Artist Interview: Getting to know Dan Koch’s new project Havana Swim Club

When I first heard the lead single “Lagoon” from Dan Koch’s new project Havana Swim Club, I was instantly thrust into a better mood. In a year with so much baggage and pain in a variety of ways, it was great to just feel some grooves. The word I kept using as I told friends about the track (and later the album) was that it was “vibey.” When I got a chance to virtually sit down with Dan Koch, the writer and producer of Havana Swim Club, he was happy to share about the inspiration for those vibey tracks and this free-spirited, engaging new lush, harmonic, atmospheric electronic music.

So you might be asking yourself how a site like ETTG even finds an act like this to feature. Well, if the name Dan Koch rings some bells in the back of your mind, it might be because he was a member of the pop punk band Sherwood some years ago. Also, astute readers of the site will remember Koch from his involvement in the 2012 #1 album (chosen by me) Wayfarer’s The River. That project, later renamed Pacific Gold, also produced music that we featured on the site. To say I was excited to check out his new project is an understatement.

The HSC sonic makeup is heavy on vintage sounds “pulled from the digital crate,” as we discussed. Koch came to the project with a desire to bring some fun and whimsy back to music making. As someone who works seriously as a Ph.D. student in psychology, is a prolific podcaster, and writes music for commercials, there’s not a whole lot of time left for recreational music making. But somewhere there in the margins Koch took time to find sounds and grooves that would resonate, then brought his music-making gifts to bear on producing the lush, atmospheric music that we get to enjoy on the album.

Some of the tracks have familiar funk groove patterns while others echo an older disco era. Yet some of the music in this remarkable project include quite unconventional rhythms. When I asked Koch about these unique beats he said, “we made a conscious decision to play more world music in our home for our child.” The collective influence of he and his wife to choose world soul music, including the iconic South American tradition of bossa nova, created some interesting beat patterns for Koch to play with in his HSC curation and creation.

I had to ask about the influences on this unique style. Koch mentioned a few bands that others will probably know better than a folk guy like me. Washed Out, Jens Leckman’s “Maple Leaves,” and the whole concept of “sampling” are really at the heart of the HSC sound. Additional songwriting influences included the Beach Boys Endless Summer album, Washed Out’s Mr Mellow, and datfootdive’s discography for examples of distortion and saturation on the production side. Koch mentioned the importance of Daft Punk’s album Random Access Memories. In terms of non-music inspiration, Koch discussed the significance of a film called The Story of Lover’s Rock on Amazon, which gets into the story of romantic reggae music primarily in the UK. It definitely wasn’t the type of influence I expected to hear Koch describe, but it certainly shines through in the HSC musical flavor.

These artists bring forth evocative sounds, bridging historical time periods and music making methods. I mentioned to Koch that I kept thinking of reruns of TV shows in my youth, so he did say that he was inspired by shows and went “crate digging” in an effort to find some lesser known samples to flavor his productions. He specifically mentioned an album called Hustle! Reggae Disco that came out in 1979. The album apparently went on to influence an early 80s wave of “disco crossver” music.

As far as the music goes stylistically, I had to ask two important questions. The first was why aren’t there any lyrics. As someone who always appreciated the lyrics in Koch’s earlier work, I was puzzled. He said that he wanted to take the songwriting pressure off when it started as a “for fun” project. Writing lyrics brings in a whole other level of pressure. But he does borrow some of the conventional songwriting process of a normal verse chorus pattern even in the largely sampled, electronic music sound.

My other sonic question was about… well, how the heck does he MAKE this sound? Without giving away too many secrets (most of which would go straight over my head anyways), Koch explained that when sampling he never speeds up the music; he usually slows it down. This is part of what makes those groovy slow jam style tracks… the ones that feel like summer vacation. Koch’s own style, derived from what he likes to listen to, informs the lush use of space, echo, and glorious, unapologetic use of reverb.

I couldn’t help but ask about HSC as a touring act. I could just picture dancing at a nice outdoor venue with a bunch of people vibing on these glowing tracks. No pressure to sing along or engage in a specific way, just grooving and sippin on a summery drink. His answer was maybe some day, especially if the right offer comes along. But that relaxed, “we’ll see what happens” attitude is *everything* about this production, album, and producer. There’s no hustle and grind to this one. It’s just a good feeling with intentional curation, creativity, and purpose.

So if you haven’t yet heard Havana Swim Club, make sure to check out the self titled first release, which just came out in June of 2021. Then head on over to Hype Machine and give HSC some “hearts.” It will help this great music get into the ears of more people who need to hear it. Oh, and I’m not sure if you read the fine print, but there’s a moral obligation to groove a little while you listen to this album. So if you’re against grooving, we’d ask you to kindly move along.

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