One of the things I miss most about Boston is the music and the people who make it. Over the span of nearly two decades spent as a music critic and columnist writing about the plethora of sounds emanating from the city, I never stopped being excited about discovering bands and musicians I hadn’t heard before — until that thrilling moment when they plugged in at a club and sent me rocking back on my heels.
During my time covering the local music scene (although there wasn’t ever just one “scene,” but rather many of them, happening all at once), I made it my business to throw a spotlight on as many of the artists I loved — or was at least intrigued by — as deadlines and column space would allow.
From this vantage point, at a remove of time, circumstance, and geography that feels like a lifetime ago, I still can’t quite believe how many of those deadlines I juggled. During an eight or nine-year stretch that often felt like a streak of sound, I held down three ongoing music columns simultaneously for as many publications, and on top of that reviewed countless shows and records.
And still, as I was fond of saying to anyone who asked, the city was so richly musical, so vibrant and perpetually brimming with creative life, that for every musician or band I caught and wrote about, there were likely five or ten more on my radar I couldn’t get to in any given week.
The good news was that they were always waiting in the wings as the next cool band to check out. Still, there are a few I never had the chance to write about before leaving my posts to concentrate on a thrilling new adventure as a stay-at-home dad.
The Dazies were one of those bands. I’ve listened to the cassette tapes (yes, tapes) that Dazies singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Mikey Holland has generously passed along for a bunch of years now. Maybe that’s why the outfit’s music feels like a road-trip playlist companion. Actually, I’m pretty sure I have a couple of those early cassettes wedged under the passenger seat of my ’98 Camry.
Despite the plural moniker, the outfit’s basically a D.I.Y one-man operation run by a guy who’s been around long enough to know what he’s doing, and what he’s after. In the early aughts, Holland cut his teeth with local luminaries Tulsa, Trabants, and Mean Creek (which was when and with whom I first encountered him; he was the long-haired drummer who answered Mean Creek’s “wanted” ad by fiendishly announcing to the mortified group that he had an 18-piece drum kit and was “ready to rock!”; he got the gig anyway).
There’s certainly been a lot of music on Holland’s plate and pallette over the years. On Dazies EPs such as 2016’s “Hungover & Weird” and the 2018 full-length, “Panic All The Time,” Holland wears his record collection on his sleeve of sound, drawing on influences from Petty to Punk, from the Ramones to the Replacements, augmented with an aura of his own dark, restless drama.
Here and there, you can hear emotionally raw tugs on fraying heart strings a la The Promise Ring and Jawbreaker (what can I say, I loved the ’90s) filtered through the noisy amps and scuffed-up roll and taciturn tumble of newer outfits like the Gasoline Anthem and Beach Slang. Taken as a whole, the scattershot slew of albums and EPs Holland has released sound like the aural equivalent of a gloriously unmade bed, its crazy quilt of heaped on, un-tucked covers rumpled reminders of a long, lost weekend.
Now that Holland and the Dazies are on their way to issuing a new album, “Under The Moon and Far Away” — the album’s rapturous first single, “It’s A Beautiful Life” just might be the best thing the Dazies have done yet — I thought it would be an ideal occasion to make up for lost time and get to a band I missed the first time around.
So, while we wait for the new full-length, let’s begin with “It’s A Beautiful Life.” Like the best music you’ve always lived with, but that somehow keeps surprising you, “It’s A Beautiful Life” feels at once familiar yet fresh and vital — nourishing, even — for right now; wholly immersed in the moment.
That immediate pull, and sense of wonder and relevance, is no accident. For Holland, the music he’s making these days reflects a dramatic personal shift of perspective; a deeper contemplation of some critical life changes. In the modest three and a half minutes of “It’s A Beautiful Life,” Holland vividly encapsulates a personal quest for happiness and human connection, pondering the looming uncertainty of change as refracted through a comforting but bittersweet catalog of old haunts and habits. Ultimately, it’s a song about what everyday life looks and feels like at street level — or, as Holland sings it, “down here in the shadows.”
“Sometimes your blues skies are grey,” Holland muses as he wanders through the back alleys and side streets of Boston on the new track. “Sometimes it rains for days.” Having this music to ride out the rain with is a reassuring reminder that for most of us, sooner or later, our blue skies will inevitably turn grey. But the music that we love, or are about to love, can help turn them blue again.
Photo by Erin Shaw
Here’s the bulk of my conversation when I caught up with Holland recently via that old social distancing standby, e-mail.
RPM: So Mikey, congratulations on the new single and the forthcoming Dazies album. Tell me a bit about it, and the circumstances that went into making the new music.
HOLLAND: The album is called ‘Under The Moon and Far Away’. It’s a theme that presents itself throughout the record and that has lingered in my life lately. My focus has been on writing/recording this album, as well as photography this past year, and typically later in the evening is the time I find to be most inspiring. There’s less people around, the silhouettes of everything present themselves in a (truly beautiful) fashion, the way the moon and the stars calm us all down from a long day of rushing around.
I take the train from Rockport, Massachusetts to North Station to work four days a week. My artistic life kind of lives in a lot of that in-between time. Taking trains and walking the back streets of downtown Boston up to 5-7 miles everyday before work has become such an important part of my writing. It’s given me incredible amounts of inspiration and time to think, write and contemplate musical and artistic choices.
RPM: Is there a release date for the full album? I know you’re a one-man operation as far as the band goes, and everything that comes with that when it comes to getting the music out there for people to hear.
RPM: In addition to some Boston-centric street references and touchstones, on the first song you’ve just released, “It’s A Beautiful Life,” the name ‘Josh Kantor’ jumped out at me. I assume that’s the same Josh Kantor who plays organ at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox?
HOLLAND: That is the one and only Josh Kantor who plays for Fenway. That was a real treat. I’m from Boston, I love the Red Sox. How could you not, right? I don’t do much in the way of sports but baseball is almost its own entity in the arena of sports. It’s like a Bruce Springsteen song in real time. It has heart, soul, and grit. I can tell you almost every time I’ve ever been to Fenway in my life for both baseball and big ballpark shows (PETTY!!! THE BOSS!!! BILLY JOEL!!!- no shame on that last one, ha). It’s a magical place and to have Josh (play) was a real treat. I wish my grandfather was around to hear this one, he’d flip that it featured a Fenway elite! Me and Josh bonded over our love for The Mekons (for those unfamiliar, incredible band!), and that kind of led the style I was looking for. I wrote the lead part and the rest I just let him do his thing which was an incredibly perfect fit. Turns out he actually plays with Jon Langford (of) The Mekons so it was a perfect fit to the song.
RPM: It sounds, whether intentional or not, like an ideal song for these isolated, fearful, and contemplative times, where each of us is perhaps more alone than we’ve ever been, and yet connected to each other by this universal crisis of a pandemic.
HOLLAND: I wrote the foundation of this particular song at 4 a.m. after a long night working the bar at Shays (Pub & Wine Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts). There’s a feeling that always overtakes me when I’m shutting down the bar and there’s no one else around. The closest I’ve ever come to describing it is when you’re a kid and you sneak out at night. You feel like the entire world’s asleep and that you and the very few people you see along the way are all in on the take. There’s something that’s in the air that grabs me at that time and I try to claim it. The majority of my song ideas live out there.
RPM: I know that feeling you’re describing, and the particular mood and atmosphere that informs that track. It does feel nocturnal. What else went into the spirit of the track?
HOLLAND: A few things. I decided that my unhealthy relationship with alcohol had to be confronted in my life. I’ve never really felt like I’ve had a problem per se, but I do feel like I let it come between things in my life and ultimately that is problematic. Once you take a step back after sobering up, which has been 1 year, 3 months and 27 days, you see things a bit clearer, of course, but you can also see where the cracks existed. The lyrical inflection of ‘It’s a Beautiful Life’ was partially derived from confronting things that are challenging and difficult and finding that beauty exists and has always existed without these things in my life. Down here in the shadows is where people like myself and many others live and create.
RPM: The track has a more measured, deliberate arrangement than some of the earlier faster, louder Dazies stuff. Did you instinctively hear the song in your head with this kind of treatment? Or was it something you experimented with?
HOLLAND: I moved out of the city to a small beach community up on the north shore two years ago. Me and my partner needed a change and needed some place that was vastly different from city life. I can honestly say the ocean has changed me in all of the best ways. I’ve found so much peace and tranquility in my life, thanks to the ocean. I’m just not the same person I was when I moved here. I let a lot of the things that have weighted me down for years go. That comes from spending time working on yourself which I have done a lot of (during) the last two years.
RPM: How did that translate to the music you’re making now?
HOLLAND: One of the things I really embraced was my actual love for the acoustic guitar. I have always written on an acoustic and then transferred that to an electric when the full band is playing. There’s something about playing in a loud rock ‘n roll band that is ageless but also limiting. I’ve always had a deep love for Elliott Smith, the folkier sides of Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg and The Pogues, Jonathan Richman etc.
But for some reason I just never let those really come to the front, or when I did, I buried them behind loud guitars. I’ve spent the last 16 months writing and playing everything on this record outside of the keys, and if there was an aspiration it was to create something that can live outside of guitar rock ‘n roll records. Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ comes to mind as an album that lives in a place of its own. Sometimes there is a loud guitar but almost always it’s all about melody. I wanted to create something timeless with this record and I feel like the first single captured where I’m heading with it. I still love loud records and I have a few more in me, for sure. But finding hope in the quiet moments is where my head is at these days.
Hear the Dazies here: https://soundcloud.com/heazies
Here’s where you can listen and also buy Dazies music: https://thedazies.bandcamp.com/
Then there’s Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/13exOmBet4F3Yo7E9vIwYD
Want to watch some videos? Go here to see the official video for “Misery”: https://vimeo.com/241904800
Want a “Piece of My Love”? Get some here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51uIIRdSs2s