“The very idea of being in a band in 2014 is pretty stupid” – Dope Body interviewed
Dope Body's Andrew Laumann and David Jacober say the Baltimore noise rock four-piece are fighting for air on their riotous latest album, Lifer
“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it,” reflects David Jacober on his band's forthcoming tour. “Good to get some fresh air, y’know?”
Dope Body haven’t had much of that lately. Confining themselves to their rehearsal space in the middle of Baltimore – Jacober’s blunt description of it as “a rundown piece of shit” bringing to mind flickering bulbs, forlornly peeling paint and sweat-saturated carpets – they’ve spent the last nine months playing, playing, then playing some more; coming in early, finishing late; dodging the junkies hanging round their rehearsal block as they leave; stepping over them as they return the next day to agonisingly skim another layer of fat off a song’s already flayed, taut physique.
Baltimore has given a lot to the popular music canon in the last few years; currently that’s taking the form of a histrionic quasi-motivational speaker and his deadpan synth-pop chums. However, although Dope Body singer Andrew Laumann actually lives with Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring, his own band are drawn more towards the grittiness and the shadows of the city that can keep someone there, as opposed to the sort of bright glittering pop that helps them get out. “It’s a great city and as an artist it’s affordable,” says Jacober. “But things change even from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. A couple of months ago someone was doing a drive-by shooting, and they missed the person they were aiming for and killed a little three-year-old girl on her porch. And that was a five minute walk from my house where it feels totally safe. So it’s definitely fucking crazy.”
It’s these kinds of experiences that partly inform the Drag City Records’ four-piece’s sound which, until forthcoming record Lifer [reviewed here] at least, had best been encapsulated over their six years together on the remorseless head punches of 2012’s Natural History, veering with gapped-teeth between noise rock and post-hardcore, the two ultimately coming together in brutal conflict on eighth track Weird Mirror. “I think part of what we do is just about people who are rough around the edges and fucked up,” comments Jacober. “We grew up in suburbs outside Baltimore around some pretty trashy people and we don’t deny that.”
“It feels like this could fall apart at any moment, but that gives us an obligation to each other to make it work or self-destruct" – Andrew Laumann
The claustrophobia on that record has been replicated on Lifer, easily linked to the real-life suffocation of their rehearsal space self-imprisonment, but whereas previous releases revelled in the cloying atmosphere, their new album pushes back, attempting to open up some breathing space among its battling elements. “I think we’re getting more mature as songwriters,” Jacober says. “The first couple of records are balls to the wall, which is cool; but our tastes are changing a little bit. We’ve been listening to more electronic music, and our own tastes our changing constantly too – listening to our solo records you could never guess we were in the same band.”
The title Lifer suggests a slightly more introspective, considered look at where the group are at this point in their time together. It was, after all, a record that Jacober admits could’ve been their last, one made by people stuck at that point in their 20s where their own identity is becoming clearer. “I think after we’d given it that name it took on more meaning for me,” Jacober admits. “It felt like ‘this is what we’re doing. It could be for the rest of our lives or this could be it, but we’re in it together.’ A bit like realising where you are in life, I guess. We’re not old but we’re starting to feel like ‘OK, this is us.' We might just be in rock bands the rest of our lives, and we might not be famous but we like doing it. I know Andrew will hate that answer and think of something completely different.”
Andrew Laumann’s words, as much on a laptop screen as when hollered down a mic, strike out at you. The vocalist’s email missive is candid, unafraid to take aim at a gentrifying Baltimore and the next group of kids who “simply don’t care anymore” about keeping its music scene alive; but there’s plenty of self-admission too. “The word ‘lifer' kept coming back to me,” he reflects. “As our last tour waned on and we aged from boys to slightly older boys, I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life. I was surrounded by strong personalities of people who were either very young and making decisions that would limit the scope of what they would be able to do, or older influences who'd long ago chosen a path and are forced to live with its consequences.”
Laumann admits he’d never seen himself as sticking to one path – “a master of none,” he claims; but if you include early cassette Twenty Pound Brick and a split LP with Brooklyn duo Orphan, alongside 2011's more time-signature-restless Nupping, Dope Body are now on their fifth album. “I’ve realised I am a 'lifer' in my own sort of way,” he writes. “I'm not going to go back to school, I'm not going to get a straight job and I'm in too deep in this lifestyle. I owe too much to my bandmates or the slew of people who have supported us to stop now. For better or worse I'm an all or nothing kind of guy, so I decided to keep going.”
So it was that the group wound up at Serious Business Studios in Manhattan, recording Lifer in four 13-hour blasts with producer Travis Harrison, who’s built a small cult following for his label with releases for veteran Goldsmith’s College-formed punk group The Homosexuals. The necessity to record there came out of a desire to put the band in a situation that felt different from the norm, to focus their minds on what they were in the studio to do. “I would like to never record in the city we live in again,” says Laumann. “Which is no offence to Baltimore or its producers, but we cannot let our daily lives interfere with the recording process when we're in an unnatural place with a job to do.”
In keeping their method of writing the record, however, the group continued to keep playing it live over and over again, before picking out the best cuts at the end – recorded to analogue tape. “The best performance we can give is when we are exhausted and really feeling it, so usually the best sessions were late at night after being in the studio all day,” Laumann says. “It was bitter cold out and snowing the whole time and we were in this tiny little studio in SoHo. It didn't feel limiting though, we work best when we're up in each other’s shit.”
Like Jacober, Laumann admits that Dope Body are changing as an outfit. Building their reputation live, having toured Natural History for 19 months straight, the group have always sought to insert the intensity borne out of their beginnings playing in warehouses and basements in Baltimore. “Playing how we did wasn't the complete scope of our abilities and we’ve realised it was necessary to really try to play quieter to make when it was loud more important,” he opines. This is reflected most clearly on Echo, which dies right down to its embers in its poised verse, before roaring back into engulfing life. It is, to put a sweeping analogy to it, an apt summation of Dope Body themselves, recently feeling like they were fading away after tour-on-tour of little more than petrol money and backseat sleeping; only to re-gather and, with Lifer, hopefully reach further than ever before.
“The very idea of being in band in the year 2014 is pretty stupid,” Laumann says. “I feel like we're holding onto some sort of dead art like analogue photography or something. None of it adds up.” But Dope Body aren’t going anywhere soon. “It feels like it could fall apart at any moment, but that gives us an obligation to each other to make it work or self-destruct,” he adds. “We’ve been apart a while and are itching to get on the road. We are still inspired to prove to the world what we're worth. I don't know what a healthy band looks like and I wouldn't want to know because our friction is what makes us work, a sum of multiple egos fighting against each other, gears in the machine, but we find fuel in the fodder.” And just maybe a chance of some breathing space before they go at it all over again.
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