By Tim W. Jackson
Daniel Crisler—songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist for Exotic Dangers—was cleaning up after the workday. He swept the floor. He made sure all the instruments of his job were clean and in order for the following day. He took off his apron, used a blow dryer to remove most of the hair from his clothes and a lint roller to get the rest. By day, Crisler (pronounced CHRIS-lur) is a barber at Greasy Hands in Florence, Ala.
But he looks the part of a rock-and-roll god from a bygone era: white T-shirt, black jeans, boots, and a 50s-style haircut complete with mutton chops. He sports black horned-rim glasses, and if the weather is cool enough you’ll find him in a black leather jacket. None of that is by accident. In part, it’s who Crisler is. He loves the music and fashion of the past and his music and attire reflect that. But he takes a cue from The Ramones and says that details are important.
Crisler described seeing a set list of The Ramones at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “It was amazing,” Crisler said. “From what they were supposed to say at a certain point, to when they’d take off a jacket, to basically stage directions—it was all there.” Crisler says that he’s more influenced musically by a lot of other acts but calls The Ramones his favorite band because of that attention to detail. “They really studied the science of rock and roll,” he says. Crisler does that, too. Rather than looking at pop contemporaries, though, he mostly looks to further into the past.
“I go back to what I call the rock-and-roll original recipe,” Crisler says. The British bands took that 1950s American rock-and-roll and made it the root of what they were doing. Crisler credits The Beatles with putting guitar bands on the map but Crisler’s band is clearly inspired by mid-60s rock in general. He mentions as influences The Yardbirds, Small Faces, The Byrds, and the early incarnation of the Who/High Numbers. And in the Exotic Dangers’ music, you can certainly hear influences of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and classic 60s garage-type bands such as The Sonics. But you also get a whiff of late 1970s-early ’80s rock and New Wave acts, and that’s no accident either. Crisler says his songwriting is more influenced by the likes of Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, and Nick Lowe.
All that can be heard on the band’s debut full album, being released by hometown label Single Lock Records. Nine Is Fine drops May 24 as a digital-only album. Those previous two sentences sort of sum up the state of the band and present a common story of musicians today trying to catch that big break.
“We’re very grateful for that Single Lock partnership,” Crisler says. “To get financial help on the album and their expertise, to have Ben Tanner engineering your album, all that is great. But otherwise, we’re independent and that’s a real challenge. We’re unknown to most of the world. So to get a physical product, to produce a vinyl record, we have to prove ourselves.”
And thus, the modern Catch-22. The best way to prove yourself as a band is by being road warriors: touring hard and building a fan base city by city. But unless you’re the main act and getting solid guarantees, that proposition is risky at best. And so, Crisler is a barber. His wife, Maggie, plays keys (mainly a sweet Farfisa organ) and contributes percussion. She’s also a freelance graphic designer. Jon Mosley plays drums and works for a local beverage company. Brady Gomillion plays bass and has moved to Nashville where he’s part of the gig economy, playing with other bands and working part-time jobs in between.
“I think we’d all say that we’d rather be playing music full-time,” Crisler says, but he points out the cost and logistics of booking, touring, publicity, and of course the time to do those things and actually hit the road playing music. “None of us are in a position to go all-in.”
With Nine Is Fine, Crisler and his bandmates bring their retro rock to your ears with a 12-song digital album. “We wanted to do this old-school,” Crisler says. “We played live and recorded all the songs in a couple days doing maybe four or five takes of each song. Then I came back in and spent a day overdubbing my vocals. And that’s it. I didn’t want to do anything that we can’t do live so it’s pretty straightforward. No effects. What you hear is what we really sound like.”
As for the lyrical content of that music, Crisler says he mostly writes on a personal level. “I feel like I need some connection to the song to sing it.” Another songwriting influence is the Drive-By Truckers, whose Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley hailed from the same area in Northwest Alabama. “Those guys showed that you don’t have to go to some fairytale land for material. You’ve got so much right in front of you. Same with Jason Isbell (also from Northwest Alabama). A lot of his songs are based on people or events from right around here. And maybe some of the local references are lost on other people but it means something to them, just like the Sheffield Pawn Shop means something to me. I feel better singing songs that are important to me.”
For that reason, Crisler says he writes all the songs himself. “I know a lot of people that write with other people but I just can’t seem to do that,” he says. “I just have to be 100% invested in the song.”
Ultimately, Crisler’s concept for Exotic Dangers is about getting back to basics. “We think we’re worth listening to because it’s what brought people to rock-and-roll in the first place. We try to offer a live performance that you remember. We have an identifiable look. And the music goes back to that original recipe. We hope we make people remember why they like music in the first place.”