Dungeon of Skeletons – Patterns (Q&A)

‘I get into a funk when I’m not creating.’, says Nashville-based singer-songwriter Justin Kline; that’s probably one of the reasons why he started a new band with his kids during the pandemic. That band is Dungeon of Skeletons and Patterns; the grand debut is chock full of great, sharp, crispy, catchy Power Pop songs.

How did this record come together?

It almost came together by accident. Most of our listeners aren’t aware, but our band consists of me and my children, ages 16-22. When they were younger, I used to teach them how to play simple melodies on piano, guitar, etc. We were able to get everyone playing together at the same time and started messing around with ideas. Our first song, “Valencia” was written pretty fast. We kept it super simple, but catchy and fun. When the pieces started coming together, I remember thinking “This is actually pretty good!” My mind goes a million miles per hour so I immediately started planning an album. We worked on more songs during the beginning of the pandemic when everything was shut down, and the rest is history.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

Yea, success is subjective, I guess. When we finished the record and listened to it as a whole, we all felt a sense of accomplishment. Some laughter, some tears… all the good stuff. To me, that is success. We’ve been getting good feedback from our listeners, which means a lot to us. To me, the best feeling of accomplishment is knowing that we set out to make the record we wanted to make and we achieved it. But getting millions of dollars from a record label wouldn’t be too shabby either.

How great is the urge to stay creative?  To keep writing songs and lyrics?

As humans, I think we have to keep moving. I get into a funk when I’m not creating. Even when it’s not music, I have to keep my hands and brain busy with either projects in the garage or even cooking. Keeping myself in a constant place of creativity is a must or I start losing my mind.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Hmm, maybe Mike Viola, John Davis, and Andy Sturmer. I would say Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney, but we would geek out too hard and get nothing done. Mike Viola writes some of the best lyrics and melodies ever. He’s a huge inspiration for us. I would say John Davis and Andy Sturmer for the same thing. All of them are melody masters.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Oh man, this is good. I asked the other bandmates to throw out some ideas too:

Beatles “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”

Mike Viola “Strawberry Blonde”

Superdrag “Baby’s Waiting”

Weezer “Jamie”

Beach Boys “Wonderful”

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

I think our male and female vocals are pretty unique. I know it’s been done before, but it’s a little less common than most bands, I would say. One of my favorite things about The Beach Boys would be their sibling vocal harmonies. Since their vocal tones and characteristics are similar, the vocals are that much sweeter to my ears. Since we’re all family, I think our vocals blend pretty well too… but Beach Boys take the cake with that one, am I right?!

What compliment you once received will you never forget?

I’ve been told a couple of times in the past that music I’ve been involved with kept people moving forward and/or from giving up, which feels indescribable.

Those magical moments when you’re working in the studio.  Which moment was the most magical?

I loved working on the bridge for “Turn the Key” on this record. We don’t try to pull off a certain sound. We’re just trying to make the music we want to hear. During the bridge, it repeats the lyric “Don’t go back the way you came, Don’t go back the way you came from…” and then another vocal part comes in at the same time underneath. When we were tracking the vocals for this, we kinda looked at each other like… HECK YES.

The record is done, the music is out. Is the best fun done now or is it just beginning?

We had lots of fun making the album. We’re already talking about album #2, but ya know… life happens so it’ll probably be a while before we can get the ball rolling with it. We’ve been talking about what the track list might look like. We’re even brainstorming a 3rd album already. But for now, we just want to get Patterns out to as many people as we can. We’re so thankful for the passionate music lovers that’ve been spreading the word. It seems like it’s been pretty organic, so we’re very excited to see how far the music will spread.

Bird Streets – Lagoon (Q&A)

‘With the circumstances surrounding this record, there was no choice but to go even deeper. ‘, says John Brodeur, and because the past few years have been difficult, Bird Street’s Lagoon has become a very personal, darkly colored, and intensely beautiful album.

Regrets, Addiction, Lost Loves, Despair. You don’t shy away from singing about the dark side of life on Lagoon.

I’ve always tried to be honest in my writing–to tell the listener something about myself, even when singing through a character or addressing another person. A lot of the “you” in my older songs could be sung into a mirror. With the circumstances surrounding this record, there was no choice but to go even deeper. A semi-conscious decision was made to write the majority in first-person and I think that makes it feel even more personal. This album is about some heavy adult shit. I tried my best to convey that gravity in my writing. As my marriage was breaking up and my life was flashing before my eyes, I remember having the self-effacing thought, “At least I’ll get a good record out of this.” If the measure of good is truth, I think I did ok.

Was it liberating to write “Ambulance”? I feel the emotion of that song all the way here in Utrecht.

It’s liberating just to put feelings into words; to put those words to music is a gift. The struggle is to tie complicated emotions together into neat little rhymes, and to weave them into a story without it just being verbal diarrhea. “Ambulance” very easily could have gone in that direction–it has a lot of phrases that run together without any real breaks, which can invite filler. I think setting that song in an unusual time signature helped keep me from overwriting. It’s good to create within limitations. Each line had to have a certain shape and rhythm. Part of the arc, for me, was trying to make every line hit harder than the one before it. By the end of the song, “harder”  means I’m screaming the same line over and over. That was some uncharted territory but it felt like the right move–what the song needed.

I think that with Bird Streets you have a unique sound, yet Lagoon has a completely different sound than the first album you made under this name. Was that the intention?

I rarely start a project with a particular style or sound in mind. The sessions for this record took place over three years, with a bunch of different producers and players and studios, versus just two guys in a room. So the sound is expansive by nature of there being a much larger cast of characters and ideas in the mix. Lagoon is definitely more of a “singer-songwriter” record than the last one. My only real goal was to stay out of the way of the songs and I think I did a decent job of that. It’s actually the first album I’ve made where I don’t play any drums! Stylistically it’s all over the place but the common thread is my voice, and this album has some of the best vocal performances I’ve ever recorded.

“Positively will only get me so far. And it’s a pretty low bar. When I am positively drowned, in tears, confirming my biggest fears.” That sentence jumps out from the first listen. How satisfying is it when you find the right words?

It’s such a rush when it all comes together. I’m always searching for a better way to say what I mean. Something like the line you quoted, from “Let You Down,” is really just a lucky break, a matter of where rhymes needed to happen to make the melody work. I don’t remember struggling too much with that song’s lyrics. But it took more than two years to get “Unkind” right. I wrote seven verses for “Sleeper Agent.” And the more succinct lyrics, like “Leave No Trace” and “SF 1993,” were a fantastic challenge, to try to say a lot with relatively little. I’m prone to editing and rewriting all the way into the vocal booth, which happened a bit on “Unkind,” and a lot on “Ambulance”–though that was more of a mathematics problem. On the first Bird Streets record, I changed the lyrics after a song was “finished” on more than one occasion, much to Jason’s chagrin. Whatever it takes to make the song better.

Your emotions or the emotions of the people you sing about have now gone public. That’s exciting, don’t you think?

“Exciting” is one way to put it. I was actually a bit terrified for the last few months. The fear I speak about in “Sleeper Agent,” of confessing something personal because it will make that thing more real, is a fear I experienced for months leading up to this record. Every day, it was me wondering if this was something people would want to listen to, trying to decide how much was too much when it came to guts-spilling. There are really only two people in these songs, and one of them is speaking to you currently, while the other one hasn’t heard the record, though they are aware of its existence. I was on the fence about including a few of these songs until the very last minute, because of how direct they are. But now it’s all out in the world for anyone to hear–which honestly feels like a relief. It’s like a form of closure.

Ward White – Ice Cream Chords

The sound of Ward White is difficult to describe, but it certainly has the same class as the music of David Bowie, Roxy Music, and The Blue Nile. Ice Cream Chords is again bursting with beautiful lyrics, unexpected vocal lines, and slightly stubborn melodies and is ‘a bit more user-friendly’ than its predecessor, the equally beautiful The Tender Age.

The sound on Ice Cream Chords seems a bit looser, less intense, than on The Tender Age. If I heard correctly, was that a preconceived plan or did it come about naturally?

There is definitely a different feel to this record – perhaps a bit more user-friendly – but the arrangements are surprisingly dense; as with all art, it takes significant effort to appear like you’re not trying. There was no predetermined framework for the overall tone, although the album title does reflect certain aspects of the writing process. As the songs were coming together, I realized that a significant number of them clocked in at 120 beats per minute, which, when played in sequence, starts to feel a bit like a rather dark Studio 54 playlist.

The title track seems to be a protest against the production of art for mass consumption but could I be completely wrong?

Ice Cream Chords, and its preceding track, Mezcal Moth, are a diptych concerning the final days of a fallen musical icon, flushed out of hiding in the jungle, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for his crimes against art. It’s a riff on the Leonard Cohen dictum, “A singer must die for the lie in his voice.” The term ice cream chords is archaic songwriter slang for rote musical changes, overused and mawkish, with predictable resolutions. Every artist makes a choice to follow the path of least resistance, or stop to ponder alternatives. Also essential to maintaining the cult of personality is the public’s complicity, their eagerness to embrace trash. In this song, we see their endgame: a fickle audience, bored with their former hero, and hungry for blood. What, if any, degree of guilt the singer may feel is open to interpretation. He seems appropriately conflicted to me.

Your vocal lines really make your songs unique and seem to have been developed with great care. Is finding the right structure complicated?

My songs are always lyric-driven, so their relative success or failure hinges on the vocal delivery. As I don’t really write in the traditional first-person confessional voice that one might expect from a dreaded singer-songwriter, my phrasing often needs to strike a balance between dialogue, omniscient narration, and stream of consciousness interjection. Mercifully, the material is pretty free of “Yeah”s, “Ooh girl”s, and “Somebody say keep on rockin’?”s, as I suspect such outbursts might push my vocal responsibilities to the point of critical mass.

Also this time all songs are equally beautiful. Do you write a lot of songs to get to 12 or do you puzzle until the few you have are perfect?

I’m a relatively economical writer – there are rarely outtakes from my records. The process will usually start with one or two seemingly unconnected songs, whose shape and content begin to suggest a theme; my interpretation of that theme, inasmuch as I can grasp it at the time, will inform the rest of the writing. Experience lets you know when you’ve got a batch that’s ready – once you can smell the cookies, they’re burnt.

Can you tell us something about the creation of Like a Bridge? I think the lyrics and the sound of the guitar are so beautiful.

There’s a famous truss bridge in Trenton, New Jersey, with a neon sign spanning the entire length that reads, “TRENTON MAKES: THE WORLD TAKES”; a remnant of its industrial past. It’s highly visible from I-95, and as a kid it made a big impression on me – usually as a progress marker on long car trips. The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Ontario has notable neon signs on either side of the border crossing, as well. The chorus plays on the double meaning, turning its attention to the bridge, or middle eight, of a song; particularly the appeal of a classic McCartney bass-driven bridge, suggesting that “counterpoint can cover a multitude of sins.” The verses veer off into old man-bar reportage, with dialogue from a litany of characters who frequent a long-standing small town dive. The track is built around the bass line, and it maintains a sense of tension because it never really resolves, harmonically speaking.

Are you familiar with the music of The Blue Nile?

I am, but hadn’t listened in years – in fact, this question made me go back and revisit the catalog the other night. My first job in New York City, ages ago, was as the receptionist for a small artist-management firm, which had, at one point, represented The Blue Nile. There was a framed copy of the Hats LP on the wall across from my desk. If I close my eyes, I can still see it.

Dot Dash – Madman in the Rain (Q&A)

The jangly guitar on Saints/Pharaohs, the exuberance of Tense & Nervous, and the title track’s lyrics are just three highlights of a rock-solid album. Dot Dash’s latest is their best, and Terry Banks explains why and how Madman in the Rain came to be.

Madman in the Rain is great. I imagine you realized that somewhere during the creation or is that too easy?

Thank you! Yes, we felt the songs were really good and we were happy to get them recorded. We think it’s our best record — but bands always say that.

There are four years between the release of Madman in the Rain and Proto Retro. The world has completely changed in those four years. How did that affect the creation of Madman in the Rain?

We planned to record this record in Spring 2020, just as Covid was descending. At first (as everyone did back then), we thought the shutdown would last just a month or two, but then it kept going … and going.

Nearly all the songs on the new album were ones we were already playing live, “pre-pandemic.” A couple were written during it — “Airwaves” and maybe one or two others — I’ve lost track of time!

When ‘Tense and Nervous’ was done, did you know you had the closing for the gigs to come?

Hah! Thank you. It’s a two-minute, zero-second stomper, for sure.

Tried to join a ping pong club. But the sign on the door said ‘All full up’. How great is the feeling when you find the right words?

True, it’s a good feeling … even if the words come from somewhere else … Those lyrics actually come from a Clash song (‘What’s My Name?’) — every once in a great while, a “borrowed” lyric just fits the mood and the meter, so why not use it… In the past, on some of our previous records, there are a couple of Velvet Underground lyrics scattered about, too.

Somehow I make Everything = Dust a song with a positive message. We could also worry a lot less about everything by looking at the world this way, but I bet you wanted to say something else.

That’s an interesting take. I really like your interpretation. To be honest, I’m not sure what I meant by the song — the words just ‘arrived’ — but I like your idea on it a lot.

Madman in the Rain is out now on The Beautiful Music.
Digipak CD comes w/free Bandcamp download of the album.

WASHINGTON POST: Everything we’ve ever read about Dot Dash plays up the group’s collective resume: Singer/guitarist Terry Banks was in St. Christopher and the Saturday People before teaming up with bassist Hunter Bennett in acclaimed indie-rock band Julie Ocean and drummer Danny Ingram co-founded harDCore band Youth Brigade. Very impressive. But we’re more interested in the music, a retro cocktail that recalls the yearning indie-pop of Sarah Records; the ’80s neo-Byrds jangle of R.E.M., Orange Juice and other seminal college radio artists, and tight, throbbing basslines and slashing guitars that evoke the Jam and the Clash.” 

The Dowling Poole – Refuse (Q&A)

The Dowling Poole’s Refuse is chock full of beautiful pop songs with slightly complex structures and strong lyrics, as beautiful as the best moments of XTC, Sparks or 10CC.

Willie Dowling and Jon Poole talk about saveloy, toxic masculinity, shades of Jellyfish, and the ‘runt of the litter’ .

I played Refuse all weekend.  There is so much to experience that I keep wanting to go back.  Was it a goal in itself to make such an album, or does it just happen when the two of you start making music?

Willie Dowling: “Except for the last two tracks, REFUSE (I think of it pronounced as ‘refuse’ as in ‘refuse to do as one is told to do’, whereas for Jon, it’s ‘refuse’ meaning ‘objects of no further use’ and since he came up with the title I guess we should go with that) is a collection of songs that were left-overs from other albums, largely because although we really liked them, they didn’t seem to fit with the construction of the album we were working on at the time. Some were recorded during album sessions but didn’t fit with the other songs’ flow, and a couple (I think ‘Fuck You Goodbye’ is one example) were recorded between albums. 

So it’s just good fortune if they hang together for you and I’m really pleased you would think so. But if you haven’t heard them, I’d politely encourage you and your readers to listen to any of our other albums – our last album ‘See You See Me’ would be a good place to start – and hear how it sounds when we make an album with an intentional beginning and end.”

Jon Poole: “We are both rubbish at playing football so there is never a goal in sight although Willie is quite good at doing ‘headers’. This particular album is a compilation of forgotten tracks that never made it onto albums so there really is no concept as such. I’d like to stress, it’s not that these songs didn’t make it on to albums because they were substandard but because each of them may have been viewed as sounding ‘out of place stylistically’ with the other songs on the albums they were recorded for. I wouldn’t say that each song was the ‘runt of the litter’ but I am delighted that they have finally found a home to inhabit together. This was an album I was very eager to see come out in physical form so I’m very happy with this release. One thing I enjoy about it is that the songs run chronically by year and spookily it hangs together as a good solid album and sounds like it was painstakingly compiled in a pleasing order which it really wasn’t.”

Refuse has such a rich sound.  Was it a joy to dress up the songs so beautifully?

Willie Dowling: “I’m really flattered that you  should think so. Jon and I don’t tend to think too hard about it. From our beginnings we recognised something in each other that might work well in combination, and we set about trying to capture what that might be. For my part – I’ve always written and recorded songs in much the same way, but I think working with Jon gave me something I’d not had before, which was a fellow friend and songwriter whom I wanted to impress, so I think I might have been inclined to work a little harder and not take a few short cuts that I might have done had I worked alone as usual. But it’s difficult to say with any objectivity. We do what we do instinctively and we both seem to enjoy it, and thats good enough!”

Jon Poole: “It’s hard to say because the way we work is to simply get our heads down and get on with it. It’s pretty intense because we live in separate countries so the time we do get together is extremely precious and we try to cram as much work in as is possible within the constraints of time. You’ll get the odd joyous moment, usually when stumbling on something by accident  but more often than not it’s usually not until we’ve put the stuff out then a year or two passes then I’ll hear one of our songs and think ‘Wow, look what we done!’”

To my Dutch ears, The Dowling Poole sounds as English as it gets.  That’s a compliment, do you agree or is my hearing too limited?

Jon Poole: “I do agree and I would say we have very little choice in the matter as that’s just the way we write and the way we sound. I remember when we put our first album out, we felt that it was a little like a celebration of 50 years of classic British pop music. Personally, every thing I’ve ever written from the age of 11 onwards has sounded quintessentially English. It’s not that I don’t listen to American music…I listen to loads and I love it..but I am drawn to Englishness or Britishness in music and I’ve always had a very English sensibility in both music and life, to the point of having friends from all over the world actually laugh at how English I am.”

Willie Dowling: “This is going to sound awful but I rarely listen to music so although I think I know what you mean, I couldn’t say with any degree of authority. I mean I think there are elements of Beach Boys harmony and shades of Jellyfish perhaps, that would dispute the ‘strictly English’ claim, but since the only other bands I know much of anything about are largely English, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were correct.”

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

Jon Poole: “Well it would be nice to sell a few copies! I genuinely think we have something both classic and unique to share with the world and I just wish we could reach more people. We’ve tried various methods of raising ‘Dowling Poole awareness’ and it’s always an uphill struggle. A week or so ago, a friend of mine put a comment under one of my Facebook posts saying ‘I had no idea The Dowling Poole were SO good!’ I’ve been posting about our stuff for 10 years and he’s only just hearing us for the first time….and he’s a mate?! And that’s not even an isolated case. That’s the mere tip of the iceberg of what we’re up against on a daily basis.”

Willie Dowling: “The world has changed completely for music by virtue of the  huge impact of the internet and its knock on effect on many other components. For years, I held the idea of ‘success’ to be measured in terms of record sales and fame. These days I consciously try hard not to think about those things. What matters more is that I can pass hours and days and weeks in my studio and come out each day feeling fulfilled and happy. It might mean that we’re never well known or made wealthy by our efforts – and its tempting to believe that we might deserve that kind of validation – but it seems to be another way of measuring ‘success’ that mostly works – for me at least.”

How do the two of you cooperate? How do the songs come about?

Jon Poole: “One of us will individually demo an idea then bring it to the table at which point the other will pull it apart, make suggestions and maybe rewrite bits then we’ll both arrange as we go.Once the idea has been fed into the Dowling Poole machine it will eventually come out the other end as a fully-formed song. It can only be classed as a Dowling Poole song once it has gone through that process.”

Willie Dowling: “Mostly we write individually and then throw ideas and arrangements into the other persons songs. Although on ‘REFUSE’ we have our first real co-write with the song ‘The Hand Moved’. I’d come up with the basic song but I don’t think either of us were happy with the chorus and as I recall, Jon came up with a great new chorus idea, which I then tinkered with at the edges lyrically and a little musically.”

Fuck You Goodbye is what my kids would call a banger.  Made to make a full house scream along?

Jon Poole: “I’d call it a saveloy.”

Willie Dowling: “It’s a song I wrote, I think between albums, about what they might now call ‘toxic masculinity’, coupled with an increasing frustration with the way supposedly democratic politics in the UK and US was beginning to play out, and the glaring weaknesses in the US and UK’s sacrosanct, but extraordinarily loose definition of what constitutes ‘democracy’ was being revealed. Of course it has only gotten far worse since then and I despair of what is happening at the moment, particularly in the UK. The sooner the fuckers that created the mess in the UK are told; ‘Fuck You, Goodbye’, the better, in my view.”

British eclecto pop masters The Dowling Poole recently released their forth album, ‘REFUSE’.

‘REFUSE’ features a collection of tracks, often with a strong political message, cushioned in beautiful melodies and harmonies. 

The Dowling Poole is comprised of song writers and multi instrumentalists Willie Dowling and Jon Poole. The duo has released four albums, ’Bleak Strategies’ (2014), ‘One Hyde Park’ (2016), ‘See You See Me’ (2020), ‘REFUSE’ (2022) as well as a number of digital only single track releases.

All four The Dowling Poole albums are now available as CD’s and digital downloads from Bandcamp