While overseeing the production of Run Dan Run's new studio album, Normal, Charleston-based songwriter Dan McCurry capitalized on the strong musical chemistry between him and his bandmates — both whom currently reside out of state. He coordinated several sessions over the last year at his home studio and at bassist/guitarist Ash Hopkins' home studio in North Carolina.
"E-mail and Mediafire shareware was how it all got started," says RDR drummer Nick Jenkins, who relocated to New York from Charleston last year. "Once the ideas began to be tossed back and forth, programming was suggested, and synths and arrangements were made."
McCurry shrugs it off slightly. "It's a little hard with those guys out of town and me based here in Charleston, but the recording part isn't as difficult as some might think," he says. "We blocked off time to get together, and it was actually kind of easy to do this in a patchwork style, I found."
Jenkins adds, "We worked in chunks. Dan seemed to work on individual things like a mad scientist. He and Ash deserve credit for how big and expansive a lot of the sonic palette is on this one."
The long-distance relationship and bit-by-bit approach wasn't the case for Run Dan Run when they first came together in 2006. The trio played regularly around town, opening for acts within the Shrimp Records collective and headlining their own gigs. McCurry's rhythm section left town, one by one. Shortly after the band released a disc titled Basic Mechanics, Hopkins and his wife moved to Chapel Hill, where he landed a job on an organic farm. Jenkins settled in Brooklyn.
It required patience, perseverance, and careful organization to finish the new album. The efforts paid off. There's a pleasing balance between the instrumentation and McCurry's noticeably more emotive singing.
Five years ago, one could easily characterize Run Dan Run by its quirky mix of vintage synthesizer sounds, weird rhythms, and lo-fi guitar and drum machine tones. With Normal, McCurry and his bandmates are deep into something more refined.
"My goal was to make a record that really featured the band — one that featured the drums all the way through with consistency," says McCurry. "If you've got a great band, you should feature them."
Normal is a dynamic, moody collection with a solid full-band sound. From the first verse of the upbeat and jangly lead-off "Lovesick Animal" to the chilled-out, whispery final track "In Parts," they reach far beyond their initial efforts in the early days.
"We were aiming at making the best sounding record that we've ever made — the best performances that we could have possibly mustered and the best polishing and promoting," says Jenkins.
With a power-trio approach during the sessions, McCurry handled lead vocals, keyboards, and some guitar, percussion, and bass. Hopkins played the major role as bassist and lead guitarist while Jenkins handled the drum kit work and most of the extra percussion and programming. Several guest players provided extra horns and backing vocals.
"Nick played his drums on everything, and Ash played his bass on everything, so that tied the songs together," says McCurry. "Nick has a signature drum style. I never really have to tell him what to play. He finds something awesome, and it’s never anything I would have come up with myself. Ash is such an incredible musician, too. He’s really good at filling whatever space needs to be filled, without worrying about a preconceived part. He also uses loops and effects in a nice way. Things become atmospheric.”
Normal is easily the most full-developed and rich collection from the band thus far. There's more continuity between songs. Fans might notice more raw emotion within the lyrics, too. Stylistically, the leaned toward a decidedly indie rock style, as demonstrated on their 2007 debut, Basic Mechanics.
"I think my singing is definitely different. It's night-and-day from Basic Mechanics to Normal," says McCurry. "It's like the transition from a teenager to an adult. Back then, I was younger and I really didn't know anything."