In His Words: Kamtin Mohager (The Chain Gang of 1974)

Photo: Justin Bettman

It’s one hell of a day of import; a fact not lost on me as I watch Kamtin Mohager, clad in black from head to toe, meticulously organize his tour merch in the front room of the famed Troubadour in Los Angeles. He admits to being slightly OCD about it but where merch is concerned, it’s good business to know the what, the where and the how many. Plus, working the merch table after a show gives him time to interact with folks. No, this January 20th day isn’t notable due to it being Inauguration Day: that’s a cosmic joke with a punch line many of us have yet to decipher or find funny. It’s actually Kamtin’s first (and massively sold out) show of a two-week tour run with alternative rockers, AFI immediately followed up by his own headlining tour. Not bad work if you can get it.

For 10 years, Kamtin has musically operated under the moniker The Chain Gang of 1974, yielding a hand full of releases including his last two full-length albums, Wayward Fire (2011) and the Warner Bros. release, Daydream Forever (2014). You can call it indie electronic, indie synth pop, alternative dance, but it’s doubtful that it truly matters: melding synth rock with post-punk and even industrial tones, The Chain Gang of 1974’s sound encompasses much of what we loved about the 80s. But here we are in 2017…

Time and change are two irrefutable facts of life but, if we’re fortunate, so is progress. So after Daydream Forever, Kamtin took some time, made a few changes and after 2 ½ years (here comes the progress-part) The Chain Gang of 1974 re-emerged with the sound of the two sharp singles, “Slow” (its video featuring Tears for Fears frontman Curt Smith) and “I Still Wonder” along with a tour with The Naked and the Famous. After the merch is sorted, we sit down and discuss the past, present and the future…and the roses, but that’s a subject for another day. The roses please me. Kamtin is an open conversationalist, expressive and thoughtful in word and body language. He’s also excited about the tours, the new music and album (its title still a secret, its release date TBD) and the potential for it to reach a broader audience. So Kamtin Mohager talks where old business ends and the new begins in his words…

The end of a Daydream Forever and the space between….

“That was an interesting end of album cycle. Essentially, my relationship with Warner Brothers crumbled. No one was happy so it ended. There is a lot of excitement and when that ends there is also a lot of thought that then starts to hit. As in, well is this over, do I want to keep doing this, how am I gonna move forward with it and it’s a lot of soul searching at that point. When I decided to stop with that album cycle, I just wanted to kind of take a break from Chain Gang, I guess, as a whole and kinda mellow out. So yeah, I took a good 2 1/2 years and just chilled.

I was busy throughout that time. I started doing a lot of external writing for other artists which was interesting and I think helped me grow as a song writer. I had a song with Dillon Francis, Jai Wolf, 3OH!3, I had a song with Luna Shadows…there’s a couple that haven’t come out. So to sum up the last 2 1/2 years, it was extending my creativity as much as possible. Along with that I started another band called Teenage Wrist.”

A fire inside after 10 years….

“I feel blessed with things. This tour we’ll be able to tour a bit easier, bring out some more crew. So I’m not responsible for everything. It feels good though, especially going out with band like AFI this is what dreams are made of.

It’s been a long time. I mean, it’s interesting ‘cause the other band has been around for so long, we’re relatively unknown. Chain Gang is a bit of an anomaly. From the touring stand point, a radio stand point, it doesn’t really have much; it’s building. It’s been this very, very, very slow but constant build and rise up. I think a lot of that has to do with we just don’t tour that much. I kind of don’t need to in a way. My music does what I need it to do without it being on the road, but with this new album coming out, I think it’s going to be the album that’s gonna push us out more on the road. It’s pretty incredible knowing that were going out with AFI for 10 days, it’s awesome. There is nothing any better than when bands you spent a lot of years admiring, loving, and going to their shows, then all of the sudden it’s like oh, shit we’re about to share the stage for the next two weeks.”

Tour happens with The Naked and the Famous…

“We were performing more new songs than old songs…only because it was a sense of trying to, I guess, re-introduce people to the band. Not saying that the sound has strayed far from what I’ve done in the past…especially compared to Daydream Forever which was a pretty out there record in my opinion. It was just heavily electronic, heavily experimental, drug-like, droney, which was rad. I loved it at the time – that was me, I was 27. I Now I started making this record with Tom Powers from The Naked and Famous. He produced it so you instantly have more of a cleaner sound – a bit more straightforward and polished which, I think, is what I wanted to finally get this band to. So that point I wanted to be at, just a bit more polished. So I wanted to start reintroducing that to the fan base.

I am working with Caroline [the Independent Services division of Capitol Music Group] on this record…which is through Harvest [Records]. It’s cool because we’re doing a fun partnership with them. We’re very involved and they’re very involved and everyone is kinda working at the same level. I sat with my girlfriend and we made the album design artwork. It’s very hands on right now which is fun.”

So close yet so far to turn on the bright lights…

“It seems like there is more genuine interest. Look, here’s the thing: Warner Brothers – there were people that fought for the band and there were people there that got things done and made dreams come true. I can’t say everything was awful, but it’s disheartening when you know your dreams can come true, you know those goals can come true but you, unfortunately, aren’t in charge of it anymore. You have no control over it anymore. All it took was one simple movement or this or this and… when someone chooses not to make that action and you just have to sit back and watch…it just sucks.

It was very close but you know what? Everything happens for a reason, you know? When Wayward Fire came out I was ‘Why isn’t this album bigger?’ and then I finished Daydream but then I was like okay, I understand why that wasn’t bigger. And then Daydream didn’t do everything I wanted it to do, but now I have this new album that’s coming out and I’m like okay, now I understand why…now I get it. I think a lot of it is personal stuff going on, how I acted, how I go about certain things. There are a lot of factors that kinda go into it and I think I’m trying my best just to have as much fun as possible with it. Who knows how much longer it will last and I just want to enjoy it. And I’m in a happier place which is why I think I made a brighter record.”

Wayward Fire and Daydream Forever were “relationship” records because when it comes to songwriting, go with what you know…

“It’s still there. It still holds that substance and – I think – the vulnerability that is in the lyrical content, that I continue to do. But it’s brighter. It feels more hopeful in a way.

It’s no longer about that person. She served her purpose, I guess…yeah, but it’s personal. This time around, with this upcoming record it was kinda touching on a broader scale. It wasn’t just about love. People think “Slow” is a breakup song but that song was actually influenced by Warner Brothers. It’s about the experience I had in that system and more. It sparked it, but it was just touching upon disappointment in others.”

“I know I’m moving slow / But at least I’ve still got my soul”


“Tom [Powers] pushed me to kind of not be afraid of being ‘poppy’. He pushed me out of my comfort zone big time, big time with this record, which was a good thing. I think I needed that. I think I needed for this band to take that next step. The last two albums were with Isom Innis from Foster the People; he produced the last two records and he has a very specific sound. Him and I have a very specific way of writing music together. He and I get in a room with no ideas and we just start jamming; we build and create, that was it. Tom was like this is your record, you gotta come to me with ideas and I will build with you. I don’t have time to sit in a room with you and okay what do you wanna play, ya know? It’s like come to me with shit and that’s it. Again that was a big push, as well, so a lot of time spent on my couch with a guitar and writing down ideas, I still have all the voice memos, which is amazing, I can go back two years and go, okay, that was the initial humming melody I made for this song.”

And then…

“Put the record out – we will probably tour more – make a Teenage Wrist album, and surf more. We need this winter to end; its been a bad winter for surfs.”