Looking for the good with Lake Saint Daniel
Mia Hughes speaks to Future Teen’s Daniel Radin about his debut solo record, Good Things
Mia Hughes speaks to Future Teen’s Daniel Radin about his debut solo record, Good Things
by Mia Hughes
photo: Danny Hoshino
Daniel Radin had gotten used to being busy. As co-frontperson of Future Teens (the buzzy Boston emo band that describe themselves as ‘bummer pop’) the 31-year-old had spent a sizeable chunk of the last few years on tour – and had a calendar that promised more of the same ahead. So when he found himself beginning to write a series of quiet, gentle songs that sounded nothing at all like anything he’d written before, he didn’t think anything would become of them. Then, of course, came the extinction event for everyone’s 2020 plans.
“I thought it was gonna be two weeks,” he laughs, “so I was like ‘Well, I have two weeks off, I better start working on this other stuff while I have the time off’. Obviously it’s turned out to be much longer. But I had all this extra time on my hands and started writing more songs that felt like they fit in with the other ones I’d written.
“The pandemic has made me feel very nostalgic, for a quote-unquote simpler time. Not that it was simpler in many ways, but when you’re a kid, you don’t really think about things like that. I tried to channel those feelings into [the songs].”
What he wound up with was Good Things, his debut solo release under the name Lake Saint Daniel. The project’s name is a play on Vermont’s Lake Saint Catherine, which he had come across on a trip with his girlfriend. “It was such a nice respite from the heat, and it was so quiet and peaceful. I knew I liked the sound of it, and it was a special memory, so I just tried to capture it in some way.” Meanwhile, the album’s title track – the first song that Radin wrote for the record – was born from another vacation memory, in which he literally dreamed the song up while sleeping in an overheated Airstream trailer. The album has the kind of shimmery haze that seems to suit these reference points, like the memory of a perfect summer you had when you were a kid.
Radin crafted the album meticulously, working mostly alone in his basement home studio. Much as the fun, rowdy pop of Future Teens is indicative of the communal and collaborative spirit with which the band writes, the thoughtful and measured introspection of Lake Saint Daniel suggests that element of isolation. While writing, he focused not on the idea of a live show as he was accustomed to with Future Teens, but on accurately capturing his frame of mind directly onto the record, defining the album as a “mood piece”.
Radin also created with the philosophy that his first output as Lake Saint Daniel should be a fully-formed debut album, in its truest sense. “There’s something really exciting about the first thing out from a new artist being this statement piece,” he explains, going on to use the title of this very blog to illustrate his point: “If you’d never released the full-length record and only put out singles, a song that sounds like track seven might never exist. There might never be that experimental song that’s kinda weird or doesn’t quite fit the rest of the record or would never be a single. And those sometimes are my favourite songs. So I knew that I wanted that, things that I felt like I could play around with a little more and develop. It was freeing.”
While working alone allowed Radin to go all in on realising these intentions, it also forced him to take ownership of the album’s vulnerable, confessional content in a way he never had before. “In any band I’ve ever started, since I was a kid, I’ve never wanted to be the centre of attention at all,” he says. “So often I would think, I can’t be the only singer, there has to be two singers or three singers or whatever. But I guess something about how personal this record is for me felt like it’s okay if it’s just me singing, because it really is about my childhood and growing up and my family and anxieties and whatever else. ‘Confessional’ is a good word. It makes me nervous, for sure.”
Those themes all come wrapped up in the two big ideas that dominate the album: the past (mourning it), and the future (fearing it). Mostly, these ideas seem to be spurred by the feeling that life is passing by too quickly, as if Radin is just searching in all directions for something that will make it all meaningful. On ‘Well Lived’, for example, he wonders, “What’s in a life well lived?” while questioning if the one he’s lived thus far adds up to anything of value. Imagining the end of his life, he concludes the song with the line, “You probably spent your whole life wondering: when will the good part come?’” The closing track, ‘Goodbye’, chews on a similar worry, where he notes, “You stay older than you wish you were”.
On what feeds those thoughts on the transience of life, he explains, “I feel like there’s certain moments throughout life where all of a sudden it feels like time fast forwards. Where it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, that part of my life is over, and I’m not gonna have that again.’ There’s this nostalgia for recognising that that part of your life is over, even if they weren’t golden years.” In the other direction, he adds, the onset of the pandemic made the idea of the future feel much more foreboding for him: “When you’re so focused on being busy and productive, it’s easy to not really think about the future. But then when all your plans are completely shot, you start to think about the future in a more realistic or philosophical way. That’s definitely something I’ve been reckoning with.”
‘Faking Asleep’ sees the past and the future collide most directly, with Radin’s memories of his own childhood pushing him to explore his feelings towards one day having a child of his own. “Suddenly I find / I am now the same age as my mother / When she had my sister”, he sings; then at the end, again demonstrating his knack for a killer closing line, he asks: “Is it enough? / Where I am now / If I make someone I’m proud of?” “I have a new appreciation for how good my parents are, and were,” says Radin. “Especially having three young kids – I can only imagine how difficult it is to raise one child, much less three. So I’m just trying to unpack, at the end of the song, the questions I’ve been asking myself – once you have a child, how do you raise them well? Or impart your values onto them in a way that’s not domineering or too forceful?
“I think those are questions that are answered as you go. I think everyone’s just kinda making it up as they go along, more or less. But it’s still something I’ve been asking myself.”
All of this subject matter is significantly more existential than the subjects he’s used to probing with Future Teens, which tend to focus on the present-moment angst of relationship troubles and crushes. Radin explains, “With Future Teens, we were basically trying to capture the hilarious moments that are also the saddest moments when it comes to love. And that eventually got to the point where, with our last record [2018’s Breakup Season], I was looking for these moments in my life. I felt like I was just mining my pain for songs, rather than processing it.” It was while writing the Breakup Season song ‘Passed Tense’ that Radin began to question that mindset, with the line: “How can I convince the thought away / That if something good comes easy / It must be too good to stay?”
“I was so focused on things going wrong that when good things happened to me, I couldn’t recognise them,” he says. That this first record as Lake Saint Daniel was ultimately titled Good Things is reflective of how deliberately he combated that state of mind. “With this record, I was like, maybe I don’t have to write about a painful romantic experience; maybe I can focus on something else in my life that’s made me think or has been on my mind. I’ve always felt like you have to really feel that you’re suffering and in pain to write a song. That can produce some really beautiful art, but for my own personal wellbeing and mental health, focusing on that became a bad habit. Writing this record helped me break out of that mindset.”
With so much deep rumination poured into Good Things, Radin reflects on whether he feels more at peace now, having processed it all via song. And being honest, he isn’t sure yet. “It definitely felt really good recording and writing the songs. And I hope it’s helped me process some things,” he says. “[But] I think I’m the kind of person that needs more time, maybe, than the average person, to reflect on how I’m doing.
“For example, when I was 21 years old, if you asked me at the time, ‘How are things?’, I would be like, ‘Things are great! I know what I’m doing and I have a goal and I know where I’ll be in five years.’ But then I look back on myself as a 21-year-old and I didn’t know anything, and I was really sad, and really anxious.”
He sums it up with a philosophy that perhaps lies at the heart of Good Things: “The present is very blurry, but you look back on the past and it comes into focus.”