Wayward Fire, The Chain Gang of 1974‘s 2011 release, is one of the best albums of the year. It’s stirring and danceable. It’s a damn fine work, one that’s got intriguing words and sounds. Thank you to the mastermind behind the band, Kamtin Mohager, for unleashing this album on the public. I saw The Chain Gang of 1974 several times this year in Seattle, and now the band returns for 107.7 The End’s ‘TWas The Night Before Deck with GROUPLOVE and The Lonely Forest on December 6th. Right before the band’s appearance at the Crocodile this summer, Kamtin Mohager answered my questions about videos, dreaming and Tears for Fears.
Kamtin Mohager: He’s a friend of the label, and we met and he gave me a concept. I said let’s go for it. I enjoy having control over those kind of ideas because “Undercover” was a concept I came with. We spent about a day in Topanga Canyon – it’s a weird video. It’s very goofy too. I don’t want to take myself too seriously, especially with the content of the record.
The Chain Gang of 1974‘s Kamtin Mohager @ the Crocodile, August 2011 – photo by Dagmar
You seem to be interested in ’80s music. Is any particular video your favorite?
KM: I love the “Head Over Heels” video for Tear for Fears, when they’re in the library and there’s a monkey and a baseball player – just random stuff. Human League’s “Human.” That video is so cheezy but I love that. There’s something about it that’s so awesome.
What’s your earliest memory?
KM: There’s a memory I will never forget. I think I was in first grade or kindergarten. I grew up in Hawaii and the school we went to was a good 30 minutes from the town we lived in. I got sick at school, and my mom and dad were at work. A family friend from the town the school was in picked me up and we pulled into a McDonald’s drive-through, and I’m like, so stoked. I get a Happy Meal! He pulls up, orders a Big Mac combo or whatever, and she’s like, anything else and he said, no that’s it! He gets the food and starts eating it in front of me. I’m this little sick kid in the back. I told my dad about it and he was livid. That’s an early childhood memory.
Did you come by singing later in your teen years?
KM: Singing’s never something I’ve been super confident with. Even today, and yesterday I think I’m discovering my voice more and more. I grew up listening to a lot of skate punk and the early emo bands. I grew up starting to sing nasally and whiny like a lot of those bands. Within the past year and a half the voice has transitioned, especially if you listen to earlier Chain Gang records – I really discovered my voice and the way I’m most comfortable singing. It’s obviously influenced by a lot of bands I’ve listened to, but it was a lot easier to sing that way. People have been complimenting my voice lately, which is very flattering. I’m not a super confident singer. I’m not a trained singer.
Who was White Guts?
KM: It was the beginning of the new era of this band. I was working towards a certain sound for quite some time, and it was this very heavy, party electro sound – which I was never into. I think everyone has their phase where they’re a little embarrassed of what they’ve done in the past. I was working on a record for two years, and one day I was driving to Los Angeles for New Year’s and I was done doing this. I scrapped the record, jumped into a few bedrooms with a couple of my good friends, showed them new song ideas, we co-wrote an album, which was White Guts – put it out on my own label. Five weeks after I put it out I was contacted by Warner and Modern Art. I was already at a point where I’d moved on from a lot of the tracks. Some of the tracks were older. I showed them the demo of “Tell Me” and told them this is where I’m going. They heard “Tell Me” and said, you’re in.
You’ve been on some amazing support tours this year.
KM: We just got done supporting Big Audio Dynamite, which was amazing. We did Lollapalooza. We did Cibo Matto, a show with ABC. It was brilliant. They were so nice. It’s been pretty awesome to be a young band on tour with these legendary people who are very welcoming and encouraging. Not every band our age gets to do those kind of things. We’ve been touring with bands that we’re fans of. Our two main goals right now is to start work on the next record and head overseas.
You’re a vinyl fan. Do you ever buy an album just for the artwork?
KM: I go for the music. I never buy CDs or MP3s. If the album I want isn’t on vinyl I’ll buy the CD, but there’s something cool about vinyl. It’s not that the sound is so much better, there’s just something really cool about holding one of your favorite records. You’re forced to listen to an entire album. I just went record shopping today.
What did you buy?
KM: I bought a Morrissey record, Sunny Day Real Estate, Madonna and REM.
Do you read a lot of science fiction?
KM: I don’t. I’m very into extraterrestrials and UFOs. I’m a firm believer. I believe it’s out there. I would love to encounter one one day. I don’t read science fiction. I’m not a big reader unless I’m reading a music magazine or an article online. I really want to change. All the guys (in the band) are reading books in the van, and I’m checking Twitter.
Why did you select the bass?
KM: I can’t really pinpoint it. Carlos D of Interpol, he really influenced the way I play. The very plucky, punk rock style of playing bass. I’m a big fan of The Stills. That driving bass. Slowly but surely I’ve been picking up other instruments.
Your parents moved here from Iran?
KM: They moved here two years prior to the Islamic Revolution. They moved to either the Philippines or India first, and after that moved to Northern California, where me and three of my brothers were born. From there I went to Hawaii for 10 years, Colorado for 12, and now I’m in California. I’ve never been a fan of Colorado – it just wasn’t for me. I don’t think it ever really adopted the band. To this day when we play Colorado people just kind of look at us. I don’t know when and if that will ever change. I think we’re bigger in Seattle than we are in Denver.
What is it about the band Tears for Fears you like so much?
KM: Bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure can play shows today and still bring thousands upon thousands of people. I don’t remember it from the ’80s – I lived in the ’80s for 5 years. A lot of people told me Tears for Fears were not the cool band to listen to. If you liked Tears for Fears you were kind of lame. But their music – they were such a musical band. They set themselves apart from bands at that time. Songs From the Big Chair is just a phenomenal record. I think “Everybody Wants to World” is hands down the greatest song ever written. There’s something about them that inspires me.
What was your first live show like?
KM: Adam, who’s filling in on bass guitar right now, his band was doing a CD release show in Denver. This was over four years ago – February 22nd of 2007. The band I was in had just broken up and we’d invested in a bunch of recording equipment. I recorded a song and I showed it to him – the next day he called and said, I booked you on our CD release show, it’s in two weeks. So I did the first EP in a week and a half. I played the sold out show – I think it was like 200 kids – and it was amazing. The first two years of the band it was just me, a bass guitar and an iPod. It was very punky, grungy trip hop- influenced when it started. That was all I needed.
Do you have a recurring dream?
KM: I’ve been having a few. I haven’t had it in like a month, but there’s one dream I’ve had since I was a little kid. It’s a mind trip. I’m in a maze type of place and it’s (got) very overwhelming angles from up top. Usually if I have a fever and I go to bed I get that dream.
interview by Dagmar