The Chain Gang of 1974
THE CHAIN GANG OF 1974
We’re excited to present our first LYKA-exclusive video piece, featuring Kamtin Mohager [Kam-teen Mo-hah-jer ;)] of The Chain Gang of 1974 with an exclusive live piano version of "Ordinary Fools.”
A few weeks ago, we kicked it over drinks and got deep with Kam as we chatted about his first headlining tour, West Coast love, and our mutual passion for pop punk.
Kam was born in Santa Cruz, California. At 3 years old, he and his family relocated to the Big Island of Hawaii, where he spent the majority of his childhood playing on the beach and flirting with half-Japanese girls [shout out Miyoko of 'Miko'!]. His earliest musical memories were spent sitting in front of his radio discovering bands like Oasis and Talking Heads, who have remained some of his biggest musical influences today.
Through the prominent Hawaiian skate, surf and punk rock scene, he began to discover and fall in love with bands like Blink-182, MxPx, and Slick Shoes. His tastes were shaped by what he was able to access through island alternative radio.
“I feel like it set me apart from a lot of people, because I was raised in such a small community and there were so many limitations as to what I could do. My time growing up there was spent discovering my love for music, and the bands I discovered are still some of my favorite bands of all time.”
He moved to Denver, Colorado at 13 years old, where he got heavily into the pop punk scene and eventually started his own band, The Chain Gang of 1974. Musically, his sound exists at the intersection of punk rock energy and classic 80’s pop.
“I realized in high school, while going to shows, that music allowed me to be a part of a community with a bunch of people who understood what I was feeling… those shows allowed me to realize that music truly is a universal language. You can put anyone of any skin color, any race or religion, all in one room and they all sing together... and they feel the same way as the person next to them. What more can you really ask for? That’s true unity.”
Now that we’re all grown up, today’s sense of community within the people who grew up on pop punk music and going to Warped Tour is something over which we can all bond. It’s fun being a little older now and revisiting that youthful energy that was once so impactful. The tastes of the Myspace generation have evolved and our mutual roots have shaped our creative interests today. Although a lot of indie kids our age won’t admit they grew up on pop punk, Kam is proud of his roots.
“I’ve always stuck with it and have been proud of having that as my foundation, because growing up in that scene was unbelievable. There was just so much feeling. Going to shows, you saw everyone you knew, it was an incredible community.”
Although he loved living in Denver, and was able to build a significant fanbase in the CO music scene, his heart always pined for the West Coast. He made the official move to Los Angeles three years ago and can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“Even in Denver, I always dreamt of Southern California… literal dreams. I would drive around in my ‘91 Isuzu Trooper with my surf and punk rock band stickers on the back. I would go up to the local burrito joint, sit in the back of my car and wish I was in Cali by the beach.”
The influence of California was immense on his most recent record, Daydream Forever. The constant struggle of living in LA is that the city is either making you exhilaratingly happy or completely pissed off. But for Kam, those feelings fuel his creative inspiration and drive.
“For me, when it comes to making music, that’s all that really matters. If it doesn’t make you feel anything - that’s my way of determining whether a song is going to make the record or not.”
Daydream Forever is an album that makes you feel young again. During the songwriting process, Kam revisited a lot of his old favorite punk rock records, with the goal of making an honest and emotional album.
“I wanted it to make you feel, and take you back to the times of being a teenager… to sound nostalgic without being nostalgic, essentially. And I think we succeeded.”
The entire album was written within a month in a secluded 4-bedroom house in Malibu, with his co-writer Isom Innis of Foster The People. The majority of Kam’s songwriting is based off personal experiences. His first record Wayward Fire, was fueled by a bad strung out breakup and came from a very dark place. His music and work was suffering due to his personal life, to the point where he was having mental breakdowns on tour and telling audiences to "go fuck themselves."
“I look back on that now and I’m so disappointed in myself. My personal life affected a lot of my work. I was so concentrated on being this dark figure. I felt fucking broken inside, and felt that I needed it to be portrayed in the image of the band. I was ignorant for thinking that and it makes me feel good to admit that now.”
Overcoming that was a huge process for him. Unlike Wayward Fire, Daydream Forever is emotional in a more positive way.
“When I realized what Daydream Forever was going to be, I started clearing my head. I started surfing and getting healthy again, and then it clicked one day. I can’t explain it. There was a 7 to 8-month period where life seemed so clear. Where you wake up at 7a.m., the sun is shining in your face and you’re happy to be alive.”
During that time, Kam developed a dedication to surfing that is now as equally influential to him as music. He came up with the name for the album one morning while he was out surfing in Malibu. He was out in the water with 15 other people, the sun had just risen, and he was staring out toward the waves. No one was talking, it was calm and peaceful - he snapped out of it, and realized that they had all just been daydreaming. That moment captured the feeling and essence of what he wanted the record to be: “Daydream Forever.”
“When writing the record I thought a lot about moments: like the first time you fell in love, the first time your hand touched another girl’s hand, the first time you got high, to the first time you really fucked up… just a lot of first times and a lot of youth. There was a feeling and essence of youth that I really wanted to capture. I’m always hanging on to it, I’m 28 but I feel like I’m 17.”
After 7 years of being a band, they are currently on their first headlining U.S. tour. A Chain Gang live show has the raw energy and emotion of the punk rock shows we all used to love. “It’s raw and it needs to be energetic, no matter what the crowd is doing. If we’re up there and just standing still, it’s not worth it.”
They’re on the road with Blondfire until June and then picking up Empires [shout out to The Academy Is...] for the rest of the tour. Catch them at The Roxy on July 18th. See you there.
Favorite brunch spot in LA?
K: I don’t really like brunch, I’m a ramen guy. Silverlake Ramen is the best. I like Alcove though.
What’s your favorite city and venue to play?
K: I love the Gothic Theater in Denver, CO. It’s one of the best venues.
You have a very strong brand and all of your visuals & design work is super cohesive, how much say do you have in your branding?
K: 100%. I have management and a whole team, but I’m very involved and I always want to keep it that way. I grew up idolizing bands and paying attention to their images, it’s very important. You look at a band like The 1975 and I praise them. Goddamn, they know what they're fucking doing.
What are you listening to lately?
K: The band Pianos Become The Teeth, I’ve been obsessed with them. There’s a band called XO, incredible band from Long Beach. They just put out one of the best shoegaze records I’ve heard in years. I love Cheetahs. Weekend. Their album Jinx, best fucking album. Afghan Whigs, Greg Dulli is one of my idols. I kind of rediscovered my love for 90’s Hum, been jamming them lately… I’m obsessed with the Pumpkins, just obsessed. Love the Crosses record, I think Chino is great, I’m a huge Deftones fan. There’s a hardcore band from Canada called Counterparts, who have an incredible record, it’s so powerful. I just listen to a lot of hardcore, a lot of punk.
What’s your favorite throwback jam?
K: You don’t even want to get me started. [No, you don’t want to get US started.]