Love At First Listen

Dark Mean makes music to warm your heart.

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Photographer, Brendan Smyth.

[audio:|titles=Dark Mean - Happy Banjo]

We’ve all know the age old question: “How do you know when you’ve found ‘the one’?” And we’ve all heard the answer even more: “You just know.” After years of playing in other bands and, naturally, a few lineup changes along the way, Mark Dean, Billy Holmes and Sandy Johnston eventually started playing music together and found ‘the one’ in Dark Mean. And music fans all over the world caught on quick. The trio generated a big online buzz even before the release of their self-titled debut full-length this past summer. They’ve become good friends while making some great music, but don’t let the name fool you; Dark Mean‘s folk-infused indie-pop is sure to put a smile on your face.

Amanada Cuda: It took four years to finish up your full-length. Can you tell us about that?
Sandy Johnston: The process started back in the fall of 2006. We met Mike Keire who we found through a friend of ours, Matt Paxton, who’s also a musician in Hamilton.

We found out that he was just starting a studio and he’d probably be willing to work with us. Then he ended up just really taking us under his wing. After we started recording a couple of songs, we were so happy with it and he was so happy with everything, that he offered for us to take as much time as we needed to record the album. So we were basically writing the music in the studio. It took so long because Mark had a couple of years where he was in law school in England and Mike switched studios twice throughout that time. The other part of the reason is we’re all kind of perfectionists. And the rule that you learn when you go in the studio is that you’re supposed to have everything prepared before you go there. But with us, we had the dream situation because we had all the time we needed. We just kind of went in there with our basic ideas and developed the songs in the studio with Mike guiding us along the whole time.

AC: The band has been blogged about a lot over the years: what were some of the coolest or most surprising things that people have said about you guys?
SJ: Well, there’s one that I always go back to and remember.

There was a guy whose father had a terminal form of cancer and he wrote a blog post about some of the bands that he’d been listening to that had really inspired him and helped him get through this really difficult time in his life; one of the bands he mentioned was us. This was right after we put out our first EP. We were brand new and we couldn’t even believe this guy had heard our music, let alone been inspired by it. I know Mark and I both printed out that e-mail and we go back to it every once in a while just to kind of re-inspire ourselves and remember how cool it is to make music and to be able to impact people that we don’t even know.

AC: And I have to ask, because neither your music nor your personalities are very “dark” or “mean”…where did the band name come from?
SJ: When we started the band we were just jamming ideas without any vocals, so it was basically all instrumental and Mark was on the drums to start with. And then we got him a little bit on the keyboards because he’s got an incredible sense of melody and that really added a lot to the band. And then Billy and I were talking about how Mark was this secret hidden gem.

We knew he’d done some vocals in the past and we knew he could sing well. And we were searching for a band name this whole time and Mark’s nickname was always ‘Dark Mean’. Like, he’s Mark Dean, right? So, we just thought, “Why don’t we just call the band Dark Mean?” It’s catchy. I know it doesn’t really reflect what we’re about, those two words themselves, but we kind of thought it was a perfect thing. After we convinced him to get into vocals he turned out to be a great singer. So it’s just his nickname but also an idea that we all got behind.

AC: What has been the best experience you guys have had together as a band so far?
SJ: When we were playing a show in Victoriaville that was the last show of a six city tour. They’ve got this one bar called Le Vieux St-Pierre. The owner of the bar is this really passionate guy who clearly makes a big deal out of getting bands there every Saturday night and the town all comes out to listen. They don’t come out to socialize and do regular bar thing. They go there to really hear the bands.

So, we were there in this little town and when we pulled up there was this old man smoking a cigarette and we thought, “Oh man, what have we got ourselves into?” But by the time the show came around, the bar was packed and when we played everyone was just sitting there listening and really cheering loud after every song. It was just so cool to play a show like that in a little town. And then the bar owner was just so hilarious. Like, bringing shots on stage and jamming with the band with a pan flute.