Ian O’Neil is a musician and artist who plays with Deer Tick, Happiness, and by himself. He lives in Providence, RI. (Photo Credit: Shoji Van Kuzumi)
“A time of satan triumphant.”
This is our disquieting introduction to mind of Dylan McCartney, the leader behind the pleasantly unknowable Cincinnati band The Drin, and the first words from their most recent album, Today, My Friend, You Drunk the Venom. The music for the song itself, “Venom,” is propulsive, dry, and direct, but the vocal is obfuscated and dragging, creating a tension that brings the bleak and vivid lyrical content to life. This opening line hangs over the whole album like a regrettably relayed piece of knowledge. Today, My Friend, You Drunk the Venom has hooked me in a way that maybe only happens every five years. This all began when the record was initially released in January, 2023. I was frequently visiting a graveyard near my new home in Cranston, Rhode Island, and spending time running in an abnormally temperate winter under a perpetually leaden sky. Everyday, I would take this album with me out into this self-imposed isolation, seeding a powerful bond and fascination with the music.
The world that The Drin creates sonically and lyrically feels just out-of-sight and off-kilter. It paints a world wherein bad things have happened, are happening, and will likely be happening again, soon. For me, frequently being alone with one’s own thoughts can feel similar to that. I could view the warped world in these songs as my own mind on these lonesome journeys. Despite the sense of shrouded danger the band constructs so well, there are also moments of genuine euphoria, such as on the album closer, “Mozart On the Wing.” It’s a charging and invigorating conclusion to a consuming record, rising above the smoke and fog into a twisted triumph. Today, My Friend, You Drunk the Venom gave me a place to fall into and a strange culture that I had to share with everyone around me. If you have been anywhere near me in these last four months, you know about The Drin. It’s also worth noting that The Drin have led me to other incredible Cincinnati bands tied to McCartney: The Serfs and Crime of Passing both have incredible albums out in the world, right now.
I wanted to write these thoughts and perform this interview to peel back why I had developed such a strong relationship with this music. I asked Dylan if he wouldn’t mind answering some questions, and he gave some beautifully elegiac answers. But as the song suggests, “The runnin’ enigma still persists.”
Ian O’Neil: Really quickly, to establish some context, is the Drin a collaborative project or something spun into the world from you?
Dylan McCartney: “The Drin” was conceived as a body with which to animate ideas that couldn’t live in another. But upon animation, the body reached out a longing hand like Frankenstein’s monster and was gripped by other doomed figures of similar mind and proximity, creating a sort of rat-king.
Ian: I’ve really been drawn to what sets this record apart sonically. Mixing-wise, there’s a real friction between the really dry, up front percussion and floating reverb on the vocals. Some elements brazenly draw you in while other shrouded elements lure you in to listen very closely. How important is the mixing process for you in manifesting the world you’re trying to create?
Dylan: Critically so. Like others before us — The Scientist, Damon Edge, Martin Hannett, Conny Plank, Paganini — our aim is to use the tools at our disposal to create strange, disturbing and vivid settings through sound… and sometimes all it takes is an attic to hide in, some consumer grade effects and equipment, and the right combination of poisoning to create your own version of Goya’s “Black Paintings.”
Ian: Another thing I love about this album is that it feels like a cohesive, immersive experience. The lyrical content, the album artwork throughout the vinyl packaging and the sonic landscape work in tandem to create something that feels like a tangible space. How much consideration goes into making sure all of those elements agree with one another?
Dylan: The door to this “tangible space” is only opened with a key you receive from the looming cloaked figure with the raspy, whispering voice waiting at the end, beckoning you with a long, spindly finger and saying “Here you are, dear one.” Otherwise, you’re just stuck in the labyrinth with no answers and an unsmoked cigarette.
Ian: With that being said, some of the songs like “Five and Dime Conjurers” and “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” create this unsettling space, and some such as “Eyes Only for Space” feel like you personally are experiencing that space, if that makes sense. Do you find that different songs serve different purposes for the album at large?
Dylan: But of course. Because it’s a non-linear timeline… a run-on sentence which attempts to explain something it doesn’t yet understand, like a drunk ancient Greek philosopher trying to explain the ὀπτικά lens to a legion hall bartender in 2023.
Ian: The album artwork is a pretty special painting by Mike Ousley and visual art seems to play an important role with all of your projects. How do non-musical inspirations inform your music?
Dylan: I would say, equal to the music itself. Most inspirations come from bits of world history, regional folklore, grim stories or traveling somewhere to visit — both in the world at large, and in the mind. Mike Ousley’s art takes you to those places. Dakota’s does too.
Ian: A further aspect that sets this album apart from other “post-punk” contemporaries is that it can be really funny! I’m thinking of lyrics on “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” — “Life is amazing, Yeah life is so fun” — and the title of that song juxtaposed against the music. The song itself is full of bracing percussion and vocals, with field recordings of crows interpolated throughout. How important is humor and levity to you in songwriting?
Dylan: Let me provide you some background to the crows. One fall day I rode alone to what is, for me, hallowed ground in the city I live in — a brief clearing of forest on the river across from the sporting stadium — and listened to the cackle of a murder of crows, exchanging vocalizations high in the trees. I recorded them with my field device for awhile and then took the sounds home for analysis by playing them back on a slowed-down reversed tape, only to discover that in that setting the crows are clearly saying “hey” to one another. My proudest moment of in-the-field scientific discovery. Does that answer your question?
Ian: Something this album pulls really well off is that despite being sonically obscured at times, there are a ton of hooks throughout all of the songs. There’s always some kind of center to hold on to. Are you driven to balance that accessibility and ambiguity?
Dylan: I guess I’m driven to balance, but I can be quite clumsy.
Ian: Regionality seems to be less present in music than it once was. At this point, it would be hard to say what the “Providence, RI sound” would be. However, Cincinnati and Ohio at large do seem to have a sound, and it’s a sound that feels suited to its landscape. How much of an impact does Cincinnati have on your work, and do you think that there is a particular sound coming out of that part of the world?
Dylan: I’ve been in Europe recently, Cincinnati could be a totally different place now, with a consistent and reliable weather pattern and a permeating, friendly atmosphere.
But… when I’m there I hear the ever-present train symphony, the purr of the churning factories, a few angry denizens yelling from their cars, the occasional cheers from the stadium passing the river, and often… the piercing screech of a passing glare.
Ian: You’re in at least one other excellent band, The Serfs. How do you apply your creativity to different projects in different ways?
Dylan: It’s like living on a farm in the mountains where the horses, sheep and goats are on speed.
Ian: Lastly, as I said, Today, My Friend, You Drunk the Venom, has really been stuck with me since it’s release. What was the last piece of work in any field that had a significant impact on you?
Dylan: Perhaps seeing the psychedelic rhythm group “El Khat” from Israel perform in Antwerp, Belgium. Or finally, with my own eyes, seeing “The Garden of Earthly Delights” triptych by Hieronymus Bosch at the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. Or maybe stepping into the suspended cage that once held Vlad the Impaler in the labyrinth beneath Buda Castle.
The Drin is: Cole Gilfilen, Dakota Carlyle, Dylan McCartney, Luke Corvette, Ryan Sennett and Eric Dietrich.
If you are a filmmaker and are looking for music, please reach out to Dylan at [email protected]. Also, the second pressing of Today, My Friend, You Drunk the Venom has just been released on Feel It Records.
Deer Tick’s new album, Emotional Contracts, is out June 16th on ATO Records.
(Photo Credit: left, Jasmine Rodriguez)