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Dan Mariska fights back against alienation, self-doubt on Getting Worse

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On most evenings, you can find Dan Mariska behind the soundboard at Icehouse in Minneapolis.

Deep in concentration, his eyes light up behind his mop of curly brown hair if he sees someone he recognizes. When he’s not at shows — as a live sound engineer or as a fan — Mariska spends his time in his studio, engineering and producing, or working on his own project, Dan Mariska and the Boys Choir.

After his van broke down on an Iowa freeway two years ago, the singer took a break from touring and came back to Minneapolis to work. Since then, Mariska has focused mostly on helping others create music, hence the wait since his last full-length, 2013's Bummer Songs.

“Doing everything I have been doing has helped me become better at everything else in my musical ventures,” he says ahead of the release show Saturday at Kitty Cat Klub for new EP Getting Worse. “It all overlaps. I made this EP with the idea that it would lead to more creative work, and I think it has.”

Keeping in line with his self-deprecating nature, the new release explores the self-doubt every musician carries, eventually yielding it as a shield to ward off the dangers of an increasingly isolated culture. With his band the Boys Choir (Nick Costa, Andy Sanford, and Kevin Goff), Mariska precisely describes the feeling of getting older while still maintaining wide-eyed curiosity — two uneasy bedfellows. The song “Well Adjusted” sets the tone, as Mariska plunges headfirst into an extremely catchy, deeply life-affirming track full of love and beauty. The band may have broken speed records with how quickly they moved in the studio.

“We were in and out within about three hours,” Costa says. “Dan and I did vocals later, and he did maybe two guitar overdubs. The record was done and mixed within a week. It was nuts.”

Dan Mariska: fond of rock, butcher block.

Dan Mariska: fond of rock, butcher block.

Costa, who has worked with Mariska as a producer on his own project, the Person and the People, is just as prolific when writing.

“The speed in which we record is how I usually work, so it felt good," he says. "Dan has a great sense of melody, and I think his songs hold up really well. If those songs came out 20 years ago, they'd still sound as fresh then as they do today. I don't really know many people that write like Dan, but at the same time it's really familiar.”

In his career, Mariska is doing the opposite of his dismal album titles.

“I feel like I’m actually getting better,” he says. “The songs are getting a lot less disparaging; that’s one way I’ve matured. I’ve been writing about things that affect society — like living in a world in which people are increasingly disconnected from one another. Many artists feel alienated from society because there is little value placed on art and music, and success is measured in monetary terms." 

He feels technology and the internet, while offering many new avenues for musicians to share music, also contribute to the devaluation of art and a general sense of isolation. 

"That being said, the whole idea behind having a local music and art community rejects this all together," Mariska concludes. "People have to engage, meet face-to-face, go to shows, talk to one another, create a collective space. We have a thriving community in the Twin Cities despite all of this.”

Dan Mariska and the Boys Choir

With: Deleter, See Through Dresses.

When: 9 p.m. Sat., April 9.

Where: Kitty Cat Klub.

Tickets: $5; more info here.