In the movie world, any actor can be matched with Kevin Bacon in six “degrees” or less. In the jam band and indy music scene, it usually won’t take more than three “degrees” before you bump into bassist, producer, engineer, mixer, etc. Dan Horne.
Horne is a founding member of Circles Around the Sun, formed to make spacy set break music for 2015’s Grateful Dead Fare Thee Well concerts. That turned out so well, the group stayed together and have been recording and touring ever since.
He’s also a member of Grateful Shred. With their fresh take on all things Grateful Dead, the “Shred” has quickly become one of the hottest acts on the jam band scene. They were certain to have a breakout year in 2020 before the Covid-19 slowed things down.
But, those are just the beginning of the projects Horne has his hands in. He’s a member of the Skiffle Players and has played and toured with Cass McCombs and Jonathan Wilson. If those don’t keep him busy enough, he owns and runs Lone Palm Studios, where he’s involved in every facet of the recording process from playing to producing.
The one thing missing from Horne’s resume has been a solo recording. Thanks to the extra free time he’s had this year, Horne can cross that off the list with “The Motorcycle Song EP,” a four song EP that finally lets everyone see Horne center stage.
“I just love working with other people and have always been a collaborator,” Horne says. “Every time someone says let’s do something, I’m like, ‘sure that sounds like a blast.’ So, it’s been one thing after another. I’ve wanted to slow down and do my own thing for a while. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from the people I play with. Also, a lot of my friends and fans have encouraged me.”
The EP kicks off with “Blackjack,” a CATS-sounding spacy track with Horne’s bass leading the journey. Horne says the song, like the game, started off as a math problem in his head.
“I had been working it out in my head for a while,” he states. “Blackjack is a math problem. You can get your odds up there if you play it right.”
While the final cut of “Blackjack” ultimately finds the CATS groove, Horne’s roommate thought the earlier versions were headed in a different direction.
According to Horne, “I just started playing the jam and laying down the beat and then playing to it. My roommate heard it and came in and said ‘Is that Take 5?’ I was like, ‘No. That’s not it at all and I will try to get away from it.’”
Horne puts his vocals on display with his cover of Canned Heat’s “Poor Man.” The sunny, upbeat Skiffle Players vibe of the music is in contrast to the message of the song.
“If you read into it a little further, you can see the things that are depressing today. A lot of us know the heart of our problems in the world today have to do with how we treat the planet,” Horne posits. “For me, that’s the biggest problem out of everything. It’s a cool message that’s a doomsday song. Playing it brings about some awareness.”
Horne credits his father for showing him the importance of the lyrics behind a song. “My dad got me into a lot of music. He thought any music that didn’t have a message was complete garbage. He taught me Rock and Roll has to have a message or it’s not Rock and Roll. It’s political by nature. Which I agree with.”
“Rhythm 55” is an instrumental track very much in the spirit of the country side of Grateful Shred, and it turns Horne loose with his pedal steel, a favorite he likes to put in his music.
The EP wraps up with a cover of Arlo Guthrie’s “The Motorcycle Song.” Like “Poor Man,” this offers Horne another chance to sing. “I’ve been singing that song since I was a kid. I like how it makes my voice sound. It has a lot to do with the times we’re in and seeking an escape. I don’t even ride a motorcycle. It’s more like I’ve become the type of person who rides one. Grow a beard, get a leather jacket and head out.”
“The Motorcycle Song” EP is one positive to come out of 2020’s stay-at-home pandemic. Given the number of projects Horne is usually immersed in, this shutdown couldn’t have come at a worse time for him.
CATS finished 2019 on a high after touring behind their genre-expanding album “Circles Around the Sun.” Despite the loss of founder Neal Casal, the remaining trio spent plenty of time on the road, making sure everyone knew there was still much more in the future for this band.
That was made crystal clear on their successful winter tour. Horne, like many, was anxious to see where things took the band in 2020. “Everything was going amazingly well on the tour we did last winter with Scott Metzger. The momentum, the crowds, the fans, the band, and Scott were all great. Nothing has changed there. Hopefully, we can pick right up again when the music starts. We want to record.”
CATS isn’t Horne’s only band that was destined for a breakout in 2020. It would be hard to argue Grateful Shred had the most growth of anyone on the jam band scene in 2019. Three years into their country-flavored take on the early to mid-70s Grateful Dead sound, Shred was becoming a must-see live band. The inability to stay on the road due to the pandemic is the equivalent of slamming on the brakes of a car going 80 mph.
Horne continues, “That’s how it felt. We were literally going to go on a west coast tour. Tickets were selling well. The band was sounding great. Everyone was getting along. We have an awesome lighting and sound team assembled.
“With Shred, it’s a wide thing so we haven’t been able to figure out how to do everything,” Horne says. “Also, we’re not all in the same town so that makes it tricky. We’re like ‘hey, the second we can do this again, we’re going to do it.’ There is so much you can do with this material to make it your own.”
2020 hasn’t gone as planned for Dan Horne. At least he will have his first solo release to show for it. If there is anyone chomping at the bit for life to return to normal, it has to be Horne.
In the meantime, he’s ready to go if anyone wants to make some music. “If anyone wants to hit me up to work on music, I love producing bands. Lone Palm Studios is open for business. We’re open and working every day.”