Interview: The Chain Gang of 1974

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At noon today, The Governors Ball Music Festival, one of the top musical festivals in the country, will open its gates for a three-day marathon of music. Kamtin Mohager (he prefers to be referred to as Kam), better known for his musical project, The Chain Gang of 1974, will be the first band to perform at the festival’s “Gotham Tent” — a stage that will feature such nationally recognized acts as Sleigh Bells, Grimes, Glitch Mob, and Empire of the Sun.

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To some the name Chain Gang of 1974 might not ring an instant bell, but you know the music. Having been in the scene for half a decade, Chain Gang scored a massive hit when one of the biggest video games of all-time, Grand Theft Auto V, used his song “Sleepwalking” to score the commercials and trailers. The song became “that” song — an infectious and undeniable hit that caught your attention every time the GTA commercials would air.

Speaking with Kam you can see that being a successful musician actually comes second to his desire to be happy with his life. The man is an incredibly talented musician and he’s the perfect choice to kick off any festival, let alone one of the biggest in the country.

Kam took time out of his schedule to talk about success in the music world, the next step for Chain Gang and who’s he looking forward to seeing this weekend at the festival.

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Editorial Note: The Chain Gang of 1974 will perform from 12:15-12:45pm at The Gotham Tent stage.

Pop-Break: Thanks for taking a couple of minutes to speak with me today! I appreciate it.

Kamtin Mohager: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

PB: Of course! Well, first of all, I know that you’ve been around for years but it seems like a lot of people think you’re new to the scene. What should people know about you if they don’t know you?

KM: It’s interesting. I don’t blame the public. The band’s doing the best that it ever has now after seven plus years of making music so it’s amazing. I can’t complain. I think that’s the ultimate goal of being in a band. You want to grow; you want the popularity to grow as time goes on, but I’ve been putting out music in the scene for a long time. It’s always changing but I don’t know, maybe there is older music to investigate other than this new record, but I’m just happy that people still care.

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PB: Well saying that there is older music to investigate, what song is the one song you want to point people in the direction of?

KM: I think popularity-wise from our last record that we put out in 2011, there’s a track, “Hold On,” that seems to be people’s favorite song…but maybe you’ll like something else. Who knows.

PB: You just mentioned your last record dropped back in 2011 and you released a new album in February of this year, what took so long to get a second or, actually, a fourth album out?

KM: It was technically our fourth. I put out two old old EPs and an album that I kind of discontinued after a few weeks. I guess officially from the standpoint of being a signed band this is officially our second record. The album was actually done being recorded, it was done near the end of 2012, but being signed and getting everything done with the label takes time to put out. It definitely did take us a little bit. I’m in the headspace where I don’t really find the need to rush anything. I live my life with the priority of being happy is the number one goal and maybe the band is number two. We put the record out in February. It’s going to be a really short cycle and I’m really proud of the album. It’s the best stuff I ever created but it’s going to be a really really short cycle. We’re going to kind of going to pull the plug on the record after our July leg of our Daydream Forever tour and kind of just chill out for a bit and our goal, I think, as of now, is to start making a new one so we’ll see how that goes.

PB: I’m sure there are a lot of people looking forward to the new music even though this is still new. I know you guys released the “Sleepwalking” video not too long ago. It’s a really cool video and I recommend everybody check it out, but how are the fans responding to that as a video and that as a single?

KM: I think as a single it’s definitely a fan favorite. We’re on tour right now and every time we start that song the crowd sort of erupts into something special and it’s really cool to finally have written one of those songs that has connected to a sort of larger audience. We’re still a very, very unknown band. We’re still extremely small when it comes to that level but I guess I did create something that did have an impact on the public and I definitely owe a lot of that to the launching pad, if you want to call it, of Grand Theft Auto V. But it’s pretty incredible. People really take that song to heart and find a special meaning for themselves with it which is pretty cool because I’m a massive fan of music in general. I have so many bands that I just bow down to and admire and certain bands have written those songs for me so it’s kind of cool for me. I know it’s still just scratching the surface but it’s something beautiful. The video is great; this very talented guy named Tomas Whitmore directed it and he wrote the concept; the second I got to peek at it and saw the visuals I was like ‘Yes this is it, go for it. We’re going to do it.’ People seem to be enjoying it.

PB: I know you said that there are a lot of musicians that have created some of those songs that you really connect with. Who are some of the musicians who you really love?

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KM: I’m a big fan of Oasis. Oasis is just one of those bands that always does it for me. They’ve been a band that I’ve pretty much been obsessed with since I was a little kid. I think they are the first band I became a fan of, my first real musical discovery. But it ranges. I have a pretty diverse taste in music. If you want to go with the classics, I’m a big Smashing Pumpkins fan, Tears for Fears, there are a lot of really cool new bands that I’m into. There’s a band called Weatherbox that I’m pretty obsessed with. Amazing stuff. There’s a band called Hell on Earth Band. I’m really into the band Weekend, not the R&B dude. They put out a really bitchin’ record called Jinx. But yeah, just a lot of stuff.

PB: Looking at the way the music world is progressing, it seems to be moving into your wheelhouse. You’re very eclectic, a little bit alternative, electronic, indie rock, alt-rock. The music scene is going in the electronic dance music with an indierock feel type of direction if that makes sense. Do you notice that and is it helping?

KM: It’s funny you said that. We played in St. Louis last night and we’re in Columbus now. We had a couple of hours of driving after the show and just on the open road and kind of with my own thoughts and I was thinking a lot about that — what it takes to break into the real mainstream world. Going back to my previous statement about us still being unknown, even though we have an amazing platform, we’ve been selling music which is incredible. I’ve never been in a band that really sold songs, but the fact that we’re at this point where we do have a song that’s selling I still don’t really know what it takes to break that true crossover wall, that barrier. There are a lot of bands out there that I won’t mention that I don’t understand why they’re so popular. Good for them. I tip my hat to them. Does that necessarily mean that I understand it? No. So there’s a lot of questions that I ask myself. I’m not a young guy. I mean I’m still young. I’m 28 years old, I’ll be 29 in a few months, but I’ve been doing the whole music thing for quite some time now. I’m very blessed and I’m very lucky to have called this my job for the last seven or eight years. This is what I do and how I make my living and that, to me, is success. Would I love to be playing 2000 cap venues and selling them out? Of course.

I don’t have the answer to the question of what it takes to reach that point. It’s very, very interesting. Especially since we’re starting some of the festival circuit this summer and we could be seeing some bands that just don’t click for me, but there is like 30,000 people watching so I just have to sit back and take it all in as an observer. You know you’re listening but you’re really just kind of observing and taking in all the fine details of things. I’m going to try to figure it out, but I’ve always been someone who wants to do what makes me happy. I’m so appreciative of the fact that there are people out there who react to what I create musically but I’m always kind of doing it for myself and whatever makes me happy. I want to go on stage and be able to play a song that makes me feel happy about it and feel like a fan of the song so I guess to kind of end it, I don’t know if I’ll ever or if I ever want to sell out to reach the masses. But I’m already in the mindset now of creating a new record. My plan is, in September, get out of LA, already have some people in mind to be working with and start the next journey of this band. I already know what I want to call the record, I already know about what it’s going to be, but I haven’t written a single song yet. So we’ll see what happens from the very slight strike of the match.

Photo Credit: Jared Kocka
Photo Credit: Jared Kocka

PB: It’s great to see a musician so music centric.

KM: Cool, thank you.

PB: I know you mentioned obviously the festival circuit. We’re really talking because you’re coming out here for the Governors Ball. Who are you most excited to perform with?

KM: I think we’re going to hang out for the first day. We’re playing an official after party at the Knitting Factory on the 7th. So I don’t think I’ll be able to enjoy the festival any other days. I think we’re the first band playing at the festival. We’re playing at like 12:15 pm so I’ll be able to kind of hang out for the day. I don’t really know who is, well I know 1975 are playing and I think that band is really cool. I’m a big fan of their record. If I stick around, I’ll definitely be catching them. Deafheaven is playing the second day and I really want to see them so we’ll see. Honestly I’m not jaded but when it comes to festivals, I’m just so exhausted that I just kind of want to play and then leave. I don’t even know who is really playing. I know it’s an amazing lineup but I’m kind of going to be playing it by ear and seeing how it goes!

PB: Awesome well we’ll get the word out and look forward to seeing you there!

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Lisa Pikaard is a senior writer of Pop-Break who can be read weekly as part of Pop-Break’s Singles Party. She can also frequently be found reviewing and interviewing hard rock bands but her photo is secretly (or not so secretly now) on the Backstreet Boy’s Never Gone album booklet. Country, pop, rock, the genre doesn’t matter; she loves it all. Lisa also likes to dabble in book reviews and somehow convinced Monmouth University to award her a Master’s in English for writing a thesis called ‘Harry Potter and the Rhetoric of Terrorism.’ While her dream is to interview musicians on a daily basis, she is currently a group sales manager with the Lakewood BlueClaws, the single A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, not a bad alternative. Music, football and literature are her passions. Follow her on Twitter: @nygiantsnjgrl

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