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November 2020
Feature

Lake Saint Daniel: Appreciating the good things

Daniel Radin charts the journey to his debut album, 'Good Things'.
Published: 12:12 pm, October 08, 2020Words: Rob Mair.
Lake Saint Daniel: Appreciating the good things

"We were the band practice house, but we didn't practice in the garage or basement, it was in the living room. Anytime there was any music happening, it permeated the whole house," laughs Daniel Radin, the Daniel behind Lake Saint Daniel, as he describes the "horrible, horrible" noises created with his drummer brother.

"Just recently, I said to my parents that I must formally thank them for letting us do that. We could experiment and record in that house, and they left us to it. One time, when I was in my Explosions in the Sky phase, I remember recording this snare roll for eight or nine minutes, and my Dad came down and was like 'You have to stop! There's only so many times you can do this, and I can't deal with it."

While such a story makes for a great anecdote, it also draws together the three main themes of 'Good Things', Lake Saint Daniel's debut album: nostalgia, growing up, and family. These subjects flow through the record, interweaving the narrative and placing the listener firmly in the stomping grounds of Radin's childhood neighbourhood in Boston, Ma.

It's also a world away from Radin's main creative output in Future Teens, where sad songs about relationships are the order of the day. Instead, 'Good Things' has a much softer, gentler approach, recalling James Taylor and other greats of the American Songbook in a sepia-tinged journey through Radin's teenage growing pains.

This odd melancholy nostalgia manifests itself beautifully throughout the album. It's particularly striking on closing number 'Goodbye', where Radin succinctly sums up some complicated feelings with the line "I've been feeling nostalgic, not just for the good times but the not so good ones too". Such a moment of inspiration came after a walk around his childhood neighbourhood with his girlfriend, he says.

"I started to feel so nostalgic, even though a lot of my middle school and high school experience was awkward or painfully anxious. And I ended up putting that whole line in the song," says Radin. "I've always associated nostalgia with like, 'Oh, remember those good old days?', and it's like 'Well, you can also remember those bad old days too because those emotions can be just as powerful."

Yet it was only after talking through the album with collaborator Colby Blauvelt (also of Future Teens) that the full impact of just how powerful these songs were hit Radin. "When I got the master back, I sent them to Colby, and he came back and said something like 'Damn, this is a really painful album about growing up.' I was like "Yeah, I guess that is exactly what it turned out to be."

However, as the title suggests, 'Good Things' is not a collection of sad childhood stories, but instead an album that ruminates on ideas of family and personal growth. The love for these things often shines brighter than all the moments of introspection or melancholy.

It also provided a useful counterbalance to the more obvious sadness of Future Teens' angsty anthems. Radin acknowledges that while his favourite songs are all sad ones, writing songs with a different focus was a worthwhile – and much needed – experience.

"When I was younger, I was always like 'What's the point of writing a happy love song?'" he laughs. "But I think I was writing so many sad songs that I actually got into a headspace where I wasn't appreciating like – not to use my frickin' album title – but I wasn't appreciating the good things in my life as much as I should, because I was so focused on needing to write a sad song.

"So partly this album is an attempt to focus on the good stuff that's going on, and within that, there can still be introspection and nostalgia and sadness. I wouldn't say it's a happy album necessarily, but I wouldn't say that it's dour either."

"Radiohead definitely created an experimental streak for me"
Daniel Radin

Such a marriage between straightforward storytelling and classic song structures also ensures 'Good Things' possesses a timeless quality. For all the advances in modern fidelity, it has an elegance which makes it sound like it could have come from any point over the last 40 years. The Americana-tinged folk of 'Move On' adds to this nostalgia-fest, harking back to the FM AOR classics of the 80s, rather than anything found too far left of the dial.

This is perhaps no surprise. Radin played in a folk band before starting Future Teens, and after years of playing indie-rock songs 'Good Things' is a suitable about-turn to familiar territory.

Radin says that his mom – whose influence and guiding hand looms large throughout the album – always said he had two voices, a rock voice and folk voice. When paired with simple, classic structures, this folk voice helps makes graceful music, not too dissimilar to the James Taylor records found in his father's collection.

Yet it hasn't been the most straightforward journey for Radin to recognise the beauty of a timeless song structure, after discovering Radiohead and The Decemberists during his adolescent years.

"Radiohead definitely created an experimental streak for me; like, what can a guitar do, what can a voice do? The idea of a song structure has always been really important to me – and the idea of the 'perfect pop song' – I think you have to understand that before you go off and do the other thing.

"Unfortunately, I was the opposite when I started writing music – no choruses, no repeating lyrics. I wrote some truly awful songs that I do not stand by anymore. I listen to them now, and I cringe.

"There are some bands, in a way, I regret ever listening to. When I discovered The Decemberists, all my songs had to be about ghosts and chimneysweeps. I look back, and I'm like 'Why did I ever do that?' All the songs had to be eight minutes long and have an accordion.

"I guess I can say it helped me find my voice – but it was a pretty painful way to get there. Don't get me wrong, they're [The Decemberists] are an excellent band, I just wish I'd discovered them later in my songwriting career."

Again, such comments tally with Radin's ideas for the record. Even though it's hard to spot much reverence to these bands in 'Well Lived' and 'Faking Asleep', they're symbolic of Radin's growth as a songwriter, emphasising his understanding of the beauty found in a straightforward 3-minute pop song.

Although it's perhaps less noticeable than the themes of nostalgia and family, this sense of personal growth is integral to the success of 'Good Things'. Likewise, the idea that we never stop learning as we grow.

"I wanted to try and capture that, because I realised that, when you're 18 years old, and you're graduating high school or whatever, you're like 'I know everything!' You think 'I'm a full person, I'm very experienced, I'm the shit'.

"Then you go to college, or you get a job, and you get your ass kicked, and suddenly it's like 'Oh my God, I don't know anything'. Then it might happen again when you're 22. Like, 'I have a better job, I got my shit together', but every three-to-five years you have this realisation, which is like, 'Oh, I didn't know anything five years ago. I was an idiot.' This idea of learning as you get older, ideally it gets more as you realise you don't know everything and you should learn and listen.

"Are you a fan of The Simpsons? It's that perfect quote by Principal Skinner, which has been turned into a meme, where he's like, 'Out of touch? No, it's the children who are wrong.' I never want to be that."

'Good Things' encapsulates this idea beautifully, capturing a moment in time which leans on the past but repackages the thoughts and feelings for today's youth. Thematically dense but immediately relatable, it finds a comfortable spot between wistful nostalgia and cautious optimism. And there's not an eight-minute-long song about a carnivorous whale in sight... 

Lake Saint Daniel's album 'Good Things' is out 9th October.

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