Best Of What's Next: The Chain Gang of 1974

Music Features The Chain Gang of 1974
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Best Of What's Next: The Chain Gang of 1974

Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Members: Kamtin Mohager
Album: Wayward Fire
For Fans Of: LCD Soundsystem, Cut Copy, M83, The ‘80s

With The Chain Gang of 1974, Kamtin Mohager proudly wears his influences on his sleeve. Each song is in an attempt to recreate the emotional impact of other works that have struck him on a personal level—and that usually means synth-pop from the ’80s.

On his third record Wayward Fire, The Chain Gang of 1974 blends Mohager’s nostalgic, ethereal songs into one of the better and most cohesive electronic albums this year. Paste recently caught up with Mohager on one of his off-days on his recent tour with Foster The People, discussing his newest record, his songwriting approach and his obsession with Ryan Adams.

Paste: What is the Wayward Fire? What does the title mean?
Kamtin Mohager: This record is essentially a living diary of the last two years of my life and when you kind of open up your life and open up your heart to a significant other. Whether there are good times or there are bad times, it all comes full circle. This record was a documentation of what I went through in a specific relationship. People probably listen to the album and think, “this was the worst relationship ever,” but I was focused on more of the heartbreak of the stuff I went through and its all one thing. I wanted this album to kind of all relate with everything whether it’s the lyrical content or certain chords that are being used in each song, the emotion that is being brought out, the way people can relate to what I’m saying on certain tracks. It’s an honest record, I wasn’t trying to be articulate with the lyrics…I wanted it to just be straightforward, you can relate to it. It’s a lot of emotion, it’s a personal record, it’s kind of hard to even describe or talk about just because it’s so personal, it’s a living diary. It was good to do that, it felt good to write songs about a certain time.

Paste: Do you think moving forward that’s the way you’re going to write your lyrics or is that just kind of this moment in time that you’re really trying to capture?
Mohager: I think I’m very in the moment kind of a person. I don’t really look back and write about stuff that happened in the past. These songs were written in the midst of everything. I was going through something that happened right before I went to the studio. So it was like I started writing that. I like to keep it very real. Every single song on that record is about one person, this whole record is about one person and she’s amazing. We’re still together, we’re doing our thing and it’s great, it’s absolutely great, it’s a great growing process. I think creating this album has allowed me to kind of fix things in my life with all that. When it comes down to writing, I’m very in the now.

Paste: You’ve been doing this for four years, but it’s really been mostly this year that The Chain Gang of 1974 has really garnered a lot of attention. Why do you think that’s happening now leading up to your third album, as opposed to your first or second albums?
Mohager: This project has gone through many different shapes and forms. I remember when I was playing in a band with two of my brothers and our best friend…We started a while ago, I think back in early 2005 and it lasted for about two and a half years. That was my life, I was doing it and then out of nowhere we got offered a record deal but then right after that we broke up. We never signed a deal, we broke up and I was like, well… I don’t want to stop music.

Luckily, one of my friends was in a band at the time [when] I started The Chain Gang, I had one song recorded and he threw me a CD release show and I’m like WTF are you doing? I have one song and this is two weeks away. He was like, “well this will motivate you to write more songs.” I literally spent that few weeks rushing the first EP where the band started out very grungy electronic. It was very like Primal Scream’s Exterminator—that record was like influencing me to start The Chain Gang. I heard that album and I was just blown away by what they had done.

Paste: You obviously went another direction, judging by the newest album?
Mohager: I was working on a record for about two years and I…scrapped the album. I got together with my buddy who I co-write and co-produce all the stuff with. We just kind of made the plan to do the actual first album, which was called White Guns and that was the beginning of where this band kind of started to go. I got the mentality where I was like I don’t really care what anybody else really has to think about the songs. These songs I just kind of wanted to write. I’m really grabbing my influences, I guess by the balls, and throwing it into the way I write songs. I started my own label so to say and put out the record and a month later I got approached by Modern Art and Warner Brothers.

I think that album as a whole really truly represents what I want with this band and what I was with this project. I think that there’s something about these songs that will click for a few people, not everyone, but a handful of people, now that I’m here being able to properly release my official debut record. You see me talking to people on the phone, getting press from other people, so it’s quite exciting to see these benefits solely based on making the decision to do it exactly the way I want to do it, not really taking anything from anyone else.

Paste: I think it’s interesting that with your music, you can hear the particular influences in each son. You seem very much in tune with your influences and are not afraid to wear them on your sleeve.
Mohager: It’s like I’m taking these sounds and this feeling and it’s not just the ‘80s, I love the early-‘90s, mid-‘90s. Beside a handful of bands that are currently out right now and have been out for the last 11 years, I’m mainly influence by artists from about 20 to 30 years ago. It’s just something about the music they create that holds something that bands today don’t have, at least not all of them and it’s hard to pinpoint the culture behind that era. Even with fashion, with film, just kind of like everything that I guess those times had. I’m still a young guy, I’m 25, so it’s not like I remember the ‘80s but growing up and hearing my parents listen to the radio and hearing “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” on the station or hearing “It’s My Life” by Talk Talk and then kind of discovering music on my own when I was about 6 or 7 and hearing these ‘90s bands on the radio.

Paste: I think a lot of bands make the decision to either hide their influences or showcase them in the wrong ways but I think a lot of the appeal I get from your music is that it celebrates your influences, kind like how LCD Soundsystem did.
Mohager: I’m a huge fan of James Murphy, you know, and he was a massive massive influence. I was a massive fan of LCD Soundsystem and just the work he does, his production work and everything he touches. I think the major appeal for me is that he kind of makes his own way. He took his influences and—no one really points it out which is surprising to me and I know people pointed it out in the beginning of his band…

Paste: You even listen to his song “Losing My Edge” and he’s just name dropping his influences.
Mohager: Oh yeah, he’s a very, very creative man and you know, his music doesn’t really influence me the way that it used to but a lot of my older stuff, there are songs that I was trying very hard to capture how he writes songs. Once you have one influence, it’s always going to be there with you. Current bands like The Stills and Kasabian—that kind of stuff still sticks with me. I feel very open in taking their ideas and making them my own.

Paste: When you’re writing songs, do you have these influences in mind and are they influencing you when you’re writing on a subconscious level or is it more of you trying to purposely recreate the mood in a particular song or phrase?
Mohager: It’s kind of all of the above I guess. I will write a song…I don’t pick up a guitar and just write a song with silence around me, I can’t do it that way. Either I’m laying in my bed and close my eyes and start writing a song in my head and I’ll remember it the next day or I’m sitting there with a guitar listening to one of my favorite songs and try to capture the emotion and the feelings they had in that song and free it out of my own. I could give a track by track from my record and give you a specific song influence of every track. [But] going back to a lot of the older music, there was emotion—I love songs and chords that can really tug at the heartstrings. And that’s something I always want to capture.

Paste: How did you come up with your name?
Mohager: The name really has no meaning behind it. Towards the beginning of 2007 when the band was playing and we were about to kind of stop, I [had] to figure something out. One of my favorite bands The Raveonettes, they have the record Chain Gang of Love and it’s one of my favorite records and I enjoy that band… and then I’m a huge Ryan Adams fan, he is my favorite artist, I’m obsessed with the guy. His first year was in 1974 and he has a song “1974” and he has that tattooed on his arm. One day when I was trying to kind of figure out exactly what I wanted to say with this project, I was listening to The Raveonettes and I’m like ‘”kay, what about The Chain Gang of?” And then I thought 1974 because I have the Rock N Roll CD on my wall at the time and I’m like… The Chang Gang of 1974, that’s it. I started a MySpace page with a song and gave it a name. But that’s where it came from it was just two random ideas and I was like, hey, sounds cool, why not use it?

Paste: Looking back at it now and how you wear your influences really overtly, it kind of fits that perfectly.
Mohager: We played the Mile High Music festival in Denver last summer. Phoenix played it as well. There was a video of Phoenix being interviewed and the person was asking them who they wanted to see…They’re like, there’s a band called the “Gang of 74” and the interviewer goes, “The Chain Gang of 1974” and they’re like ‘yeah yeah yeah! We really wanted to see them but it turned out they were just an electro-pop band and we thought it was a bunch of old people from the 70s just out of jail…Everyone says The Chain Gang of 1979 because of Death From Above shit but whatever, you got to deal with what comes [with the name].

Paste: I would have never guessed that Ryan Adams was your favorite artist, listening to your music.
Mohager: Yeah…there’s something about Ryan Adams, you know the work he did with Whiskeytown, his solo efforts, his work with the Cardinals. Everytime he releases a new records, lyrically, it’s absolutely perfect for where I am in my life. I’m a total emo kid at heart, I wear my heart on my sleeve and all the songs about love, falling in love or falling out of love or having your heartbroken, I love that kind of shit…I have this love connection with this guy. But I did meet him once; he was a total prick so…

Paste: What’s next for you following the release of Wayward Fire? What are you doing for the rest of the summer?
Mohager: We’re kind of still trying to figure that out. We have new tour dates coming up…Just staying on the road, it gets really hard, you miss your loved ones, you miss your house and all that stuff but god willing everything continues. So far it’s been a steady up and I hope it stays that way. I’m not expecting it to sky rocket—I’m not a Passion Pit, I don’t think I’m an MGMT, I’m not one of those bands that kind of that pushes out of nowhere like that.

I have a feeling certain people don’t truly get it just yet, maybe there’s one song on the record that will kind of allow people to understand us, who really knows. Were going to stay on the road, we just got picked up by an agency in the UK so I am truly hoping to push over there soon and to push out to other countries. South America has been giving us a lot of love right now. I think it’s very important for me to stay on the road but hopefully bring that element outside of the US and see what happens. We’ve got Lollapalooza coming up which is really cool and we’re touring with Tapes N Tapes at the end of August, which is really cool so I’m really excited about that. I’m just kind of enjoying it while it lasts. Nothing these days in music really stays relevant so I think that’s my number on goal is just to constantly stay relevant…As long as I stay relevant, I’m happy.