Wilmington’s culture and heritage is deeply rooted in water. From the Cape Fear River to Wrightsville Beach, Greenfield Lake to Carolina and Kure beaches, many Wilmingtonians and visitors spend a great deal of time communing with this invaluable and precious resource: water.
Whether gliding across river and ocean in a kayak, paddle-boarding, surfing, or quietly meditating along the shoreline, anything that gets folks out in nature is good for the soul—a concept Dan Lotti, lead singer of Dangermuffin, wants their fanbase to open their hearts to when listening to their latest studio album, “Heritage.” Released on March 31, “Heritage” is squarely focused on themes of nature—not just that which surrounds us but an old and deep connection Dangermuffin attempts to pay homage to.
“I’m not much of a surfer,” Lotti admits with a laugh. “For me, it’s a yogic regime. I’m a big fan of meditation, and I do that on a daily basis. I also incorporate yoga stretches—just the very basic routine to commune and stay grounded.”
The group was founded in 2007, and consists of Lotti (vocals, acoustic guitar), Mike Sivilli (electric guitar) and Steven Sandifer on drums since 2008. Often categorized as a “jam-trio,” “Heritage” features more versatility in sound and instrumentals. They picked up Markus Helander to take over drums, so Sandifer could play world percussion and upright bass. Sivilli did more flat-picking and finger-style acoustics, along with electric guitar and extended vocal harmonies throughout tracks. Paired with Lotti’s soft-spoken vocals (not unlike Paul Simon at times) and their collective harmonies, there are hints and hues of everything: island-rock, folk, bluegrass, and more.
Dangermuffin will return to the Port City to share their latest work and open for Donna the Buffalo at the Brooklyn Arts Center on Tuesday, June 27.
Lotti and company just finished their tour in northern California and encore caught the singer-songwriter on the road to Tybee Island near Savannah, GA—not far from their original stomping grounds of Charleston and Folly Beach, SC. While here they started “growing the family” of fans playing local bars and clubs.
“We’re happy to be a part of that music scene that’s very vibrant there in Charleston,” he says. “Home for us, definitely, is Charleston.”
Dangermuffin returned to Chuck Town, also known as the Holy City, to record a portion of “Heritage” at the Unitarian Church. There was a certain connection to the history and spiritual essence of the space. Lotti used to live in the very same neighborhood and was all-too familiar with (and somewhat sensitive to) its haunted energy.
“We’re all familiar with the ‘haunted Charleston’ and the stories of ghosts and things like that,” he says. “That’s a part of it and an attraction but, to me, when we were recording in the church it really felt as though [the church] was coming alive.”
With their previous four albums, they mostly recorded in a studio where everything is dead quiet to get the highest clarity, of which they still used for drums and other instrumentals heard throughout “Heritage.” They decided to record some singing and other “peripheral things” in order to capture a different feeling and essence the church could offer. For example, the ceiling was designed to carry reverberations for acoustic singing and it’s heard and felt in the a capella opening of the first track “Ode to My Heritage.”
“Just the idea of singing in church, you’re going to sing differently,” Lotti observes. “You’re going to sing to the room, you’re going to hear the room, and it’s going to react to your performance. You can go back to the studio and reverb echoes on the voice to make it sound like that, but it’s not as organic as actually being somewhere like that and capturing an energy we definitely felt. I think it translated into the record.”
While no one in Dangermuffin, including Lotti, considers himself particularly religious, each appreciates the rich significance of the 200-plus-year-old church. In fact, they made it a point to attend a couple of services prior to recording as a part of their exchange.
“It seems like the message of this particular denomination is very open-minded,” Lotti tells. “We’re listening to the sermon and the pastor is quoting Nietzsche, which I thought was very interesting because you’re quoting a father of atheism in the middle of your sermon and that’s very noticeable!”
As pews seemed to fill before him, the presence of the church came alive. The years of collective activity was palpable. At the very least, the experience left Lotti open to the possibility of ghosts, spirits or psychic energy.
“Everything around you is alive,” he clarifies, “and we don’t really see it because we’re kind of caught in this state of [modern] existence and it’s my hope to bring that message out in the music: that there’s so much more going on.”
Lotti wrote many of the songs with the intention to highlight what lies within our natural surroundings—a significant amount of information and wisdom. Lotti lives in Asheville, NC, with his wife who’s an herbalist. The concept of “The Sea and the Rose” started one evening in their home kitchen. He describes how she began rubbing fresh rosemary in her hands to release its scent.
“She said, ‘Smell. You can smell the ocean,’” Lotti recollects. “They call [rosemary] the rose of the sea. And just smelling that made me think of how there’s a lot of rosemary that grows on Center Street on Folly Beach. . . . I think we’ve forgotten a lot of about the value of the past that these lineages have to offer us.”
Stylistically, listeners could call Dangermuffin a roots/rock band, but in another sense it’s folk music because it’s very song-driven, and they incorporate anything from bluegrass to reggae influences. Sandifer comes from jazz with a historical understanding of it. Lotti is heavily influenced by folk, as it is music of the people and rooted in storytelling. Sivilli is very improv-oriented and influenced by bands like Phish; and while they’ve had a lot success within that genre as well, they’re not quite a jam band either.
“It’s this growing moniker of what we know as Americana music,” Lotti adds. “What’s Americana? It’s music based on the American experience. Well what is the American experience? It’s so many different influences from all these different places that are now a part of American culture. So we take the liberties we take based upon those eclectic influences.”