The story of Dan Maloney’s Death Ships is one of a band outgrowing a local scene, gaining embrace of the Indie Tastemakers riding an arc of success but ultimately stalling. A familiar story to be sure (see: Tapes ‘N Tapes).
For over nine years Dan Maloney has been Death Ships– a band whose beginnings in Iowa City were as a side project. According to his January 2009 interview with Splice, he was in an Emo band called Faultlines when he decided to work on some solo songs. “…on the side I was experimenting with writing songs along the style of the music I grew up with. It took me a while to figure out I could sing better within a certain range rather than “shout/scream.”
Death Ships started initially as a solo accoustic effort and then expanded into a revolving cast of members and became known for having different lineups for every show. In fact, the first time I ever heard about Death Ships was in the context of them seemingly opening for every band at the Mill Restaurant. My friend saw Low and Why? at the Mill and Dan’s Death Ships were openers both times (without drums) and I believe that they opened for Tapes ‘n Tapes and The Hold Steady during their early tours as well. “When Randall (Davis) and Adam “Lars” joined the ranks,” Dan said in his Daytrotter interview, “they really helped shape Death Ships into a functional band.” In September of 2006 the debut Seeds of Devastation was released to some critical acclaim and Alternative Press named Death Ships “Best Unsigned Band.”
The band met ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett through a shared manager and he took the band under his wing and on the road with him as his backing band for two tours. In a recent email exchange with Dan, it is really clear that this time with Jay– who passed away last year– made a big impact on him. “[Jay’s death] was a big blow. I didnt know him better than others did, but from touring with him twice and spending a lot of time with him I got a good sense of the man he was: a caring, compassionate man with a love of music and joy that only comes from a child’s first Christmas. He picked us up and gave us a boost that I will never forget.”
Dan moved to Chicago from Iowa City a couple of years ago and has been carrying on the Death Ships name with occasional shows in the area and watershedding the follow-up to Seeds which will be called Circumstantial Chemistry. Additionally, a four-song EP Maybe Arkansas will be released on iTunes. The EP is produced by Luke Tweedy who runs Flat Black Studios in Iowa City and is in (ft) The Shadow Government. “I started working on a follow up a couple years ago and only scraped together four of the songs for this new EP. I moved to Chicago and basically had to start from scratch again. It’s hard– like any band– to sell everyone on commiting to [it], forfeiting the fact that there may not be much money involved but also requiring a lot of time and dedication. I hope I have this with this new group and am finally ready to start pushing Death Ships forward and getting these songs and new songs heard.”
Dan generously let me listen to the songs that make up Maybe Arkansas, and it is a flat-out charmer– hook-filled and standing out in my mind as a testiment to the great music that comes from the Midwest. These guitar pop songs draw easy and complimentary comparisons to other Midwest greats like The Jayhawks, The Honeydogs and, yes, Wilco. Each of these songs stick in my head with earworm intensity. Dan’s soft vocal approach on “I Like It A Lot” gives a breezy lead up to the break down “it’s dreams like these/ little melody/ i got plans for you/ you got plans for me” which very nicely launches in the double time and urging cry “put it all on me!”
This is followed by the fun, piano pumping, Beatle-y “Somethings Gone Awry” with its superb use of horns. I love how the song goes from this ironically upbeat drive complete with “do-do-do-do’s” to the mood change as the song runs out “It’s hard to blame the darkness for the rain/It’s hard to see clearly when when we’re reeling from a long black cloud…”
“Let Me Think It Over” is a promise to a former love. It has a undeniable 60’s R&B tinge to it– kind of like when Springsteen used to cover Mitch Ryder in concert– particular with the 3/4 time switch from driving 4/4 at the chorus. “We can get together like we used to be/the same old fool you’ve been dying to see.”
The EP wraps up much too early with the title track. It starts as a melancholy aching sentiment of escape to starting over. “With a furrowed brow you slide across the seat/So, maybe Arkansas– another change in plans” It’s the narrator’s thoughts at the halfpoint of the song of the people they are leaving behind halfway that transforms the song to shouting anger. “Write a letter to your dear sweet mother/tell her that we’re only running from our halted, November mind…”What’s that you gain from this song??”
This EP is a calling card and statement of direction for this new phase of Death Ships. Dan continues from the e-mail he sent me, ” There were times after Seeds where I felt the fruit of my efforts were grossly being undermet and underappreciated, but I have come to peace about being jaded. This is music I make and part of my story. If a few people enjoy it I’m willing to accept that. It’s truly a labor of love and sometimes I forget that. If it ever stopped being fun I would hang it up, but clearly I can’t, because I’ve been doing this project for over six years.”
Dan is sailing his Death Ships to Iowa City on Saturday, 2/27 at The Mill Restaurant in Iowa City. They will be headlining a show with Datagun, Olivia Rose Muzzy, and the Vagabonds. 9PM and admission is a measly SIX BUCKS!
Click Here to download “I Like It A Lot” from Maybe Arkansas.
Click Here for the Death Ships MySpace Page which has some of the tracks from Maybe Arkansas streaming.
Click Here for the Death Ships Daytrotter Session
Click Here for the Jay Bennett Daytrotter Session with Death Ships as his band
Click Here for the Splice interview with Dan Maloney from 2009 that has some unreleased tracks and a couple from the upcoming EP