Dan Horne is stepping out, or more accurately, hitting the open road on his proverbial motorcycle. Having focused his career to this point on production for renowned artists like Cass McCombs and ensemble playing in Grateful Dead universe bands Circles Around The Sun and Grateful Shred, the LA musician has shifted gears for now to his own songs on “The Motorcycle Song EP.”
We recently caught up with Horne to discuss his solo debut — on which he played and sang everything himself — the streaming business model and his late friend and bandmate Neal Casal.
Why was now the right time to do a solo release?
I guess life just kind of slowed down and I was not touring, and when I’m at home I’m always playing catchup with other stuff, so time was definitely a factor. You know, I’ve been wanting to do something for a long time, and a lot of people have been encouraging me to do it. It’s something to do to kind of make myself feel more complete, I guess. Also, I had wanted to showcase my producing skills in a more obvious way.
What drew you to Arlo Guthrie’s “The Motorcycle Song,” which you cover on the EP?
Umm, well, I just kind of like how my voice sounded with it, so I was confident with it, playing it and singing along to it. And I was feeling really intense and overwhelmed, like we all were, back in April or whatever, and that song was so fun and pointlessly absurd, and it’s just light and kind of an escape, you can just pretend you’re someone else and not have all these issues.
Do you happen to be a biker?
(Laughs) That’s part of the absurdity of it. No, I don’t really have any interest to be on a motorcycle, but I just liked the fantasy of it, kind of the vibe. Motorcycle guys have a cool subculture, and again a kind of escape and pretend to be someone else for the time.
Why did you release the EP on Bandcamp before making it available more widely?
I’ve been really frustrated with the streaming. As a user, it’s the greatest thing ever, I listen to it all day long, but it doesn’t really work as a model for a lot of artists as a one-size-fits-all model. You take like a jam band, and their song is 10 minutes long, and they’re getting the same fee as someone whose song is a minute and a half. It’s pretty genre-specific.
Bandcamp popped up when this whole pandemic thing started and it really got some good buzz, and a lot of people were jumping on board. I kind of like the more niche focus of Bandcamp. You can charge how much you want. And I noticed people catching on and saying you can interact more personally with the bands that you like. I thought that was really cool. Some fans will add five bucks as a little tip and I get a little message from them.
Circles Around The Sun (CATS) kept touring after the death of founder Neal Casal. Are you going to keep the band going moving forward?
Yeah, we had such a great tour this winter with Scott Metzger and a really cool response from the fans, and the band just got real tight. It’s so much fun to play with Scott. We had a tour planned, we almost had a whole year mapped out.
You knew Neal for as long as anyone, going back to his band Beachwood Sparks. There’s been an outpouring of love for him since he passed, and a tribute album in the works (Horne plays on it with CATS, with Billy Strings sitting in on one track and Jimmy Herring on another.) What’s something about Neal that his fans might not know?
He’s really easy to connect with. He likes to find personal parallels between people and he just goes for it and builds on that. Maybe that’s why he’s a good collaborator in the studio and on the stage. Me and him were always into kind of rock, ’80s, ’70s, and rock and roll like Kiss and Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy, we were always connecting on those levels of our hair metal roots.
Any updates on Grateful Shred?
Yeah. Grateful Shred has turned into kind of a T-shirt company now (laughs). But we love doing it, and the thing about Shred is it’s completely driven by the live thing. So we’re like, whoa, we’re having a hard time adapting, and we’re not all together in the same town. Once we get back to touring, we’ll be back.
In the past few years a lot of musicians in their 30s and 40s from Joe Russo to the guys in The National, Bon Iver, John Mayer and yourself in CATS and Shred, have become involved with Grateful Dead music. Why?
It’s an interesting question. I always say that the Dead’s music is just so prone to collaboration that it’s kind of become this middle-ground melting pot where everyone knows the songs, so we can all get together and jam on them. There’s like a community spirit and something about the songbook has been resonating, the escapism through the lyrics and improvisation and freeform nature of it. It’s just light and joyful to play.
Photo by McKenna Kane