Mr. Chill: Dan Wriggins ’14
The singer-songwriter and poet, who is a part of the long-running band Friendship, recently made his debut solo EP.
Singer-songwriter Dan Wriggins ’14 speaks quietly and thoughtfully, often pausing before answering a question, sometimes doubling back to start an answer again and take it down a different path. It’s a tendency that carries over to his music: Whether with his long-running band Friendship or on his new solo EP, Mr. Chill, Wriggins’s songs feel carefully handcrafted, the words whittled down to essentials and each element of the music selected and placed just so—creating maximal impact with the fewest ingredients.
“It’s always been quiet and sparse, with a lot of musicians playing in minimal ways,” says Wriggins of his work with Friendship, which the Maine native formed in Philadelphia with high school friends Michael Cormier and Peter Gill, the year after he graduated from Haverford. The lineup has expanded and contracted over the course of four records, with Wriggins’s plainspoken lyrics and up-close melodies placed in spare, folky settings.
Starting with You’re Going to Have to Trust Me in 2015 and up through 2019’s Dreamin’, each Friendship album has evolved the band’s country/ folk/rock sound, with guitar, bass, drums, and pedal steel being joined by everything from organ and flute to drum machines and vibraphone. But the music never feels dense or cluttered, and Wriggins’s voice and lyrics feel like he’s sidling up to one listener at a time.
There is a strong influence of poetry in Wriggins’s songs, which he’s been building up since his time at Haverford. “I really loved studying creative writing,” he says, “and my two guiding stars were Asali Solomon for fiction and Tom Devaney for poetry.” Just this year Wriggins, who is 29, moved to Iowa City for a full-time poetry program at the Iowa Writers Workshop. “The relationship between poetry and music is complicated,” he notes, “but there’s plenty of crossover.”
He says that his debut as a solo artist after more than half a decade with Friendship wasn’t driven by COVID-enforced separation, but it’s hard not to hear some modern isolation as his already minimalist musical universe shrinks even further to voice and guitar, quietly backed by organ and drums.
“I had some songs that felt better served by solo arrangements,” he says, so he and Friendship’s Cormier booked time at a studio in Rhode Island. The session yielded 14 songs, five of which Wriggins thought “hung together” into the Mr. Chill EP. The songs are intimate and mostly melancholy, falling somewhere between folk and the not-quite-country vibe of Vic Chesnutt or Richard Buckner, and mixing the economy of poetry and the prose of conversation with lyrics like “I can tell you stuff I can’t tell anyone else/Because you don’t threaten to help” and “You trust your gut/And your gut lies.”
The release of the EP marks a time of major change for Wriggins—starting the MFA program, his Friendship bandmates scattering to different states, and the entire music industry rethinking how live music works. But he’s not letting these changes move him off the path he’s been on since playing campus shows with his Haverford band Attic Stairs and forming a group with Cormier and Gill: writing songs, recording them with a small group of friends, and touring as much as he can. “I’m not planning to pivot to trying to become a professor,” he says. “My plan is to just keep touring—academia and music both seem really difficult, so I might as well do the one that’s more fun.”