Dream Phases Talks Building A Visual World For ‘New Distractions’

LA-based band Dream Phases recently released their second full album, New Distractions, via Nomad Eel Records, and celebrated with a launch show. The album was the result of some new approaches to songwriting in a collaborative way among Brandon Graham, Shane Graham, and Keveen Baudouin, and definitely forges ahead in some new sonic directions as well as creating a stronger sense of storytelling on a song-by-song basis.

That move has been really complimented by the fact that the band took a strong interest in making videos to accompany their new songs, with some more possibly in the works. “In a Box”, “Don’t Forget Love”, and “Post TV” have all received very distinctive and creatively divergent videos that help create a visual world for the album and for fans.

In our previous conversation, I spoke with Dream Phases about their new working methods and their launch show, which you can still read here, but in this discussion, we go for more of a deep dive into specific songs and the making of their videos. We also talked about Shane Graham’s big foray into mixing for this album as well as the influence of Kraut Rock and very early Rock ‘n Roll on Dream Phases’ latest music.

Cover art by Andrew McGranahan

Hannah Means-Shannon: Let’s dig into the videos that you made for the singles on the new album. “Don’t Forget Love” is a great idea and really well done. Did it seem like it was too crazy an idea to carry out?

Brandon Graham: I think I have that crazy optimism constantly where I think, “We gotta do this. We gotta make it work. This is the idea. How are we going to get it done?” Definitely, with a couple of people we were collaborating with on it thought, “We can’t do this. We can’t do that.” But I said, “Yes, we can.” It came together pretty organically because a good friend runs a local underground venue and said we should do a music video there. He said that he had some pieces of sets and we could come in and paint them all up.

Working with another friend, Matt Lingo, who’s been helping with a lot of the videos and who directed the “In a Box” video, we wrote up a little script to homage these old late-night shows. We love the style of throw-back stuff. We came up with the idea of an actor being interviewed, and that she’d be talking about a movie, but it would really be our new album. Then we did the miming performance like the kind that would be done in the late 60s. It only took two days and it was super fun. A bunch of people helped us.

HMS: There is some attention to detail there! What really made me laugh was that there are these people just hanging around in the background, because that is like every one of those shows.

Brandon: I hope people pick up on some of the humor in the video. It was definitely supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, but also cool at the same time.

HMS: I think the tone is set when you see the alcohol shaker on the desk of the host. That is so exactly right! It’s great and I’m glad you managed to pull it off. It’s also very funny when the video mentions that your new work is said to be less accessible than your previous work.

Brandon: That’s a little reference to the sophomore slump curse. [Laughter]

HMS: I think this is a pretty big album in terms of how much is packed into it. I think because of the pandemic situation we’ve spoken about before, you were able to keep adding elements that gives it an interesting density. How open are you, as a band, when it comes to talking about song meanings or intentions?

Brandon: It depends on the song, and whether they are more or less specific, but I’m definitely okay talking about it.

HMS: Some people don’t like to influence the audience by talking about it, but the truth is that everyone is going to interpret the song based on how it makes them feel, regardless.

Keveen Baudouin: Once it’s out, it’s not even yours anymore. It’s up to interpretation. Some people write more literally, some people don’t. It’s kind of like with paintings. When you go see Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, it’s obvious what it is, though it’s open to interpretation. Whereas when you see a Jackson Pollock, you make what you want out of that.

Shane Graham: I think it’s always been our intention with songs to leave them open to interpretation and ask, “What does it mean to you?” Especially with Brandon’s lyrics, which tend to be more open.

Brandon: I have tried to become more and more straightforward over time, and while I don’t want to make the lyrics too simple or too easy, I want to be able to explain concepts that can be understood even on the first listen. Sometimes you hear a song and listen to it over and over and still have no idea what’s being said. With these, I’ve tried to make at least the imagery more obvious. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since with our old band, my lyrics were intentionally more about wordplay with less stories. I’m hoping to write things now that have multiple levels.

HMS: Visual imagery sounds like a good way to do that. They say that multiple senses engaged at once tend to make something stay in the memory longer, like a combination of sound and images.

Brandon: I’ve always been really into film and have watched a lot of movies, but during the pandemic, I started to watch a lot more movies again, and I think that’s part of it. It’s also tied into why I think we started doing more music videos with this album since there was a strong visual aspect to the whole thing, whether lyrics, vibe, or atmosphere. Musically, “Don’t Forget Love”, comes from watching a lot of film noir.

Even though there’s an actual experience of a relationship for me in that song, it’s also me being roped in by a femme fatale. It’s that kind of story. It’s like I know I shouldn’t be going along with this relationship, but I do anyway, then it’s me on the bridge trying to convince myself of something. But all the classic noir elements do sometimes come about in life. When you do fall in love with a damaged person, you end up getting bitten. But it’s also me trying to tell this person, “Don’t turn your back on love.”

Photo credit to Alex Bulli

HMS: That could be heavy, but you all do a great job of making it feel dream-like and more contemplative. Why is this the one that got the talk show video, particularly?

Brandon: I think it was us discussing the musical aspect. There was a lot of stuff that I was listening to, and I think the other guys were too, that was pre-Beatles Rock ‘n Roll and I think you can hear a little bit of that in this song. People like the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. Out of all the songs on the album, this one fit that period best.

HMS: This song made me think a more eastern musical influence, like from Memphis and Nashville, for sure.

Brandon: I think all of us really like early Rock ‘n Roll. One of the bonding things we did on tour in Europe was listen to an amazing podcast called Rock ‘n Roll Archaeology that’s made by this amazing guy in San Francisco. Every episode moves through time, but it also relates to culture and technology. We all really got inspired by the 40s and 50s in the period leading up to Elvis. There’s so much interesting stuff there with Blues and Country influence that I love. Hopefully some of that filtered into “Don’t Forget Love”.

HMS: It was a very free time in terms of developing Rock because things weren’t at all fossilized yet, so it can be a big source of inspiration. A very different video and song is “Post TV”. I know that Shane had a lot to do with how the sound developed. Was the idea of the song based on sound to begin with?

Shane: It all started from a demo of mine that was all sound-oriented. I was writing some guitar riffs, a bass part, a drum part. I had some synthesizers in there. Then I sent it to the guys and we rearranged a few things. Brandon came up with the vocals and the melody, and Keveen came up with the bass parts. It was a different thing for us to collaborate on a song in that way.

I am really influenced by Post-Punk and Kraut Rock and really wanted to bring that into the band by creating something upbeat and catchy. I called it “Post TV” because it’s like an evolution of the band Television mixed with the Strokes. I find that music really inspiring and it still sounds modern. Maybe not in terms of production, but in terms of the music.

HMS: There’s a timeless quality to a lot of it. The video works really well for “Post TV”, but what are your thoughts on it?

Brandon: That one came together really quickly. We worked with our old friend Richard who has done some of our videos before. He really likes grittier images so that worked well. We got in touch with a couple of people who were able to set up the TVs, we came up with a concept of what we should wear. We needed something a little minimal and it seemed like it fit the vibe.

HMS: It’s kind of a cross between a live play video and a concept video, and the design works really well.

Shane: I dug it. It was kind of reminiscent of a German vibe and I think it captures the song.

HMS: I know the song “In a Box” goes back further in time, and is possibly the oldest on the album. When a song is older like that, how you reinvent it and finish it?

Brandon: I think we all felt like that song could at least be a single. We weren’t sure it went with this batch of songs, but when the pandemic hit, we felt like things were too heavy to release it that way. Then, in the end, it ended up fitting with everything else. It was written during a particularly dry period for me, creatively, and I made a demo. The song is literally about finding your muse again and getting over writer’s block.

One thing we haven’t mentioned is that Shane mixed this entire record, and it’s the first time he’s done an entire record. When I mixed the demo for this, I think it was a bit more wet and Shane’s mixing has been a little bit drier, so that’s the biggest update to the song. For one, it sounds much better in its new form, and has everyone on it, but the vocals are also more upfront. Things are cleaner and clearer as opposed to what was on the original demo.

Shane: I think it’s more focused on the album, with a little more color. When we were playing it on our previous tour, it was a little more of a rocker. Now it has more surfy elements and is a little more psychedelic. Keveen came up with some new parts.

Keveen: It’s one of the two we ended up recording later.

Shane: “Post TV” and “In a Box” were recorded live together because we wanted to capture more of a live feel. Also, “Shortcuts”.

HMS: I can actually hear that drier aspect to the mixing that you are talking about throughout this album, and that may be part of what makes it so distinctive. It also brings all of the songs together and is a unifying element.

Shane: My opinion is that feedback from friends in the past has always categorized us as a Classic Rock band, and we’ve always loved that stuff. But I didn’t want us to be known as only a Classic Rock band. It’s good to be able to hear a band’s influences, but I don’t want us to be thought of as only a throw-back band. We listen to a lot of modern stuff, too. So when I mixed this record, I wanted to stay current with the bands we are influenced by right now, but I also wanted it to be wider and punchier, to hit you a little bit harder.

Only the artist can really articulate what they really want, when it’s just in their heads, so I looked up my favorite records. I wouldn’t settle and I mixed this record for a couple of months. I am quite happy with the results given my limited experience and I seem to have an ear for it. I am excited to dive into mixing more with other releases.

HMS: “In a Box” definitely needed the more surfy feeling to lead into the surreal aspects of the video, and the mixing has a lot to do with that. I have to add that the giant piece of artwork in the video is really cool.

Brandon: That’s actually from a really good friend of ours. I own a different piece by that artist. The interior room shots were filmed at our friend’s apartment.

HMS: Good choice! It all really works with the colors. I feel like that song and video gets a little more positive as it goes along. Is that fair?

Brandon: Absolutely. The whole idea is that I’m trying to break free of writer’s block, and it’s that amazing feeling, a joy, that comes with managing to make something. I still get that when I have create something I’m proud of. So the song is about slowly breaking free, it’s that release. It’s definitely a positive song.

HMS: Thank God! We need positive songs right now. The video is made up of all these separate moments. Does that mean that you didn’t know what the end result would look like until it was edited together?

Brandon: That was directed and written by Matt Lingo, and it was a collaboration between him, the editor Styles Wolff Baker, and myself, but it was really Matt’s vision. I didn’t know what it would look like, and I am really happy with how it came out. It’s probably my favorite video of the ones we’ve done so far. We hope to work with them again for a “Shortcuts” video.

Shane: Same.

Keveen: Same.

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