Chain Gang of 1974's Kam Mohager on how surfing changed his sound and his life
It's been a few years since Kam Mohager (aka the Chain Gang of 1974) has called Denver home, but if cellphone area codes are any sign of geographical allegiance, then he still keeps a little bit of Colorado close to his heart. He returns to the Mile High City to ring in the New Year with old friends and former tour mates 3OH3! for a show at the Gothic Theatre that includes the Epilogues and My Body Sings Electric.
Busy touring far and wide following the success of his 2011 "debut" Wayward Fire, Mohager is finally getting around to finishing his follow-up record -- a yet-to-be-titled LP created during a month spent living in a swinging pad in the hills overlooking Malibu and surfing every day.
Created with longtime collaborator and erstwhile Coloradan Isom Innis (the pair first met in a church basement in Colorado Springs), the new record sheds some of Wayward Fire's devotion to '80s-inspired dance-rock to explore more contemporary and timeless aesthetics. According to Mohager, it "doesn't sound like an era anymore." We caught up with Mohager last week to talk about the new record, collaborating with Innis and his newfound love of surfing, among other things.
Westword: How long has it been since you last did a show with 3Oh3!?
Kam Mohager: Shit, to be honest I can't even remember. It's been a really long time since we've shared the stage. Maybe two years.
Are you excited to get together for the New Year's show?
Yeah, it'll be great. Sean lives out in LA. When we're both home, we hang out all the time. It's always nice to see him. I talk to Nat (Nathaniel Motte) once every couple weeks, so we keep in touch. It'll be cool, like old times, to get on stage together. Who knows, maybe we'll jump on stage with each other and do some tunes.
You just finished up working on your new album a couple weeks ago. Tell me about that.
There are still some tiny little tweaks I'll be doing for the rest of the month, but other than that, the record is done. I moved to this really cool four-bedroom house in the Malibu hills and lived there for a month -- myself and my friend Isom (Innis), who co-wrote and produced the record with me. He had all the gear. We could either spend the money in a studio, or we could rent this amazing house for a month. It was pretty rad. We lived in Malibu for a month and woke up and made music everyday. It had some of the best surf spots right around it. I'd go surf and then come back and work on music.
Isom's solo stuff, when he's not playing with Foster the People, is more electronic. Did some of that find its way into the new album?
Without a doubt. Chain Gang of 1974 is constantly evolving when it comes to the sound. I've never released a record that sounds like the last one -- from the early EPs to the debut album. It's always been changing, but you can always tell it's Chain Gang if you're familiar with the band. When we were writing and recording Wayward Fire, I was gaining influence from bands from the '80s, and that came through on the record. I remember Isom would try to do these modern percussion tweaks, and I'd stop him because it had to sound like it was from the '80s.
This time around, I told him, "You have free range to do whatever you want," and that created an album that has a really cool feel. I don't know how to describe it. It's heavily electronic but really intricate and cool. There's some punk influence, too. It's a heavy record. It's very loud and in-your-face. It doesn't sound like an era anymore. I don't know what it sounds like, but I'm really stoked about it.
Does it still fall in a dance vein, or is this record farther out?
It's dance-y, but it's not, "I'm putting out a dance record." It's really loud and really bass-driven. Not dance-y basslines. Not like "Hold On." But you can't not move to it. It's dance-y, but it's not LCD Soundsystem.
Do you have a tentative release date?
I talked about it with my team a couple days ago. There's no release date yet. We still have a lot to take care of. We really want to do this right. We want everything set up. At the earliest, it'll be late spring -- end of May, maybe early summer.
How did you and Isom first connect?
When I first started Chain Gang, the scene in Colorado Springs really adopted me. There was a church basement venue called The Element that had a really cool community for a little bit, maybe a year. Things were going off over there. It would be packed when I played. Isom's mom and stepdad were running that church. One day, he was there and we met. He was in a band that I was listening to and loved. We just become buddies.
One day, I hit him up when he was home from school, and we did a record in six days, and that record ended up getting the Chain Gang signed. Ever since then, it's just, "Let's make music together." It's fun. It's really easy. A lot of people want to say it's really hard to make an album -- and I may sound like a complete asshole for saying this -- but I think it's easy. It's like last month, I don't even remember writing these songs. It just happened so fast. That's something special when you're working with someone -- especially artistically -- if you're having so much fun with it that goes by really fast, then you're doing something right.
After all the praise for Wayward Fire, does it get harder or easier to do the follow-up?
I think it's easy. I'm really proud of that record. There was a short moment when I was cursing it, and after being on tour for a year-and-a-half, playing those songs and dealing with personal things in my life, there was a lot that I did wrong on that album. I recently went back and listened to it, and I'm proud of it. It sold a very small amount. It was successful in a lot of other departments: We played great festivals and tours.
The main thing with the new album was just to get away from the old one. I changed a lot in my life over the last year. I got healthy, I quit smoking, I started exercising and I took up surfing. Surfing is my new love. I've surfed every day for the last seven months. When you're on a wave -- this sounds cliché -- you get picked up by this wave to go on a ride and you're carving a line. There's not a cooler feeling. Once you experience that, your mind is never the same, at least not for me. Surfing was a huge influence on this record. California was a big influence. I took what I was feeling and put it on the record instead of looking back and saying I have to do this or that differently.
That record is what it is. It'll never be recreated. We can never outdo it. We can never do a song like that again. Let's move on and let's just write. Whatever comes out, comes out. There's nothing you can do about it. You can't force it. A month later we had a ten-song record and it was really cool.
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