The Singleman Affair has a new record out this week and a gig Friday night at the Hideout. For WBEZ, music critic Robert Loerzel spoke with the group’s singer-songwriter, Daniel Schneider, to find out how he came up with his psychedelic folk-rock sound.
Daniel Schneider grew up in the 1980s and ’90s. But the music he fell in love with was from decades before. He says “My dad had an amazing record collection: The Velvet Underground, old Bob Dylan records, Neil Young. That kind of opened up the door. One of the great examples of something that stuck to my head of being like, “This is what I want to do,” is when you listen to the Stones’ version of “Play With Fire,” and you can just hear the tambourine with the reverb and it’s like “Chhh! Chhh!” When I heard that, I was just like, “Wow! Why can’t all music be like this?”
Music isn’t the only thing Schneider loves about the ‘60s. The 1968 classic, The Graduate provided his band name.
There’s a scene in the movie when the main character, Benjamin Braddock … he’s about to have an affair with Mrs. Robinson, and he comes to the hotel clerk. … He’s really nervous. He’s fidgeting around. The clerk says “Can I help you, sir?” Dustin Hoffman’s character Braddock replies “What? Oh, no, I’m just…” The clerk asks “Are you here for an affair, sir?” There’s a pause, and then Braddock says “What?” The clerk says “The Singleman party, sir.” “Oh , yes, the Singleman party.”
Years later, Schneider decided to call himself the Singleman Affair when he began recording solo music…music that was influenced by the gentle folk rock of Nick Drake and the psychedelic sounds of Moby Grape. A Chicago music magazine called Galactic Zoo Dossier included one of those songs on a CD. And then someone in England heard it. Schneider explains, “Alan McGee, out in England, who is the founder of Creation Records and discovered Oasis and My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain – he had heard one of those songs and contacted me.”
That’s how the first album by the Singleman Affair, Let’s Kill the Summer, ended up coming out on McGee’s Poptones label. Schneider couldn’t get a record deal in the U.S., but he was getting rave reviews in England. But then, almost as soon as the record was out, Poptones went out of business. Schneider wasn’t all that disappointed, however. He says “I never really felt when it ended that I lost anything. It wasn’t like millions of fans or anything (laughs). I’ve always continued to make music and this really – that ending didn’t change it. I just had to figure out who would put out the next record.”
That didn’t turn out to be so easy. Schneider’s been working on his latest album for the past four years. He spent most of that time trying to get record labels interested. “I had been given offers to do limited runs of vinyl only for, like, 300 pressings with no real publicity. I just didn’t see the benefit of doing that. I could probably do the same thing myself for cheaper.”
That’s why Schneider decided to release it on his own record label, Cardboard Sangria. The second Singleman Affair album, Silhouettes at Dawn, is out this week on CD and vinyl. He says “I wanted to do something that was really epic. I brought in Mark Messing of (the Chicago band) Mucca Pazza to do all the string arrangements, and we pulled in different guest musicians to kind of fill out that sound that wasn’t there.”
For the song “Asleep on the Ground,” Schneider wanted strings that sounded like the music he’d heard in movies as a kid. “They used to have Frazier Thomas’ classic movies on Channel 9. And I always used to remember the old Moby Dick they would show. And they’d have, like, these really cool string parts that would come in when they would start rowing across the sea. The narrator says “Long days and nights we strained at the oars, while the white whale swam freely on, widening the waters between himself and Ahab’s vengeance (music swells). That was kind of the initial idea for strings with that song.”
The songs tell haunting stories about Civil War soldiers and mythical creatures, searching for the lovers they’ve lost and the homes they’ve left behind. “Wings” is a song about a world where the people are half-human and half-bird. Schneider says, “This main character in this song doesn’t have wings, and all he’s ever wanted to do is to be able to fly.”
Schneider says these songs come out of his experiences coping with depression and anxiety. He says his music is an escape from all that – especially now that the Singleman Affair isn’t single anymore. It’s a full band.
Friday night at the Hideout, Daniel Schneider and his band mates will celebrate the release of their album, Silhouettes at Dawn.
The Rolling Stones, “Play with Fire”, (B-side to 7-inch of “The Last Time” on Decca / London Records)
The Singleman Affair, “Dragon Flies To Find”, Let’s Kill the Summer (Poptones)
The Singleman Affair, “Asleep on the Ground”, Silhouettes at Dawn (Cardboard Sangria)
The Singleman Affair, “Wings”, Silhouettes at Dawn (Cardboard Sangria)
The Singleman Affair, “Same Sky I See”, Silhouettes at Dawn (Cardboard Sangria)