New England Music Awards Week: Dan & the Wildfire

We spoke to Dan Htoo-Levine, frontman of the NEMA-nominated folk band

By: Jake Reed

February 10, 2014

With the New England Music Awards set to take place in Lowell on February 22, we begin New England Music Awards Week with Dan & the Wildfire, a five-piece folk band from Boston nominated for Indie/Pop Act of the Year. The band released Smoke Signals, its first album under the name Dan & the Wildfire (and second overall) in 2012, and is currently hard at work on its follow-up record. To learn more about the band and what got them recognized this year, we spoke to frontman Dan Htoo-Levine himself. Here’s what he has to say.


DELI: How does it feel to be nominated for Indie/Pop Act of the Year?

DAN: It’s really an awesome feeling. I honesty didn’t know that we were even nominated until a buddy of mine in the Field Effect texted me on New Year’s Day. We were all ecstatic when we found out. It’s really a big honor, especially at this point in our career.


DELI: Why do you think you were recognized this year?

DAN: I think it’s because we are making music in a way that’s … kind of like a throwback, in a way. We cut the [last record] live. I think it’s that kind of vibe that we bring to the table. I’m not going to say that other bands aren’t doing it, but I think people like the fact that we are doing it. That’s kind of a big plus for us.


DELI: What inspired the decision to record the entire album live?

DAN: We all have a wealth of studio experience. Every time I ended up doing a record track by track, it came out high quality but sounded really uninspired. I made a choice for myself outside of the band that I didn’t want to do any more records that sounded flat and boring. We did it live to tape and we said, “This is how we’re going to do it and we’re going to have fun doing it and it’s going to come across that way on that record.”


DELI: How was the band formed? What inspired the change of band name from Dan HL to Dan & the Wildfire?

DAN: I was in a band previously. We were doing some touring and things were going really well, [but then] the band split up. It was a huge bummer, so I kind of said to myself, “Well, I want to use my name as an insurance policy so that if my bandmates decide to leave, I don’t have to start over.” Very quickly, that kind of mentality went right out the window. Once I started playing with Thom [Brennan, trumpet] and Matt [Hines, keyboard], it was clear from very early on that they were in it for the long haul. We put out that record and then added Sam [Katz] and Kyle [Jenkins] to the band on bass and drums, and it [became] one of those things where we wanted more of a band identity. I [didn’t] want it to just be about me – I want it to be about all of us. We were kind of making waves with Dan HL so I wanted to keep that [use of my name “Dan” when we made the switch to a new name].


DELI: What inspires your songs? What kind of messages and themes do you try to incorporate?

DAN: To be honest, it’s kind of just whatever I’m feeling at the time and there’s no real method to it. I tend to write a lot through the eyes of other people – people who I know, people who I care about – rather than put my own experiences down on the paper. I’m not a tortured artist – I’m a pretty happy guy. My fiancée says that if people just knew me by my music, they would think I’m super depressed, but I’m not. [However,] I definitely do have songs that reflect things that I feel. It’s kind of a crapshoot.


DELI: You’re currently working on your next record. Tell us a bit about it.

DAN: It’s in its really early stages right now – we’re going lay it down in May. It’s kind of a new direction for us. We’ve all, as a group, been really into more traditional music lately. A lot of bluegrass. So we’ve been really experimenting with harmonies, and I just bought a resonator so I’ve been teaching myself slide [guitar]. It’s all good, but it’s going be super different for us and we’re all really excited about it.


DELI: Do you have a favorite or most memorable performance?

DAN: We recently headlined the Middle East Downstairs [in Cambridge, MA]. It’s a really great room and the sound is amazing. It’s the kind of room where when I got there, [I thought to myself] it would be really cool to pack a place like that and make it a really great show. We had the chance to do it and it was amazing. [We thought,] “We’ve all worked our asses off to be here and do this and now it’s happening.”


New England Music Awards Week continues with another nominee interview tomorrow. The show takes place on February 22 at Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Lowell, MA, and tickets are available here.