The Amazing Spider-Man: One on one with Spider Bags’ Dan McGee.
Since their debut “A Celebration of Hunger” in 2007, North Carolina-based Spider Bags have been no strangers to critical praise – Titus Andronicus frontman Patrick Stickles has called them the greatest band in the world, and they’ve won the love of the notoriously prickly Pitchfork.com. And deservedly so – they really are that good.
With a sound that’s ranged in the past from psychedelia-laced garage rock to bourbon-soaked country weirdness, singer and guitarist Dan McGee (along with Gregg Levy, Steve Oliva and Rock Forbes) have embraced the raucous gods of rock n’ roll on their latest – and perhaps best – LP, “Shake My Head.” We spoke to McGee about recording the album in Memphis, the changing sound of Spider Bags and why you’ll have to wait a while to hear his Cole Porter album.
I’m going to start with the dumbest question first, and hopefully they’ll get better as we go along.
Where did the name “Spider Bags” come from?
People ask that question a lot, and I don’t know why there’s so much curiosity about it. It’s just like a nickname – it started out funny and then it just became the name of the band.
You recorded “Shake My Head” in Memphis with a pretty big group of people. What was that like?
It was a lot of fun, a lot of rock n’ roll and good friends, you know? The party just kept getting bigger and bigger the longer we were there. We recorded at my friend Andrew McCalla’s house – he was the sound guy at a pretty famous club in Memphis called the Hi-Tone, which was one of Elvis’s old dojos when he was trying to become a dojo franchiser. They have a big poster of him in his karate gear with his aviator sunglasses on, which is pretty awesome. But Memphis is filled with all that kind of history, which is why it’s so fun to be there.
Listening to the album, you get the sense that there’s a party raging, and it’s harder rocking than the last two albums. Was changing up the sound a conscious decision?
Yeah, for sure, this is more of just a straight-up rock n’ roll record. We recorded songs that we thought would be fitting for the atmosphere, and we’re in Memphis so you want to make a rock n’ roll record, you know? We got pretty crazy and it was a wild time – I was recording 24-hours straight. If we had done it somewhere else – like New York or Austin – it would have been a different lineup of songs for sure.
On the other two full-lengths we did there’s a lot of different styles, and a lot of times on full-lengths I like to put the longer, folkier, slower songs on them because we don’t play them live – our live set has always been a real rock n’ roll show. Some of the songs on the other albums we rehearsed them until we recorded them and then we never played them again.
Since starting Spider Bags have you found your songwriting muses changing as your life has changed? I know you recently became a father…
It’s weird for me to qualify that, you know? I’ve always written songs that are mopey and maybe a little psychedelic, and I’ve always written songs that are punk songs. I don’t know how much…
That’ll creep into the songs?
Yeah. Like, I don’t know where the line is. I mean, I’m 36 and I love rock n’ roll so I don’t see any reason why I would ever not write songs that are like rock n’ roll songs. I don’t see myself doing the Cole Porter record anytime soon [laughs]. It’s funny though, because when I was in my teens all I wanted to listen to was folk, blues and jazz – that was it. I thought that was the pinnacle of American expression. It wasn’t until later that I discovered punk, like The Cramps, The Oblivions, and I was like “Holy shit!” But as you get older and you listen to more music you realize that the style isn’t the important thing, it’s how authentic you message is.
How would you describe your band’s sound to someone who’s never heard Spider Bags?
We’re a rock n’ roll band, you know? We play rock n’ roll music.
“Shake My Head” is available now on Odessa Records. Photos by Jeremy Lange