DREAM MACHINES: MORE SEX, YEAH
Dream Machines skipped onto the scene in 2015, right in the middle of your REM cycle. Everything was a party, everyone’s pants sagged with the weight of big plans, our collective sleep number was a solid 100. Then 2016 happened, and the innocence of skimming Jezebel turned into the self-flagellation of reading Reductress, the non-stop queer boogaloo interrupted by the draconian plans of a sentient sunburn. As other bands wrote protest songs, Dream Machines just got super slutty, celebrating the bacchanal joy of fucking right in Mitch McConnell’s wilting face. Their new EP Trust / Desire drops today, and it’s a juicy lucy. We talked about being 18 again, why their live show is better than yours and LaCroix. That bit is right at the top. This interview by Tolliver.
Harry May Kline: Where’s my wine at? I just have my grapefruit Canada Dry.
How is it?
Harry May Kline: That’s all they had in the store. They didn’t have any LaCroix. They just had grapefruit Canada Dry. That’s it.
Was that in the prison gift shop? I don’t understand.
Harry May Kline: Yeah, man—I’m in prison right now.
My first quarantine interview. It won’t be my last. I wanted to start almost with a little overview because I’ve known you all for fucking five years or something like that, right?
Harry May Kline: Yeah.
Luke Burba: We go back.
There’s been a lot of changes. Why don’t you run the good people of L.A. RECORD through maybe some of the changes. How did y’all get started?
Luke Burba: Yeah. We still have our core four. That’s what we call it, the core four—that’s me and Harry, and our drummer, and our saxophone player, Travis, and Matt. The four of us have been kind of the core foundation of the group since the beginning. Since then we’ve had a couple people rotating around. For a while we had a bass player in the beginning. For a while we had our good friend Molly singing vocals and singing with Harry. The core four—drums, synths, guitar, and saxophone—that’s been the iconic Dream Machines baseline.
Harry May Kline: We had our friend Louis from who was in Holy Child, which is no longer unfortunately. He’s played with us a few times as well. He’s our go-to now. An auxiliary member of the group at this point.
Luke Burba: We like having live percussion a lot when we can, so that’s always really fun.
I was just watching your video ‘Recall’ and I saw Travis and I was like, ‘Damn, this motherfucker was in the band back then?’
Luke Burba: Travis has been in every music project I’ve had since I was 13 years old. Me and him go way back. He’s kind of a part of my identity.
With this new batch of songs there’s a decided sexier edge. Is that intentional? Are you all having more sex? What’s up? Tell me what’s up.
Harry May Kline: I think that in writing those songs, I would say I was having more sex, yeah. It definitely got sexier. I think it got edgier because we sort of decided to create something a little bit more multifaceted when it came to what we wanted to express through the music. A lot of it for a while seemed to be very happy go lucky like … party music, and we were a little over that. We liked being the dance fun band but we also … we had a lot of emotions. We have a lot of things to express. I think that there were a lot of elements of me and wanting to express myself and more of my queer identity through my music, but I didn’t really feel like I had done that so much. This was me starting to do that more. I think it was also a reflection of Luke and I—it’s just anxiety with the world changing around us.
Luke Burba: I think 2016 was a turning point for everybody in the fucking world it seems. That turned the tides a little bit. We as people became a little bit more stressed out and more anxious and more angry and more frustrated. I think you wanted to maintain the dance energy powerhouse sound that we had from the beginning, but things got a little less fluffy. They became a little harder around the edges. I think that reflected the change in the times.
I can hear it in the lyrics obviously—but what changes musically to make it sexier?
Luke Burba: That’s a good question. We’ve been slowly building a studio out of our rehearsal space in Glassell Park for seven or eight years. As that space has evolved, utilizing that as a composition tool has helped refine where we’ve gone with this band. We’ve just been gravitating more and more towards refining our sound—keeping things minimalistic and simplistic and getting to where we want to go sooner. That’s translated to a more straightforward edgier sound.
Harry May Kline: For our drum production on these recordings, we use a lot of older mics and a lot of older tech. We recorded in a studio that’s been operating since the 40s. There’s a lot of the same equipment. I feel like that maybe gave it a little bit more of a rock ‘n’ roll…
Luke Burba: The energy of the live show has always been a staple of this band. That was one thing we really wanted to try to capture with these—the hard hitting, live, energetic feel of being at a show. One of the ways I think we pulled that off with these new recordings is really honing in on getting a badass live drum kit sound that carries the tune but it’s also a little bit crazy and a little frenetic.
I was listening to ‘Keep The Lie’ when you talk about going to New York at 18—did that time in New York influence this record?
Harry May Kline: It’s funny actually. There used to be an interchange between me and Molly when we’d do that song live. It was a call and response. It’d actually be the part where I say I moved to New York City—it was actually something I adapted from a line that Molly had. That she had moved away from home and went to school and had all this stuff. I adopted that from her. Especially… she wrote the part ‘white girl’s dream’, and I was like, ‘that’s a good line.’ I love the idea of making fun of myself being like, ‘Oh, I moved to New York when I was 18 because I thought of myself as an “artist,”’ and it’s such a white boy’s dream. That’s the identity of this song. It’s about owning the legend that is yourself in a way. But also being able to see how goofy it is to embellish yourself in those ways. You should feel empowered about the things that you do, but also you’re just like … a goofy 18 year old. I moved to New York and that’s cool, and it’s also not cool. I think that’s so funny about that song—it’s both talking about somebody who’s cool and also not cool, and how that’s just everybody, and everybody’s keeping the same lie.
Wait. I got to tell you the truth. I have no idea if he went to New York or not based on that answer.
Luke Burba: Harry did move to New York when he was 18 to pursue his little white boy theater dreams.
Wonderful. I actually didn’t know that you had a theater background.
Harry May Kline: I do have a theater background. That’s the reason I moved to New York. I did theater there for about three years and ultimately moved back to L.A. and decided not to pursue acting. I never wanted to do film or television. I always wanted to perform on stage because that’s where I felt most comfortable. I realized I can get more success and more fulfillment creatively from having a musical project and being able to perform live than joining a play where I have to rely on… When you do a play and it’s great, it’s the most rewarding thing ever. Unfortunately, most of the time you’re not doing good stuff.
Luke Burba: Unfortunately, theater is bad. [laughs]
Harry May Kline: Most theater is really bad. I think a lot of people will agree.
Does the hunger for that live feeling play into you having a live band? That’s increasingly rare these days.
Harry May Kline: It’s super important to me. I think that’s why we do a really good live show—Luke and I know how to incorporate a lot of theatrical elements into what we do. We know that the lights are really important, we know that the way that a set moves is really important. It’s not just a series of songs. It’s a whole story and there’s coordinated transitions … and all that shit’s so important. Partly what sets us apart from a lot of other people is we understand the element of the show, not just the songs.
Luke Burba: The Dream Machine’s live show, we’ve always been inspired to make it pretty theatrical and not just a band—but like Harry said, the lights and the sound and kind of everything. Harry coming from a theater background and me coming from also a little bit of a theater background and from a tech background running sound and lights for concerts … Incorporating all of that to make it special has always been part of the goal.
I’ve worked with you at the Hi Hat. It’s a very interesting show. If you remember it? There were like four people in the crowd.
Luke Burba: Gotta love it.
Has your experience as an engineer had any impact on this record? I can’t imagine it doesn’t, right?
Luke Burba: Totally. I started recording and engineering music when I was 15 years old, and studied it in school a little bit. For the past seven or eight years I’ve been working as a live sound engineer at the Troubadour and also at the Hi Hat. That’s been a really neat experience for me as a songwriter and as a producer for this band. Everyday I go into work and see how professional touring bands are doing it—see how things are working. I help set everything up and I learn what looks cool and what doesn’t look cool, and what works and what doesn’t, what’s interesting and what’s everybody doing and how can you incorporate things … but make yourself unique compared to what everyone’s used to seeing? It’s a super huge advantage. I always try to incorporate all the things I learned doing that into how I can make this project unique. I engineered a lot of the record as well, so just using the techniques I’ve learned over the years to help capture sound the way we want to has been super helpful.
I want to ask you a trillion questions because I feel like there should be a sound engineer TV show. A ‘High Fidelity’ but for sound people.
Harry May Kline: Sound guys are the opposite of what you would want on a reality TV show. You’re not going to get any histrionics or Kardashian-style fights or anything. You’re just going to have a lot of guys going like, ‘Oh, okay.’
I can put it together, right? I just need a couple of intense stares and just flip them and zoom them. It would be great. ‘Fate’, because I’m a really dramatic person, is my favorite song on this project. Is the lyric, ‘All alone, I stand at grave upon a stage’?
Harry May Kline: Yeah.
What the fuck does that mean?
Harry May Kline: It’s hard to explain. The way I see it is … when you are faced with looking at your destiny as an artist, you’re ultimately like looking at your mortality, right? Is your mortality going to exist beyond yourself? Or is it this going to be it? It’s about anxiety. It’s about anxiety as an artist. It’s a vague way of saying that, but it’s like, ‘Here I am, this is all I have to give. Once I’m gone, this is it.’ Is this going to go beyond me or not? There’s an element of writing that line and being like, where is the poetic imagery gonna be? Just thinking of the line and then taking meaning from that. I think that’s what poetry is anyway.
There’s a quote, a YouTube comment: ‘This band is incredibly talented and awesome. The lead singer reminds me of George Michael and the band is sensationally [sic]. Their music is so much fun to dance to and I listened to them at a yoga music event at Paramount Ranch. They need to be playing in a larger venue where people can dance a feel good.’ You got that. That happened after 2015. ‘I can’t say enough about how good they are. The lead singer has an amazing voice and is very talented. All of them are extremely talented. They need to be found out,’ with five exclamation points. Then, ‘By a good music manager,’ after the exclamation points.
Luke Burba: Oh yeah. Tell me about it right?
Harry May Kline: That’s really the kicker.
I loved that the comment was really enthusiastic. It was an elaborate setup to ask, what is y’all situation right now? You with a label? Do you have manager? What’s good?
Harry May Kline: We don’t have a manager. We have been getting support from our publishing company and they have been very supportive of us and have been acting as our liaison for the music industry, and putting us through the right doors and whatnot. That’s the situation that we’re in now. Other than that, we’re pretty much independent.
Luke Burba: We both come from a DIY music background, so we’re used to flailing around ourselves and figuring things out as we go. As of right now, we’re totally independent, we don’t have management, we don’t have a label, we’re self-releasing this EP. Phantom Vibe Records—that’s the Dream Machine’s label.
Did you just riff that right now?
Luke Burba: Yeah, baby—April 10th, Phantom Vibe Records.
Hell yeah. PVR, I love that. Everyone’s going to want to know this, I sang with you one time and you were singing with one of the lead singers from Dream.
Harry May Kline: [laughs] Yes.
How did that happen?
Harry May Kline: She and I worked together at the Ace Hotel.
Oh, okay. Yeah. Wonderful. Make it sound sexier.
Luke Burba: That was a really great experience. We had a lot of fun working with Diana. She’s amazing, super nice—what a fun experience that was. Those shows that we played with her were super fun and that specifically, that moment of singing ‘Too Close’ with you at the Moroccan Lounge was a real treat.
Harry May Kline: That’s still one of my favorite moments of—
Luke Burba: —of this band, for sure.
Harry May Kline: I had so much fun. It just worked out so well. Everything worked really, really well. It was so good. We had with the most electric chemistry on stage, you and I. It got very, very sexy. There was one point where I think you and I both had the instinct of shaking our booties at each other and then we—in thinking the other one was going to grind on the other person—ended up just being you and I rubbing booties together.
That’s how people mate these days. And going forward, probably. Do you have anything else you want to confess?
Harry May Kline: I don’t know. I guess we were going to start playing a bunch of shows. We had started to work on putting some stuff together and then this whole pandemic happened and so we don’t have anything on the books, which kind of sucks. It’s been a bummer for us this year because we haven’t really been playing a lot of shows for a while. We took a little break with the expectation that we were going to start playing a lot more shows, and now we have to re-reorganize a little bit. We’re working on a bunch of new stuff for after this EP. Probably another EP will come out pretty soon. We’ve got a bunch of stuff that I’m really excited about.
Luke Burba: I have another confession to make. We made a limited edition run of 100 cassette tape printings of the EP. Side B features some exclusive content—a couple of remixes we made, a remix that our friend Henry Was of Thumpasaurus made and also a live acoustic outtake of ‘Fate’ from Valentine Studios where we recorded all the drums. We’re contemplating where whether to sell these online at the moment. I’m kind of leaning towards waiting because part of the idea of having these was to create a unique opportunity for fans who come to our shows to buy some merch. There’s only 100 of these, so I want to give all of our die-hard fans first priority. Keep an eye out. We’re really excited about this. We’ve got some cool new cassettes. April 10th is the EP—very stoked.
DREAM MACHINES’ TRUST / DESIRE EP IS AVAILABLE HERE.