Some time ago, Dan Sena decided he was tired of writing songs about girls.
"There's just a lot more that can be touched upon besides relationships and crap like that," he says matter-of-factly. So lately, the singer/guitarist of melodic post-punk band GiveUntilGone has turned his songwriting attention to bigger things. Things like the role of TV in American culture ("The Next Big Thing Is a Wake-Up Call"), class struggle and multiculturalism ("Revolution in the Air").
"I try not to be too blatant, politically," he says of songs that don't cudgel you but at the same time don't exactly conceal their politics.
Sena's personal life, too, seems stripped of girls. "I seem to care less about relationships and girls. There's so many other things that I have interest in right now," he says.
But it hasn't always been this way. Settled for the Art Official, GiveUntilGone's stunning, year-old full-length, brims with songs about girls. And pain. And the pain that comes with girls. And the emptiness. And the loneliness. And hopelessness. And hopefulness. Witness the gem-like shard of raw human emotion served up on the title track, wherein a heartbroken Sena sings, "The night was coldest when I glimpsed through your heart and found absolutely nothing/Nightlight fireflies died with you tonight."
"It's funny," says Sena, fidgeting. "The song before that [on the CD] is about the same girl. I was just trying to deal with the grief and the feelings that I had. She was really into me, and I'd never experienced that. And the minute I started reciprocating, it all just fell apart, so that shocked me. I'd never really realized that somebody could do that."
Sena says he's completely over it, but then, without missing a beat, he adds, "But I think it changed me completely."
There's this amazing disconnect in Sena: his delivery is so matter-of-fact, so deadpan that it's easy to miss the gravity of what he's saying.
Of course, he was never one for interpersonal communication outside songs. "I try to force myself to communicate with others. I've realized that at my age, it's imperative, but I'm just really shy and introverted," he says. "I'm not a very social person. I don't really come out with things. I don't know—sometimes I just don't feel like I need to share."
Of course, he realizes the irony in this.
"But then in turn, I share through my music. I've dealt with my problems for the past 10 years through music, although music isn't the language that everyone communicates with. So to some degree, it's a setback because I can't just honestly come out and say how I feel; but I can use music to describe how I feel, I guess."
It's the curse of an artist, I suppose, and it's in Sena's blood. His grandfather is Jorge de Sena, famed Portuguese poet and man of letters. The second track on Settled for the Art Official, "Reet Deet Deets," contains lines from a de Sena poem that, translated from Portuguese, says, "When I say don't listen, when I do, don't look/And if I extend my hands to you, don't extend yours back." Seems both Senas have a knack for capturing some kind of uncomfortable existential alienation.
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GiveUntilGone got their start in 1997 when Sena and bassist Jim Schwartz, who've been friends for years and who'd jammed together now and then in between their work with their other bands, decided to start one together. Both had grown up in the local hardcore/straight-edge scene (Sena's still straight-edge; Schwartz isn't) and played in a number of local bands.
The lineup changed a few times but has finally solidified with drummer Matt Horwitz (who recently joined the Killingtons and is equally dedicated to both bands) and second guitarist Tommy Coatney. Sena and Schwartz recently quit the band Adamantium to devote more time to GiveUntilGone. "We really want to push this band as far as we can," says Sena. But then he takes it back—kind of.
"Our intention is that we're playing music as friends, and if it happens, that's great because I love touring and I know Jim loves touring. After we went on that Adamantium tour, I just couldn't believe how amazing it was to play music to other people in different parts of the state or to be 2,000 miles away from home and playing music. It's just amazing. I really look forward to doing that with this band. It would just mean so much more."
GiveUntilGone play with Spirit of Versailles, Billy and Black Lotus at Koo's Art Caf, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937. Wed., 7:30 p.m. $5.