Dan Sugarman, currently of the horror-core band, Ice Nine Kills released his second solo record [Inside/Out | Part 1] May 15th giving fans a taste of his skill in building instrumental metal soundscapes.
After leaving his first band, and facing the trauma of losing his mother to cancer, the heavy metal guitarist spent time crafting and perfecting what would become a solo artist. Dedicated to his late mother, [Inside/Out | Part 1] is a rollercoaster building upon the intensity of its steep climbs and sudden drops. The single, "Nova ft. Ruben Alvarez" (Upon A Burning Body) features pounding drums strong enough to shake the arteries, paired with the technicality of his guitar work is a treat for all willing to attempt to tame it. His fretwork layered with the other tracks is proof of his ability to sling delicate riffs through the sonic grinder to create an absolute masterpiece for listeners.
Anthony Cannella of HeadRush TV had the chance to chat with Dan about the new release and life in quarantine.
1. Hello Dan, first off all of us at HeadRush Tv hope you are doing well and are safe with all this craziness happening in the world right now. With this pandemic of the Coronavirus going on, what have you been up to?
Sugarman: Thanks so much for having me, all of this stuff has been absolutely crazy - I have no idea how it got to this point. But here we are… so I’ve been trying to make the best of a bad situation by using this time to get creative, and be more productive in all the areas that I used to not have time for.
Surprisingly, cooking has become a huge staple for us in the house. My mom was a professional chef, and an incredible one at that. I grew up watching, observing, tasting, and helping her prepare all of these insane dishes. So now I’m applying the stuff I picked up as a kid to my absolutely ridiculous gluten-free & vegan diet - so experimenting with that is always fun. It’s been keeping us occupied, healthy, and interested in educating ourselves by trying new things. Who knows… maybe I’ll write a vegan cookbook and cooking show for fun… and maybe even a vegan clothing company called Anti-Cruelty Cult with Joe Occhuiti from Ice Nine Kills? ...okay.
This house is also a new thing. I’m doing this interview from my new home in Los Angeles after a move from Austin, TX about 2 weeks ago. I left LA originally about 2 years ago to start a music education company, and that energy has since shifted to my own new guitar shreducation venture, aside from my private lessons, called Sugarman’s Lesson Lounge. It’s a growing online guitar community of close to 200 of my students. Through the [ S | L | L ] I drop loads of free shreducational videos, blogs, question prompts to get them thinking differently, interactive guitar games, resources, direct access to me, and the support of other guitar students that are on the same path as you.
Besides all of that, releasing this album has been a huge thing for me in not only how it has taken up time, but also its effect on me as a person. The making of it happened right after leaving my old band As Blood Runs Black, and in the 6 months leading up to my mother passing away. This all happened in 2016, and I couldn’t find it in me to listen to this record in order to officially release it. I decided to finally release [ Inside/Out | Part I ] once my things in my life started to move forward again. That all happened when I joined Ice Nine Kills in 2019, and I committed to releasing this record on 5.15.20 far before this Corona madness happened. The irony is too real. Once again, just finding ways to turn negatives into positives - and releasing this record, regardless of what’s going on, is one of those things.
2. With the music industry at a pause right now due to the Covid-19, how has this affected your life as an artist?
Sugarman: It’s been absolutely nuts. I’m supposed to be on tour right now with Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach. We had our European tour with Papa Roach & Hollywood Undead cancelled while we were in the middle of it. We’ve had to reschedule our tour to the end of September, and who knows if the state of things will even allow that. I have no inside knowledge as to whether or not things will happen as planned - but if you ask me, I think we’re going to be on hold for a little longer than anyone wants to be. For me, that means I have to find new ways to pay for the roof over my head, and the food on our table, and in my dog’s bowl.
Other than that, the effects have been positive pushes forcing my hand into launching all of these things I’ve wanted to do for ages. As I mentioned above, I’m now committing heavily to releasing my own instrumental music, along with maintaining all of the awesomeness that comes along with Ice Nine Kills. I live with Joe, our bass player now, and we’re about 10-15 minutes away from Spencer, so you can imagine the amount of writing that will be had (or has been had…)
The private lessons, and [ S | L | L ] community have been incredibly rewarding to focus on. I’ve been teaching for the better half of a decade, but watching everyone come together to learn while supporting each other has been unreal. The spreading of experience and knowledge from musician to musician is something that I find extremely valuable. Almost priceless. So I’m always finding ways to make that happen.
I actually will be launching a new podcast soon called MindFrame ...If you could sit down with your favorite musician and ask them one question that would provide insight into their mind, in order to gain actionable takeaways that you could use in your own life… what would you ask?
In MindFrame - I’ll be interviewing and chatting with incredible musicians about how they became who they are. Asking questions that harvest answers which provided immense value to anyone listening and willing to apply the insight to their own life. I’m also planning on turning all of those interviews into a book that will be formatted in a way that will make it an awesomely easy read, if taken in the proper doses.
Honestly, I’m looking forward to things far more than I’m not. Things are looking up I think. The world will be very different after this, and I’m hoping that the positives that come out will outweigh any of the negatives.
3. On a more positive note, your highly anticipated album ‘Inside/Out Part 1’ is being released Friday May 15! We know you’ve been working incredibly hard on this album for a long time now. How does it feel now that the release date is finally here and out to the world!?
Sugarman: The word “release” is so profound here for me. To physically be releasing this music out into the world is a massively cathartic thing for me. It literally feels like a release on so many levels. I wrote this record in the 6 months leading up to my mom passing away. She was battling with brain cancer for close to 10 years. I was touring for at least 8 years of that, and I sometimes regret not being there.
But when things got bad, I left my band in order to be home to help take care of her, and spend time with her. I’m glad I did, but I’m still riddled with the regret of not making that choice sooner. But everything happens for a reason.
One of my favorite things to do lately is ask myself why things happened for me, and not to me. The results have been awesome, and the timing of it couldn’t be better. I am turning the page, and starting a new chapter now.
I am back home in LA, living with my girlfriend & dog, and best friends, touring and making music with my best friends, starting new businesses, and finally releasing the record that has kept me stuck and unable to release anything since my 2016 record “Centersun”. So many things are moving, and the momentum is real. I am so excited and ready for all of it.
4. Before the release of ‘Inside/Out Part 1’ you released a killer new solo track “Nova” ft. Ruben Alvarez from Upon A Burning Body! What was the creative process like for “Nova” and the rest of the album as a whole?
Sugarman: That song was super fun to make, and was meant to happen in so many ways. Ruben and I go back close to 10 years. My original band Fallen Figure took his band Upon A Burning Body out on their first tour to the west coast, and we all hit it off. We kept in touch over the years, and have since toured together several times with As Blood Runs Black, but destiny stepped in and made this song happen.
I was in the middle of the making of what I was calling at the time my “living album”, and Ruben and the UABB dudes happened to be staying 10 minutes away from my house to shoot a new music video. I was releasing 1 song per month through Patreon to an exclusive group along with playthrough videos, interviews with my collaborators and I, exclusive artwork, tabs, session stems, and other cool perks. I used the funds raised to donate to charities such as National Brain Tumor Society, ALS Therapy Development Center, Childhood Domestic Violence Association, SmileTrain, and based on discussions I had with Ruben, we decided to use the “Nova” proceeds for OxFam America.
This song happened so naturally. We talked about our influences and inspirations. Ruben and I had always connected on Flamenco, so we knew we had to infuse the nylon guitar into the song. We also both had a love for 90’s West Coast hip hop - and Ruben was staying in the heart of where it all came from. Picking him up from Compton three days in a row was a reminder of that inspiration for sure. We also both had a love for early nu-metal, as well as the modern stuff that it’s turned into - some people might call it djent, and I don’t really care for genre names, but we wanted to infuse that into the song, and somehow managed to. There are also elements of our love growing up on Metallica, so we went hard on the wah pedal, and even had Ruben throw down a bass solo with the wah pedal a-la Cliff Burton.
One useful way to write music is to give yourself a set of parameters to work within… forced creative walls almost. By us having this discussion beforehand, it’s like we were creating a checklist of things to mark-off as we moved forward in the song. It’s a super helpful way to clear the path and help you focus on your goal if you know a few of the landmarks you need to hit. Even though this is a technique I use often and even teach, we used this approach organically as conversation with Ruben is one of my favorite things in this world. Love that dude.
A few of the tracks on this record came from the same place - organic discussions that created a vibe and direction that was so tangible, that the job was simply to bring that song to life. “Another Good Day on Earth, I Collect Them” was written in a few days with Angel Vivaldi, as destiny stepped in and stranded him in LA. He stayed at my house for almost a week as there was some insane snow storm keeping him from landing on the East Coast. When Angel and I get together, we don’t stop laughing, so naturally, that song is all good vibes and super fun. “Creatures of Circumstance” on the other hand was written from a much darker place, as me and my collaborator discussed the traumas of childhood and how they mold you. The discussion happened on the balcony of my mom’s bedroom, while she was on the other side of the wall - slowly dwindling away. We immediately knew the direction of the song, and it wrote itself.
“The Unattainable” and “Mind Frame” both came from a different set of paraments I set for myself. “The Unattainable” was originally called Zui Quan as the working title… I named it that due to a ridiculous google rabbithole I fell down. Zui Quan is a chinese fighting style that roughly translates to “drunken monkey”. Think of Jackie Chan stumbling around like a buffoon as he kicks the ass of anyone in his way. That sloppy, sloshy, accidently precise, falling apart while falling together vibe is what I wanted that track to feel like… It has this weird groove that falls over itself constantly, but somehow comes together and lands on the 1 when it needs to. It also has this disgusting dissonance and slurred grossness that changes on a dime into precision and beauty. For me, this song was an experiment that I put myself in at a time when I need distractions and things to preoccupy me.
“Mind Frame” was similar, but a bit more of a technical challenge that I put on myself. I wanted to create a song that was in 7/8 - which is a very odd feeling time signature to begin with… but I wanted to have a continually modulating key center. I wanted this song to feel insanely chaotic, but like all things were meant to be, and were in their right place. I wanted it to feel like you could never really find “home” due to the constantly shifting keys. I couldn’t find the feeling of home in my real life, and I certainly was looking for reasons that proved this is what was meant to be. It’s all some weird nerdy meta shit that I laid out for myself as a musical puzzle to solve. That song is a trip for sure. I was lucky enough to have my friend Sims Cashion drop an insane guest solo on the track as well - the crazy part? He was 16 when he did it… this kid is quite literally a prodigy, and I knew I wanted to have him on the record.
The last song, “The Art of Knowing”, was literally written in the days leading up to my mom’s death. This is the last thing she ever heard me working on. I wrote the main rhythms and structure of teh song before she died, and completed the leads and solos a few days afterwards. Due to that, there’s this super intense duality of emotions in the song that I can hardly stand to listen to. This song is the reason this record hasn’t come out yet. There’s so many weird coincidences and little easter eggs that I'm still finding.
This song, and record for that matter, was written in my mom’s bedroom. After her stroke, she was paralyzed and unable to speak. Due to her room being upstairs, it made more sense for us to switch rooms. Her new bed was put in the exact spot that I wrote my previous album “Centersun”, as I sat in the exact spot her bed was for my entire life as I wrote, channelled, and recorded [ Inside/Out | Part I ]. That in it of itself is wild to me. I don’t know what’s there, but I know there’s something to that. I also managed to pay a nod to the first song I learned on the guitar from when my mom forced me to go to my first real guitar lesson. “Come As You Are” by Nirvana somehow slipped itself into my subconscious here. I also somehow managed to accidentally pay homage to the first song I ever wrote and recorded in my house when I was 13 by using the same chord progression. My mom and I watched X-Files almost religiously, and I pulled on that somehow and slipped the theme song melody into this track. There are more weird easter eggs that I’m forgetting about, and still finding, but this track is a super tough one for so many reasons… same goes for the album as a whole for that matter.
5. In addition to the creative process, what were some of your biggest inspirations that got you through this creation time?
Sugarman: My own music has only ever come from my experiences and what’s around me. “Centersun” was the journaling process of finding out my mom’s brain tumor came back in 2015, and [ I/O ] was written after the doctors gave us what felt like an expiration date. Situations like that throw you onto your knees and force you to pick yourself back up again. Writing music has always been a necessity for me. It’s how I express the things I don’t have words for. I was going through what was to this day the hardest time in my life, and I didn’t know how else to get things off of my chest and out of my head. That’s always what music has been for me. [ Inside/Out | Part I ] is the purest form of me that probably exists.
6. As we all know, you are a very well known musician in this music industry of ours as you have already released one instrumental album along with previously being in As Blood Runs Black and now smashing it with Ice Nine Kills! Have you taken anything from these experiences that truly assisted you in the making of ‘Inside/Out Part 1’?
Sugarman: My biggest takeaway from everything has been to be the musician that I wanted to meet when I was younger. It’s helped keep me focused on what I want to do, and continually humbles me. When I was coming up, I met far too many musicians who left a sour taste in my mouth. I also saw far too many musicians hiding and refusing to interact with fans in the way that I wished that I could have when I was a kid.
I truly feel like the age of the hooded enigma band member is something of the past, and connecting directly with your audience is the way of the future. A rare few like Maynard and Ghost can pull of that type of mystery and distance from their audience. I think that had a place and a time, but there’s something really special about the connection that can be made if you take a few extra steps off of the stage and remove the barricade… I’ve found that almost every time, people who are drawn to my music, are in one way or another, reflections of myself - and we have things to share and learn from each other.
It’s like music is some type of energetic bait, pulling like-minded people and frequencies together. And we, as musicians, have a huge responsibility when all of those people come together to watch us do what we do. You have a musician onstage, leading a musical mass to a loving and receptive congregation. I’m not religious in the slightest, in fact I’m Jewish haha but I would be lying if I didn’t say that some of the best shows I’ve been to have felt like religious experiences.
If a musician can create that experience for others, it will have a lasting effect on their lives - whether it be positive or negative... That’s up to the musician and their message.
My message is that you can turn any negative into a positive, and that you can be the beacon of light in a dark place by opening yourself up to the world. It’s my hope that anyone who hears my album will see some sort of reflection of themselves in my music, and maybe feel and understand something they too didn’t have the words for.
7. Lastly, we would love to give you the full platform here for your fans and following! What can they expect now that the album is out and what’s the next step you have planned during or after this pandemic?
Sugarman: Thanks again for having me, I appreciate the platform and awesome questions! Once this album is out, and this quarantine madness is over, I have some awesome plans for music videos for this album. I will have tab books for this album, as well as my previous albums for sale sometime this Summer, and new merch coming to www.sugarmanshop.com soon. That’s where you can check out my album, and pick up the merch I have left before it’s sold out.
The thought of touring on this music has always been a dream of mine. If things line up just right, and the opportunity presents itself, I would love to do that. So who knows… but I’m game for it.
For updates, you can follow me at www.instagram.com/dansugarman & www.facebook.com/dansugarman for more updates on what’s going on with me. If you want to link up for private lessons on Skype, head to www.dansugarman.com/lessons - or head to www.dansugarman.com/lessonlounge to signup for my free online guitar lesson community!
If you want to be a part of the start and growth of my MindFrame Podcast where I get into the minds of your favorite artists to dig for nuggets of advice that you can use in your own life, then head to www.instagram.com/mindframepodcast and www.facebook.com/mindframepodcast
And believe it or not, there is a very good chance that I’ll be bringing my Patreon back to life. I am currently toying with ideas on how I want to do it this time around, but my “living album” is very much in the cards for the creation of [ Inside/Out | Part II ]. If the album coming out now is from within the chaos, this album will be the sonic world that emerged from that. It’s me looking back, and looking forward. I’m very much looking forward to digging into this, and myself to make this happen. Be sure to head to www.patreon.com/dansugarman to keep and eye out, or sign up for email updates at www.dansugarman.com so you don’t miss anything! This exclusive early release of the album would be a super sneak peak into “the making of”, and a behind the scenes look “from conception to birth” ...raw and uncut haha - Again, I have a lot of ideas flying through my head on how I want to make this happen, so keep your eyes open for that.
Hope you all are staying safe out there during this, and keeping yourself sane by diving into the things you love, and the doing the things you always said you’d do! Thank you for your continued love and support, it’s my goal to return it ten fold! ...and wash your hands for once, alright?
Thanks HeadRush Tv!
Do yourself a favor: purchase a copy of [Inside/Out | Part 1] here.
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