Jordan Benest and Dan Chisena of Crazy Dan's Secondhand Hardcore & More located on Church Street in New Paltz. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Lugging a bass drum and a load of gear, Dan Chisena stops to wait for somebody to open a door. When he does, he smiles slightly, thanks the unforeseen benefactor and averts his eyes back to the drum. He enters to a somewhat dim room, now mostly in restaurant mode — with quiet conversations happening around a table lit by candlelight. Dan, who wears thinly framed glasses and has long black hair parted down the middle, could maybe pass for Dave Grohl’s geekier younger brother. Dan almost always dresses in black too, and he looks like he could have been an extra, standing next to Jay and Silent Bob, in “Clerks.” Gentle in person and fierce onstage, he is also a man of contradictions. Mostly, though, Dan is a nice guy, and he is humble and well-mannered when confronted by new or unexpected people. Around New Paltz, he is known mostly by his stage name, Crazy Dan. Dan now also claims a bizarre distinction — he’s the only New Paltz merchant to have branded his store after his musical act.

Along with his friend Lyon Kressner, and the rest of the band Minotaur’s Redemption, Dan sets up in a cleared portion at the back of the bar. On the other end of the room at Market Market in Rosendale, Dan’s girlfriend Maia Morlock sits at a table, chatting with friends. Knowing that the oncoming concert will be loud, she’s wearing earplugs. Maia has a bubbly, unrepentantly friendly personality — so much so that it is hard to find a time when she isn’t smiling. She dotes on Dan, coming to just about every one of his rock shows with a digital camcorder to tape songs and snap still photos.

Coming to every show is something of a feat. Like a lot of local musicians, Crazy Dan plays in at least three acts — his main band, his side project and his solo performances.

As the other members of the band — heavy metal violinist Lauren Coluccio, and bass player Rich Cali — take their places, Crazy Dan kicks off the show from behind the drum kit.

“Hi, everybody. We are Minotaur’s Redemption …” he says.

“And we are here to make sure you have a really good time tonight,” lead singer Lyon says, finishing the sentence.

Much of what Minotaur’s Redemption plays — or what’s played in Dan’s other bands — will probably never get on the radio due to indecency standards alone. They could probably even make a Federal Communications Commission censor man cry.

At Market Market, the songs go over well. People laugh and clap. One song called “Troll Runner” features mostly the lyrics “run, troll, run” over and over. Having a violin in the lineup has afforded Minotaur’s Redemption some unusual opportunities. Their song “Siren’s Jig” is essentially a heavy metal sea shanty.

With the bar Snug Harbor back in full swing, New Paltz’s music scene has enjoyed a revival of metal. Bands like Dead Empires, Black Mesa and 16 Hundred Pound Pig round out lineups with acts from Brooklyn or New Jersey. Often either Dark Hippie — Crazy Dan’s other band — or Minotaur’s Redemption have a slot on those shows as well.

“I think it’s appreciated, but I think it’s underestimated,” Dan says of metal. “I don’t think people understand how much effort goes into it.”

 

Life at the store

 

When he isn’t onstage, Dan sits behind the counter of his thrift store on Church Street in New Paltz as he did last week. Recently, that store changed names and focus from “Deja vu Thrifts” to “Crazy Dan’s Secondhand Hardcore & More.”

“It’s still a thrift store,” the 26-year-old shopkeeper explains. “Everything is still secondhand. But everything’s just a punk-metal theme.”

Deja vu Thrifts sold a lot of ’60s and ’70s nostalgia items, and in some ways it looked like Donny Osmond’s dressing room. It had Elvis Costello and Fleetwood Mac shirts for sale, along with jewelry.

By contrast, Crazy Dan’s Secondhand sells black clothes by the droves, band merchandise, rare Kiss T-shirts with Japanese writing, Gorguts and Sex Pistols shirts, old vinyl records, some comic book merchandise and fantasy-themed jewelry. In some ways, the store is a combination of Dan’s old shop Dragon Realm and Deja vu. Dragon Realm was a fantasy store catering to gothic rockers and hardcore kids.

“I wanted to do something that was more ‘me,’” he said. “I’ve always wanted to do a punk-metal thrift store. That’s something I tried with Dragon Realm.”

Jordan Benest, who co-owns the store with Dan, hails from the punk band 16 Hundred Pound Pig. The idea of transforming Deja vu Thrifts into a haven for rockers — and the rhyming store name — came from him.

“Jordan brought in a lot of the punk element,” Dan explains. “I never thought of the idea of naming the shop the same thing that I am.”

Eventually, the new store will also serve as a permanent merchandise station for local bands to sell their T-shirts, stickers and patches. Dan and Jordan also hope to turn the store at 7 Church St. into headquarters for local music by sponsoring metal concerts.

Right now, there’s not much in New Paltz like Crazy Dan’s Secondhand — they see that as an advantage. “I feel like, now, I’m in no competition with any other clothes store. And it’s awesome.”

 

Dan, the man

 

In his life and as a musician, Dan’s shops have served as a home base. Lyon Kressner, the lead singer of Minotaur’s Redemption remembers meeting Crazy Dan at his first store.

“It was literally my first night I moved into New Paltz,” says Kressner, who remembers coming to town back in 2008 as a graduate student. He had gone from bar to bar checking out the town, but didn’t want to go home yet. Then Kressner saw Dragon Realm. “Dan’s store was the only other thing open.”

Kressner came in looking for a job, but soon discovered that Dragon Realm was a small, one-man operation. But he liked the music Dan was playing, they hit it off right away, and Kressner left with a new friend and a potential metal band in the making. That band became Minotaur’s Redemption.

The current bass-fiddle-drums-guitar lineup of Minotaur’s Redemption is much different than what it first started out as. Since it’s start, Crazy Dan has played every instrument in that band before settling down behind the drums.

“The band’s gone through about a million lineup changes,” Kressner says.

Dan himself comes from a merchant family in New Paltz. His parents own Isabella’s Treasures, and they helped him get his start.

Although he mixes with scholars and college students all the time, Dan is technically a high school dropout. “I dropped out of high school when I was 16 years old,” he explains. “I started working with my parents … that’s how I kind of came to New Paltz.”

Dan remembers his time at Pine Bush High School as a time spent going against the grain. He describes the school as being “full of jocks.” But his years in high school also gave rise to the nickname he goes by today. One of his bandmates in school dubbed him Crazy Dan for his rambunctious style of playing.

“I was the only kid in high school who had long hair,” he says. “I was always an outsider. Whatever the trend was, I did the opposite.”

When he came to his parents’ store in New Paltz, Dan saw a town that accepted people who were different and a town that embraced those that others might call outsiders. It drew him in.

Dan’s girlfriend Maia, 25, is also somewhat of an outsider by default. She grew up as a military brat on bases overseas and is bilingual. Although she moved back to the South after high school, she’s never quite sure what to tell people who ask her “where” she’s from. Maia also lives a life surrounded by musicians. She’s the younger sister of Johnnie Wang, a musician from the now-defunct local band A Black China. Her other brother Michael also plays.

Maia is working just a few short yards away from Crazy Dan’s Secondhand at Isabella’s Treasures. A young couple comes into the shop, eying a glass bauble as a gift. Maia smiles and helps the couple before talking about how she and Dan met. Like Kressner and others, she met him when he still ran Dragon Realm. Back then, Dan played a lot of music behind closed doors at home. She remembers Dan complaining that he thought he could do just as well with his music as the New Paltz bands constantly getting booked.

She pushed him to stop talking, get out there and check out the open mic nights.

I first met Crazy Dan in about 2008, when we were both queued up to play open mic night at Muddy Cup — about the time Maia was trying to get him to play live in front of people. In a mostly acoustic venue, Dan stood out by bringing an electric guitar, amp and a slew of pedals.

Open mic nights in bars and coffee shops are notorious for their fickle and disinterested listeners. Each performer who steps on stage has a few short seconds to get to the point, start playing and win over the audience. Dan spent most of that unspoken grace period fumbling with plugs and cords, trying to get the amp working. When it was up and running, Crazy Dan’s loud, all-instrumental noise rock landed with a dull thud. People rushed for the door, and the barista ducked outside for a cigarette break. He’d cleared the room.

I remember that Dan looked crushed and said something to the effect of: “They don’t get it. It went over really well the other night at Snugs.”

Back then, I encouraged him. I told him to keep playing. Getting up behind the mic and putting yourself on display takes courage — so much so that, for those who haven’t done it before, it literally represents a nightmare scenario. Anyone who does it at least deserves some credit.

“This might not be the right venue for you,” I said then.

In the interest of fairness, I have to admit my bias in writing this story. Dan and I have been acquaintances on friendly terms for years. If I have any agenda in telling this story, it is that I think Dan’s a good guy who could use a break. I also have a bias in that I’m a musician. Behind the scenes for the last four years or so, when I haven’t been writing news stories, I’ve written songs, played guitar and sang in bands. Performing under a stage name, I’ve appeared on WFNP The Edge at SUNY New Paltz and on WVKR at Vassar College. Doing so has allowed me to meet a slew of great people I wouldn’t have otherwise known, including Nate Cervoni from Black Mesa, Tyler Gomo from Dead Empires, and Melissa Pelino and Ed Daley from SnowBear. I met my fiancee opening for her band at a summertime show outside of Rhino Records — back when they still had them.

Crazy Dan belongs to a set of workhorse musicians in town who don’t seek out publicity, but who are constantly playing at the bars on the weekend. Since the time when he cleared out Muddy Cup, Dan has blossomed into a much more confident performer. In a way, the early Crazy Dan solo stuff was as much about clearing the room, perhaps, as it was about him learning how to be defiant in the face of criticism.

In Dark Hippie, Dan serves as the lead singer. On Halloween, he took to the stage at Snugs wearing a mad scientist’s lab coat and goggles. While it was just a costume, that image appeals to him.

“That’s what I feel like,” he says. “I can kind of consider myself the mad scientist of metal.”

On Halloween, Dan stopped the audience dead in their tracks and got them to listen when he sang Dark Hippie’s song “I’m a Square.”

“I’m a square. I don’t care,” he screamed to a heavy, punk rock riff. People got it.

To learn more about Crazy Dan’s Secondhand Hardcore & More, search for them on Facebook. You can see Dan perform in both bands this month. Dark Hippie has a show at Snugs in New Paltz on March 25. Minotaur’s Redemption has a show at Sounds Asylum in Middletown on March 31. ++