[caption id="attachment_24934" align="aligncenter" width="445" caption="Dastardly | Photo by Tiela Halpin"]
“Take Five” focuses on Chicago’s ever-growing music scene by giving you insight to the city’s best local acts via the best source possible: the artists themselves. Here is the latest installment featuring Dastardly.
From their raucous live performances to their elaborate music videos, it doesn’t take much media consumption to figure out that the members of Dastardly are pretty cool customers. The Americana outfit craft soulful harmonies around rich, heartfelt storytelling and playful rhythms. The group’s debut EP May You Never...
was somewhere between Elliott Smith and light-hearted bluegrass. Since then, the band has moved into a house together, pulled off a musical variety hour at The Hideout that absolutely slayed and recorded a follow-up that sounds grown-up, but still knows how to amuse.
If 2011 was busy, expect 2012 to be jam-packed for the band. Dastardly releases Bury Me in the Country
on January 31, but the band celebrates the album’s release tonight at Lincoln Hall
with friends Brighton, Ma, and Santah.
Loud Loop Press caught up with Dastardly’s frontman Gabe Liebowitz to steal his storytelling secrets and to discover what brand of bourbon he consumes most often.
LLP: If there's one thing that immediately draws me into Dastardly's music, it's the storytelling. The imagery is very rich. Is storytelling something you can learn or is it something you're born with. And if it's something you can learn, who taught you the tricks of the trade?
Hey, thanks! Words are definitely super important to me. I was actually a writing major for a year at Columbia College. When I dropped out, I pushed myself to read a lot of literature so I could feel like I was making an effort to improve my intellect in one way or another, and was definitely turned on to a lot of different ways to get your imagery cross.
I actually listen to a lot of hip-hop. I respect the hell out of it, because the guys who are super serious about it, they know that lyrics are really the only thing they're bringing to the table, so they put as much effort crafting their words as a songwriter would crafting an entire song. When I'm writing a song, I'll usually drink a Red Bull and listen to "3 Peat" by Lil Wayne or Eminem's verse on "Renegade." The way that these guys weave different thoughts and stories together into one cohesive unit is so impressive to me. I remember, I saw Nas last summer, and afterwards I felt like I had spent a night hanging out with him, and that I suddenly had all of these anecdotes of funny and fucked up things Nas had told me.
And that's really what I aim for. My goal is less to tell a story, and more of giving people the feeling that they're at a bar with me, and I'm drunk and rambling about my dumb opinions on life and random stories and things like that.
I really love when a songwriter establishes a character. Like, those early Jonathan Richman records are amazing to me. He was able to set up the music in a way that made it a springboard for his bizarre ramblings, and all of the songs are so consistent with his outlook. I love the idea of being able to write about whatever I want in the confines of a song. The other day I wrote a song about going to the grocery store. That sort of stuff is really appealing to me, to take the most boring, every day activity and show it through the eyes of your character and make it as interesting as possible.
But when it comes down to it, I try to have my lyrics be as uninspired as possible from other songwriters, and try to pull from different sources in order to make something unique. I want to give the sensation of laughing and crying from a Charlie Chaplin flick. I want to create the oddity and uncomfort of Andy Kaufman, the sweetness and quirkiness of The Muppets, the dysfunction and Jewish self loathing of Woody Allen, etc. etc. all in a 3 minute song!
LLP: Last year, you wrote a guest blog for ChicagoTunes.net about your musical journey, which has ranged from heavy metal to prog rock to country and blues. How or when did you know that you wanted to front an Americana band?
Well, in '09 I was fronting a pretty aggressive proto punk-sounding band with lots of bashy drums and distorted guitar and things like that. I was so completely out of my comfort zone, and all of the lyrics I was writing were so meaningless and did absolutely nothing for me. I'd always adored Townes Van Zandt and Gram Parsons, and just kind of had a revelation right around the time the rock band was falling apart. The way Townes writes a song and just says what he wants to say, with no bullshit or beating around the bush, suddenly became super exciting to me, and made me really investigate the genre of Hank Williams, George Jones, etc. The simplicity and honesty of it all made me feel like it would be the perfect vehicle for my writing, even though I'm a Jew from the east coast.
So that's how it springboarded, and I later on got super interested in the delta blues and older hillbilly music, and what's so great about the music is how ancient it is. The instrumentation of that stuff makes it feel completely of the earth. Everyone's trying to make timeless music, right? For me something about the sounds of acoustic guitar, banjo, accordion, is just timeless and holy to me.
With that being said, once I understood the form and vibe and imagery of the old music like the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, it's been great to collectively take this ancient music and modernize it in our own way, make it proggy, avant garde, noisy, fill it with curse words, and so on. I just love the idea of being able to present people with our own twisted interpretation of this ancient American folk music.
LLP: Going back to the new album, Dastardly just released a new video for "Fever" and there are plans to film another. Do the members of Dastardly enjoy the video process or is it just a necessary evil?
We've been super lucky on the video front! This guy Logan Hall, who's Sarah's boyfriend and also happens to live with us in the Dastardly house, is a super talented director who works at this great post production video house downtown called Opt1mus, and they do a lot of national TV spots. I kind of think of Logan as the sixth member of Dastardly, because he's always conceptualizing these super cool ideas and helping us out with videos.
I think videos are super important and completely necessary. I definitely think we generated a lot more excitement dropping this new track as a little video instead of if we just plopped it online as a Soundcloud stream. I was talking to my buddy Kenny who books at this space in Madison, Wisconsin, called the Project Lodge, and he was saying that when bands e-mail him, all he does is look at a video. I think the days of the EPK are done. A booker wants to see a video because they can hear how you sound and see how you perform live at the same time.
Also, I do Dastardly full-time and tour a lot solo, but the full band isn't able to do as much touring since the rest of the folks are working and in school. But I think of these videos almost as if we're touring...we're able to capture a performance and have people from all around the world see us. It's important to me that we always have material to be releasing on a regular basis so people don't forget about us, and right now we have a backlog of really awesome videos that we're just kind of stashing until the time is right.
People say that music videos are dead because MTV and VH1 stopped showing them, but I think music videos are more popular than ever. If you go to Youtube, for every letter of the alphabet, the first suggestion they give you based on popularity is a band or an artist. Lady Gaga's getting fucking 440 million views. Even indie bands like Grizzly Bear are getting video hits in the millions.
So yeah, videos have definitely done a lot to help boost our web presence. It also doesn't hurt that we're all fucking gorgeous.
LLP: Last year, Dastardly put together a fun music and comedy variety hour at the Hideout. Is this something the band would do again in the future?
Man, that was probably my favorite thing I've ever done! It was so awesome to work with these amazing comedians and put on a cohesive show, and the response was way better than I expected. The Hideout is super down with it, and we've actually agreed to make it a quarterly affair, so we're going to be doing a different sort of variety show at the Hideout three or four times a year. I couldn't be more pumped! Our next one is actually going to be on March 20th, and it's called DASTARDLY PRESENTS MEGACHURCH. That's about all I'm at liberty to say.
LLP: And finally, in various venues it has been mentioned that bourbon is the band's drink of choice. What's your brand?
When we were in the east coast, we were drinking a handle of Jim Beam a night because they were fucking 20 dollars a bottle at the state border of New Hampshire. No sales tax! One night, we played a show in Boston at the house of this guy Will who does press for us and has been kind of mentor on all things music for me since I was 16. He went up to me after we played and said, "You know, you guys sound really good. The songs are great, good harmonies, good energy. But what really impresses me about you guys is that you all drink Jim Beam like it's milk."
So, Jim Beam is pretty responsible for a lot of the rowdiness of our shows, and mistakes and so on. I am really hoping that they pay me for this paragraph. If you're reading, you can just dump it in our PayPal, guys!
View Dastardly's recent Audiotree session
8:00 p.m. Thursday, January 19
, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave.
By Audrey Leon \ comments