Record of the Week: Friendship’s ‘Love the Stranger’

Listen to the audio of the Friendship feature

“There is this Bible line that I always thought was insane,” Dan Wriggins tells me as we drive in his beat-up Chevy van. We’re going to pick up his dog from the south side of Nashville before his band Friendship’s gig at DRKMTTR. “It’s something like ‘Don’t let the soul of your dove be devoured by wild beasts.’ And I’ve thought like, ‘Yeah, that’s true. You shouldn’t do that.’”

Wriggins was talking about wanting to protect friends he knows aren’t hard and strong enough to withstand the predatory hawks of the music industry. “They are too open, and people are going to screw them and f*** them over. That happens,” he says while merging onto I-65.

These are unusual words for a poet, which is Wriggins’ primary trade. Friendship’s tour ends in Chicago, and then he’ll drive to Iowa City where he teaches at the famed Iowa Writers Workshop, whose faculty has boasted the likes of Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever and Kurt Vonnegut. That’s also why Wriggins’ dog, Roy, was on tour with them—because they both needed to end up in Iowa.

Despite Wriggins’ literary bent, he could easily be confused for a construction worker. In the driver’s seat, he’s wearing a gray, cut-off Iowa t-shirt, goatee, and a dirty, worn-in baseball cap. It’s his style to be plainspoken, both as poet and singer. Throughout Love the Stranger, Friendship’s new album, he delivers lines of poetry with almost no affect whatsoever. And though he sings about urging his friends to guard themselves against the world and, in the song “Hank,” says that his approach to life is to strong arm it, he also spends much of the album describing how stupid that is: “As if I have any f****** clue.” He claps back at his own hardheaded advice. The song “Chomp Chomp” is largely about questioning this attitude and allowing his friends to be their soft selves.

Wriggins is not the kind of poet who claims to have all the answers. There is a practicality to his approach, as evidence in the song “Ugly Little Victory,” where he admits, “I need solitude/I also need you/I sucks when it ends/It sucks when it has no end/What an irritating mystery.”

He’s in the workshop, the writers’ workshop, with a toolbelt of words, scratching his head, looking at the irritating mysteries of life and trying to patch them up as best he can. A day laborer in the workshop of song.

Now let’s get in the van with Dan Wriggins. This is the conversation we had in his van on the way to South Nashville to pick up his dog, Roy.

On the Record: A Q&A with Friendship’s Dan Wriggins

Justin Barney: Can you describe where we are and what we’re doing right now?

Dan Wriggins: Well, we’re trying to hustle on down the highway that goes up and down Nashville, because we got to pick up my dog from the house for staying at. I haven’t seen him since we got here. I think we’re going to take him to the venue. So Roy is going to jam.

JB: When did you get the dog?

DW: Pretty much right after moving to Philly. Me and Mike were both too scared to have a dog ourselves, so we co-adopted this pit bull mix and named him Roy. And at the time, Mike was working full-time and I was not. So I kind of trained him and he kind of became my dog. And then when we moved out, Mike got another dog, Keeva. So eight years ago.

JB: How many times you’ve been to Nashville?

DW: This is number three. I was just remembering how the very first time, we got here a day early because we had gotten kicked out of the house we were staying in in Bowling Green on tour. I’ll tell you, there was no reason, man. We were friendly. We were nice. I think we smoked up the people that lived in the house. In fact, I also remember we cleaned their house. Their house had tons of dog hair everywhere and we just were like, “This is too much.” So we vacuumed the whole house and then we went out to coffee. Then our friend who lived there texted. She said, “My roommate doesn’t want you to come back tonight.” And we were like, “Oh, okay.” So we had to scram and get to Nashville. And we found a motel, I guess. But, uh, yeah, we had two days here. Three days maybe, and we were supposed to have one. 

JB: Well, let’s talk about music.  What’s the concept for Love the Stranger?

DW: The thing that is nice for a dork such as myself about that title is that you don’t even need the punctuation for that to be read two ways, right? It can be a command. And, it can be a if “Love” is a name.

JB: What is “Chomp Chomp” about?

DW: I had some blurb about that in the press release, and I didn’t really explain it very well. And no one really read it the way I want it to be.

JB: There are details in there, but I’m not sure how they come together.

DW: Yeah. There’s some kind of predator/prey thing. I mean, really, the song is about various friends I have who I get all worried that they’re not strong and hard enough for the world. Like, they are too open. And people are going to screw them and f*** them over. That happens. So it’s about that, my own feelings towards my friends who are that way. But then sort of trying to reflect on how ridiculous it is for me to try to protect them. I don’t have years and years of experience. As if as if I have any f****** clue. Like, you know, as if they haven’t already thought about this. I know why I said it, but I also know how it doesn’t come off very well and it doesn’t really help. And, you know, people are going to be who they’re going to be.

There’s some Bible line that I always thought was insane. I can’t remember where it comes from or what where the context is, but it’s like, “Don’t let the soul of your dove be devoured by wild beasts.” And I have I feel like I’ve thought like, “Yeah, that’s true. You shouldn’t do that.”

JB: It’s such a visual.

DW: And it’s the soul of the dove. It’s not the dove that’s getting eaten. That’s what’s so nuts about that line. It’s not, “Don’t let your dove.” It’s, “Don’t let the soul of your dove”

So that’s where the chomping comes in.

And that’s where I put the hawk. A hawk that shows up in the song twice. A red tailed hawk that’s going to come down and eat the vulnerable prey on the ground.

JB: I think one of the things that really makes that song is the background vocals.

DW: We went f******* nuts on that little part, our attempt at being a little psych. There’s a bridge. Mike had this idea to sort of rip off a passage from a Shuggie Otis track. “Strawberry Letter 23“, I believe. They put the whole track through a phaser. So normally it’s just a really overwhelming effect. And Mike was like, “Let’s do it. Cover the whole thing in phase. Destroy what it is.” And it turned out, I mean, I hope people find it sufficiently funky.

JB: And I love the melodica. Is it a melodica?

DW: It is. Yeah, it’s a melodica, man. Mike first did a demo of that song and he had a melodica do that melody. I thought it was amazing. And we always thought of it as like, “Oh, that’s just Mike doing a stand in for what will eventually be a violin or a piano.” We tried several things. It just didn’t sound as good as the melodica. So we just did it with the melodica.

JB: The one question that I do ask everybody is what’s the last song you couldn’t stop listening to? Or sometimes there’s like a song stuck in your head?

DW: Oh, dang, dude.

John, what’s your favorite from that Dead Moon album? Because that. That was getting me going.

We listened in the van from Philly yesterday and John put on a record called Strange Pray Tell. And we really liked the song “Going South.”

JB: What do you know about this band?

DW: Dead Moon are a three piece. All of their songs through the years have the same sort of esthetic connector of absolute fuzz.

I love when a band is subsumed into a subculture and you see the patch, the dead moon patch, the tattoo, and you say, “What could this sound like? They’re wearing a Metallica patch and they’ve got dead moon. What does it sound like?” And then you listen. It’s just blues, but it’s great.

DW: Okay. Driven by this mailbox three times. It’s like someone sculpted a squid on the end of this mailbox. And it’s cool as hell. But this landlocked town? So I’m not totally sure what they are going for.