INTERVIEW: Django Mack

How would you classify your music?

Everyone knows that Django Mack is interested in “American music”, so we call it “Americana”, but it’s easy to see that blues, and jazz and country music are at its core. We all really like acoustic instruments, though there’s plenty of electric ones too. It’s really more “western” than “country”, and it plays kinda like rock & roll – easy to listen to, easy to understand.

Some of the stories we set out to tell are a bit on the “timeless” side, while others are drawn straight from personal experience. Many of the tunes involve mis-adventure, or at least a bit of friendly carousing. We try to make it fun, have a little sense of humor about it, because generally speaking we’re not playing funeral marches – this is drinking music!

Tell Me about the Band?

This record was a lot of fun to make, because the people involved were simply the best. (Drummer) Tim Vaughan and (bassist) Tom Donald are both consummate arrangers, so the rhythm section has a lot going on, and Rich Flynn takes the guitar to a whole ‘nother level, if you know what I mean.  Throw in a couple of my favorite horn players – Steve Leeds on sax and Matt Ebisuzaki on trumpet – and the gorgeous voices of Angela LaFlamme, Laurie Amat, Rosa Loki…. Hanging out making music with these folks is really what I live for.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences?

People always tell me I sound like Johnny Cash or Tom Waits, but one of my favorite bands in recent years is Alabama Three. Those guys sling that sweet-gospel-acid-house-country-music in a way that is both musically intense and seriously fun. Now, they get that foot-stomping feel by rocking out to an 808, but I tend to prefer playing with live musicians, so stylistically we’re a bit different, but I really appreciate what they do.

From a production standpoint, I am drawn to a little wider selection of instruments sometimes, but I’ll confess that the raw grit of a Tom Waits record really warms my heart. I like to include horns, pianos, woodwinds – and voices too – so most of the tunes here are truly ensemble pieces. K.C. Harvey did an amazing job mixing this record so that every instrument has a place. I rarely go for a “wall of sound”: I much prefer a group of distinct voices, each one playing it’s own part.

Another group I really like to listen to is the Wood Brothers. Oliver’s a wonderful lyricist, and Chris is just a tremendous musical force, so the energy that they put out is really top-notch.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

I’m most interested in storytelling: sending people home from a show knowing a little bit more about how life works than when they arrived… or maybe just seeing things in a new way. Of course, it’s always about having a good time, enjoying the ride, but life is a journey, and if you don’t look around you and put some marks on the map, how do you really know where you’ve been?

My life has been very interesting so far, to me at least, and I hope that while I still have the breath to sing I can share a few of my observations with the unsuspecting public. I don’t feel really compelled to tell “the whole truth” when I write a song, so often my personal experiences get mixed together with things I pick up elsewhere – bric-a-brac and whatnot that I might find in my travels.

Many of the songs I write are collaborations, and I enjoy the challenge of putting myself into someone else shoes. One of the songs I’m working on for the next album came about through trying to understand some challenges my co-writer was going through, and I think this was one of the few  times in my life where my habit of making problems bigger than they really are paid off in a good way.

But if people take one message from Django Mack, it’s this: live your life in the way that lets you be you. There’s no reason to serve any calling that does not serve you back, and there are enough opportunities under these blue skies to allow each of us a warm bunk and a cold beer.

How’s the music scene in your locale?

San Francisco is an “interesting” place these days, and there are a lot of different things going on. Musicians and artists have to work very hard just to keep their heads above water in this high-tech rat race that The City has become, but the bay area is home to some amazingly talented people. Venues like The Fillmore and The Great American Music Hall, and organizations like SF Jazz or Freight & Salvage do a great job bringing in a rich assortment of traveling acts, but players working on the local level need to be real hustlers,so I feel very fortunate to know these folks, to call them my friends, and I never complain about my bar tab.

What is the best concert you have been to? What do you like most about playing live?

The craziest show I went to this year was a group called Dhaka Brahka, at SF Jazz. They were billed as “Ukranian Folk Punk”, and they did stuff with their voices that you would not believe.

I like it when performers get creative and try new things with their show. We saw Kid Koala this year, with his “Nufonia Must Fall” video performance piece, and that was really striking. Music and filmmaking are activities that sit well together, in my opinion: check out

A lot of performers I know say they love the excitement of the crowd, and that really is a palpable thing. And as a front man, I need to give the crowd my full attention when I’m on stage. But there’s a camaraderie you develop with the players in your group, whoever the group is tonight, that is a really special thing as well. Even more than wanting the show to go on forever, I’ve had some evenings where I really want that after-show beer to last forever. Somehow it never does.

Is there a song on your latest CD release here that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?

A songwriter is usually looking for a few basic types of positive reinforcement from which to gauge their success, and with a studio record you sometimes have to wait awhile before you get to see anyone’s eyes light up over it. But I was fortunate to have a number of very creative, and expressive, types helping on this record, so if you check out the very last cut – Rooster In The Henhouse – you get a little sense of how much fun we had making this record.

How have you evolved as an artist over the last year?

This past year has involved a lot of personal development for me. And I don’t say that as a point of pride, but rather as a warning, since  every one of us is mid-stream in becoming someone else entirely: sometimes that’s someone familiar, and sometimes not so much. And I don’t mean to get all Pink-Floyd depressed about “one day closer to death” and such, but I am coming to realize that ideas and intentions that you “save for later” are often lost, or simply unappetizing when you unwrap them, years later, smelling strongly of old socks.

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, have a drink with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be?

I have a painting hanging in my studio: a self-portrait done by my great uncle in 1943, as my mother roller-skated around her kitchen table in the apartment above his workspace. He looks very angry in this painting, but I remember him from my childhood as a kindly old man. I think he must have had quite a sense of humor to paint this terrifying face for a 5-year-old girl, and I am certain I would enjoy having a beer with him.

What’s next for you? 

I’m one of those people that likes to work slow-and-steady, so my usual answer to that is “more of the same”.  The past year or so was so much about the studio for me, and I am really looking forward to getting back onto the performance circuit, but the truth is we already have a bunch more new studio tracks in the works. I’m not sure what the timeline is for those to release, but I’ve got some fun sessions on my calendar this week with folks like Tim Vaughan, Matt Ebisuzaki, and Angela LaFlamme popping in…

I very much hope you enjoy “100 Page Tattoo”, and I look forward to hearing what you think.

Album preview:

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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