Merriam-Webster defines “dalliance” as “a romantic or sexual relationship that is brief and not serious.” If someone titles a record that’s mostly about the dissolution of his or her marriage Dalliance, it’s a pretty good indication of what that LP has in store. It’s probably not going to be something that tiptoes around the subject. It’s probably not going to subscribe to the theory of “conscious uncoupling.”
This is exactly what unfolds on Gold-Bears’ second record, which runs headlong at the subject of frontman Jeremy Underwood’s divorce. It is an absolute doozy of an album. Dalliance‘s songs are often biting and acerbic, both towards its external subject and inward towards Underwood himself. Musically, it’s lathered in fuzz and distortion, its guitars, upside-the-head drumming, and Underwood’s yelp cutting high in the mix. Save the occasional ballad, it is relentless, both in its tenacity and its hooks, all of which will trigger the synapses of anyone who grew up on the Slumberland or early Merge catalogs. You won’t hear a better indie pop record this year.
BYT connected with Underwood earlier this week as Gold-Bears pulled into a New Brunswick house show, midway through its current East Coast tour.
How and when did Dalliance come together? You worked with some different musicians this time around.
All of the guys in Gold-Bears for the first record either moved out of town or just didn’t want to commit to playing the band anymore. Early on, we lost our guitarist, and then our drummer moved to guitar, and then Sean – who is our current drummer – jumped on drums. Then we had some SXSW shows lined up, and the other guys in the band couldn’t commit to going to Austin. But Sean plays in a band called Small Reactions – who are also from Atlanta and are all friends of mine and obviously friends – so we essentially usurped them, and they’re now part of Gold-Bears, as well as still being part of Small Reactions.
It took about a year and half to make the record. We did it kind of slowly. Most of us live in a house, and there’s this carriage house behind it that’s been converted into a full-time studio for musicians in Atlanta. It’s called the Cottage. It’s run by friends of ours. We recorded there.
I wanted to take my time with the record, because we didn’t really have a deadline with Slumberland. And I had a better vision of what I wanted the record to sound like, more so than the first one. We just really took the time to get it right this time.
What was that vision?
Um, well, loud. [Laughs] I wanted it to be louder and bigger than the first record. And I worked a lot better with Scotty [Hoffman] – who’s the guitar player in Small Reactions and Gold-Bears – than the other guys that I’ve worked with in the past. He has more of a musical vocabulary that I’m familiar with. It was very easy for me to say, “Oh, I want this little guitar part sound Felt-ish,” and he could just figure it out and make something cool.
One of things that’s striking about the record is how it manages to be consistently loud without being muddled. Everything is clearly defined in the mix. How was the something you accomplished?
That’s certainly not from me. [Laughs] Whenever I record, I’m constantly adding more parts and more parts and more parts, and adding feedback tracks to everything. Some of the songs had nine or ten different guitar parts. I think all of the clearness came from the mixing of the record, which was done by this guy Jeremy Scott in New York. He’s an old Florida friend of mine. He recorded the first Vivian Girls record and most recently Holopaw. He was in Mahogany and other really good bands. The clarity came from him mixing the record.
You wrote that the extra time in making the record allowed you to “to perfect feedback tones.” What constitutes perfect feedback?
That’s a good question. [Laughs] I’ve never thought about that. It’s stuck in my head, but I don’t know if I can articulate it. For example, a lot of Boyracer stuff has perfect feedback, which to me is, like, squealing and not that annoying moan that happens when you just let a guitar feedback. That’s not very fun feedback. There’s a Black Tambourine recording of a song called “Can’t Explain” where the drums come in and there’s this little feedback part, and then the song starts – that’s one of the most perfect feedback lines ever. I was just trying to achieve those sounds.
Your records have almost a mixtape quality to them – songs cut off while they’re still buzzing, and the next kicks off like someone started dubbing a second too late. There’s hardly a second of dead air. What are you going for there?
It’s an album. It’s not just a collection of singles. It’s meant to be listened to straight through. One of my favorite records is Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, and that’s a continuous album. Earlier Archers of Loaf stuff would do that too – either songs would fade into each other or they would just sprint right into the next song. That’s something that’s always been appealing to me as a record collector and listener of music – just sitting down and being able to listen to a record that sounds like one big thing.
What’s the significance of the record’s title?
Well, I went through a divorce, so I guess it’s kind of a “screw you” to my ex-wife. [Laughs]
You said in the preface to the Slumberland podcast that the past two years have been especially rough for you. Aside from the divorce, were there others things going on?
No, that was the main thing. We have a kid together, so you have to work through all of that anxiety and co-parenting issues with someone that you left and doing particularly like to hang out with. Stuff like that.
Is “Fathers and Daughters” directed towards your daughter?
Yeah, that’s me speaking to my child in the future. As a parent, you have to put on this face of being a perfect parent, but all parents have done terrible things in their lives, and you have to sit there and tell your child not to do the same terrible things.
How does the “Yeah, Tonight” that closed Are You Falling in Love?” connect with the “Yeah, Tonight” that starts this record?
It’s a title that I use a lot. In my old band, Plastic Mastery, I think there were two songs called “Yeah, Tonight”. On our second Gold-Bears 7”, there was a “Yeah, Tonight”. And then the last song on our last record was “Yeah, Tonight”. It’s just a title that I like to use, because I use that phrase a lot lyrically. I thought it would be kind of goofy to have the first track of the second album be have the same name of the last track of the first album.
You like leaving these sort of winks for record collector types.
Exactly. I’m a record collector. I like to dive in. I like to learn things about bands. I like to make connections. So, I like to leave those things for other people to discover as well.
I saw you post the lyrics to “For You” because there had been some confusion.
Yeah, I saw somebody put the lyrics up on one of those lyrics websites and they were kind of laughable.
What’s your reaction when you see something like that?
I’m not angry, but I was kind of excited by the fact that I used the word “repudiated” in a song, so I wanted people to know that. [Laughs]
Are you still holding down a day job?
Oh, yeah, for sure. We can’t really tour very much. I work at a museum. I have, like, a real job. I’m practical enough to know that I’m not going to be able to make the money [touring] that I make at my full-time job to support me and my daughter. I have other things to worry about than just going out on the job all the time.
What do you do at the museum? You have a graduate degree from UF, right?
I have a master’s in museum studies from the University of Florida. I work at the Atlanta History Center as an exhibitions project manager.
How do they feel about having a rock star in their ranks?
Well, I usually don’t tell people. [Laughs] I just say that I’m going on vacation But somehow somebody at work did find out. Cat’s out of the bag, I guess.
You went to Florida for grad school and Florida State for undergrad. Is that allowed under state law?
I guess that I’m mine own rival. It’s allowed, sort of. I get a lot of shit for it, but whatever.
When they play, who do you root for?
I usually say that I’m rooting for a good game.
Good answer. Are you planning to run for governor someday?