Dangermuffin (DM), since the founding of their party in 2007 on Folly Beach, has fortified a local reputation that propels them to the top of Charleston’s musical hegemony. The Charleston City Paper dubbed their most recent album, Songs For The Universe, Album of the Year 2015, and named lead guitarist Mike Sivilli Charleston’s Guitar Player of the Year 2015.
“I’ve been listening to Dangermuffin since they released Beermuda,” says Matt Eckstine of The Accomplices, referencing DM’s debut album of 2007. By citing nearly a decade of support, Eckstine goes on to infer that DM has in fact influenced his own musical values, invoking solidarity from those within the DM camp concluding his diatribe of allegiance with, “you know?”
Upon scrutiny of the two band’s individual platforms, there seems to be some truth to Eckstine’s politically and emotionally leveraged comparison. Both bands claim the Americana flag, and both are quite clearly rooted in bluegrass music. This was especially visible last night as DM introduced constituents to a brand new drummer, Markus Helander, a move that allowed multi-instrumentalist Steven Sandifer to focus on his duties on the upright bass, which is essential to the bluegrass sound. This followed seamlessly the sonic landscape of The Accomplices’ opening which is Matt Eckstine on acoustic guitar, Colleen Heine on the fiddle, Zachary Smith on upright bass, Stanford Ray on drums, and all four on vocals.
Both bands share some progressive values as well. They both have a rock n roll edge and a propensity to “jam”, allowing for special guests of all kinds to sit-in and improvise over their music. This can be a politically risky maneuver. Traditionalists quake at the prospect of watching players-unknown join their heroes on stage to promote their own agendas. Fortunately for these bands as the incumbents of the show, my own guest appearance will be seen as charitable outreach and will likely not hurt them much in the polls…
…But there has to be something deeper, some more calculated reason for the pairing of these regionally campaigning bands. I set about my journalistic duty to uncover the hard truth. I conducted interviews. I posed the difficult questions. I found that each interviewee had already been coached to deflect my inquiry and obstruct my research. I asked Mr. Stanford Ray, drummer for The Accomplices, how The Accomplices choose their accomplices. “I think you got to be in it to play it. You got to be in the music business to be a musician because it’s all turned upside down.” Fear, secrecy, and isolation…but then his line takes a hard u-turn and backfires on me, the interviewer. “I mean you’re one of them so of course. We’ve got a huge family of traveling minstrels that we want to show to the whole world.” Genius. By calling into question my motives in front of the words “family” and “whole world”, Mr. Stan Ray has stymied my line of questioning and I concluded it would no longer be prudent to press him further.
I then invited Dangermuffin’s lead guitarist Mike Sivilli to answer a few questions. Here he would prove why folks call him the Bill McKinley of the guitar and it’s not just because his licks are the Gold Standard. Ever the shrewd politician, he coolly dismissed my allegations of blatant musical cronyism last night. “Musical emotion is often more successful with the right vibe,” said Sivilli. He replaced ‘cronyism’ with his term ‘camaraderie’ and rendered impotent my scathing weaponry of verbiage. Yet upon further investigation, reports came to light that Dangermuffin is slated to open for The Accomplices the following night (Saturday) on Tybee Island, which is arguably the bastion and center of The Accomplices’ fan base and support. In a blatant show of mutual respect, Sivilli said that he was looking forward to playing the Tybee Post Theatre with them the following night. I saw my chance and bombarded him on the implications of this obvious case of mutual musical back scratching. Remaining calm under the pressure Sivilli replied with, “What are you talking about, dude?” I concluded the interview.
While I feel that I have uncovered a scandalous conspiracy, it is true that bands have been forming regional alliances since the dawn of van; leveraging a local reputation to bring diverse acts to the market, lend validity to lesser-known candidates and overall, share the love. In this day and age of the music industry there is no shortage of obstacles that a touring band will face. The right out-of-town ally can open the back door to a fan base or the front door to a crash pad after driving through the night from Des Moines.
Dangermuffin has toured consistently from sea to shining sea for the better part of a decade. As a veteran of life on the road, DM’s lead singer and rhythm guitar player Dan Lotti weighs in on the philosophical basis at the root of these connections. “It’s infinite. It’s the natural order of the universe, man. It really is. It’s the glue that binds everything together and when you get on that wavelength its the law, you know? Everybody can vibrate with that and that’s how we all connect through the cosmos infinitely and I really believe that…” It was here that I realized I was falling prey to Mr. Lotti’s mysticism and I was being ensnared in a love-spell that would tie my heartstrings to the proverbial wagon and take me for a ride. But I am a journalist! And I must remain clear, levelheaded and unbiased. I mean these guys will literally do anything for votes. The Accomplices are all unabashed political tacticians as well, most evident in the recent marriage of members Zach and Colleen, which was probably a political arrangement to wrest control of the band, engage in insider trading, and manipulate tax benefits. Both Zach and Colleen declined to comment when questioned about these allegations.
The onion layers peel back and it leaves me with no shadow of a doubt that these two bands have at least temporarily chosen the other as running mate in their never-ending campaign for regional notoriety, to the benefit of the masses of Sister City show-goers, audiophiles, band-aids, and Americanas both red and bluegrass.
In all seriousness, this was an awesome show. With the addition of Markus Helander, Dangermuffin exhibited a wider dynamic range than I’ve ever witnessed from them live, without losing that deep groove that has become synonymous with the band. Being his first show with them, he defied my expectations and made himself right at home on stage, which is no small feat when you consider how long DM has been touring and how tight the trio has become. Cheers, Markus!
My second serious shout out goes to Matt Eckstine. Less than a month ago, he was in the hospital with a collapsed lung yet on this night, he rocked with all the same energy and gusto that he is known for and the fans have come to expect from him. Impressive to say the least, inspiring and admirable. Cheers, Matt!
If you get the chance, see both of these bands. If you’re lucky, they’ll be on the same bill.
words by @patsydoes
photos/art by @gloriaesploria