Mr. Chill leads Dan Wriggins out of his comfort zone, breezily
“I definitely considered calling myself Mr. Chill,” says Dan Wriggins during our recent phone conversation. Instead, he’s calling himself his given name, a choice he’s growing more and more comfortable with even as he’s retained Mr. Chill as the name of the record. “I figured just using my own name is a little safer, I’m not going to get tired of it.”
It’s likely you are more familiar with Wriggins as the songwriter and lead singer for Philly’s Friendship, a band who’s been making gentle, often haunting dream-folk for over half a decade. Mr. Chill isn’t all that different on the surface; same hushed production, same meandering conversational lyricism, same wry vocalist at its center, but the shift from band to solo effort becomes more significant the more you delve into Mr. Chill. While no one one would call Friendship’s music crowded, Mr. Chill is almost disarmingly sparse and intimate, like a man whispering prayers down a well. It’s hard, impossible even, to separate the music from Wriggins’ quotidian observational sensitivity which warps each song around it’s scant instrumental palette.
During our discussion, we touch on, among other things, the record’s thematic through-lines, the relaxed recording experience, and finding comfort in his first solo effort.
The Key: For someone who’s been around for some time now, what is the significance of releasing music under your own name for the first time?
Dan Wriggins: The significance isn’t necessarily in the way I write the music. Whether I am writing a song for Friendship or this, it is pretty much the same thing, that line is pretty blurry. What I did experience was a little extra anxiety when working on this. In the months leading up to recording, I remember being pretty nervous in a way I never was recording Friendship music. That was probably because I know when putting something out as Friendship, part of the effort is shouldered by the rest of my band who I trust and are really good, whereas for this, even though other people played on it, it felt like this was supposed to represent me.
TK: As you mentioned, you don’t really sit down and decide to write a song for one project or another, so how did the idea to release Mr. Chill come to fruition?
DW: You’re right, when I am writing I am not really thinking about it, but sometimes when I am done with [songs], some feel a little more weighted toward a band and some a little less. I was certainly planning on putting out solo music before COVID happened, but COVID happening definitely made it happen much quicker. If we needed to, we probably could have figured out a way to rehearse together over the last year but we didn’t want to really try it, so that kind of just gave me an opportunity to work on stuff a little more alone.
TK: Do these songs hang together thematically as well sonically?
DW: Yeah, there is stuff that comes up in these songs that compliment each other or works toward the same feelings and ideas. In addition to that, they feel to me like they come from a similar writing voice and structure. There are a few little chorus’s but these songs are mostly pretty wordy and have almost all the same stanza length. They feel like they’re cut from the same cloth. A lot of my favorite records don’t feel like that and have a ton of stuff that sticks out and doesn’t necessarily fit, but for this I liked the idea of it all fitting together.
TK: Was any part of this process more stressful because it was something you were doing on your own rather than with a full band?
DW: It was not, it was great actually. I think that comes from the fact that, with Friendship, we are always trying to move quickly because we’re on a limited budget in professional studios and with five people that can be really hard. Not to mention we’ve had some, well, not so great experiences in the past. So with this it was just me and Michael Cormier and we kind of knew we weren’t going to make a full-length record, so it made it much breezier and felt great. I think that is a product of getting older and learning more about how I want to operate in a studio and not having to do it with so many people. It definitely takes a lot of pressure off.
TK: One of the lines that stick out to me from the record’s opening track, “All Things Being Equal” is the line about David Berman, who seems like a significant influence on the way you write music. Tell me a little bit about that reference?
DW: He is definitely an influence and I do like him a lot, but I have friends who are much more into him. Like real Berman-heads. I guess that’s what made me think of that line, which can be applied to any kind of celebrity death or even a friend, [is] this feeling of hearing about something and having this goofy feeling about how you should feel. It is about having this expectation of how you are supposed to deal with grief or loss and then having to ask yourself if you actually feel that way. The gap there is interesting to me. It was spurred by the fact that when he died it didn’t hit me as hard as it was hitting other people.
TK: Seeing as this record marks a significant first for you, were there moments where you felt like you were pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone?
DW: It definitely felt better than some recording experiences I’ve had, but in terms of actually singing and playing, especially singing, I suppose I did feel like I was doing something new for me. It’s pretty basic, but there was this moment where I recorded all these vocals and I didn’t like them all that much and when I tried them the next day something had changed and I was able to sing better in a way I liked with more control.
Mr. Chill is out now via Dear Life Records; listen and purchase it via Bandcamp.