[Cover photo credit to Alex Bulli]
I came across the LA band Dream Phases through their work with the label Nomad Eel and the release of their 2019 album, So Long, Yesterday, and their 2020 single “Helen Highway”/”Tandy”. I was drawn in by their thought-provoking musical atmosphere and also by the really accomplished way in which they handled musical traditions from Folk-Rock to Psych-Rock and beyond while creating something entirely new.
Recently, they’ve released their next full album, New Distractions, and will be playing an album release party at The Goldfish in LA on December 4th, accompanied by Communicant, Sam Small, and Maicol. I spoke with Dream Phases members Brandon Graham, Shane Graham, and Keveen Baudouin about the unusual development of New Distractions and how forays into new forms of songwriting helped shape the world of the albums and the videos released so far.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I do see differences and developments between the new album, New Distractions, and your previous album, So Long, Yesterday. I’ll be a little awkward, though, and say that I don’t see as big a change as some people seem to see. I don’t really think, for instance, that you’ve jumped off a cliff with this album.
Brandon and Shane Graham: [Laughter]
HMS: The videos are a huge development, in my mind. I feel like you’ve really jumped forward in that way.
Brandon: Absolutely, yes. We’re actually planning to do one more interview as well that will probably come out around January, probably for “Shortcuts”. It was definitely a conscious decision to make as many videos as we could. The “In a Box” video was probably the most ambitious so far in terms of editing.
HMS: Are all of you actually from California, or did you arrive from other places?
Keveen Baudouin: I came from France and was born there. I moved to LA ten or eleven years ago.
Brandon: Shane and I are from California. We’re not far from where we are now. Shane lives really close to where we grew up, and I’m pretty close. I’m in downtown LA.
HMS: It does seem like with the shifts in sound and the expansion further into videos, there’s more of a world constructed around this album. Was that an intentional thing or typical of how you think about albums?
Keveen: I think this album was a bit more of a collaborative effort, and because of Covid, it kind of forced everyone to be more introspective. It probably caused us to make some music that was a little different. It’s probably the first record we haven’t recorded together in the same room. There are a couple of songs where we did, but for most of them we didn’t, and it’s the record that makes the most sense so far in terms of everyone’s vibe and everyone’s influence.
We kept meeting on Zoom and sharing files back and forth. It created an interesting dichotomy, a kind of paradox between two worlds, and I think the videos highlight that with the different worlds of each video. There’s the “Don’t Forget Love” video being a bit more like a stage and old-school vibe with “fake live” music, whereas “In a Box” is more like a movie short. It was really fun to make that one, for sure.
HMS: Were there more layers of changes to songs because of this situation? Did you allow yourselves to work on the songs for a longer period of time because of collaborating remotely?
Shane: The only song that we had written before the pandemic was “In a Box” and it was the only one that we had even played together in a rehearsal room. That was the main difference for this record. These songs came together just from us rehearsing our parts and seeing what we liked. But there was a lot of freedom, so it was a very interesting way to make a record.
Brandon: What’s interesting, too, is the dichotomy of how we used to record versus how we recorded this album. As Keveen said, we used to record in the past together, but it would also be that I’d make a full demo, and we used to work from there. It was based on us being in room together and working with that. In a way, it was more conceptual this time, without exactly having a concept.
This time, we did a lot of talking. We’d talk about the song based upon the skeletal structure we had. Then we’d talk about what it needed, what kind of instrumentation would work. We even talked, diving deep into the meaning of the lyrics, about how those ideas could work with the instrumentation of the music.
It was interesting that we weren’t in the room together, and yet we were discussing things much more in-depth about what we wanted to do. There was a lot of freedom with everyone’s parts. We did go back and re-run things and bring in new ideas, but there was very little of saying, “Hey, that doesn’t work. Let’s try something totally new.” Instead, it felt very natural. It all went together very smoothly.
Keveen: It also helped that we weren’t rushing it. Even if we had time to rehearse together before other albums, there was always a rush. There would be the moment, rehearsing, and we’d only have a certain number of hours, then we’d go to the studio for a few days or a week. There was always a timeframe, and that can be very helpful in music, but for music with more arrangement because it’s growing, pushing further outside of the box, the pandemic gave each of us the time at home to record and listen to it. We had the perspective and a vision of what we were doing to see what would fit or not.
HMS: That stepping back kind of perspective is what I feel I can see on the album. The big picture is there a little more clearly for each song, and for the album. Maybe also for the ways in which those work together.
Keveen: It’s a way more thoughtful record, but not in an exacting kind of way. It was very natural. I guess it could have gone both ways, I guess, making a record during the pandemic, because a lot of people stopped making music and moved out of LA. When you’re stuck with yourself, sometimes you can’t deal with it. But I think we’re mature enough, and probably making music for the right reasons, at this point, that the pandemic led us to think of different ways to do things.
Brandon: We also wrote a ton of songs for this record, so we had so many to pick from. We probably came up with as many songs last year as we did in the whole four or five years that the band has been around. We had over 25 songs to pick from, then we narrowed it down to ten, and created a couple pieces during mixing. We were also working on it all the time.
As for myself, I was working on it every day as if it was my regular job. I got into the groove of it. One good thing is that we already had the idea to make a record last year before the pandemic had begun. Once it really hit, I was often recording from around noon until four or five in the morning. That probably went on for three or four months, then we focused on specific songs and got into the mixing.
HMS: What sort of criteria did you use to choose which songs you’d develop for this album out of the possible songs?
Shane: We kind of did a ranking system where we’d pick our number one, number two, number three songs. Then we’d comment.
Keveen: Personal taste as well as what made the most sense together. At the end of the day, most of them did really make sense together because they were conceived at the same time and in the same way. Technically, any of them could have worked, but then it was what everyone preferred.
Brandon: Keveen’s right, I do think that any of the songs could have gone in, but I think the ones that we did pick, ultimately, worked. It was about personal taste rather than which songs might be catchiest. I do think that there are songs that are more upbeat, or could have been singles, that we ended up leaving out. But I think these songs ended up fitting together in a natural way that sounded like an album.
HMS: I think what this means is that you need to release a lot of seven-inch records of the other songs as soon as possible.
Brandon: [Laughs] Because we aren’t going to get the vinyl for this record for a long time, because of the vinyl pressing plant back-up, our label Nomad Eel is doing a seven-inch lathe cut for us that we will have in time for our album release show.
HMS: Oh nice! What’s on that one?
Brandon: You can only fit one song on each side, so we’re putting “Post TV” and “Don’t Forget Love” on that. We’re using the single artwork for each of those two songs.
HMS: How did you come across the album artwork by Andrew McGranahan, or was it made for the album?
Brandon: That was specifically commissioned for the album. He was an artist who was recommended to us who does a lot of work with modern psychedelic bands. He works with so many bands we know and respect and has a really cool style. I basically just gave him a couple of vague ideas and he was really inspired by Japanese artists who did collage, Pop Art, psychedelic styles, and was studying them at the time.
He showed me some different examples and came back and made the album cover. It’s a collage-type approach with all these little references to the songs and the lyrics within it. When I first saw it, I wondered if it was too busy, but after sitting with it for a couple of days, I fell in love with it. It really fits the album.
Keveen: It will stand out a lot on the vinyl, which we haven’t seen yet.
Brandon: It’s going to look really cool that way.
HMS: I can see how it fits this album, but the style wouldn’t have fit the previous album. There’s more complexity in the structure of the new songs and it’s a very structured image. The colors are really great, too.
I saw that you recently played the Freak Out Fest in Seattle. What did you play? Was that the first time you played some of this new stuff live?
Brandon: Keveen just got back from a tour with another band where he was gone for five or six weeks, so since we didn’t have time to rehearse, we did the same set list which we’ve used for the past few months, but that did include nearly half of the record. We did “Don’t Forget Love”, “Temple of Sin”, “In a Box”, “Post TV”, and “Lady in the Moon”.
HMS: You have a launch coming up soon, right, at The Goldfish in LA?
Brandon: Yes, and we are going to do the entire record from start to finish for that show. The Goldfish actually used to be called The Hi Hat, and we did do a release show at The Hi Hat when we did our Easy Love seven-inch. But we haven’t played at the remodeled venue. They have moved the stage and done a whole new acoustic treatment there. It’s only been open for a couple months. We’re excited.
HMS: It’s great that it’s reopening and not closing for good! Was the more conceptual approach to this album something that made transitioning to live play a little more difficult for these songs?
Brandon: I guess I’ve always been switching between acoustic guitar and electric guitar, so that wasn’t such a big thing, but for over half of the record, I’m playing acoustic guitar. Usually there are one or two songs on the other records where I do that. Also, for the album release show, we’re actually going to have a sixth person join us so we can really fill out the harmonies and all the extra things. We’re about to do a rehearsal with all of us. There are a lot of layers, so we kind of just picked what were the most essential to get the song across, and kind of stuck to those. For the release show, we’ll be able to do even more of that, so we’re excited.
HMS: What do you each think about people saying that this is a heavier album from you, sound-wise? Or that it takes things in a harder or edgier direction?
Shane: I wouldn’t say heavier. I think it is a little bit “edgier” with things like “Post TV” and “Lady and the Moon”. We’ve had rockers on early albums, but these have more edge. With something like “Post TV”, I wanted to incorporate more of a Post-Punk influence on that song. I wanted to incorporate more of a Post-Punk and Kraut Rock influence on the band, in general, as we progress. I don’t think it’s a massive departure from our past records, I just think we’re evolving as a band now.
Before Brandon would bring in the skeleton of a song, but sometimes that imposed restrictions because he’d already have the idea laid out. That’s cool, because then you have a vision and you can follow it. But when he didn’t, there was free reign to create within our similarities. I think that really opens up a lot of doors for us.
Keveen: Yes, in terms of trying to stay within the same style and the same concepts, I don’t think this stretches too far from the previous record. But in terms of pushing things forward, I think this pushes things a little more, and then a little more. Once everyone finds their own identity, though, whatever music you make is going to sound like you. And I think Dream Phases is starting to sound like an entity. I think at this point, we can push things in any direction, and it will still have the same core.
Brandon: I don’t necessarily think this record is heavier. If anything, I think this record is even more dreamy and kind of subdued, actually. There are a couple of songs that may be. There are several songs that we left off the record that are heavier. This one is almost more pastoral. There’s so much acoustic guitar throughout the record. I think some of our earlier stuff is heavier, so it’s hard to say.
Stay tuned for an upcoming follow-up interview with Dream Phases on the singles and videos for New Distractions!