When growing up, many strive to find their identity and, as a result cling to an existing subculture. Dan Yemin, or Dr. Dan as many refer to him, is the antithesis of this; challenging the idea of what punk and hardcore should be while also proving one can pursue many other endeavors with success. Just prior to a weekend tour in England with Lifetime, Scottie spoke with him about where to find a good vegan cheese steak in Philly, his career, and the importance of MF Doom. Oh yeah, there was a little bit about punk rock too.
Scene Point Blank: Lifetime is going to England this weekend, what are your thoughts going into that?
Dan Yemin: I'm stoked because Lifetime never played England. When we toured in the nineties promoters told us there was no hardcore scene in England. Germany, Norway and Sweden had awesome scenes but it didn't exist in England. Also, promoters told us work permits and transportation was very expensive, so it wasn't worth it. Paint It Black has been to England but this is a first for Lifetime so I'm excited.
Scene Point Blank: Could you talk about what kind of projects you have going on, music wise?
Dan Yemin: First, Lifetime is an old band that recently started playing again, and we recording our new album about in about a week and half. We're going to England this weekend and have been touring a tiny bit since we started playing again. Paint it Black is equally active; we're writing a new album and actually just got a new drummer as well. We just did a European tour too, which was a great time. I also play bass in a band called Armalite. We put out an album earlier this year on No Idea Records.
Scene Point Blank: Is there any chance of Armalite playing shows outside the Philly area? I know most of you have pretty busy schedules.
Dan Yemin: We're playing The Fest in Gainesville later this month. Actually all my bands are playing in a thirty-six-hour period. That's the best.
Scene Point Blank: Could you explain any details about the Skinned Knees, Sutured Hearts record? Why compile stuff that's already released and slap your name on it?
Dan Yemin: When the idea first came about, Lifetime wasn't playing together; I was just doing Paint it Black. My friend Mike, who runs Devil in the Woods Records and Magazine, had been putting a lot of vinyl releases for Jade Tree. Jade Tree is doing less and less vinyl because it tends to lose a lot of money. It's really expensive to produce and tends to sell slowly; the first pressing will usually sell quickly, but then the label represses, which costs a lot of money and they end up only sell a few copies a month. Keeping [the release] in print ends up being a losing proposition for the label that has to be concerned with the bottom line, which I think most labels have to be in independent music; especially if you're not a huge label.
This means other labels have been picking up the slack as a labor of love, which Devil in the Woods is doing for a lot of Jade Tree releases. So he approached me about doing this compilation, which would be vinyl only, limited pressing. It would be the greatest hits of the bands I've been in as picked by me. At first I thought it was an ego trip I don't need, but then some people at the label and some friends of mine actively encouraged me.
We started talking about and first, it had to be okay with Jade Tree and second, it had to be okay with all the people in those bands with whom I co-wrote those songs. I had Mike email all the bands to get the okay, and besides getting shit from Dave Palaitis [bass player of Lifetime], who kind of made fun of me in an embarrassing email, no body had any opposition to it.
I picked the songs and spent about a month writing the liner notes for it, which is really the thing that makes a release like this worthwhile. I remember this Elvis Costello greatest hits record, granted he is a god among men and I'm just a hardcore kid who got lucky but I bought it for the liner notes. In general there is not much use to a greatest hits record, but the liner notes make it exciting. Reading someone's process as they were making a record, what they thinking and what they what they were influenced by is, in my opinion as a musician, something that can make it kind of special. I love vinyl too, so I just went for it. Unfortunately it took so long to get it together that Lifetime got back together and it looks like it will be released around the same time Lifetime releases new material, which is not the ideal timing. I'm still stoked about it though.
Scene Point Blank: It seems that Philly has a group of bands that are more tightly knit (and diverse) than most others, Paint it Black is kind of the middle men? I know it's the city of brotherly love, but what makes it work better than other scenes.
Dan Yemin: It rules! We are in each other's bands so it works out. Philly is in a unique position. First, geographically it's enormous, but in terms of population and in terms of the downtown area where people hang out, it's really small. So everybody knows each other, especially those who are making music. I think it's also got one of the most vibrant independent music cultures in the country. There's an entity called R5 Productions, run by some friends of mine, who put on almost all of the interesting independent music shows in the city. They host everything from punk and hardcore to noise/experimental to hip-hop. They have a show almost every other night and it's awesome; add that to a small, close knit DJ scene and you have a pretty vibrant community where there's a lot of inbreeding, but I think that only brings a degree of intimacy and closeness to things that people attending can appreciate.
Scene Point Blank: It seems The First Unitarian Church shows no discrimination to the shows they put on: does that help?
Dan Yemin: Well, they only do good and interesting stuff, but they will put on all kinds of shows. That is the center of things but there are other venues used if the show is too big. The Church holds about 550 and if it's going to be bigger, the show will be held at a place called The Starlight Ballroom which holds about 1200. If it's going to be a small show there is a number of other places. They have different places for the types of shows they put on as well; like the have this small little place for mellower shows and an industrial type space for noise bands and things like that. It's great.
Scene Point Blank: For anyone traveling to Philly, where can you get a vegetarian/ vegan steak and cheese??
Dan Yemin: There are two places: Gianna's, which had some controversy because for a while they were selling stuff as vegan which it wasn't. They now have a certified vegan option though. There another place on the corner of South and Broad called Govinda's. It's called something else too, but they have a really good vegan and vegetarian menu.
Scene Point Blank: So many people see you as just this hardcore dude who is or has been in a lot of notable bands. As I understand it you're a psychologist too, could you comment on that a little bit?
Dan Yemin: Well I work with children, adolescents and adults, through a private practice of mine.
Scene Point Blank: I'm a tutor who works with a lot of children and adolescents; I wanted to know what your views on mood altering drugs are and how they are prescribed to kids?
Dan Yemin: Well I think that under the correct circumstances they can be really helpful to people in a lot of pain, but I wouldn't consider anti-depressants to be mood altering drugs. I think the stimulants that people use for ADHD are a little more controversial because they are so over prescribed. I think that the biggest problem is that they end up being prescribed by a family physician rather than a psychiatrist, which, in my opinion, is not a good thing. I find that a lot of times that general practitioners or family physicians are not thorough enough not only in their assessment, but in their follow up as well.
I'd love it if everyone could get better with therapy and not need medication, but in some situations depression and anxiety disorders are so debilitating that you can't even get anything out of therapy until some of the more serious symptoms are addressed through medication. The modern antidepressant are not mood altering per say, they just restore what physicians consider a normative balance of neurotransmitters.
Scene Point Blank: With that in mind kids, teens, adults even have to face all kinds of bullshit from all kinds of institutions ( schools, church, business) etc. how do you feel music works as therapy to this, all music and then punk rock?
(At this point, I was put on hold so Dan could address a work related issue, again hinting at the fact that there is more to life than punk rock. We agreed to continue the interview the next day)
Dan Yemin: Wow, so powerful for people of all ages. I think music is, ideally, one of the ways kids organize themselves in opposition to the generation before them. If you're familiar with the term generation gap, I think music is one of the key tools in creating a difference between a kid's generation and a parent's generation. I think that is a good thing in some ways because it gives the inspiration or initiative to challenge some of the less useful ideologies and constraints about their parent's generation; the assumptions about way things have to be or should be. Music as a cultural force can help people reject the aspect of the former generation that we've outgrown. For example, there are only few correct ways to be successful in your career whether they be business, medicine or law; the only definition of success is financial. They can address other things like opposition to gay marriage and things that were took for granted during your parent's generation, but I think need to be challenged and rejected.
Music provides a foundation for not taking everything your parents say at face value.
Also, when kids are going through a tough time music can help them feel less alone and less alienated, and that's certainly the role music played for me during my adolescence. Social alienation, political alienation and heartbreak, those are three things music always helped kids deal with no matter what generation they were a part of. I grew up in the Regan years and I couldn't believe how fucked up American politics were, although they might be even worse today. I was always distraught at the state of the world and what our leader were getting away with; of course not being able to vote made me feel even more powerless. I grew up in a really conservative town and I felt really alienated from the social status quo. Music helped me deal with that. Of course when dealing with heartbreak there's nothing like The Descendents. On the other hand, Music can be a negative influence too; if it's a style of music that puts style above substance, I don't think that's a positive thing.
Scene Point Blank: Touching on that, this past May you took part in the Bamboozle Fest, which was in no way hiding the fact that it was corporate. While performing, you took the liberty to speak your mind on things like ticket prices and what punk/hardcore is becoming. Still you chose to play the show. Do you think there is any responsibility for "underground" bands that may have more integrity to get their sound to a larger audience or should they preserve the sound for audiences that will respect it?
Dan Yemin: I don't know if it's a responsibility; I cannot talk about anyone's responsibility but my own. I think if you really consider yourself a punk band or an underground band and those things are important to you, then you have a responsibility. I think one of my responsibilities with Paint It Black is to show people what real hardcore punk rock is, or at least my version of it. The term independent label is kind of fuzzy now because a lot are co-owned by major labels and you have some "punk" or "underground" bands with a with $100,000 marketing budget behind their record so that stuff is really easy to find. To find the good stuff you really have to dig deeper. The slick stuff is masquerading as underground and people see it and think, "Wow, I've discovered underground music" and they don't understand there are layers beneath that. [Kids] will listen to some bands and think it's underground but they still have no idea who the fuck Tragedy is, and they need to. That's real hardcore. Like Alexisonfire, they sound like the Dave Matthews with the singer from Carcass doing guest vocals.
I thought long and hard about playing that festival. I'm in to trying new things; when I was younger I would have avoided anything that hinted at being corporate, but then you become this kind of bitter old guy who bitches about how things used to be awesome. That's a real easy copout so sometimes I want to go the extra mile and show kids this is what [punk and hardcore] is all about. You've got some crappy Christian rock band playing across the park and on the other side you have band bringing while all the kids are singing along. Hopefully kids will look into that and see there are more exciting experiences going on in VFW halls and church basements and small clubs across country.