Just a Matter of Time: Dane Claws Their Way Back
Story: Thomas Crone
Photo: Cory Weaver
At the time of the release of their self-titled, major-label debut in 1994, Sinister Dane had spent years woodshedding in their home city of St. Louis, creating a fervent fanbase. National bands—notably 24-7 Spyz and Living Colour—had championed their sound and ferocious live shows outside of St. Louis. And the release of their David Kahne-produced album seemed to be the proper culmination of all the work that’d come prior, the band coalescing around bassist Donald Williams, drummer Matt Martin, guitarist Jay Summers and vocalist Joe Sears.
After a series of lineup changes over the years—particularly among guitarists—the future looked bright. Commercial success, though, is an elusive thing, and the album’s lead cuts—like “48 Months” and “Where’s My Parade?”—didn’t bring the radio airplay and album sales that the group and label may’ve hoped for; in time, the group dissolved.
Not quite 30 years later, Sinister Dane has returned in a limited, but fan-pleasing fashion. The band’s now played its first, full live show, a double-bill with scene veterans Fragile Porcelain Mice, and preceded that with a shorter live appearance in 2022 for the long-running STL Lo-Fi Cherokee video series.
The FPM gig at the famed Illinois roadhouse Pop’s in October 2023 was also a showcase for Dane’s 10-song release, The Claws of Time, an album recorded, engineered and mixed by a team including new and old collaborators in Jason McEntire, Paul Malinowski, Mike Nolte, Max Honsinger and Summers.
The group’s members all took a songwriting role for the project to varying degrees, which finds the group mining some older material.
“All of the songs are old, from back then,” Williams said. “I wrote the oldest one, ‘Die By The Blade,’ in 1990 or ’91 and ‘Swollen River’ in ’93. Most of the others were probably written between late ’93 to ’95, and would have been on the second record we didn’t make when we were signed. Songwriting has always worked the same in any of my bands. Anyone can write, the more songs the better. I’m usually the main songwriter just because that’s what I really like to do. Regardless of that, whoever writes a song, brings it in and shows the band. If it’s an incomplete idea, we jam on it, add to it, arrange it, and if we all like it, it stays. If we don’t, it doesn’t.
“We vote on everything,” he added, “and if we need a tie-breaker, we all debate on why something should or shouldn’t be. It could be an entire song, a section, a melody, a lyric, whatever. When you see a song that credits more than one writer, maybe someone brought in an idea and the others helped finish it or contributed something significant.”
The rebirth of the group came about through an unexpected set of circumstances.
Through the years, Williams said, various friends had been trying to pull a reunion show together, and that “over the last 12-15 years, on different occasions, either Steve Ewing or Tim O’Saben have reached out, asking me to put the band back together to play shows with The Urge or Fragile Porcelain Mice. It never happened because Matt had been living in Colorado since the late ’90s or so, and rarely came home to STL. But, in 2016, after he was found nearly frozen to death outside of his van, Matt moved back here to recover. After a year or so, I spoke to him a few times, over the phone and through texts. He mentioned how he hadn’t played his drums in six or seven years because he no longer enjoyed playing music. Eventually, he and I met up at Jay’s house.”
Now getting together to socialize, musical bonds began to reform quite naturally. The instrumental trio began to knock some rust off of old songs. Tracks that’d been stuck in amber were unearthed. Conversations started turning to not only the past, but the immediate future.
The band’s decision to finally reunite for a live show was given added impetus and momentum once this older, not-quite-completed material was given added shape and or polish. With three members now living in St. Louis, and Sears about four-hours-and-change away in Lawrence, Kan., things began to move toward a second chapter for the band.
Unfortunately, a worldwide health crisis emerged…
Williams said that the group “started getting together somewhat frequently, always just for fun, and at some point, someone brought up the idea of getting tight enough to play a show. We told Joe what we were thinking and he was quick to agree. Our plans for 2020 were to play Lo-Fi Cherokee and play the Thanksgiving show with The Urge. Then Covid happened and everything stopped, so we moved those plans to 2021-22.”
He adds that “over the course of rehearsing in 2021, I think it was Jay who suggested recording some of our unreleased songs and putting them out for the fans who might want to hear them. We all agreed. At this point, we’re all fathers, work full-time jobs, and Joe lives in Kansas City, so there is no such thing as ‘extra time’ or ‘free time.’ We all took (time) off of work, and Joe came to town to get it done.”
In April 2022, the band performed for the first time in 25 years, at the new Golden Record in St. Louis, where they were the featured, headlining band for the day-long Lo-Fi Cherokee recording sessions, with their eventual Claws of Time track “Wishing” the song that re-introduced them to the fanbase.
Not long thereafter, they went into the recording studio. Within a half-week in June 2022, the band put the bones of the release together at McEntire’s Sawhorse Studios in St. Louis.
“Leading up to the studio sessions,” Williams said, “we practiced those songs over and over and over, the same way that we do for shows. Once in the studio though, of course, things never go as smoothly as rehearsal. There’s always some section of a song that you’ve played a million times that you just can’t get right for no apparent reason but we got through it.”
Hearing the album, it’s obvious that this very particular blend of hard rock comes compliments of Sinister Dane. The songs, imagined in the ’90s and brought to life just last summer, showcases that the group’s still got the spark; heck, the fire.
With a reunion video gig, an actual show played alongside a fellow regional favorite and now an album, there’s little doubt that fans will stay in the bands’ ears, asking for just one more, be that a show, a record, an extended run…
Williams suggests that an album’s possible, another show more likely, though “I don’t even know (the future). There are a few more old songs we want to record and, who knows?, maybe we’ll write some new stuff. I guess it just depends on how things go. I could see playing some more shows but we haven’t talked about it. The main thing for us, now that we’re fully re-engaged, is to stay in touch and make a point of getting together from time to time to play for the people who want to hear us.”
And if nothing else, the band has rekindled a collective friendship.
Working together again, Williams said, has been “pretty easy, and fun. We’re probably not nearly as productive as we could be because there’s always a point during rehearsal that turns into locker-room jokes and vulgarity. But I think we all have a mutual respect for each other’s talents and creativity, and because of that, we collaborate well together. I don’t know what it’s like for them, but I listen to their songs and ideas differently than I listen to my own. I hear them from the perspective of a fan as opposed to how I pick apart my ideas to death. We’re a lot older now but we get along in the same way we always did, whether we’re just hanging out, writing music or discussing business. At this point, we’re extended family and we’re just having fun.”
Parts of this story appeared at the author’s Substack newsletter,