DREAM BOYS: WE ARE REALLY UNHIP BUT I DON’T CARE
We’re hesitant to call these guys a “super group.” It’s not that the four grown men in Dream Boys haven’t all spent time with great bands like Neverever, Devon Williams, Wet Illustrated and the Strange Boys. But we don’t want you thinking they sound like a blend of modern indie rock styles; in fact, Dream Boys utterly reject the “washed-out, reverby” sounds that so many bands, even some of their own, are going for now. Instead, Wayne Faler, Wallace Meek, Will Ivy and Mike La Franchi prefer to play rock-pop music with smart parts and tight harmonies, compact songs that seek to be the Searchers and are for fans of Teenage Fanclub. The band speaks now to Ian Marshall about songwriting, defining “success” in the modern musical era, and how listening to Depeche Mode makes goth girls intriguing. This interview by Ian Marshall.
What was the intention behind this band getting together—you all had other projects, right?
Wayne Faler (guitar, vocals): I wanted to start a band that sounded like stuff I listen to all the time—I think all of us listened to, actually— which is a lot of paisley underground stuff, C86 stuff, early Creation Records and a lot of 60s bands. Not to try and copy that stuff but to try to write music that I feel like I’d want to listen to that would hold up to the music that I like to listen to.
Wallace Meek (guitar, vocals): It was just to play music that we liked that wasn’t like the bands we were in.
Will Ivy (bass, vocals): I moved here about two years ago and they mentioned that they were doing it and I heard the songs and thought it was really good. It was something I wanted to be a part of. You guys had been doing it for like a year.
I remember hearing about it as if you guys had sort of a party band, a little bit like, ‘Oh, this is like our fun band and we all have our other projects.’ Until you showed me the record I thought you guys were not that serious.
WF: Our first show was a party and it was really weird because—well I guess it’s natural for a lot of bands’ first shows to be parties but I felt like everyone we know was there to check it out and it kind of felt more serious.
WI: We’ve been pretty lucky to be supported right off the bat.
WM: I feel like I’ve been in bands so much that it’s just to have fun and trying to be too serious is just stupid.
It had the feel of a supergroup a little bit from the beginning.
Mike La Franchi (drums): All bands are supergroups. Everyone’s been in everyone else’s band.
WF: I feel like in L.A. a lot of people play in a lot of bands but Wallace was saying that in Scotland it’s not as accepted, which is something I didn’t know.
WM: Scotland is really small, and bands there are all about being into the same stuff and being more like a gang. Here it’s more like one guy’s project and everyone else plays and helps out. But people in Scotland don’t tend to do that as much. When I was in Glasgow we shared members with Jihae’s [Wallace’s wife] band and it caused all sorts of problems. It was horrendous. It was not fun. You’re in one band and that’s kind of it.
Did you move here cuz your wife wanted to move back? Did you have other reasons?
WM: I just met someone I fell in love with and got married and that was that. My band, Bricolage, was doing kind of well, so it was kind of a weird situation. We’d just been signed and recorded a record, and I was like, ‘Well, I’m moving.’ So they all hated me. I loved all the music from L.A., I just never thought I’d live here. I’d never really met someone from America before Jihae, let alone someone from L.A.
Are you homesick for Scotland?
WM: I miss my friends and family, obviously, and I miss football, but that’s kind of it. Glasgow is really small and the music scene is really small and after Franz Ferdinand blew up, everybody that moved there was more douchey, like people who move to London to be famous, and it became more of a tough place to live. It was weird.
As someone who use to dabble in bands and play music, it seems so difficult to get noticed nowadays because of the proliferation of bands but also just the annoying new logic to marketing yourself via social media.
WM: I think back to when bands used to come from strange places where people would be isolated and they would make their own little crazy world and music. Glasgow is an example of that, but nowadays everyone is aware of everything that’s going on all over the world because of the internet and everyone starts copying and there’s not as many people as isolated creating their own world anymore.
WI: I’ve been feeling more and more like the reward just has to be playing music itself. You just have to be happy about the music you’re making and the people you’re making music with. Succeeding at music at this point seems so unrealistic that it just has to become a fun thing that you enjoy.
WF: The final product of a record to me is the most rewarding part. I think a lot of people feel like that these days because it’s so cheap to make a record, and if you can bunker down enough to really concentrate on something that you’re really proud to release, I think that’s enough for a lot of people. I do think it’s strange that the norm is that most artists don’t expect to make any money off a record anymore because people will get it for free. It’s just an accepted thing.
WM: The only cool thing nowadays is that you can make a record for practically nothing. That’s the one good thing about technology. It’s just so easy to buy a laptop and record an album where it used to be a struggle to go into a studio and get your material together.
WF: I feel like songwriting is a little bit more lazy nowadays for a lot of bands. It seems like a lot songs have one theme or riff for the whole song and there has to be a sing-a-long anthemic part and soundscapey U2 stuff. Not that all music has to have the same goal or values, but for us we all wanted to write songs more like the condensed pop songs from the 60s. Trim the fat and have a focused, three-minute piece. A lot of music I hear sounds like a four-to-five-minute jam recorded on a computer with some undefined vocals in the background. Like mood music or something.
WI: What I like about our approach is audible vocals. So many new bands have these washed-out, reverby delayed vocals and we put a lot of emphasis on harmonies and such.
Mike, do you sing?
WM: We’re trying to get him to but …
ML: I can’t.
WM: Let’s get him one of those headpieces.
WI: Or a Bluetooth mic.
There is nothing about this record that sounds like it couldn’t have come out in 1989.
WI: That’s an awesome compliment. I think.
WM: We like vintage, but it’s not all vintage.
WF: We recorded digitally, but we used some early 80s analog stereo chorus and de- lays on guitars. I don’t know if it was conscious thing to make it sound old, but we definitely wanted it to sound like records that we listen to.
WI: Is it hard to believe that it came out now?
Now you can say, ‘What guitar pedals do you think were used on ‘I Wanna Be Adored?’ and google it and there’ll probably be pages of info on how to get that sound. But I always have a little bit of fear about this new breed of musician kid who’s too sophisticated and can get this info and repeat it like a robot.
WI: That part has never really interested me, like the gear part. I’ve never really looked into what gear was used on records. It would ruin the mystery of what’s happening on the recording for me.
WM: I don’t know. I like knowing what people used.
WF: Like most bands, we had a limited budget, so we just used what we had and tweaked it until it sounded good to us. It wasn’t super calculated. The main effects unit we used on guitars is something that the Church and R.E.M. used in the early 80s, but we honestly didn’t know that until after we had it. I opened for the Church once with another band and talked to them about gear and saw that they had it too.
In terms of writing, everybody contributes a little bit? Or is it like Will has to beg to get a couple songs on the album?
WI: No, they were really cool about it, which made it even more exciting to me to join when I did because I’m always writing songs and I’m looking for an outlet for them. I love pop music and I like that I have a way to express that side of my songwriting with these guys.
WM: I always thought the easiest band to be in would be Teenage Fanclub because you have to write like four songs every year and a half, really. So that’s why I wanted people who could write as well. It’s hard if you are the one person who has to write everything.
And you end up turning out stuff that’s half-assed …
WM: It’s not competition, but friendly spurring each other on.
WF: There is pressure to bring in a song that everyone is going to like because of the harmonies—when someone else has to sing your lyrics or vice versa it adds pressure to make it good.
WF: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s the first time I’ve done it on this level where it is like Teenage Fanclub and we are trying to do three-part harmonies. It’s strange having people learn your lyrics.
WI: At the same time though, it’s funny to think that we’ve all been in bands where you had no idea what the singer’s saying. It could’ve been some really awful shit in there.
What are these songs about?
WM: Life, I guess. I don’t know.
WI: I’d say they are all pretty personal and introspective.
WM: Highly sexual.
WI: That’s all you need to know, actually.
WF: You don’t want it to be too personal, because other people have to sing it.
WM: Also, you don’t want it to be too personal because you want other people to relate to it. … I think lyrics are important because, for example, Field Mice—his lyrics. I hate them. He starts sing about being embarrassed about his gender and stuff and I’m like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ It just ruins the song for me.
WF: What about McCarthy? I really like their music, but sometimes the political stuff is too wordy for such pretty songs.
WM: I think it’s better than singing about being embarrassed about your gender.
WF: For me it’s a lot about melody. I either like someone’s sense of melody or I don’t. I’ll listen to someone’s phrasing and melody and I’ll listen to the lyrics lightly at first and go deeper with them later unless they’re terrible right from the start.
WM: It’s hard to say something and not be preachy.
Where is everyone from?
WI: I’m from Phoenix.
What was it like in Phoenix for you?
WI: I felt like I was in a Bed, Bath and Beyond that I couldn’t escape.
Did anybody here have a rough upbringing? Wallace, aren’t the public schools pretty rough in Scotland?
WM: A lot of them are, yeah. Especially if you are a ginger.
Aren’t they all?
WF: I grew up in a small town in Michigan. My older brothers were into new wave music and punk but not a lot kids around me were. There were a lot of burnout metalhead types that would yell ‘faggot’ and throw stuff at us while we were skateboarding. But that counter-culture helped define who I became and separated me from a lot closed-mindedness.
WM: Someone just drove by us about an hour ago during our photo shoot and yelled ‘faggot’ at us. (Laughter)
Do you think that if you were 13 and your future self came back and said, ‘In 2013, you’ll be in a band called Dream Boys,’ you’d believe them?
WF: I think I totally would. I still love a lot of the same music I listened to back then.
So you would have thought back then, ‘That’s a cool name for a band’?
WF: Yeah, maybe. I thought that new romantic or sensitive music was cool. I thought that goth girls who listened to the Cure and Depeche Mode were sexy and intriguing. I believed in it then, so I guess I’d believe my future self.
WI: It would’ve made complete sense to me if ended up in a band called Dream Boys.
WM: The only people who listened to the same music as me, it seemed, were girls. All the guys were really into punk. It was all skater guys who I grew up with, so getting them into Belle & Sebastian wasn’t gonna happen.
WF: Yeah, not gonna skateboard while listening to Belle & Sebastian.
Let’s talk about some songs here. ‘Through and Through’ is a real standout. It’s nice because you have a wall of guitars before that and then the tension builds when all of that drops out for the start of that song.
WF: I wrote that one. … For me, that song has a certain sonic space that I liked and that’s how I think about music a lot in general. It’s a mood that I have or I want to have and a song reinforces that or inspires that. I’ll develop a song until that space exists and I want to spend some time in it. People have mentioned that it’s a little shoegazey to them. We like shoegaze, but never want to go too far down any path.
Throughout the record I noticed breaks, almost like in funk music, where there’s no one really singing and the guitar does something cool.
WM: It’s hard sometimes to stop it because we could keep doing that forever. We try to keep those things fairly simple.
Yeah, they are usually really short—like eight bars or something. But you could almost interchange them. It’s one of the more unique ‘signatures’ of the band.
WF: Actually the solo in ‘Through and Through’ came about by listening to a lot of Thin Lizzy and realizing they have unique chord progressions for their guitar solo sections. They never go to those chords except for that section. So, we are conscious of those kinds of things but we don’t want it to go too far and turn into a jam or something. Maybe we’ll be more open to that in future records, but for this first one we tried to keep a leash on it.
‘Holding Pattern.’ That’s one of the catchiest songs on the record. What is this ‘holding pattern’ you speak of?
WI: I guess when I wrote it, it was a particularly down moment about no matter how hard I tried, I ended up back at the beginning.
Did you write ‘Citrus Girls,’ Wallace?
WM: Yes. I just wanted to do a song like ‘Cinnamon Girl’ and make it nastier or more bitchy.
What is a ‘citrus girl’?
WM: It’s in there somewhere. Just listen to it.
Are Dream Boys making a statement?
WM: I don’t know if we are making a statement. I do think we are different than what’s around.
WI: Genuine pop music is a statement in itself.
WF: Dream Boys the name is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it’s also intentional because we wanted to make pretty music with harmonies and decided to call it what it is.
WM: I also like that when you google it, the U.K. male stripping group mostly comes up.
WF: Dream Boys U.K. is like the Chippendales of America.
Do you think this band has much hope of being accepted by an audience beyond people that you know personally?
WM: At this point I’m so over caring about that, but I think the songs are good enough.
WI: We’d like to think it can be liked by people other than our friends.
WM: I think we’ve gotten a response from a little bit of a lot of groups. We’ve gotten kids from different countries into Brit pop and then we have people who grew up listening to Teenage Fanclub, etc.
WF: There’s always small groups of people into older genres. There’s always been a little rockabilly scene or kids into garage rock. There’s kids getting into older new wave records and making music influenced by that. It seems like a million bands over the last fifteen years have been ripping off the Chameleons and Joy Division and trying to modernize it.
I’ve grappled with this because in my own life I sit immersed in a world of irrelevant records from the 80s, 90s, 60s and 70s and I wonder if I’m completely out of touch and I hear something like this and I think, ‘Well, maybe it’s fresh as well to like those kinds of records.’ Do you think the music is relevant?
WM: I think we are really unhip but I don’t care.
WF: I don’t know if it’s our job to care about being relevant.
WI: I think pop music is always relevant. There is always a place for it. Of all the bands I’ve been in this has been the most liked by my parents and my friends. (Laughter) So, there is something to that.
How come you don’t really have any ballads on the album?
WF: We’re kind of more open to that now.
ML: Maybe some instrumentals?
WF: Yeah, and a song with no drums!
So you are already on the second record?
WF: Yeah, we recorded an EP which is one song from each songwriter and a cover song, ‘Wet Blanket’ by the Chills, which we learned as a birthday present to Jessica Espeleta.
Was it hard to come up with more songs after finishing your last record?
WI: I think we write more songs than we can even learn as a band. With me it’s like a feeling hits. I mean, I go through dry spells but I’ll write a ton of songs all at once and then wonder why that happened. I couldn’t just set aside time to write like, ‘This is the time when I will write a song.’
WF: To sit down and finish something you are proud of is a matter of work. I read an interview with Leonard Cohen were he talks about sitting down at a desk every morning and treating writing like a job. Sometimes it’s fruitful and sometimes it’s painstaking, but that’s what it takes. But he takes like a year or more to finish some ideas.
How do you hope this group is remembered?
WI: Ideally it’d be for songs that people cared about and loved and just remembered positively. If the songs popped in their head once in a while, then cool. I just want to be remembered as a sincere, genuine pop band, I guess.
WF: I think that’s the most important thing, personally, to leave a body of work that you’re proud of. It’s the only thing that makes all of the sacrifice worth it. I mean, being in a band is absolutely a fucking sacrifice in every sense—financially, emotionally …
The best-case scenario for people getting into music now is what? Having two to three great records?
WM: I think five good records.
WF: To me a record is something you get into for a phase in your life. I think that’s all you can hope for as an artist is that someone will get into your record the same way you got into someone else’s record. It’s something they listen to for a period of time and if you’re lucky, years later they listen to it again and still like it.
What record are you immersed in right now?
WF: I’ve been listening to the Searchers Love’s Melodies a lot recently.
That’s funny because there is a Searchers-y thing to your record. I’d say Dream Boys have more in common with the Searchers than the Byrds.
WI: I’m going through a 60s phase where I’m listening to a lot of songs by the Dovers, the Choir and the Squires.
WM: I’ve been obsessed with the Sea Urchins Stardust record.
ML: The second Idle Race record. Every day almost. Every song is good. The funny thing is, I listen to it in my car and it only comes out of one speaker, but just that one side of the mix is so good on its own. I also enjoy it in stereo, of course…
DREAM BOYS WITH FRANKIE ROSE ON SUN., FEB. 2, AT THE ECHO. 6 PM / $10-$12 / ALL AGES. DREAM BOYS’ SELF-TITLED LP IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM ART FAG. DREAMBOYSBAND.COM.