GAVIN DUNAWAY

libel_matchless21What got you hooked on rock & roll?
 
105.9 WCXR – the main classic rock station in DC during the 80s. My father blasted it in the car wherever we went, and I fell in love with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, etc. Mainly stuff with badass guitar work – I knew by the age of six I wanted to be a guitarist just like my idol George Harrison. You couldn’t imagine how upset I was when I found out Eric Clapton actually played the guitar solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
 
But yeah, they turned me into a rock addict at a young age, and I haven’t been able to shake it after all these years.
 
Was there ever a time in which you imagined you may be cured or give up? 
 
Honestly, in 2008, my band The Alphabetical Order lost its fourth drummer (sequential) and I’d tired of the sound and the DC music scene. I was pondering graduate school, writing a novel (still working on that one), maybe even teaching overseas. But I couldn’t shake it – I still wanted to rock, play guitar loud as shit and make at least a few more albums. A good friend explained that Brooklyn was the place to fulfill these dreams, so I packed up my equipment and never looked back. Well, except to visit friends… And family, if I have to.
 
What essentially makes Libel tick so urgently?
 
A fair deal of angst, discontent and disillusion – possibly some very hot overdrive pedals. Certainly the espresso IV bag hooked up to my left arm, which is easier to play guitar with than you might imagine. 
 
My initial goal with Libel was to blend my love of post-hardcore – e.g., Mission of Burma, Fugazi, Shudder to Think, Jawbox – with my affection for Bowie’s vocal stylings (he taught me how to sing, whether he knows it or not!) and songwriting prowess. And then, yeah, I wanted to layer in some heavier shoegaze atmospherics a la Swervedriver and Ride. I was influenced by very intense music, so it’s all I know how to make.
 
Seems like NYC projects break-up and reform under new banners if they don’t pop quick, or did you already?
 
Nope – we’ve been flying under the Libel flag since 2009, when we released our first EP, “The Prolonged Insult,” though the lineup has changed over the years. Pop culture memories are super short, so there’s a huge push to appear fresh and new (although it’s our fourth release, we do market “Music for Car Commercials” as our “debut LP.”) I think many people that re-brand constantly like you suggested are trying to chase the popular sound, trying to keep in step with what’s hip, which is definitely not my philosophy. 
 
There are plenty of great bands that didn’t get a lot of attention at first (maybe they didn’t have the hot sound of the moment) who eventually broke through, and people were then blown away by their back catalog. But, those bands stayed true to their ideas and evolved organically, not at the behest of the latest sonic trend. They’re the ones we remember.
 
How / where does the writing process seem to work best for the band? 
 
The magic songwriting window opens right after falling off the bar stool and right before vomiting and blacking out. It’s a short nirvana, so the process must be repeated regularly.
 
No, it’s more like this: I’ll come up with an idea – a lot of times just fumbling around with the guitar while watching TV – record it via Logic, and then build other ideas on top of it over a while until it seems like a sketch of a song. I’ll record bass, program (basic) drums, throw on some extra guitars and maybe keyboards, all the while working out draft lyrics. 
 
When I feel the tune is far enough along and is worthy of their ears, I’ll send off an MP3 and get feedback from the guys – while hearing what I was thinking, they’ll bring their own (better) ideas to the table when we jam on it. Nothing is set in stone – parts will disappear, parts will be added. I say that I provide the skeleton of a song, and together we develop a body for it.
 
What’s first for you in terms of material: a feeling / vibe from the music or the subject matter?
 
A lot of times they’re not even connected. I used to have notebook upon notebook with random lyric ideas, while now I keep them all stored in my iPhone (notes are great, save trees), which in turn gets saved to iCloud. You can tell I embrace the tech. While we’re writing a song, I’ll just sense that such-and-such random verse would be perfect and build the rest of the lyrics from there. Or it could go the other way around – I’m constantly humming works in progress to myself, and on the train something may click. Not to sound too hippy dippy, but often my musical ideas and lyrical subject matter just seem to find themselves in my head. Must be some kind of holy function…
 
libel_coco035Your bio mentions imaginary tours from a past age; do you really feel that out of place?
 
At first I was going to say, “Oh yeah, I wish I was in the 90s!” We probably would have seemed among peers 20 years ago, but in the current landscape, it’s nice being unique and difficult to classify. Other 90s-throwback bands getting attention sound a lot like one particular act – Dinosaur Jr, Pavement, vintage Weezer. But our influences are pretty mixed, and they’re not groups that really roll off people’s tongues, although they have loyal followings – bands like Jawbox, HUM and Swervedriver. We’re not lonely – we got a lot of Brooklyn peers with raucous sounds – but standing out in the current morass is gratifying, 
 
What’s the bigger high for you: writing, recording or performing?
 
Ugh, must I decide? Performing is certainly the most exhilarating, leaving you tingling for hours – maybe – days afterwards. Performing offers the quickest gratification, but writing and recording an album gives a sense of accomplishment that cannot be matched.
 
You wanna know the biggest low? Marketing – trying to convince people your music is special, especially when their senses are saturated by media. “Well, my mom likes it!”
 
What’s your philosophy (if any) when it comes to playing live?
 
As rabid fans of the great German group Autobahn, we practice nothing but nihilism. Emphasis on nothing.
 
A spaceship lands on your roof, a small gray humanoid emerges with a vinyl record he knows you will approve of as a first offering / means to an end: what (most likely) is it?  
 
Though it may sound cliche, I think there’s only one record that could be in his hand: “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.” This starman has come down to meet us because he doesn’t think he’d blow our minds. Basically, he’s telling us not to blow it because he thinks it’s all worthwhile. Let the children lose it, let the children use it, let all the children boogie.
 
However, that LP better be a first printing, or it’s galactic warfare up your ass, buddy.

DONALD DUCOTE

url1.0 – Labels aside, the music on Tracks is hard to pin down, is that part of your vibe as a dude?

I don’t think so.  Maybe more now than the years previous.  We started recording Tracks in 2010 and you could take one look at me and figure it out.  Recovering hipster/pothead and you can bet the farm he started off in the suburbs.  Is that what you’re asking?  I have an aloof card that I can play pretty well, and I have, but lately I’ve been trying to shut that down; it’s boring.  I don’t think anybody wants to be easy to pin down.

2.0 – It sounds as if Ancient History has, ironically or not, been a real organic evolution of sorts; how did it come together?

I met Jim Smith, Austin Lemeiux and Paul Johnson while managing a cafe off the Morgan L stop in Brooklyn. They were all regular customers. I got to know Jim because he recorded the final record of my previous band.  He was also roommates with a friend of mine.

Paul lived in my building and we had been wanting to play together for a while.  Once things got situated with Jim he was the first person I called and we worked out the first couple tunes in his living room.

I don’t know what this says about me as a person, but whatever, it’s funny, I asked a co-worker with which customer she would most like to copulate.  She said, “The earl grey guy with all the tattoos that looks fucked up every morning.”  That was Austin and I can’t imagine there being a better-suited lead guitarist for my songs than that guy.  The next time he walked into the coffee shop I asked if he was a musician.  He said that he was a guitar player and he listed Jeff Buckley as his first influence.  We clicked immediately.  The first song we cut was ‘She Gave You the Keys’ in a basement art gallery in Dumbo and it was just the four of us, Jim was behind the board.  I believe we got it in about 3 takes and I remember us listening back and just being very pleased with what everybody was bringing to the table.

3.0 – Is understanding your sound as simple as the mix of your southern roots embracing the indie biosphere of Brooklyn?

I’m not convinced my roots are southern. I think, if anything, it’s the other way around. When I was in 4th grade I had a Garth Brooks tape and a Trisha Yearwood tape, but as soon as Nirvana showed up I was out.  I’ve always appreciated a sturdy song and I’ve always respected country music for being such loyalists to songcraft, even at the expense of any significant experimentation, but I think for me it’s always been the songcraftier end of my indie influences embracing whatever genre has a documentary streaming on Netflix.

4.0 – How did you approach the recording process for Tracks?

I had recorded with Jim Smith on my last project and he approached me about wanting to record some songs without a full band.  We put our heads together and decided to buy an old tape machine and record another record.  We didn’t want a clock ticking over our head and we didn’t want to record in a sterile studio environment.  That was it really.  We were going for natural reverb and mic placement.  We wanted to use tape and we wanted it to be warm and ambient.  We didn’t want a band album. We made a rule that we couldn’t use a drum kit and we wanted to focus our energy on a song by song basis.

Jim found the machine he wanted and he drove it from Detroit to NYC and we just hacked away at it whenever we could.  It took about two years.  I can’t tell you how important Jim was to this record. He’s amazing at what he does and because of it he is very busy, so there were long stretches between sessions, months at a time, to prep the songs and figure out over-dubs.

AncientHistory5.0 – As trippy as it gets at times, the tradition of story telling seems an important feature to your stuff; to what other artist, or artists, might you attribute the influence?

Storytelling is something that comes very naturally to me.  Anybody that knows me will tell you that I love a good story.  As a musician I’ve sometimes felt that I should’ve spent more energy trying to repress the urge to over-indulge my personal experiences but still, love and heartbreak are not topics that I write about very often. On the three records before TRACKS there are probably only 4 or 5 songs between them that are about romantic relationships. When it came time to write for this record I just said, “Fuck it.  Here’s all the shit I’ve been saving.”  Not sure I’ll ever endorse such straight-ahead narrative ever again, not because I think the record suffered for it, but because nothing I have left to purge is anything that anyone wants to hear about. Regarding influences, I’ve always been drawn to the more subtle characters of Belle & Sebastian and Elliott Smith. I like songs that can capture ordinary moments and infuse them with something unordinary, but at the same time Pedro the Lion’s Control and Ryan Adams’ Heartbreaker are two desert island records for me.  I don’t know, I have an undying admiration for Jeff Mangum and the words he writes. Lyrically speaking, I would like to adopt a more abstract state of mind going forward.

6.0 – What tunes on the disc are you digging most now that it’s done?

Hmm.  I love four-leafed.  It’s a song that had been brewing a very, very long time.  My buddy PJ (Michael Poulton) played lead for the first half of the song.  I recorded him in my bedroom in the middle of the night.  I remember we were drunk and he was playing slide with a beer bottle.  It’s one of the few songs that isn’t about a female.  And it’s fun to play.  Clover Honey is a sentimental favorite.  I love Austin’s guitar on that one, when it hits the high note halfway through.  He nailed it in one take.  We were working on Subway Dream and I remember telling Jim that I didn’t want lead guitar on the song.  He said ok, then Austin gave me some weed and I went to smoke in the hall.  When I came back Jim and Austin had finished Austin’s guitar part: that warm, burning distortion that just rolls through the song until it spikes into the breakdown.  Jim just smiled at me.  It took them five minutes and it made the song.

7.0 – How do songs come to you: more as ideas or feelings that lead to ideas?

Lyrics are always last.  Melody happens when it happens.  The riff is always first, the progression, the picking pattern, whatever.  The initial musical idea is what puts the key into the ignition.  To turn the engine you’ve got to grab that change, that switch from verse to chorus or chorus to bridge or whatever.  That’s what excites me.  Great changes.  When it comes to lyrics, I draw from the past, which is something I hate about myself.  I wish I could lose the documentarian in me and endorse a sense of fiction, but I find it very difficult to separate myself from what I’m writing, especially if I’m gonna be asked to sing the words over and over again.  I’m still trying though.

8.0 – What was your favorite 3 records in high school?

I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is not a very culturally diverse place.  If you were in your early teens in the late nineties in Phoenix you didn’t have a lot of access to underground music.  Thankfully, there were a few people that knew how to find it and they ended up saving me my junior and senior year, but early high school was alot of Weezer.  Pinkerton changed my life.  Other than that my buddies and I listened to whatever radio hits we heard on the bus ride to school.

I was working as a prep cook in Scottsdale when I was 16 and one of the line cooks gave me Modest Mouse’s Lonesome Crowded West and Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity.  It took me a while to absorb Modest Mouse but Jimmy Eat Word, being from Phoenix, was instant love.   They were a favorite for sure.  Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel were all bands that I listened to in high school but they didn’t really do their damage until I left home.  I remember the line cook saying that he listened to ’emo’ music.  That was in 1998 and I had never heard the word ’emo’ before.  It sounded exotic!  It opened my eyes and got me searching for music, as opposed to just buying whatever I heard on the radio.

So yeah, my favorites in high school were Weezer’s Pinkerton, Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity and probably the second Weakerthans LP.  A buddy introduced me to Left and Leaving right when it dropped and for years it never left my side.  My first week of college was 9/11 and I remember being in my car driving to community college when the first tower fell, and ‘Everything Must Go!’ was on the stereo.  Since then ‘Left and Leaving’ has always reminded me of good ol’ high school and pre-9/11 America.

9.0 – What was the first concert you ever attended? did it leave any lasting impression on you today?

I wish I had scalped my tickets.  My second concert was Rancid opening for Garbage and Smashing Pumpkins and I wish that was my first concert.  My first show was important though.

Earlier I talked about my love for songs with good musical changes; the first concert I ever went to was Cheap Trick opening for Meatloaf at what used to be America West Arena in Phoenix.  I’m not sure I’ve ever said this out loud, but I remember watching Cheap Trick play ‘The Flame’ and I remember the changes in that song blowing my mind. First when he breaks into the ‘i’m going crazy/losing sleep’ part, then the way it pounds into the ‘wherever you go’ part.  I fucking loved it.

As you can probably guess, I’m a sucker for ballads.  “The Flame” really got me, the way the parts worked together to form these really heavy moments.  Those are the moments I look for in music.  Those are the moments I want to create because those are the moments that can change the way a person feels.

10.0 – If you were Grammy level stars what you tour stage design look like? 

Whoa. No clue. But pyrotechnics for sure.