One of the most exciting bands in DC (though they sounded like they were from another world) from the early 90’s, Lorelei returned to the local scene in 06 and has been providing some of the most vital, and memorable, live shows in town ever since. Now they have finally released a second album to rival their 94 classic “Everyone Must Touch The Stove.” Bringing “Enterprising Sidewalks” to the people not only showcases a band with plenty of firepower in reserve, but it also affords us a chance to catch up with the trio of Matt Dingee, Stephen Gardner and Davis White.
When you first started out and took that eventful UK tour, do you remember getting off the plane in London and asking; ”which one of these things will be kicking ass in 2012, Lorelei or Melody Maker?”
MJD - All I remember from our UK trip is how completely unprepared we were. Plus, we’ve always had a preference for the NME (single of the week and all).
SJG - Being all of 18, I’m pretty sure I thought I’d be dead by 2012. Or, at least, that being alive at such an age was the equivalent of being dead. So, MM would have won that debate. I also couldn’t have imagined how quickly the music industry and culture would change. At that time, we primarily communicated with listeners by mail, and record shops, college radio,and someone’s cool older sister were the only gateway to new music, and music magazines still made a difference.
Where do you think you fit in the current wave of shoegazers, and into the history of the genre?
MJD - I don’t think we’ve really been anything near shoegaze since ’93 so I’d say we don’t. There are only a few tracks of our recorded output that end up sounding shoegaze influenced. I suppose there is one track on the new record (Three Interlocking Screens) that is noisy and a bit psychedelic. So if you consider Loop or Bailterspace to be shoegaze then, maybe. But you’d be casting a pretty wide definition of shoegaze at that point and I choose not to. That sound existed before and after the early ’90s.
That said - I don’t dislike bands that identify themselves as shoegaze and I think some of those bands find our material interesting. We definitely have some common ground. Also, I usually deal with the butterflies caused by playing live by staring at my feet or my guitar so we have that in common as well. I no longer mind all that much if someone chooses to identify us as shoegaze. As long they listen to the music and realize that there is more to us than aping a sub-genre.
SJG - I agree. I don’t think we really fit with the current wave of self-identified shoegaze bands and frankly, we didn’t fit in the early 90′s much either, to my initial disappointment admittedly. As has happened since the birth of rock, we were inspired by a distant scene and in the trying to absorb, follow and replicate it, we instead haphazardly built something else - a sort of strange translation. As much as I may have wanted to make a Moose record in 1992, there was no getting Rites of Spring out of my playing at that point and those strains of other influences and experience that each of us bring to the songwriting give the music a different identity, whether we liked it or not. Having said all that, it would be absurd to suggest that we weren’t motivated and inspired by those bands and you can certainly find elements in our songs. So, I’d say we are more of a consequence of the genre rather than part of it and if we do speak shoegaze, we do so with a pretty heavy accent and poor grammar.
Is it weird hearing bands like half of the Captured Tracks roster etc… making kids go mental with a sound you were decidedly on the first wave of?
MJD - Hmm. You’ll have to be more specific. I’m only familiar with Craft Spells, Beach Fossils, and Wild Nothing. I quite like the Craft Spells, but I don’t hear a connection to us. Unless you are saying that we also spend a lot of time in Barney’s basement (I mean that as a compliment).
I’d be quite surprised to hear a band that I thought was inspired by us. That said, generally speaking the sound we have is not as foreign as it once was. But that has very little to do with us or any tiny influence we might have. We didn’t spur on an entire sub-genre like Black Tambourine, for instance. Still, when a band like Weekend tells me that they like a particular Lorelei track it’s quite flattering and encouraging.
SJG - I’ve had limited exposure to those bands, but yes, it is a little strange to think of 20 year olds making Slowdive-inspired music, but only because its hard for me to comprehend that its been long enough for there to be a revival, not because there’s anything strange about that process.
You recently had a chance to converge with a lot of the old music scene from the past. What was it like playing the Chickfactor celebration and seeing so many old friends?
MJD - The CF gig was a blast. Gail of Chickfactor mentioned at some point that it was a good excuse, or catalyst, for getting a bunch of old friends in a room and having a party. That’s exactly what it felt like. Only with 350 additional guests. Probably one of the best gigs we’ve played. Though I agree with Gail that we should have cranked up the volume a bit.
The dressing room was a bit surreal and highly amusing. Kurt, of the Lilys, was as lively as ever and all the old group dynamics started to creep out. It felt a little like being back in the old Silver Spring house where (most of) Black Tambourine used to live and practice. Good times.
You finally got out for your first West Coast shows as well?
MJD - Having lived in the SF Bay area for 10 years, it was a goal of mine to get us out there. I’m glad we did it. All of the gigs were fun and unique. I wish we had more time and could have played more cities and spread it out. I also wish we could do it again sooner rather than later. I miss the West coast. There are many days during the DC Summer months that I pine for SF.
SJG - I always like playing new cities because of the challenge of a new space and the different dynamics it brings. I’m always amazed by the unpredictability of an audience and a venue. This little tour also gave us the rare chance to actually play 4 nights in a row, which is a good workout for us. We are actually quite fragile live – it doesn’t take much to send things spinning out of control – and I think part of that stems from not playing all that often. So, this gave us a chance to toughen up a bit and try to keep ourselves together through the inevitable adversities of bad sound, broken gear, indifferent audience, etc…
DW - Our shows ran the gamut of a large festival in Los Angeles - with an affirming response from the audience, to a lonely beach shack bar in San Diego with mostly our new touring buddies cheering us on. Meeting new bands and then playing multiple nights with them was a new thing for Lorelei. Half String, originally from Arizona in the early 90s, were reuniting for these shows to promote a new reissue. We shared a similar history and were equally obscure, so bonded quickly. It was uncanny. Each city also produced a few surprising die-hard fans. We were glad to meet them. And yes, the weather was gorgeous.
There was a huge gap between recordings, brought about by geography, before you were all in one place again and cobbled together material in 2003, and then this break until finally a proper second album. I suppose that begs the question – why a new record now?
MJD - 2006 was actually the first time we were all in the same place again. The EP that came out in 2003 was material we started back in ’96 that I finished while living in San Francisco.
We enjoy creating together and recording is a part of that. Plus, times are hard and the kids ain’t learning. Plenty to write about.
SJG - When we finally had a collection of songs the majority of which Matt liked, we knew we had finished a record.
What are some of the major differences in creating this record compared to “Stove” when you all were basically still kids?
MJD - We’ve made quite a few records between us since then. Experience does help.
SJG - A key difference beyond just our increase in experience and know-how since then is the time spent working on the recordings. “Stove” was recorded in the analog era and followed that typical process of a two-week session, ending with completed mixes. With this record, and recording in our own studio, we had no time pressure and a lot more gear and choices, which creates both opportunities and limitations. Also, vocals and our focus on them is an obvious difference. Matt’s much more present in these songs.
DW – Well, I wasn’t as young as these guys back then, but yes, the other guys were in high school or college students during our first run. Most of our difficulties in coming up with material/finding a unique sound developed awkwardly in public during that time. By “Stove” we had figured out how our parts should fit together or simply accepted their incongruent nature when they did not. When Matt moved back to DC, I think the guys will agree we that simply started where we left off. Our first practice produced a near-complete “Let Go Of Our Ego,” a personal favorite track from the album. A good omen.
Do you feel like there is any unfinished business, or anything to prove with this record?
MJD - At the very least I hope this record will cause folks to stop referring to us and our gigs as a “reunion”. We’ve been back together now for as long as we were ever together in the first place. With this record we’ve now nearly doubled our original output.
You are forever intertwined with Slumberland, what has it been like seeing the resurgence of the label?
MJD - Extremely gratifying. Stephen and I are good friends with Mike and it is great to see his hard work paying off. Mike can be pessimistic about the label, but there is no doubt now that Slumberland has a place in music history. I’m still humbled and eternally thankful that we are a part of Slumberland.
My favorite part of Lorelei has always been in the complexity of the songs and the peaks and valleys and melodies and counter melodies. The punch and dynamics remains, but there seems to be an effort to bring the melodies more to the forefront. Maybe dialing back the noise just a hair (though certainly not leaving it out.) More like channeling the noise for specific purposes. Is this a conscious effort in your writing or recording?
MJD - In some ways we’re a better band now. We still have the same industry that we had. But given our time constraints due to family and work we now use our time more wisely and listen to each other more. I certainly play under more control and listen more to the sound of the band as whole.
Less noise is somewhat due to being more confident and not wanting to bury everything. I’m certainly more confident in my voice now and so we try to use that element rather than trying to hide it, for better or for worse.
SJG - We’re more clear, and in-agreement about what we want songs to accomplish these days, so I think that gives them more of a focused and disciplined feeling. That means our noisy and experimental bits are there to serve a purpose, as you say, and really support the song. I also think that because each of us have other outlets for the different music impulses we may have now, Lorelei doesn’t have to carry all of our conflicting ideas and ambitions at once, meaning that all of those sometimes disparate elements don’t have to be shoehorned into songs as often as they once were.
DW - Listening back to our material, it seems intense with no purpose in places. Yes, I have tried to cut down on some of that. Still, much is beyond my control.
You still manage to have what feels like 2-3 songs being played at the same time and then dove-tailing back into one. How does that come about in the writing? It’s like you are pushing each other and then playing off and against the other two. How do you decide when a song is finished? A typical Lorelei song has 3-4 songs worth of material for lesser bands.
MJD - Thanks for noticing. We work hard at song structure and not being predictable. We definitely have a set of unwritten rules that we adhere to. Although we bend those rules to meet the needs of the song. For example, Stephen and I hardly ever intentionally play the same exact thing. We’re a three piece so we don’t like to waste what we can produce sonically by duplicating one another. We’ve perhaps taken that aesthetic to the extreme. It makes our melodies and songs sometimes more complicated. But when we want to really pummel a rhythm into the dirt (say on “Keyhole” for example) we’ll make a rare exception.
I’ll usually come to practice with some notion of a song or part in my head. I made demos of the first few songs we wrote for this album. But it never turns out how I imagined it (almost always for the best). We spend a lot of time early on in the life of a track playing the parts in isolation over and over with all of us subtly changing our parts. It is very collaborative.
SJG - I’ve always said that to the extent we have anything to offer, it comes from the very relational way that we write songs. Matt or I usually start with an idea for a part which has to pass a sort of initial and informal quality and applicability test. It then becomes the other two members job to write to that for their respective instruments, with a pretty far-reaching freedom and independence for whomever put forward the original idea. Then, the initial author must adapt that original idea to what the others have constructed against it. If you multiply this process by the 3 or 4 different parts that are typically in one of our songs and then allow for further iterations working through how all the parts work together, you can see that the songs are the product of a sort of collective mind. We know we are done when we’ve all agreed that the outcome of this has improved the initial idea.
On kind of a nerdy technical side, so much has changed with recording technology since “Stove” was made. You have always excelled at sounds and textures in your playing – how much of that is achieved through technology vs pedals/amps these days?
MJD - I still use the same guitar: A ’67 Guild Starfire. I also still use a Jazzmaster, but I destroyed the first one I had so this latest incarnation was a gift from my wife. However, I used to have an army of pedals and now I’m down to just four plus the TC Electronics G System. That thing is a beast. It has relieved me of the tap dance I used to do across pedals. I would have killed for one in the ’90s.
I still use the same amp: An Acoustic 150 with a 6×10 cabinet. Though I’ve added a Vox AC30 head and Orange cabinet. For the album I got to use a few interesting amps (a Matchless in particular).
I’d say most of it has to do with the open tuning I use (only “Stale Houses” is in a traditional tuning) and the guitars interacting with the reverbs and effects that I use. I’ve reduced the blanket of effects so I can have more control. I’m also into creating more space now. If I do use a big reverb it is to color the space between notes rather than to force a ton of sound through it. So our sound has developed and the technology assists but much of it has to do with our attitude evolving.
SJG - Most of what you hear are processed guitars through amps in decent rooms – nothing all that different from Stove other than more gear choices. In that sense, we are a relatively straightforward band. Ben Bailes, my partner in Chessie, was also a big part of the sound of this record, as he engineered it. He shares our interest in texture and sonics and knows Matt and Davis well from their occasional assistance with Chessie.
DW - I was lucky to have access to ADATs and microphones that I could borrow freely in the 90s. Our recording budgets were minuscule and we were limited to 16 tracks. It was primitive, but I enjoyed playing the engineer role in recording “Stove.” Our intense mixing sessions with Geoff Turner/WGNS were hands-on-the-fader affairs with many of the wild effects added during mix down. Now, Matt and Stephen have their own studios and we are lucky to have engineer Ben Bailes for much of the recording too. Most guitar effects are recorded during tracking now. The biggest difference? We use compression/limiting in ways unheard of in the 90s. For instance, there is no compression on the drum tracks for “Quiet Staid Debt” from the 1994 album because that is how I wanted them to sound, jazzy. I was not popular with Geoff and the band that day, but it produced a track I am still happy with. Turning the mixing over to an outside engineer seemed to work best for “Enterprising Sidewalks” and it preserved our sanity and civility.
How did you end up working with Guy Fixsen on mixing the album?
SJG - We met Guy when Lorelei played with Laika. Of course, I had been a huge fan of his recordings and sporadically kept in touch with he and Margaret Fielder through my other band, Chessie. When it came time to think about mixing the record, he was an obvious choice and thankfully, open to it. Lorelei has been lucky in that we were able to play with or meet most of our heroes over the past 20 years.
You guys were always a bit of an enigma locally during your first run, incredible live, but with sporadic appearances. That power on stage has clearly remained. Should we be expecting more shows in the future?
MJD - Thanks. We work hard at making each gig unique. Yes, we plan to play more to support the album. We’ll be playing Sun. 9/23 at the Strathmore Mansion with Tone and Blue Sausage Infant. It’s a benefit for Sonic Circuits.
On a personal note, even with all this new material, will you still play “Windmill” at one of the upcoming shows?
MJD - That’s one from “Stove” that is near and dear to my heart. It’s one of the few we all continue to enjoy playing. So, yes, you’ll continue to hear that one and a few others from our past in the future.
Your friendship has remained strong after all of these years, so let’s get down to the real questions – which band member wears the ugliest t-shirts to band practice?
MJD - Stephen continues to wear concert t-shirts for bands that we love that are now starting to fall apart from overuse. Some have stood the test of time and others look like a wild animal got a hold of it.
DW - It is so hot in Stephen’s basement it is a wonder we keep our t-shirts on. The only snide comments are when I appear in my prized 2005 Neil Diamond USA Tour tee.
How has being in a band together evolved with so many life changes and just general growing up?
MJD - We try to be more civil to one another. However, I continue to be ill tempered about some things. For the most part though our lives are our first priority and the band comes second, whereas that wasn’t usually the case in the past.
SJG - I feel our participation in Lorelei is now more out of choice than necessity. There was a time early on that we needed each other more than we wanted each other, perhaps.These days, we continue to do this because we still believe in one another and what can come from us working together. With everything else going on for each of us, there is no other possible reason.
You can see Lorelei, with Deathfix and Sun Wolf TONIGHT at the Black Cat.