In this exclusive album interview, we talked with Hayden Sammak of Deadfellow about the process and context behind his latest album, Mescalifornia: A California Dream. Read on to find out more about your next favorite artist, and read what our curators think of Deadfellow’s new album.
Comments from the Curators
Review by Josh S. Pineda, Founder & Curating-Editor
We start right where we left off in Deadfellow’s previous album, Love Songs For The Contemporary Listener (hereon Love Songs). There we got a taste of an orchestral twang in the downtempo and brooding closing track, “I Dreamed I Lost A Girl,” the driving thematic force in where we’re headed in his latest release, Mescalifornia: A California Dream. In the opening seconds of this new concept album, those orchestral elements tense up and distort transporting us into a dazed fever dream, complete with forewarning trumpet cadence and sparkling keys. The wavvy nostalgic twang soon returns in the guitar line, but now with the more hopeful tone of a familiar mid-century west coast sound.
Mescalifornia is a case study of deconstruction and sincerity, where a satirical approach to the sound-aesthetic of the Beach Boys–a sound that frontman Hayden Sammak detested before he forced himself to listen to and recreate, in order to try to understand what everyone’s so obsessed with–quickly turns into a quasi-homage and then back again, fluctuating between Sammak’s sardonic yet dead-on songwriting wit and a tribute to the romantically yearning sounds of yesteryear. Self-described as a “look at love through the lens of the post-talent bastardization of the search for the iconic California Dream,” the album simultaneously undermines and reinforces the myth, while also setting it in a more contemporary landscape. It’s quite fitting that a look at the post-talent age is done through a very thoughtful, layered, and charmingly talented method of metacommentary from an independent artist.
“Love, what do you see? Is this real or fantasy?” sings Sammak on “I’ll Be There In The Morning.” These are the key set of questions throughout this incredible six-track record. Mescalifornia serves as the phantasmagorical flip-side of Love Songs, where the listener experiences a more rose-colored and saccharine version of modern heartache, both caught in the moment, seeming passionately realistic, yet whose saturated facade is also exposed. Whereas Love Songs was raw and blunt, Mescalifornia is embracing with an evolved production quality, having a warmer tint in it’s exquisite instrumentals (especially depicted in deeper and exploratory tracks such as “A California Dream (Reprise)”).
Though we’re supposed to listen to the do-wops in an ironically wry way, the best moments of this album are where the songs turn in on themselves and we appreciate their surfaces for what they are: perfectly textured and orchestrated love songs, guided by comforting vocals. Even the most tongue-in-cheek lines draw you in, making for a truly immersive experience.
I don’t know whether I love this album because it perfectly plays with the exaggerated elements of Beach Boys-era romance and shows its hallucinatory effects, or because it uses that to its advantage to uncover why we sometimes need and want that myth, in order to escape the confines of reality and to enjoy a tender buzz once in awhile–even if we are left with a pained hangover. All in all, what’s fantastic about Mescalifornia is that it leaves you thinking about what you appreciate in the album itself, what the California Dream even means, and how love songs work for the contemporary listener.
What are your top three favorite albums that inspired you to get into music?
Electric Ladyland, Dark Side of the Moon, Singles-45’s And Under (Squeeze)
How did you record release show go performing with a 10-piece set?
I actually miscounted—it was a 9 piece. It was close to what I wanted. The venue was great but the stage was just too tight for that many people. The set could have been a little smoother, but overall, it went about as well as I could have hoped for.
What was your mindset and motivation behind approaching a concept album like this?
I just get into different things. There’s really no particular mindset or motivation other than writing a cohesive narrative. I mostly used it as a way to guide the record and plot the songs, rather than record the songs to guide the record. I don’t know if that makes sense. I basically picked a theme and wrote songs under that umbrella.
You weren’t a fan of the Beach Boys before making Mescalifornia, after the whole process was done, do you have a new appreciation for the group?
Yeah, sure. If you listen to anything long enough you can start to unpack it and pick out its best qualities. Out of the whole The Beach Boys catalogue, I landed on Pet Sounds as my favorite recording of theirs. I know that’s neither remarkable or unique. I like “God Only Knows.”
How was Mescalifornia different from writing and recording Love Songs For The Contemporary Listener? You mentioned in a previous interview that the albums are connected, can you explain how they tie into each other?
The recording process was tighter than Love Songs For The Contemporary Listener. I thought of general motifs and themes and honed them down with better musicians than myself. We worked them into parts and arrangements that way. I didn’t really do too much of that with the first album. I just kind of worked with people and Bob Ross’d the first one together. The second was more planned.
The albums are connected in characters and reoccurring themes. The first album is one kind of reality, the second is a dream and the third one kind of looks forward through the lens of both experiences.
How did you channel the classic California dream sound while recording this, while also keeping it thematically contemporary?
I just made references to things that modern people can relate to and tried to avoid certain recording techniques that I thought were a little kitsch or whatever. I didn’t try to force an old-timey vibe onto it, I just started there and let it come out however it was going to.
Were there other artists that influenced your sound on this record?
I wasn’t actively thinking of anyone else, no. Just The Beach Boys.
What did you learn from recording this album, and what parts of it do you want to explore in future songwriting and production?
I learned that there is something nice about a polished product. I also learned that overproducing something can be worse than underproducing it. I don’t know what parts of it I want to explore further—I kind of got fond of key instruments (meaning piano type instruments, not crucial instruments.)
What do you have coming up in this album cycle? What’s your next musical endeavor?
Millennials in Love (And Other Pre-Apocalyptic Standards) is coming out this fall.
Mescalifornia is available digitally wherever you get your music. CDs, 7″ Vinyl & Shirts available at www.deadfellow.com/shop-1