Dan Weiss (Dan Ex Machina)

Dan Ex Machina - Dan Weiss

  • July 2022
  • Online
  • Matt Horowitz

All Is Ours, Nothing Is Theirs,New Jersey’s own Dan Ex Machina (DXM) recently unleashed their fourth album, All Is Ours, Nothing Is Theirs. DXM and its frontperson/namesake, Dan Weiss, have been writing and performing music on-and-off as a revolving door-style ensemble since the early 2000’s. However, DXM only started widely sharing long-format musical releases in 2020 with a pair of albums entitled Pity Party Animal & My Wife. Weiss and company, then, served up some freshly written/recorded material in September 2020 with their politically-charged protest songs F**K 12 / SWEETENER (yes, an Ariana Grande cover,) which they soon followed up with the Bail Shag EP—consisting of material dating as far back as 2009—released at the top of 2021. Now, DXM have returned once more with their fourth and “final” album of vaulted material, 19-track double-album, All Is Ours, Nothing Is Theirs. A music video for the album’s first single, “Beautiful Women, Busy Plot,” is truly unlike anything you’ll ever see anywhere else; it was filmed at the 2015 Gathering of The Juggalos and chronicles drummer Pete Gotta winning their festival talent show competition. It was filmed by Jason Shaltz, who’s directed videos for Twiztid and other artists within The Juggalo / Insane Clown Posse sphere, a sharp contrast to DXM‘s Noise-pop song that evokes Yo La Tengo.

DXM has shared stages over the years with President Biden’s favorite Piano/Indie Rock band, Low Cut Connie, Wussy, David F. Bello (of The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die,) Tim Fite, Revenir (ex-My Chemical Romance,) and many more. DXM fittingly describe All Is Ours, Nothing Is Theirs as “a sprawling 19-song behemoth that’s been in-the-making for over a decade, basically, [their] Chinese Democracy. It veers from Country/Soul to Sleater-Kinney-style abrasive Rock to Auto-Tuned R&B, a piano instrumental, electronic tunes, and a feral cover of Nirvana’s “Breed.'” We recently got a chance to chop it up with Dan Weiss for a comprehensive track-by-track breakdown-style interview going through All Is Ours, Nothing Is Theirs, yes, track-by-track, getting all of those decades-old genre-blending, twisting, and re-shaping details that helped solidify this truly unique-sounding double-album. Check it out below, purchase the album on Bandcamp or stream it on your platform of choice, and listen along as you read all the nitty-gritty details. 

1. How do you think even one of the “newest” songs, “We’re Gonna Die In This House,” sounds now, a whopping 11 years later?

“We’re Gonna Die” was written in less than 20 minutes; it and “Food & Water,” the first and the final song on [All Is Ours, Nothing Is Theirs] (DXM4,) were the last songs I wrote for eight years. To anyone who’s seen us live, “We’re Gonna Die,” which we’ve closed with for more than a decade, is the one that gets the biggest emotional response. It sets the stage for this album being closer to a long-awaited “greatest hits” record than new music; at least half of it—”Die,” “Leave a Mark,” “Busy Plot,” “Crawl Back,” “Drinking,” [and] “Prom King”—have been staples for a very long time. In many ways, I think “We’re Gonna Die” is [the] greatest song I’ll ever write, certainly, in terms of making a piece of music that connects with other people. I’m surprised I had it in me, but I guess I didn’t really because forming and completing an idea in less than 20 minutes isn’t really a long thought process or gestation period. I guess I’m more surprised my brain generated a Country/Soul/Gospel power ballad. It would be nothing without my ex-guitarist John’s wife Bridget [Burlage].

2. What were some of your greatest sources of inspiration and influence when writing “Crawl Back to Your Dick?”

“Crawl Back [to Your Dick]” is a pretty blunt pastiche of Sleater-Kinney and Dirty-era Sonic Youth, two of my three favorite bands. Conversely to “We’re Gonna Die,” it took me at least six months to learn how to sing something over those guitar parts. More than anything else when conceiving this record, I was trying to write songs with real dynamics for the first time and I think starting with these two polar-opposite songs is representative of that; it’s no surprise both songs became priorities for our live shows. I would not call the lyrics very “developed,” but it’s about the daily challenges of being an agoraphobic sex worker. I’m kind of in awe of how depressed and trapped the narrators of both of those songs felt back in 2010, 2011, during the first Obama years. It got so much worse and the sex worker economy (not to mention the unavailability of mental health care) affects more people than ever now.

3. Would you say you were, indeed, “in love” at the time when writing and recording “At Least I’m In Love?”

Yeah, this album loosely chronicles the last monogamous relationship I ever had 10 years ago. “At Least I’m In Love” is a reflection of toxic, codependent monogamy, where nothing else is working out in your life and you’re not taking care of yourself, but you cling to your relationship status as some kind of superiority emblem. It’s kind of a parody of those feelings, honestly, I think I was more reflecting on being perceived that way, as this shiftless loser clinging to his girlfriend, than really identifying with it. Musically, it’s probably as good as my “production” ever gets, morphing from a Spoon-style one-note piano thing to some kind of EDM rollercoaster and I’m proud of my bass playing on it. It’s never even been attempted live. It’s one of only a couple [Dan Ex Machina] (DXM) tunes where I played or programmed nearly everything. I had posted an early version of “Prom King” on SoundCloud and White Town, the mastermind behind the classic “Your Woman,” had commented something positive on it, so I asked if he would sing on this one. He declined and I later became a huge fan of Elizabeth Nelson’s band, The Paranoid Style, and she became a friend and I asked her to sing on it instead. Her band sounds absolutely nothing like it and I think that’s kind of the charm of hearing her over synths and drum machines. But I’d love to collaborate with her someday on something with her own lyrics, which are about 40x more gifted than mine.

4. Can you tell us a bit more about the “…fake piano, accordion sample” heard throughout “We Stored Our Happiness In A Hive?”

That’s an old song that wasn’t ready enough for Pity Party Animal (2020) or My Wife (2020) and I struggled to make it more interesting than just power-chords. This is my most FruityLoops-dependent record, so there’s a lot of, like, “fake piano” on it. I can’t play piano, it was all programmed. I don’t remember what I sampled the accordion from, but I wouldn’t incriminate myself, if I did. “[We Stored Our Happiness In A] Hive” was the big showcase for another ex-guitarist in the band, Kyle Constantine, who did the solo at every live show. I don’t think he ended up playing anything that made it to the final album, but this album wouldn’t exist without him. He was the first person to help make it flesh and blood and he was the recording engineer and the only person tracking it for a few years with recording equipment and instruments set up in an otherwise empty building for sale that, uh, we had “access” to. It was in walking distance of my parents’ house. During ages 22-26, I first lived in Brooklyn and, then, ping-ponged back-and-forth between my folks’ and my then-girlfriend’s, who lived in another country. Many of these songs were written as I struggled to create a life for myself during that time and they chronicled the peak and end of that relationship, as well as life in one’s 20’s re-acquainting themselves with their hometown and their parents’ house. My school experience was pretty terrible until college and after college, I had a new confidence in myself as a person and I was running into people from high school and sort of getting a second chance with them socially. It probably wasn’t the healthiest thing, but I embraced it for, like, life experience reasons. That background became a theme of the album that helped me finish writing it.

5. How different does “Renter’s Insurance” sound now in 2022 than it did in its earliest iteration(s) way back in 2003?

“Renter’s Insurance” is pretty much exactly the same as I originally conceived it; the oldest songs on this record—”Renter’s Insurance” [and] “Feigning Interest In Architecture”—didn’t make it to other records because the live dynamics they required were not available to me in college or until 2011 when Pete [Gotta] became my drummer. Pity [Party Animal,] My Wife, and Bail Shag [EP] were all originally made with fake drums or samples with some live drums on My Wife. None of the original tracks on Pity [Party Animal] had drums, just drum samples I took from other albums: The Breeders [and] They Might Be Giants. The main difference is that when I was 19, “Renter’s Insurance” was called “Mr. Freeze” and it was a dumb takedown about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s tenure as governor. The chorus stayed exactly the same when I made it about a terrible landlord, instead.

6. What sort of additional insight is there about the making of “Staring Problem?”

“Staring Problem is a good example of how this record was an evolution for me. I loved the chorus and melody I had, but I knew the song needed more. It would be nothing without Ryan Maffei’s visionary keyboard and synth ideas, especially, after the bridge, all of which he brought in himself and I don’t believe I asked for a single change. Same with Cat Trestini’s gorgeous harmonies, which she wrote. Bringing in outside collaborators to add layers and dynamics beyond my ken [understanding] was what elevated this album and my song-writing. That said, my bass playing on the bridge is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written. I don’t see myself writing this straight-forwardly about romantic relationships ever again because “it’s easier to make her come when she is off her meds” was ripped from the headlines and the person I was dating at the time hated it. It was too great a line, though; that song has lasted a lot longer than the relationship did. These days, it’s probably my favorite thing on the record.

7. In addition to or aside from “sampled piano,” what “other samples” do you believe were incorporated into “Leave A Mark”?

Let’s keep the lawyers out of this, Matt. “Leave A Mark” probably had the biggest evolution of anything on the record because I was practicing with a band for the first time. It was sort of written as a mid-tempo ballad. Now, it’s even more slash-and-burn onstage than the album version. Huge live song for us. It’s good at the end of a set when my voice is kind of shot because we can all relax and lean on those three chords. In the first incarnation of the band, Greg [Kinloch and I] would switch instruments at the end and turn it into Archers of Loaf’s “Web In Front” at most shows. Pete [Gotta] played it tons of times, but I don’t know if he’s ever even heard the original.

8. What about “Cleaning Up for Dirty Company” did you feel yearned for a “Liz Phair impression?”

It’s literal. Liz Phair politely, but firmly, declined to let me sample an interview with her. The Liz Phair version of the song exists and is fully mastered just for my own private enjoyment, but it will never be public per her wishes. I recorded several different women doing their own spin or interpretation for that part, instead, but the right one only came together very, very close to the end of making of the album after literal years of trying. Everyone on that song is incredible, I wouldn’t even dream of attempting it live without at least one or two of the women involved.

9. What sort of after/post-production effects did you employ on “Beautiful Women, Busy Plot?”

It’s kind of the other way around. Everything in that song was “fake” when I first put an unfinished version online—shout-out to Passion of The Weiss for including it on their 50 Best Tracks of 2009, which is how long it’s been around—and, eventually, I had my drummer and bassist add live sounds to it. But the song is heavily looped and processed, so I just kind of took their individual hits and notes and popped them back into FruityLoops. The guitar is still “fake,” though. I love how alien it sounds on the record. I had to teach myself how to play it on a real guitar and if you’ve seen us live, my yelled vocal couldn’t be more different than my Yo La Tengo impression on the album. Which, also, makes it a hilarious juxtaposition for the music video we filmed at The Gathering of The Juggalos in 2015. That song had quite the journey before it finally saw a finished, official release.

10. What can you tell me about “Décolletage?”

It’s just a piano thing I electronically composed and I can’t play piano. Sounds pretty good considering.

11. Why did you incorporate kazoo and toy dog piano sounds into “Ashley Madison Account?”

Honestly, good question. That’s the one song on the record that I think really suffers from over-thinking and all the re-recording. I think Doug [Gallo and I] should’ve just re-recorded it from scratch. I don’t know if justice has ever been done to that song, honestly. We put on these amazing live performances of it with our friend David Sivin hoisting me up onto his shoulders to sing it piggyback on at least three occasions. But, at the time, I was terrible at singing it and my voice cracked frequently. I hope people remember the visual more than the audio. The album version is good, but it could’ve been so much better. It’s messy, I piled different-colored guitars on until they sound like brown sludge and the layered vocals are a mistake, the harmonies aren’t tight. Greg [Kinloch’s] best bass performance is on there, though, and some of the spirit of the live version is captured in the breakdown, like my stuttering. But the definitive recording of that song has yet to exist, I think. Maybe, a future live album could nail it.

12. How long ago did you start writing “Feigning Interest In Architecture?” Why do you think this song has stuck around so long?

It was performed as early as 2003, before Pity Party Animal was even written. The choppy rhythm shifts are really strange and it’s the weakest song on the record, so it really wasn’t worth the trouble of doing all the finagling with the overdubbed double-kickdrum. Never let me write drum parts again. It gives the back half a jolt of energy, but “Crawl Back to Your Dick” is a lot more exciting and interesting. It probably should’ve been a B-side, but I was crazy about making this a double-album at the time of writing and having access to my first real band made me want to finally include the most dynamic songs I never got to complete solo.

13. How much of “When I’m At My Girlfriend’s” was inspired by actual events that took place at your girlfriend’s?

That was an old song written when I was with a college girlfriend and it’s more impressionistic than about any specific event. Probably the only time I’ll ever aim for that kind of [The Beatles’] Revolver-type ambition with the trumpet section and the ba-ba-ba’s and glockenspiel and “fake” theremin. I don’t usually write songs that open-ended structurally to let the arrangement have so much fun, but that’s what this album showcases with a lot of the loop-based structures and things stacked onto them.

14. Who of the six players heard on “The Prom King” (including yourself) do you think would be best-suited to be The Prom King and why?

“Um, it’s just kind of a self-deprecating song in the lyrical spirit of Warren Zevon and the musical spirit of The Magnetic Fields, whom I previously ripped off on “I Think You Should Consider Therapy.” There weren’t supposed to be any live instruments on it, but Pete [Gotta’s] drums were too good. Really needs a video.

15. What’s the story behind “Drinking & Driving (Separately)?”

My first danceable song, very helpful for live sets. I wrote it while singing Taylor Swift’s “The Story of Us” in the shower, hence the Country/Eurodisco vibe. It came together almost as quickly as “We’re Gonna Die.” I, also, have a video treatment idea for this one.

16. How exactly was Auto-Tune utilized through “Algorithm & Blues?”

Well, listen to the vocal. A lot of my vocals are Auto-Tuned, especially, on this record, which has the most challenging vocal parts I’ve ever written by far, but this is the only time I’ve ever tried to sound like T-Pain. It’s probably closer to Neil Young’s Trans. This song’s an even bigger mess than “Ashley Madison Account,” but I think it’s a lot of fun. I hear Bedroom R&B, Prince, INXS, The 1975, and Built to Spill in different parts of it. Two different people recorded basslines for it that I didn’t use and, instead, overdubbed two completely different basslines of my own. The height of my megalomania. Would love to figure out a way to do this one justice live.

17. How do you think playing a song, like “Food & Water,” for more than a decade within a live setting helped influence the finalized album version?

Well, “Food & Water” was the very last thing written for the album. Only started playing it live way later and I’d, basically, open sets with it and have the band gradually find their way in with Pete [Gotta] adding drums to the final chorus before launching into, like, “Anti-Gravity Bong.” It’s by far the darkest and most personal thing I had written up to that point and, then, I didn’t write another song for eight years. I think it’s a great closer kind of in the spirit of “This Is Not What You Had Planned” on The Wrens’ Meadowlands. Just sparse vocal and guitar after 16 over-stuffed tracks,  [Guns N’ Roses’] Chinese Democracy-style.

18. * BONUS: What was the significance of covering Nirvana’s “Breed?”

That was, also, in the spirit of Chinese Democracy: hubris, going for broke. Trying to do something I couldn’t. We left the sound of me coughing and gagging in at the end because that really happened as I tried to harness the power of Kurt [Cobain] from my tiny, pathetic voicebox.

19. * BONUS: What compelled you to include a cover of Wussy’s “Jonah?”

I have a Wussy tattoo on my left arm. They’re one of my favorite bands and “Jonah” is my favorite Wussy song. I wish they played it more live. Cat [Trestini] sounds lovely on it.