Interview with Connoisseur guitarist Daniel Hague | By Hutch
When discussing Oakland, California’s Connoisseur, focusing on their love for weed is an obvious angle. One can be resolute in refraining from the token entry point, but it is inevitable. Sometimes, immediately. Guitarist Daniel Hague discusses the gestation of their new album, Over the Edge – as well as the pun behind it – released April 7 on pink or black vinyl via Tankcrimes.
Hague—comparing it to their prior release, 2015’s Stoner Justice—states, “To me, it’s a little bit more of a hardcore record. There is some extreme slow and fast, but there’s less of it than what was on Stoner Justice. This has more in between [tempos], a punk hardcore feel—kind of intentional. We were exploring something we haven’t done, but it has fingerprints of what we’ve done. So, it isn’t that far out of left field from what we’ve done.” For fans of Connoisseur, Over the Edge is a step forward. The change is apparent. The music amps up the listener with time changes and rough riffs that incite.
“I have had a busy couple years since Stoner Justice,” Hague continues. This included a recent two-month tour during Over the Edge’s writing. Getting home, Hague immediately had a baby girl, who is now 15 months old. He admits being a stay-at-home dad impacted his songwriting. “I fit it in where I could, and often, it was a little bit rushed,” he says. “Before, I may have had all day to noodle around. Now, I may have only one hour to bang away while the baby is sleeping. So, the songs feel that urgency, as I had to get to the point quick.”
After this exchange, familiar flicks of frustration transpire. “Flick… Flick… Flick.” The sound is clearly a lighter that is not lighting. As the silence creeps forward, the moment between sentences lingers and migrates into a long pause. Hague apologizes, “Sorry, lighting a joint,” as sirens pass in the background.
After their tour, Hague—with partners, frontman Carlos Saldana and drummer Lyle Sprague—got to work without hesitation. “After hammering away for two months, you want to have something new,” Hague explains. “Touring stepped up the need to start getting creative. The tour was fun and lit a fire under our ass.” Referring back to his daughter, he laughs, “We won’t be going on a two-month tour this time.” Hague shines, though—this is not a complaint—and immediately reflects back upon her part in the songwriting. “She loves watching me play guitar,” he says. “So, she gets to be the guinea pig for new Connoisseur songs. The ones she giggles along to, that’s a keeper.”
The difference of the tracks on Over the Edge from prior Connoisseur songs is evident. While two of the 14 tracks are three minutes long, all other songs are one to two minutes each. They employ gang vocals and other hardcore tropes—the growls are still growled, as most sludge bands do, but this approach is certainly not new to hardcore. The sound is thick and heavy in a powerviolence tribute. Bands like Infest, Think I Care, or even The Path Of Resistance quickly come to mind. With drums that propel, the punk vibe pushes the momentum instead of lingering and plodding like a doom song.
What was extended was the recording process. Hague reports taking much longer with Over the Edge than they did with Stoner Justice. “We made sure we were satisfied,” he says. “Stoner Justice was a demo. When we recorded it, there was no intention of releasing it. We rushed through it, because our old drummer was moving to The Netherlands. This time, we knew that this would be coming out on an LP. We were able to be more critical of ourselves and give ourselves the time to make sure we got it right.”
Connoisseur recorded with Greg Wilkinson—of Brainoil, Leather Glove, and DeathgraVe—with whom they have always recorded. At Wilkinson’s EarHammer Studios in Oakland, the band had “a lot of fun.” Hague elaborates, “Spending a week with him is a great time. He is incredibly comfortable to be around. He has a great ear and a nice little studio. We were able to record everything that we wanted to.” Hague describes Wilkinson as “an old-timer who has an amazing studio, a lot patience, a great ear, and he puts up with us clowning around and smoking way too much weed.” Without missing a beat, he adds, “That makes up a pretty significant amount of our studio time: rolling up a lot of joints, smoking said joints. We could do that and still get more than what we needed to get done.”
Of Wilkinson’s attributes, Hague is clear and gracious. “Greg can tell when we are not playing to our best,” he explains. “It is great having that extra set of ears. When we’re playing, we got the adrenaline running through us. He can tell off the bat if we need to play it again or if we got it spot-on. It is nice having someone that doesn’t have that adrenaline coursing through them, that isn’t playing, just minding everything we are doing. He is impartial. He is patient. He makes us feel at ease. And I’m not nervous or afraid to mess up. It is comfortable to work things out with him. He is great at showing [us] little things, what a person who is a producer should do: offer little suggestions that might seem kind of minor, but when you put it all together, little things that stand out are the ear candy that add a lot to the songs. Even if nobody but me notices them, I am stoked.”
Hague does acknowledge the limited impact of his band’s ethos. “We never have backlash,” he exhales with relief, but adds, “there are places that are over it. I had the feeling that in Colorado, they had heard enough about weed.” Hague sees the paradox. “I don’t know how well it went over, as I thought it would be like walking into the gates of Heaven,” he says. “Sometimes, [the reaction] is awesome; sometimes, people were bored with the idea. With so much of the hardcore and underground scene being straight edge, we worry about people taking our spoof of straight edge serious. No one has ever confronted us. Locally, we have straight edge friends who come to our shows. Some will wear a gas mask. I appreciate that. We write songs that are going to be amusing—whether they smoke pot or not—if they are involved in the scene.”
Hague quips, “If this were the ‘90s, we would probably just get beat up a lot.”
For Hague, weed is about more than just culture and jokes, as he has personally struggled with cancer and praises marijuana’s medical benefits. “On the medicinal side, it is absolutely vital,” he confirms. “I went through chemo. Marijuana really kept the chemo tolerable: getting food in, my body keeping stress and anxiety to a minimum, keeping nausea to a minimum. Marijuana allowed me to not have to put all of the pills in my body.”
“We talk about ‘weed edge.’ It’s a joke, but serious,” he continues. “We all have given up alcohol, [though Saldana will sometimes have a drink]. Some of the worst decisions I have made were on alcohol. I don’t want to see a prohibition, but I would want people to see that if they calmed down the drinking, there would be less bar fights. Ever since I went to just smoking weed, my quality of life is up. I put my foot in my mouth much less. I vomit a lot less.” He concludes frankly, “I drink coffee and smoke weed. I have had good times drinking, but I have had a lot of bad times drinking. I can’t really say that I have had bad times smoking weed.”
“People might see it as a corny gimmick to have a band be about weed,” Hague concedes. “I’m friends with a lot of people who are into different styles of music. Here [in Oakland], there is so much music that people have their own styles and cliques. Friends outside music—when I don’t even have that in common with them—people with diverse backgrounds, what draws us all together is that we all smoke weed. It is what I love about it. It is something that is communal, where people come together. Connoisseur writes songs about weed, but it is about the friendships that come together. We write songs that are in honor to friendships as much as to weed. It is one of my favorite aspects [of weed]: other drugs have people sneak off and be private, [but] this makes you want to chat with people. I love that it gets people together, gets people talking.”