"It's like a coming-of-age crisis," says Daniel Shultz about Out Of The Blue, the messy and melodic debut album from his band, Dan Luke and The Raid. "It's about being in that space in your 20s where you're trying to get your shit together and figure things out in life. You're dealing with your problems" -- the singer, songwriter and guitarist pauses -- "even as you're going out and partying and getting into trouble all the time."
Shultz and his Dan Luke and The Raid band mates -- Dylan T. Graves (guitar, synthesizer, vocals), J. Anthony Joiner (bass, piano, vocals) and Kendrick Don-Reid Brent (drums, percussion, vocals) -- know a thing or two about the last part of that equation, as evidenced by the songs and subject matter on Out Of The Blue. Throughout the album's 10 tracks, people are passed out on curbs under neon signs ("Black Cat Heavy Metal"), breaking hearts over rolled-up dollar bills ("Exoskeleton"), leaving baggies lying in passenger seats ("Money Mouth") and faking smiles and feeling ashamed ("Golden Age"). Legs are bleeding, faces are numb and Shultz declares his band to be the "diamond kings of smut." All the while, the music throbs and pulses and twitches and buzzes with the energy and enthusiasm and inexperience of youth, bursting with harsh, distorted guitar chords, blown-out synths squiggles and hopped-up rhythms -- as well as, on occasion, moments of stunning and sincere melodic beauty.
"We don't want our music to have a timestamp," the 21-year-old Shultz says about the melting pot of sounds and styles heard on Out Of The Blue. As for the subject matter? "That's basically the last few years of life," he says. "Or at least my life."
Clearly, it's been a tumultuous period for Shultz. And let it be noted that prior to that time, he didn't have the most typical of life experiences either. Musically speaking, his family's artistic inclinations stretch back at least a century -- "my great-grandfather played piano for silent theaters and stuff when he was, like, 12 years old," he says -- although the most widely-disseminated fact about Shultz's upbringing in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is that two of his older brothers, Matt and Brad, are co-founders of successful modern rockers Cage the Elephant.
Even there, Shultz, who is more than a decade younger than his two siblings, didn't experience their success in the usual way. "I didn't even realize what was happening with them at first because I was just a little kid," he says. "Matt is 12 years older than me and Brad is 14. So they were already off doing their thing when I was just learning about life." He laughs. "You know, like, figuring out how to do math and stuff."
If anything, Shultz continues, "I think the way Matt and Brad's success affected me was that they left the house, and then our other brother, Jeremy, grew up and went away, too. I'm the youngest of four, and all of a sudden I was the only kid. So I had all this time on my own out in the country to be with my own thoughts and my own creativity. So of course I'm influenced by my family, but when it came down to it I formed the creative part of myself mostly on my own, just sitting with a guitar in my hands for hours."
Eventually, Shultz, who began writing songs "around the age of 12 or 13," also forged his own path in music. One of his early bands, Maëlle (the name, he explains, came to him after waking up from a dream), also featured Dan Luke and The Raid drummer Kendrick Brent. As teenagers, they began kicking up dust around Bowling Green. "We were hitting the underground house show thing hard," Shultz says. "It would get pretty wild and hectic."
Just how wild and hectic?
"We'd have parties in a basement with 300 kids crammed in," Shultz says. He recalls one particularly rowdy show. "There was vomit and dogshit on the floor, and, like, a human-sized hole in the wall," he says. "And I think that hole had happened at one of our earlier gigs. That night we had to stop in the middle of our set and get everybody to calm down, because the floor was literally bouncing up and down and we were afraid it was going to cave in."
Which turned out to be a valid fear. "The house got condemned two days later," he notes.
Similar to that doomed house, Maëlle wasn't long for this world. "That band ended, and Kendrick and I decided to start a new thing and call it Dan Luke and The Raid," says Shultz, whose middle name is Lucas. "Then Dylan and Anthony came in and that was it."
Thought the four members all hail from the same scene and town, they bring diverse influences to Dan Luke and The Raid's sound. Shultz's roots are primarily in foundational rock and punk -- "things like the Velvet Underground and Jefferson Airplane and the Mamas and the Papas," he says, "and then Television and Talking Heads and the Germs and the Dead Boys, all the way up to the Strokes." Brent, meanwhile, "draws from a lot of old-school hip-hop and jazz," Shultz continues, "while Anthony is into psych like Ty Segall. And obviously, we also draw a lot of influence from the Beatles."
He laughs. "Well, I say 'obviously' from my point of view, but we'll see how other people feel about that."
The fact is, all of these influences and more are readily apparent in Out Of The Blue, from the slashing riffs and metronomic rhythms of opener "Fool," which Shultz wrote when he was much younger and calls "very Strokes-y," to the crooned vocals and dew-drop guitars of "Rita Repulsa," which recalls the Velvet Underground at their gentlest -- if only Lou Reed had sung lyrics about a Power Rangers character "so fucked up on Special K and molly."
Explains Shultz about that one, "I made up a story that Rita Repulsa [the villainess in the Power Rangers TV series] was friends with all the Power Rangers in high school, but she got addicted to drugs and couldn't get her shit together so she became bitter towards them and became their enemy. It was just a funny little poem, but then it ended up being kind of an emotional song that I and others I know related to in some way, because we've all had friends that we've lost through that kind of life."
Other songs address Shultz's own experiences in more direct terms, both lyrically and musically. "Exoskeleton" is a blur of drugs and drinking and dancing, with the front man fretting, "My heart is racing/ I'm about to pop." The frenzied emotion is amplified by the music's insistent beat and angular, darting guitars. "The sound is like anxiety," Shultz says. "We were trying to reflect what the song is about, which is being in that party zone and being out of your mind, where all you can do is move."
"Black Cat Heavy Metal," meanwhile, chronicles another night out on the town, only this time the vibe is anthemic and swaggering, replete with bold riffs, gang-like backing vocals and a massive chorus. "That one is just energy," Shultz says. "I'd been listening to a lot of Brian Jonestown Massacre when I wrote that song, and the result was just this really big, aggressive sound."
But as much as the songs on Out Of The Blue chronicle good, if somewhat illicit, times, they're also just as much about the comedown afterward. "You won't ever see me when the sun is out / All I ever do is pace around my house," goes the refrain in "Farrah Mantra," and the sound is similarly tense and claustrophobic, fueled by harsh electronic drums and distorted, piercing synths. "That one is about depression and the after-effects of living a certain kind of lifestyle," Shultz says. "And the cool thing about it musically is that we actually recorded it with all of us in the same room. Kendrick was playing the electronic drum kit, I was on synth, Dylan was playing guitar and Anthony was playing bass. We wanted that live feel, even while there were all these electronic elements. It was definitely a fun one to do."
The almost mockingly upbeat "Maybe It's the Drugs," meanwhile, takes a more sardonic stance toward the album's subject matter. "That's sort of me laughing at all of it," Shultz says. "Like, I've got all these problems I'm dealing with and it's just, 'Oh, maybe it's the drugs...' "
He says there was a similar sentiment behind the doomy, psychedelia-laced "Golden Age." "That's another one where the sound is kind of sarcastic," Shultz says. "Because the idea of a golden age is sort of a sarcastic idea -- the 'golden years of your youth.' Like, really? You're gonna have some struggles in your youth, too."
When it came time to track Out Of The Blue, the band headed to Battle Tapes Recording in Nashville, Tennessee, working throughout the fall of 2018 with studio owner Jeremy Ferguson engineering and Brad Shultz producing. "It was a good, honest relationship in the studio," Shultz says about having his brother behind the boards. "We love each other, so we can say, 'Dude, I don't fucking like that!' and there's no tension afterwards." Since wrapping the sessions, Dan Luke & The Raid have been bringing their music to the masses -- and needless to say, their experiences on the road have been as colorful and varied as their sound.
"I think there's one moment that kind of encapsulates it," Shultz says about touring. "We were playing up north, and the venue there had a setup with a company that would fly bands over Niagara Falls in helicopters. So we did that, and it was awesome, and then we played the show, and it was awesome. Then that night we slept on the pavement in the parking lot of the venue and got robbed by a homeless guy."
Among the loot the thief made off with was several band members' cellphones. "So we ended up calling one of the phones he stole," Shultz continues. "And the guy actually picked up. He was like, 'Oh, yeah, I know the guy that stole this phone, I bought it off him. I'll give it back to you for 20 bucks.' He was trying to pretend it wasn't him that had taken it in the first place."
So how did it all end?
"We just bought the phone from him," Shultz says. "We weren't trying to get in a fight with a dude like that." He laughs. "But that's the highs and lows of touring, I guess."
But those highs and lows -- which, in ordinary situations, friends and bandmates can get together and laugh about after the fact -- took a far more serious and tragic turn recently. This past March, Dan Luke and The Raid traveled to Austin for their debut appearance at the annual South by Southwest Festival, an experience that, by all accounts, was among the highlights of their young career. "There was something special about those five shows we played," Schultz says. "It was just the excitement of being there and living out the pursuit of our dreams."
Only a few weeks after that celebratory moment, the band members were back in Bowling Green when Graves was involved in a work-related accident at his day job that, horrifically, took his life. Shultz recalls a phone call from band mates Joiner and Brent, informing him of what had happened. "I was in total shock, disbelief," he says."I went to Kendrick's house and we just held each other and cried."
The question of how to continue on after the sudden loss of a close friend, especially at such a young age, is not an easy one to answer. Today Shultz is perhaps no closer to figuring it out than he was at the time immediately following Graves' death. But determining how Dan Luke and The Raid would carry on was, at least relatively speaking, a bit easier to resolve. "I remember Kendrick looking at me that day at his house and saying, 'Dylan would be fucking pissed if we didn't keep going,'" Shultz says. "And I agreed with him. So the question wasn't 'Are we going to continue?' It was 'How do we continue?' "
A little more than two weeks later the three band members took the first tentative steps in that direction, playing a small and emotionally-charged show in their hometown as a tribute to Graves. "The hardest show we've ever played, and probably ever will," Shultz says. And while he laments the fact that "more people won't get to experience Dylan's laughter and his love and his kindness," Shultz also says that, at the very least, he's "happy that we recorded something with Dylan, so that we and everyone who listens to our music will have something of his forever." If anything, he continues, "Doing this band now is a constant reminder of Dylan and a way to continue to honor him. And that reminder is sometimes painful, but it's also a reminder of the reason we do this at all, which is our love for each other and for the music."
And so with the weight and experience of events that have been at turns joyful and sad, poignant and puerile, triumphant and tragic, Dan Luke and The Raid continue to carve out their future, one musical moment at a time. "What we want to do is create music, and create music in a way where people feel something," Shultz says. "And when we see that happening it's an amazing thing."
To that end, Shultz reports that even as the band is unleashing Out Of The Blue on the world, they're already deep into the creative process for the follow-up effort. "It's not anything we planned to do, it's just part of our lives," he says.
As for the direction they're headed in? "It's definitely different subject matter," he continues. "Less introspective, and more looking out at the world and seeing what's going on there."
"So future music is already happening," Shultz says. "But in the meantime, we want to be on the road and playing for people as much as we possibly can. In general, the plan is to hit it hard and just go, go, go, go, go."