Dan Faughnder is a swell guy, but he kind of pisses me off.
The frontman of the local folk-punk group Sledding with Tigers, Faughnder has nearly two hours of music available to download—mostly for free—on his band's website. He works with a semi-loose band of compatriots—Sam Juneman (violin), Robert Martin (banjo), Taylor Brough (accordion / mandolin), Brandon Boggs (banjo) and Ben Levinson (double bass)—and almost all of their songs are of the sing-along vein, with a healthy dash of punk shouting thrown in.
My gripe isn't so much with the songs. They're actually pretty brilliant—clever, angst-ridden, relatable and downright poppy, so much so that I recently found myself singing the lyrics of their song "Homeless" in the shower: "And there's something about home / That makes me feel homeless / And there's something about hope / That makes me feel hopeless."
What gets me is the sheer number of songs Faughnder's written in the past three years. They're all strikingly good, leading me to believe that songwriting comes too damn easy to him.
A lot of songwriters struggle for days, weeks, even years to write that perfect hook, that inimitable chorus, that awe-inspiring lyric. But it comes a lot easier to some people, and the 23-year-old Faughnder is one of them.
"I can write something, record it and release it in a three-hour period," he says. "It's never something I have to labor over."
That kind of talent can be infuriating to those who look at songcraft like fine carpentry. You might take Faughnder's attitude as smug, but it probably isnít: Sledding with Tigers' songs are full of self-deprecating lines, like this: "A year out of college / A year into debt / And I still haven't moved out of my parents' house yet."
And Faughnder's no slacker, either: He also plays in another band (the "gypsy hardcore" outfit Grim Luck) and works three jobs, including—no bullshit—teaching music to babies at the local location of Gymboree Play & Music, a center that has early-childhood-development classes.
I can't blame yuppies for thinking that their spawn is going to be the next Mumford & Sons if they get Faughnder to play a neutral clef while little Chester drools on his Gap for Babies bib. Faughnder is ridiculously affable, and his résumé suggests that he was simply born to play music.
He delved into music at Rancho Bernardo High School, playing percussion in the school band. After graduating, he went to University of the Pacific (in Stockton) to major in music management. But he found academia too structured and monotonous.
"It just got really stressful," he recalls. "You're being graded on your progress as a musician all the time. Music became a big stress in my life, and it had always been my escape from the stress."
After college, he moved to Los Angeles for a summer to be an intern at a major music-publishing company. While he recalls hating almost every second of living in L.A., he credits the endless drag of the city's traffic—and a steady diet of folk-punk and folk-rock acts like Paul Baribeau, Andrew Jackson Jihad and The Mountain Goats—for helping to inspire what would eventually become Sledding with Tigers.
"I spent so much time driving, and that's where I would write a lot of these songs," he says. "I would just yell them in my car, and when I got home, I would record them. That's how the first EP really came about. I was really nervous about putting it out there at first, because these songs were almost humiliating. But I put them up, and I got the best response I'd ever gotten off something."
Faughnder, who moved back to San Diego after his internship ended, put out two more EPs during the next year. His self-humiliation remains a staple in the Sledding songs: Apprehensive and forlorn, they're reminiscent of early Bright Eyes, as well as those ubiquitous emo groups that seemed to be everywhere in the early '00s.
"I actually love Dashboard Confessional," Faughnder says.
"Quit Yr Job," the opener to Being Nice is Still Cool, an EP that came out late last year, is an accomplished folk-punk ditty that kids scream along to when Sledding plays at venues like The Ché Café. Even the 39-second xylophone pop of "A Floppy Disc Worth of Song" is catchy as hell, sounding like Stephin Merritt channeling Daniel Johnston channeling Teddy Brown.
When Sledding with Tigers play live, Faughnder often jumps offstage to surround himself with the audience.
"To me, there's not much difference between the punk and folk scene," he says. "You have to give that energy out to the crowd that you want back. Energy is so important to me. If I'm gonna write a song and sing about crying or breaking down in a mall, I don't want that song to be slow and sad. If I'm gonna be that depressed, I better make it a good time for everyone else."
What a swell guy.