Megafauna and Existential Questioning

Last month Austin’s Megafauna released one of the year’s best schizophrenic record, Welcome Home, their fourth full-length.  While the band have become best known for grungy prog rock, this...

Last month Austin’s Megafauna released one of the year’s best schizophrenic record, Welcome Home, their fourth full-length.  While the band have become best known for grungy prog rock, this one sees them delving deep into psych grooves, in conjunction with sounds reminiscent of the earliest forms of metal, the snottiness of ‘90s alt rock, and even a romanticism I want to most closely link to dream pop (Consequence of Sound characterized the album as, “Like St. Vincent for people who love the Melvins.”… It’s definitely a sonic horse pill, but likely the best one you’ve had in a long time.  Megafauna have a small handful of upcoming Texas dates, including an album release show this Saturday, June 11th, at Empire Control Room in Austin, followed by a June 18th performance as part of the Solstice Festival (also in Austin) and, finally, a Houston gig on June 25th at the Satellite.  I recently got a chance to chat with Megafauna founder, singer, guitarist, and sole constant member, Dani Neff.  We chatted about Philthy, Cursive, Megafauna’s new album, and the divine…

Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I have to ask your thoughts on the city. Any favorite things to do locally, or just best memories?

Dani Neff: We love Philly! Best memory was playing a festive basement show last summer at our friend’s art gallery, Magic Pictures. We got to pet tiny kittens the next morning. Every time I’m in Philly I’m struck by the amazing pizza (that you can get at 2am).  Philly rocks!

Izzy: So I know you just recently wrapped up a tour.  Were there any particular highlights, for you?  How do the audiences seem to be liking the new material?

Dani: Show highlight was playing the Crocodile in Seattle with our friends, Rishloo and Ten Miles Wide. Super fun show!  Adventure highlight was hiking around Joshua Tree and spending an off day at a hot spring in Montana.  People are definitely liking the new stuff – I notice more dancing in the crowd, which is always good.  It’s different – sludgier, less punk and more psych. We dig into the grooves more and I think people appreciate that.

Izzy: For sort of a related question, what have been some of the highlights of the band in general since releasing Maximalist two years ago?

Dani: Touring with Cursive for a week! Those guys are super fun. Just touring in general, getting to go up to Canada and playing with some bad ass up and coming bands (Bearcubbin, Roz and the Rice Cakes).  Also recording Welcome Home was a blast, and the yearly 10 band SXSW party we throw at my house is always a wild, memorable time.

Izzy: And how do you think Welcome Home compares to previous releases?  Were you actively trying new things, or do you just feel like it was a natural evolution of your sound (Not that those are mutually exclusive)?  Was your particular process of writing and recording it anything new?

Dani: Welcome Home leans more toward vintage psych rock than previous releases. In some ways, this shift was a natural evolution of our sound.  The songs I was writing at that time just happen to be slower, sludgier in a way that makes them well suited for psych rock production.  Working with Curtis Roush and The Bright Light Social Hour, as well as Erik Wofford, pushed the songs more in that direction.  We got to use vintage amps and preamps, synths, a ton of guitar effects pedals – I even got to play my guitar through a Leslie!  Another way the process was different is we took our time recording. While we recorded Maximalist in only ten days, we recorded Welcome Home over the course of a year, in two main chunks (recording five songs per time). It was a very laid back and fun experience, with lots of experimenting and collaborating.

Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences?

Dani: Musically, this album was influenced a lot more by proto-metal, like Black Sabbath  as well as newer psych like Dead Meadow and Tame Impala.  Conceptually, I wrote a lot of these songs when I was going through a difficult breakup that left me searching for ground to stand on. The songs revolve around a search for meaning and existential questioning.  A lot of the songs are inspired by the struggle of attempting to understand the divine, feeling like I have a grasp on it and then feeling it slip away, feeling the oneness of everything and then losing it again.

Izzy: I’m kind of obsessed with “It’s So Simple” at the moment, which actually makes me think of Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (I think it might fit nicely somewhere in there.)  How did that particular track come about?

Dani: Oh rad! That particular song came about when a relationship was ending a few years ago.  I just picked up the guitar and it flowed out of me. Glad you dig the track.

Izzy: On a kind of related note, what is it that inspires the visual elements of Megafauna?  I really like your music videos, especially the one for “Haunted Factory.”  Are there any visual artists you’re especially inspired by, or just into?

Dani: Absolutely. We’re really inspired by all visual art, including painting, drawing, and film.  We love all sorts of visual artists – Dali, Chagall, Jodorosky, Tarantino – to name a few.  I’ve done a lot of modern and jazz dance throughout my life so that definitely influenced the video too.

Izzy: Finally, how are you hoping to spend the rest of 2016?  Anything you’re especially excited about?  Any chance there’s more touring in the works and we might get a chance to see you out here on the East Coast?

Dani: Definitely more touring in the works. We’ll be heading East this October- sorry for the wait, friends and fans! For the rest of 2016, we’re excited to be playing some cool festivals around the West, including Underground Music Showcase in Denver, Equinox in Utah, and of course, working on new music for the next album!

Band InterviewsMusic

During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.