Six Questions for ... the Spider Bags

Look at all those Chuck Taylor's!

If you watched "The Wire" the band name Spider Bags might mean something to you. If you didn't watch that show, well, I'm sure you're pretty sick of at least one of your friends telling you, "Man, you gotta watch 'The Wire!' You have to get the DVDs! It's seriously the best show ever, I can't believe you've never seen it!" Anyway, if you didn't watch the show, the name Spider Bags might not mean much to you, but one listen to the North Carolina band's album "A Celebration of Hunger" would probably make you think it's some sort of drug reference.

Which it is. Spider Bags aren't the first or 500th band to play rock-and-roll songs about hard living, but they're one of the best that's doing it today. That's because when Dan McGee delivers lines like "So leave the bottle where you found it and let me lay here on the ground/Waking up drunk makes me happy, lately you just bring me down" there's a weariness to his voice that says, this dude knows that of which he sings. It certainly helps that the band's country-influenced rock-and-roll is delivered in the same straightforward manner. (Listen below.) I talked to McGee about his lyrical inspiration and the tough times small touring bands are facing these days. The Spider Bags play in D.C. at the Velvet Lounge on Monday, Oct. 13. Christopher Columbus would have wanted you to go.

Let's talk about your lyrics for a second. If someone were to listen to "Celebration of Hunger" all the way through they might say, "Here's someone who needs a 12-step program. Maybe a couple of them."
(Laughs.) When I write a song I don't ever sit down and say, this is what I'm going to write this song about. Usually I'm playing the guitar and all of a sudden there are some lyrics. Or maybe it comes from some dark place and you need to express that. Everything that I talk about on the record is true, in a way. I don't know if you want me to talk about personal drug habits. (Laughs.) I've always made music. I always wrote songs and would record them in my house. And I never really thought that I would put them out or anybody would hear them. Then I started playing with this band called the DC Snipers, and we were writing real science-fiction kind of stuff. And I didn't really think about the lyrics. And we passed out CDs we made and people would start to say, "Hey, you're singing about some pretty dark stuff here."

Do you play the records for your family ever?
Yeah, that was a little weird. So, no, I don't show it to my family. I was not, like, "Hey Mom, listen to 'Bad Complexion.'" (A song that contains the line, "So thank the Lord for heroin.") It's always weird when I meet new people, or someone that I do work with. You're always kind of worried. It's a weird thing. I try not to think about that, how people are going to react to it. Just write the songs and see what happens. I was working this construction job recently and I was talking to a guy and the band came up and I told him we were called the Spider Bags. So the next day he comes up to me and is like, "So, Spider Bags, eh?" I guess he Googled it or something.

"Waking Up Drunk" is a relatively mild one. A lot of people can relate to that. So what's your favorite drink?
When we were recording that record I was drinking a lot of Wild Turkey. That was it. Wild Turkey 101. I got a girlfriend now and she doesn't really let me drink Wild Turkey anymore.

I have a feeling you're not the first person to say, "I got a girlfriend now and she doesn't really let me drink Wild Turkey anymore." Do you ever feel like you're falling into a cliche?
I wrote this song about Richard Speck once. This guy was writing reviews in the Village Voice and he said, "Man, if I hear one more punk rock song about serial killers I'm going to kill myself." You could ask the same question to a screenwriter. There are stories that people identify with. I try to give a different perspective to it. Not all of my songs are about drugs and drinking. It's definitely a theme. I'm playing rock-and-roll, too. There are three chords. All the songs are based on structures that have been around for a long time. And there are themes that have been around for a long time. It's not necessarily that the songs are about drugs, but maybe about someone who's looking for something. If I was writing a song like that Buckcherry song that was a hit -- "Co-caine!" I'd be very disappointed with myself. I'm not trying to sell any kind of image.

You guys aren't playing 1,500-2,000 person venues every night. This is obviously a tough economic climate. Is it tough touring these days?
Yeah, it is man. We're trying to figure out ways to do that. I just bought an '83 Chevy Suburban diesel truck that I was hoping to get converted to vegetable oil before this trip but I didn't have enough time to get it all together. Hopefully when the next record comes out, in spring, we'll be able to do the whole country. That's why we haven't gone out West in almost a year. It's just too hard, man. There's just too much empty space between Chicago and Seattle.

Do you feel like it's a situation where the rich get richer? Like, the bands that can afford to tour can go out and do what they usually do but smaller bands have to stay within their own locale.
Yeah, without a doubt. It's really difficult to be a small band and be on the road. You really have to want to play music all the time. I feel kind of like I ended up a jazz musician. (Laughs.) I'm supposed to be in a rock-and-roll band, playing around the country and making money and I feel like I'm a jazz musician in the '50s. You just do it because you like rock-and-roll and it means something to you. But the good thing is, if you've been doing it for a little while there is definitely a network out there of people that like rock-and-roll. There is a safety net there. You do kind of see the same people in every town that you go to. You can do it. If you really want to. If you, you know, aren't afraid of not paying your phone bill sometimes. But it's one of those things where people who really like the music take care of you more than they did in the past because they appreciate the fact that you're spending all this money to get to their town. Last time we went out with the Golden Boys it was crazy. We had clean places to stay and food in every town we went to, which is totally different than what I'm used to, which is sleeping on the floor somewhere, or in the back of the truck.

By David Malitz |  October 10, 2008; 12:57 PM ET Interviews
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