.
Another helpful aspect is that the Paint it Black members all listen to a wide variety of music and they all bring something different to the table with their different musical backgrounds. “You can’t write good hardcore if you only listen to hardcore,” Andy said, attributing that advice to Dan Yemin. All of the band mates agreed with this statement, and “if you look at Jared’s IPod it’s proof,” said Dan. Jared listed some of his favorite musicians as Nirvana, Fugazi, Roy Orbison, and John Bonham in addition to a few hardcore acts. All of Paint it Black admitted to being huge Fugazi fans, admiring the way the band worked together to create music and got to know each other so well they could feel what their band mates wanted to play live and didn’t need a set list. Andy and Jared of Paint it Black both suggested that sometimes they get that feeling while practicing together and both understand what song the other wants to play. “You couldn’t do that without me,” said Dan. “You would say ‘1,2,3,4’ and I would start singing something completely different,” Dan said, jokingly.
Dan is also a big fan of underground hip-hop including KRS-One, Chuck D, and MF Doom. All of the hip-hop MCs have a huge effect on Paint it Black, explained Dan. He admires hip hop in the way that they give a character voice, tell a story with a character, and have fun with language. He tries to apply this when writing lyrics, and he also realizes that “what’s catchy is the cadence over the beat,” he said, and this is very apparent on the new album; you could easy catch yourself bobbing your head to the beat seeing as how Dan snuck those catchy aspects into his lyrics.
When he writes, “it usually starts with one line and goes from there,” he said. His lyrics are always a social commentary and he tends to encourage hope through his lyrics. “The best compliment I ever got was ‘it’s amazing how you make disillusionment seem so hopeful’,” he said. He feels that hope is important and every song ends on a hopeful note. “Hope is courageous. Hopelessness is cowardly,” he said. He went on to talk about how he believes change is important and hope is tied into change. “I stake my life and career on the fact that people can change,” he said. He hopes his lyrics can be inspiring, “words and relationships can be catalysts for change. I offer words and hopefully this band offers a relationship (for the fans),” he said.
One common theme on this last record is challenging religion. In his lyrics, Dan mentions that he doesn’t believe in God and he envies those who do, “I wish I had your faith, maybe then I’d feel safe,” he yells on “White Kids Dying of Hunger”. “On this record, I interrogate the idea of faith a lot. It’s a duality because faith is what gets people through the day, but it’s also a tool to oppress and it’s a tool for social control,” he said.
Fans seem to really be digging the new material. They’ve been getting great responses at their live shows. Dan said they no doubt get the best response in Philly, their hometown, and since the record’s been out for a month, they are getting an even bigger response. “People are really going for it with the new record,” said Dan. He admits that being on vocals can really take it out of him, especially when the crowd is going wild. “I’ll come home with bruises and my wife will say she wishes there was some other way for the crowd to show their appreciation . . . some nights feel like I’m not going to make it through the set . . . I feel like I’ve been beaten by 2x4s,” he said, referring to the multiple pile-ons at shows when the kids go crazy and fight to get the mic from Dan to sing their favorite lines. It must not help that Dan keeps up his intimidating attitude on stage. At their second record release show in Philly back in January he told the crowd he wanted to see a lot more stage dives that night than the previous night, or else “I’m gonna kill you,” he announced to every one in the crowd. Of course it’s meant to be funny, but when you get what his band mates call the intimidating “Eye of Sauron” from Dan, it’s still a little scary. In DC, a crowd member in the front row shouted, “Show me your degree!” (Dan Yemin is a psychologist). Dan responded quickly by saying, “I’ll show you the bottom of my foot.”
Dan admits that sometimes being on stage can be “the best feeling in the world,” he said. “If the band has got it together musically, and there is good crowd participation . . . we’re going to give it 100 percent no matter what, but when the crowd is into it, it’s like, times ten . . . it’s a cyclical inspiration. We’re inspired when someone gets stoked . . . it’s like your first orgasm all over again. You realize ‘wow! I could do this all day long!’”
Check them out. www.myspace.com/paintitblack