It was a 3OH!3 show at the Fox Theatre in Boulder two years ago when Kamtin Mohager stood alone on the stage with an iPod and his bass guitar as The Chain Gang of 1974. In 2010, things are quite different for the songwriter. Kamtin’s lone line up has grown from two, to three, to four people on stage and a ton more instruments in the mix. The new album, White Guts (Golden Gold) released in April of this year, has not only opened new doors, but the right ones. It has in his words, “Changed my life.”
Popping White Guts in the player, the progression of Chain Gang hit me over the head within the first minute of “STOP!” Beginning with a simple beat and bassline, the song evolves into something more. Social commentary leads the lyrical plot, “These kids are violent creatures / Victims of television love / Stop fucking with my mind / So I say, STOP!” Robotic, Kraftwerk-esque vocal samples and keyboards soar along with a flowering chorus line to complete the scene.
This is only one song into White Guts. But it was clear that Kamtin found his true musical calling in this newly crafted material, which is bursting with layers of both sophistication and carnal intrigue. These songs—from the perfect summer soundtrack harmonies of “Hold On,” the electro honey hooks of “Visually Appealing,” and the slowdive, smoky saunter of “Matter of Time” and “Don’t Walk Away”—still have that Chain Gang sense of adventure or fun (as the video for “STOP!” can attest), but they are a far cry from the days of more simplistic moves of “Let’s Make It Tonight” or “We At The Disco.”
“There’s just so much that’s changed,” Kamtin says, shaking his head taking a drink of his coffee as we sit at Dazbog, the same spot where we sat two years prior for the first interview. “I had that record I was working on for so long. It took me two years to realize, ‘What are you doing? This isn’t you.’ ‘We At The Disco.’ That was never me.”
It was that epiphany that led him to scrapping the whole thing. With a clear plate, his creative juices were free to run wild and in a direction that was more in line with his higher self.
Kamtin’s collaborative partner and friend who’s joined him on stage a number of times, Isim, came into the studio on a six-day break from Berklee College of Music to co-write the new material for White Guts. And that’s all it took; six songs in six days. Boom.
“We had the best time. We just jammed out and got it done.”
He also re-wrote some of the older Chain Gang songs, including “DANCEKISSLOVEMOVE” and “F’n Head,” with Christophe Eagleton, a producer and member of Astra Moveo.
“Two weeks later the album was done. I got it mixed and mastered and put it out there.”
It’s amazing what happens when you go with the flow instead of against it.
“I think they always wanted to hear that [from me],” Kamtin reflects. “But I was never giving it to them. But now I found it. I found out what I’m supposed to do. It took a few years, but I’m here now.”
Fast-paced doesn’t even begin to describe how we live now. Letting things mature in the way the universe intended is the best method for avoiding instant-stardom burnout. God knows we’ve seen and had enough of that, especially when it comes to music and the promotion of “product” based on the packaging of a look and a pushy publicist.
Now that Kamtin’s floodgates have been opened he can’t wait to start on the next record. He’s got ideas running through his head already and has discussed arranging another down-time session with Isim when schedules allow.
Although those ideas for his new material have not yet gelled, he’s sure of one thing. “I’ll never release the same album twice. A new album would have the same vibe, but will have a different premise.”
He recognizes the risk of alienating certain fans who hold expectations and want them met, but that can’t be the leading goal a musician has when heading into the studio or space where songs are born.
If a musician or band has a certain level of longevity and releases a bevy of music over the years, some may appreciate the whole catalog and some may just pick and choose here and there. The true sense of artistic freedom is to go off the path with no fear of the outcome, like Radiohead did with OK Computer. Either the fans follow or they don’t. That’s the beauty of creativity, is the escape from rules.
Kamtin agrees. “Yeah, I don’t think there should be rules. I think there are certain guidelines you may have to live by, especially if you’re in a position where you’re selling records, selling out venues; you do have expectations that need to be met.
“The one thing I do know is, don’t change dramatically on your second record. Keep some of the same things, because they want to hear that natural progression from what you did before. On the third album, do whatever you want.”
The fine line of keeping that level of recognition going without plagiarizing yourself, while introducing something new but not ‘too new’ as to throw off the listener, that doesn’t’ always happen and can lead to the proverbial sophomore slump.
Kamtin isn’t too worried about that stage just yet. He’s got enough on his plate as the fruits of his labor are realized. Since the release of White Guts, “the right person heard it” and things started falling into place.
Windish, THE booking agency for acts in the Chain Gang realm, including Hot Chip, The XX, Chromeo, Justice, Phantogram, picked him up in May, and the tours began being booked.
Word travels fast, and as it goes, label and A&R peeps have come to call, including one exec that dubbed Chain Gang’s White Guts as Moby’s Play.
“It’s all about timing. Everything happens for a reason. It took all those other record labels saying ‘no’ or all those other booking agents saying ‘no’ until everything just clicked. Ever since I started playing music seriously I’ve been waiting for this moment.
“The more attention you get the more success you get,” Kamtin says, running his fingers through his hair and thinking for a moment. “I don’t know; it becomes more than just music. It’s weird. That’s where I am now. You always have to stop and think, ‘Where do I want to take this?'”
Right now, he’s taking it full-time. Kamtin has been switching gears between playing bass for 3OH!3 and Chain Gang. After August, he will be 100% Chain Gang and couldn’t be more excited to devote all his efforts to his own baby.
While the 25-year old has many career-impacting decisions to make, he’s grateful for having a great support team (including the right lawyer) that has his back.
“I am a bit nervous,” Kamtin says with an accompanying smile, “But at the same time, I’m not worried about it. I’m excited. Anything is a risk and I’m not getting any younger. So I’m just going for it.”
Chain Gang recently returned from the Governors Island summer series in New York where he shared the stage with Caribou and Phantogram. Up next is the Mile High Music Festival here in Denver on August 14, then he’s off to L.A. for a show at The Echo, a hop over to Stubbs in Austin, and then the Nocturnal Festival in Texas featuring acts such as Pretty Lights, Roni Size, Armin Van Buuren, Krafty Kuts, Daedelus, and Kid Cudi.
Future Gigs for The Chain Gang of 1974:
Aug 19 Pershing Square – Los Angeles
Aug 20 The Echo – Los Angeles
Sep 4 Stubbs Jr – Austin, TX
Sep 5 Nocturnal Festival – Rockdale, TX
Sep 22 The Billiken Club w/ Prefuse 73, and Royal Bangs – St. Louis, MO
Sep 23 Mercy Lounge w/ Royal Bangs – Nashville
Sep 24 Midpoint Music Festival – Cincinnati
Sep 25 Pygmalion Music Festival @ Cowboy Monkey w/ Royal Bangs – Champaign-Urbana
Sep 26 Hideout w/ Royal Bangs – Chicago
Oct 19 CMJ @ Highline Ballroom (Spin/Highline Party) – New York City