A former truck driver who grew up in New Jersey, Dan McGee is the guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the Chapel Hill-based rock band Spider Bags. The band’s latest record, Shake My Head, has earned acclaim across the Triangle for its raucous rock that guarantees a good time.
_McGee talked to Dive staff writer Alex Dixon about wine, the Chapel Hill music scene, and delivering toilet paper to members of popular indie bands. Spider Bags will perform with Gross Ghost Tuesday in Durham. _
Diversions: Spider Bags’ sound seems to draw from many genres. Can you talk about some of your influences and how the band has developed its sound over the years?
Dan McGee: I listen to a lot of different music. When I was younger I was real heavy into jazz. I always played instruments ever since I was young, too. But I always played rock ‘n’ roll. I never wanted to record anything because I always thought rock ‘n’ roll was dead and all the great music happened the generation before mine.
I was probably in my early 20s when I started listening to current rock ‘n’ roll at the time like the Cramps, Oblivion and the Flesh Eaters. It started me feeling like I could express myself as a rock ‘n’ roll musician. A lot of the music that came out of Memphis really influenced me. Also, the attitude that people have in Memphis.
Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t taken for granted there. Somehow the way that music is written about it’s like rock ‘n’ roll is easy to do … Music criticism is kind of based in the idea that if you’re not pushing the boundaries then you’re not creating anything of merit. I think experimenting within genres is what art is all about.
Rock ‘n’ roll is just as valid as anything else. Captain Beefheart is my hero. The guy is brilliant, and anything he ever did came out of simple chord progressions and a rock ‘n’ roll attitude.
Dive: You mentioned Memphis and you were raised up North. How does the Chapel Hill music scene compare to the other places you’ve lived?
DM: The music scene here is cool. In New York, everything is kind of separated by clubs and genres. So if you’re playing rock ‘n’ roll music, you see the same people all the time. Those are the people that go to the clubs, those are the people that go to the shows. Those are the musicians. Everything gets really segregated.
Down here, it’s different because there aren’t enough people playing in different genres so it mixes. I don’t know if I lived in a different city if I’d be going on tour with a band like Gross Ghost. But we work together because we’re from the same town. There’s a vibe there.
Dive: What’s your most interesting memory from your job as a truck driver?
DM: I delivered toilet paper through the five boroughs and Pennsylvania and New Jersey. One of the first times I got behind the wheel I sardined the top of the truck. I was delivering toilet paper to a church and I parked out front and heard this terrible noise.
I got out and looked at the front of the cab and on the top of the truck was peeled back about 10 feet because I’d hit a very large tree branch. So I called my boss and then this old guy comes out and says he’s going to call the cops.
The cops show up and it turns out that my license had expired two months before. I worked that job for almost two years and I have no idea how people do it. Just driving up there in that area is stressful, but imagine driving a big truck. I almost died so many times.
It’s kind of funny, but I got to know the guys from the band Liquor Store and Titus Andronicus and they’re all from Glen Rock, N.J. And it turns out I had been supplying them with toilet paper and paper towels while they were in high school. So they wiped their asses with the sweat of my brow. I’ve had a lot of different jobs. One of these days I’m going to write a book of short stories about all the jobs I’ve had.
Dive: So you write fiction, too?
DM: When I was younger, I did. I don’t have the attention span that I used to. Now that I’m getting older I can see myself trying to get some stuff down again.
Songwriting is good because it’s immediate. I can write a song, show it to the band and we can play it and we can record it. Writing long-form fiction is pretty solitary. It’s not as rewarding in a way. You’re kind of in a vacuum.
With music, I have a network of friends all over the country and we make music together and I see them when we go on tour. When you’re writing, you’re in your room. You don’t get that and that input is important.
Dive: In many of your songs there are drinking references. What is your drink of choice?
DM: Well these days, I drink a lot of wine. I think I drank so much beer and whiskey that it makes me sick now. There’s a pretty fun story about Elvis when he was getting older. He had abused his body so much that he couldn’t eat certain things.
But he loved chocolate and he would go into anaphylactic shock every time he ate it and it drove everybody crazy because he’d be fine and the next minute his head would swell up and they’d have to rush him to the hospital all because he’d eaten chocolate that day.
But you know when you have extreme lifestyles, things can get out of hand. I used to love beer and whiskey but it just doesn’t happen anymore.
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