Local Artist Spotlight: Dude York

All photos by Melissa Wax

Every week, KEXP features a new local artist with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. This week, we’re featuring Seattle indie rock outfit Dude York, who play Ballard Seafood Fest this Saturday night.

Dude York is funny. Not like “peculiar” funny, but “haha, that’s a good joke” funny. Since they emerged in Seattle with their 2011 debut Gangs of Dude York, they’ve built a reputation for their infectious guitar-heavy tunes as well as their hilarious stage banter and antics. A Dude York show can be the perfect medicine for Seattle’s perpetual winter grayness, but the band themselves are not immune to those same struggles many locals face. Enter their latest record, Sincerely, out now on Hardly Art Records.

Though their songs are filled with invigorating hooks and a healthy dose of wit and self-awareness, the songs on Sincerely see the band opening up about their personal struggles. Hearing a band with such camaraderie and joy like Dude York reveal that they too go through hard times is profound as a listener. Sincerely is the band processing their own grief and depression, but it’s also them growing and finding ways to overcome the anxieties that bring them down. We caught up with Dude York about the importance of friendship and humor to their band, finding perspective on tour, and the brilliance of The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle.

One of the things that’s clear right off the bat with Dude York is the camaraderie, both musically and how you riff off each other’s jokes on stage. Do you feel like friendship and humor are key to the band? How long have you known each other before starting the band?

Andrew Hall: Peter and I have known each other since 2006, Peter and Claire met a few years before that — so yeah, we knew each other for quite some time before this band started!

Friendship and humor are everything — if we didn’t like each other, we couldn’t survive the insanity of record-making and touring. Without jokes, the shows and the drives on tour, and all the strange, sometimes amazing, sometimes horrible things you encounter in this world as a rock band in America in 2017 would probably way harder to make sense of and survive!

Peter Richards: While we are touring we listen to a lot of comedy and podcasts, so we kind of fall into a sort of heightened report riddled with inside jokes and references. One of the great things about being a musician is how generous people are about stealing material as stage banter! My primary goal on stage is to make people feel included and enfranchised. I think that humor and friendship are wide avenues to these feelings in a performance setting. It also makes it a lot easier to feel natural on stage if the people you’re with are making you laugh and vice versa. Claire and I were friends in high school and Andrew and I became friends our freshman year of college. Our personal relationships are very important to me and, in turn, very rewarding in performance and non-performance contexts. I think people forget that playing music on stage is a kind of theater, audience members and performers alike. It seems like a dangerous thing to forget as a performer and a crucial thing to forget as an audience member. It is such a privilege to be on stage in front of people, that we try not to take it or the audience for granted. We feel good when we are joking around with each other and I hope the audience feels good too!

You worked with producers John Goodmanson and JR Slayer on this record, but I was reading that there was a scrapped home-recorded version of the album before you worked with them. What are the main differences between the new and old versions of the record? What do you feel Goodmanson and Slayer were able to bring out in the recordings?

Hall: The home-recorded version of Sincerely has different(-ish) songs, synths, choral singing, and lots of other stuff that was very cool in practice but wasn’t really “us,” if that makes any sense. John and JR (aka Cody Votolato) helped us rein the songs back in to make them hit as hard and be as true to their origins as possible. John is a master at capturing drum sounds. Cody is the best rock music coach one can possibly have and he helps turn moments of uncertainty into some kind of magic.

Richards: We recorded the first iteration of Sincerely with the inimitable Zach Burba from the amazing band iji. We tried out some wild ideas and learned that we wanted the record to have a live energy we felt was lacking from our first attempt. The first version had some experiments that just didn’t pan out, or were arranged in such a way that we felt like they didn’t reflect what we liked about the songs when we played them live. There were a ton of keyboard and guitar overdubs that didn’t add to the cumulative effect of the record. After recording the first iteration, we spent a lot of time performing the songs. From the ways that the audiences responded we learned a lot about how to increase the immediacy, legibility, and urgency of the album. By the time we were working with John and Cody we had a much better idea of how the songs felt and how we wanted them to be received. Cody really prodded us to access the emotional cores of the songs, which I’m sure added to the impact of the recordings. I feel so lucky to have worked with them and had a second chance at recording the record. Our second pass had significantly more intentionality behind it, from which I feel like it really benefits.

You’ve described Sincerely as being an album about losing perspective. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that? Being a few months away from the release and back from tour, do you feel like you’ve gained any new perspective that you hadn’t had before?

Hall: Sincerely is a record about anxiety, hopelessness, and loss. The songs came out of insecurity, spiraling feelings, uncertainty, and not knowing how to move forward. Tour showed us that the songs resonate hard with people all over — and that’s a pretty neat thing!

Richards: Sincerely is in many ways about losing focus on what makes you happy and helps you generate momentum and being trapped by cycles of inward focusing anxiety. It is also very much based on experiences with depression, which can often make small barriers large and easy things hard. Having the album out for five months now has very much expanded my perspective, from the personal to the communal. We are all struggling together and the only way through adversity is together. Being on tour has also helped expand this understanding from beyond the regional boundaries of where we live to the national concerns of the people we have met on the road and internet. I can’t wait to continue to grow and expand with the rest of the hard working musicians out there.

Claire sings lead on a couple of the songs on the new record. How did that come about? Do you think she’ll continue to take the lead on more songs in the future?

Hall: Claire played us “Tonight” while we were sharing songs we were working on one night — we were floored and knew we needed to start playing it. “Love Is” came shortly after. Expect to hear more in that direction on upcoming records.

Richards: I sure hope so! I feel so lucky to work with Claire, she has such an awesome voice (both physical and figurative). Claire has such a great ear and instinct for melody. Writing with her has taught me so much and growth is one of the most thrilling parts of any endeavor. She pushes me to write better songs every time she brings one in. Not to say there is a competitive atmosphere to our writing process, but that I get so excited when she brings songs in that I get inspired and write more songs. I’m not sure how her songs started to germinate, but I’m happy they did and I can’t wait to hear what’s next.

The bonus track on Sincerely, “John Darnielle”, is an ode to his 33 1/3 book on Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. What about that book and Darnielle himself connects with you/the band? If you had to write a novel about any album, which would it be and why?

Hall: I have been a Mountain Goats fan forever. I gave Peter Master of Reality for Christmas and the song took shape shortly after. It’s deeply sad, a beautiful take on fandom and trauma, and you can read the whole thing in like 2 hours — highly recommended. John Darnielle understands radical empathy better than just about anyone else on this earth and I will always admire him for that.

As far as a novel about an album, that’s tough! If my teenage self were driving, I’d say Kid A by Radiohead, but I have no idea what that’d look like and would hope no one would ever have to read that.

Richards: Andrew turned me on to The Mountain Goats when we were in school together. He had been a big fan for many years and I had heard them before and his appreciation quickly enhanced mine. “Jonathan” Darnielle is a great writer (of both songs and prose) who expresses the utmost compassion for the subjects of his stories. This is what impacts me the most about his writing, the way he roots motivations and actions in fully dimensional characters.

I have been obsessed with the album From the Attic by Damone, and feel like I would have fun writing a novel about it. I would probably have the most access to writing about No Regerts by Chastity Belt, but I’m worried (and Andrew corroborates this) that it wouldn’t be juicy enough to be engaging. I love the book Please Kill Me for its dishy-ness but I’m not confident that my experiences are as lurid. Andrew’s got me really excited to read that new book about The Strokes and Ryan Adams, Meet Me in the Bathroom.

Your live shows are famously tons of fun with great banter and the occasional wild guitar solo. Do you have anything special planned for Ballard Seafood Fest? What can people who’ve never seen you before expect?

Hall: You’ll have to come see us to find out!

If you’ve never seen us before, we try as hard as we can to give you a high energy rock music performance with a lot of feelings and positive energy in the face of oblivion. Hope that helps!

 

 

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