Meet Dressmaker - London's latest purveyors of quality noise in dark rooms. But not just noise. There's more to Dressmaker than decibels, as the band tell us...
Let's start with the essential logistics. Who's in the band, what do they do?
Charles: Charles Potashner (vocals, recording/production), David Lopez (Guitar), Tom Fanthorpe (Bass), BenJack (Drums). We are from the US, Spain, UK, and France. We all met in London.
That's the 'Who are you?' question now the 'What are you?' question. When I've reviewed Dressmaker I've found it impossible to sum up the band with one or two neat genre identifiers in fact I don't think I've even tried. It's not possible to say 'Dressmaker are a noisepunk band', or something like that, because it leaves out more than it includes. So how do you describe Dressmaker?
Charles: I don’t think we are a noise band at all. We are undeniably noisy but I have friends in true noise bands (guys hunched over pedals making harsh soundscapes with broken cassettes and contact mics on buckets that they’re slamming their heads into) and they would laugh if they heard me calling this a noise band. That being said, I love it when people refer to us as a noise band because it helps people feel edgy for listening to us. Great for marketing.
|Dressmaker do it live - sound
a little distorted, but that's not an inappropriate way to hear the
This gig is reviewed here - photos here.
We definitely have punk and post punk influences. As someone who was a teenager in San Diego watching a slew of bands following in their legacy, I’m incredibly disappointed that I can’t be in Balboa Park to watch Drive Like Jehu’s reunion show this month. I also like jazz, classical, and bands that put a weird spin on pop such as American Culture, ACLU Benefit/Noah Britton, and The Magnetic Fields.
Tom: We’ve spent more time on trying to think of a new genre for dressmaker’s music then we have on actually writing songs.
David: I agree with Charles, when I think about noise musicians I think about bands like Merzbow, Lightning Bolt, The Locust or Boredoms, bands that explore the noise itself as central component of their work.
Having said that, there is an obvious noisy element in our music but from my point of view its more an approach to the creative process of composing pop/rock songs than a goal itself. On the other hand, when we play live I’m really interested in using the physical elements of dissonance, loud volume and white noise as key items of our performance. In that sense I believe that the way that you are exposed to the music really shapes the overall experience of attending to a gig. When I saw My Bloody Valentine for the first time in 2008 I felt like I was witnessing a car crash. I loved that feeling.
Was it your intention right from the start to create a band that generated a giant wall of sound, or did it just happen one day you turned it all up loud and decided to keep it that way? Was there a concept, an idea in your heads, before you even started the band that it was going to sound intense and loud, or did it just emerge that way once you got in the room and started playing?
David: Since our first rehearsal it became pretty obvious that we all shared the same vision for dressmaker so it has been a natural process. That vision remains the same since the very beginning: To work on songs that are big, noisy and intense but being actually “listenable”. We want for people to enjoy our music and not feel completely alienated by it.
Personally I’ve always been obsessed with Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain, and how they achieved a perfect balance between noise/aggression/melodies and amazing pop songs. At the same time we wanted to put the main focus on our live performances. We really hope that people feel that they just experienced something really intense after our gigs.
Charles: Building a massive wall of sound was Dressmaker’s intention from the beginning. We’ve been refining what we do with it but the wall of sound is always a fundamental element of what we’ve been creating. We love a wide range of music but when the band got together we knew immediately that what we wanted to make was going to be loud.
We’ve seen too many laptop ‘bands’ over the past several years and wanted to do something that would wake people up. Having songs has also been important to us from the start. As much as we like drones, sonic textures,and layered noise we also love movement and melody. Our live sets may be painful to listen to but if you suffer through it there are some songs in there.
Talking of the wall of sound, I'm guessing that it's not an accident that you cover 'Be My Baby' by the Ronnettes. That's one of Phil Spector's big productions, of course. Is that a hattip from one bunch of sonic bricklayers to another?
Charles: David’s approach to recording guitars generally involves many layers and an unhealthy dose of echo and delay. I’d guess he has been influenced by Phil Spector though I doubt Phil, Jeff, or Ellie would approve of our bastardisation of their song. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if David has been more influenced by the phrase "wall of sound" more than the actual techniques Spector used.
David: 'Be My Baby' is one of my favourite songs of all time but it was actually Tom’s idea to do the cover. As Charles said, I really like Phil Spector’s sound and I also use multiple layers of overlapped ￼(and heavily processed) guitars but I can’t really say that those specific production techniques are an influence for us.
In a way it's an odd cover. On the face of it we might expect you to cover something by the Birthday Party, for example. It hints that there are more influences behind Dressmaker than the obvious ones. I think I'm asking the dreaded 'What are your influences?' question here so, what are they?
David: Even though we have plenty of influences, many of them not related with what we do in Dressmaker, it’s really important for us to look forward and feel that we are not copying something that we have heard a million times before. What’s the point of that? However there are some influences that I think are definitely part of our music: Swans, the Psychocandy of Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, A Place to Bury Strangers, Joy Division, Birthday Party, and a million more.
|Dressmaker have a psych-pop moment with 'Skeleton Girl'.|
Charles: I have the Release The Bats compilation LP of Three One G bands covering The Birthday Party so when I want to hear a decent cover I put that on. As it stands we already have enough trouble avoiding ripping of The Birthday Party when composing songs. And there is more room for creativity when covering a song from a different genre. I like covering songs and I think it is useful for learning and improving as a band but if there is nothing added to the song then I’d rather we keep the cover to ourselves rather than wasting the audience’s time with it.
At the moment we are aiming to create intense music with varied dynamics and very little swing in common time. And despite enjoying Bauhaus, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Joy Division I want to avoid writing anything new that adds to the onslaught of blogs falsely believing we are goths.
Tom: Aside from the bands David mentioned above, which I’ve been listening to for pretty much the past decade, bands that influence me nowadays do so in a more abstract way. If a band is doing something great, in some way or another it influences me.
A case in point would be the Sleaford
Mods, who we have nothing in comparison with whatsoever (aside from maybe
a bit of black humour), yet what they’re doing is fucking incredible
it influences me to want to make good music. In my opinion they’re by far
the best band in the UK at the moment.
One point I've mentioned in my live reviews is that I sense a touch of humour in the Dressmaker live show it's not all furrowed brows and doom at 100 decibels.
In fact, you seem
like you're having fun on stage. There's a knowing sense of the absurd
at work, even as the show ramps up the intensity. Do you see yourselves
as entertainers to any extent, rather than purveyors of Very Serious
Charles: Performing music is my favourite thing to do. It’s one of the few things I truly enjoy, so yes, I do have fun on stage. I put everything I have into each live show and when it goes well it makes me incredibly happy and when I fuck up I feel terrible. Some of the lyrics are dramatic and clichéd so it is hard not to laugh at them, but honestly people’s genuine feelings are sometimes dramatic and clichéd, so I don’t mind representing those. We genuinely like the music we are creating but coping with a compulsion to put an enormous amount of time into a project with no hope for commercial success requires a touch of humour.
David: Dressmaker’s music is intense and quite dramatic and we take it very seriously but that doesn’t change the fact that we are also friends, we really enjoy what we do and we spend most of the time laughing. Anyway, I can’t see the conflict of creating art and being entertainers at the same time.
Tom: God forbid if anyone actually thought we were taking ourselves seriously.
Now that rock music is 60 years old or so, do you think it's possible to be in a rock band of any sort without being at least slightly postmodern about it? How do you deal with the paradox of creating new stuff in an old art form?
Charles: I’m not concerned with pushing boundaries; I just want to make good music that I like and fill tiny rooms with 100200 people and watch them sweat while I sing to them. Rock is old but I listen to plenty of music written in the 1700s and 1800s and it’s still wonderful and I’m glad people are performing it today. Old things can be beautiful.
And who knows, we may eventually stumble upon creating
something you haven’t heard before.
David: Probably many people thought the same thing in the late 70s and then it happened again, and again in the 80s, 90s, etc. You can call it rock, punk, hip hop, techno, there will be always a new generation of people exploring the boundaries of popular music within the parameters that are relevant for them.
We seem to be in a slightly inconclusive period for music right now. The twentyfirst century postpunk party is well, not exactly over, but ever since Savages turned up and took over it seems some of the momentum has gone, and some of the key bands have decided to get their coats and go home.
S.C.U M are long
gone, Vuvuvultures have split up, Manflu are splitting up soon, Dogfeet
seem to have vanished, Ulterior have gone all quiet. My webzine is
starting to look like a historical document of a period that is passing.
But, of course, that begs the question what happens next?
Tom: Aside from S.C.U.M who I saw perform a very long time ago, I’m not very familiar with any of the above bands. And to be honest I don’t really attribute any worth to the term 'postpunk' any more. Bauhaus and early PiL could accurately be described as postpunk, but as for the other bands, I’m sceptical. Savages didn’t they write their own manifesto? I think the closest we’ve come to anything like that is having our drummer pose as a Flamingo. Naked.
Charles: I don’t think we’re a part of the same scene as the band’s you mentioned; as far as I know no one from Savages has ever been at one of our shows and I’ve never been to one of theirs. For live gigs in London I’m more excited about bands like Roseanne Barr and Sebastian Melmoth.
David: There are people doing really interesting stuff like Taman Shud or Sebastian Melmoth, but I don’t feel part of any particular scene.
Tom: We often joke about the pseudopsych thing that is pretty popular right now, that seems to be the closest thing to any ‘scene’ that's happening in London at the moment. But we’re most certainly not a part of that as we don’t use psychedelic visuals, wear rosary beads or ‘dig’ things, ‘man’. But as Charles said, I don’t think we’re a part of a scene with the aforementioned bands either.
Something new will happen, because new things always happen. Do you think Dressmaker could be part of that something new? Or do you prefer to be apart from things, rather than a part of things?
David: Being part of something new shouldn't be a goal per se, however we put lots of focus on adding new elements to our music to make sure that we are excited about what we do.
We don't always agree but it's part of our creative process to challenge each other constantly with new ideas, new approaches.
I don't want to be playing the same music that I've been listening to during
the last years again and again. I would rather stop playing and start doing
something else than being comfortable copying stuff that was originally
created 20 years ago.
Charles: Hopefully Dressmaker’s next album will be a part of the next new thing. I think there is a big element of luck in making that happen. By the time you’ve identified the next new thing then it is probably already too late to be a part of it. I’d rather we continue making the music we want to be making and hopefully we will get lucky and it will be something people are interested in.
You've toured the UK just recently. Was that a positive experience? Was there mayhem and chaos? Did anyone throw the TV out of the window, in the approved rock 'n' roll manner?
Charles: Rock stars are boring. We try to be as respectful as possible to the promoters that are putting in effort to provide us with shows and beds to sleep in. That being said, there was a moment when our drummer was scaling the wall of one of the venues in Scotland in a kilt (worn traditionally, with no pants underneath) so he could break in via the upstairs window. And we did get kicked out of a nightclub after our show because a member of the band we were touring with was crowd surfing.
David: We had lots of fun. And we discovered Buckfast in Glasgow which may have had a big impact on our music.
I've met bands who say touring is not really worth it. You might as well stay at home and put videos up on YouTube.
But I'm not sure that stuff really works you might get a lot of views, but very few of those people will really engage with the band. But if you're right there in the room with a bunch of people, engagement pretty much has to happen.
What was your experience?
Did you feel the tour pushed things forward for the band? Do you think
touring is viable and vital or a bit of an optional extra these days?
Charles: Touring is absolutely worth it. We don’t want to be an internet band. We want to play real music for real people and occupy real physical space. I see the internet as a tool to help people find the shows. I love touring and would like to do it as much as possible.
David: I think touring is great in many ways: to reach new audiences, as a personal experience, to play with great bands that I didn't know before, etc.
And now the traditional last question what's next for Dressmaker? What's looming up and coming down the pipe...?
Charles: In the next few months we will be releasing a single with a grindcore song, a bullshit NMEfriendly pop song, and a 60s cover song. After that I’d hope for some dark militant techno influenced dance noise.
Tom: We recently received an email asking us for a quote for making a wedding dress. So who knows?