Words by Tommy Johnson
There must be some jealousy spewed from musicians upon learning about the musical freedom coming from Los Angeles based Dummy. Scrolling through their debut EP released in May, the tracks are a beacon of cosmic sound that bursts through the speakers with unrelenting brashness. The sheer amount of exploration with creating a landscape littered with noise, ambiance, and hypnotic shifts with the instrumentals is utterly astounding. Put merely, Dummy’s self-titled EP is a breathing testament of atmospheric beauty.
Off Shelf: During this unpredictable time, we are all living, have you found writing easier or harder?
Joe Trainor: It’s run the spectrum, at first pretty easy, but more recently very difficult. Since we work full-time day jobs, it became an opportunity to devote unlimited time and energy towards our work. We did a lot of demoing and recording at home in the first two months or so. But as time went on, our world’s crushing reality and the depression of isolation have made working more and more difficult.
OS: Going back to writing, what or where do you find inspiration?
JT: Most of our inspiration comes from each other; everything we do is collaborative. But we’re also really into music, so of course, that makes its way into our music. This project took huge inspiration from all kinds of stuff, British and German psychedelic music of course, and experimental and electronic music. We live in an absolutely crazy time in music history, with unprecedented access to old music lost to previous generations. Plus, there are all these reissue labels now that are digging up forgotten and obscure records from decades past. We find stuff like that extremely inspiring. Numero Group, Music from Memory, Light in the Attic, and RVNG are some that we pretty much listen to everything they put out. More recently, we find ourselves going back to stuff by Antenna, Roedelius, Francesco Messina, Silver Apples, Azymuth, Arthur Russell, Finis Africae, Frank Ocean, Chris Bell, Harry Case, R. Stevie Moore, Harald Grosskopf, Yo La Tengo, Aspidistra, and especially the compilation of Japanese ambient music that Light in the Attic put out last year.
OS: Being based out of Los Angeles, I can assume that the music scene, do you find yourselves picking up some ideas from the other acts?
JT: We’re still pretty new here and there are tons of bands we haven’t seen play yet. Before COVID hit, we had a lot of shows booked, and we had a short west-coast tour booked to promote the tape, but of course everything was canceled. That said, there are some awesome artists we’ve seen here like Mo Dotti, Gold Cage, Gum Country, Dylan Moon, and Green-House.
OS: When did it feel like Dummy could be something that would be more than just some individuals jamming?
JT: It never was just individuals jamming; we had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted to do from the outset. The three songs on the A-side of the tape were based on demos recorded before the band came together. They were refined over months of practicing and playing shows. Side B has two tracks recorded over a weekend, the last track being an excerpt from a much longer improvisational piece we recorded as a group, each of us playing a keyboard or two.
OS: Having self-recorded the album in your practice space, did the band have the feeling that there was more time to experiment with things?
JT: Most of the experimentation came during practice. By the time we were actually recording, almost everything was pretty much nailed down. But we did spend a lot of time and effort mixing. We focused on honing the sound of things more than anything else. We didn’t want the tape to sound like contemporary rock music, which we think usually sounds too “good,” with everything sounding super clean and polished, with no character. A lot of our favorite live bands in recent years have put out records that don’t capture what makes them exciting, and it makes for an underwhelming listen. We wanted to avoid that, so we put a lot of effort in shaping the sounds and textures on the record.
OS: I’ve seen Velvet Underground and Cluster as possible influences regarding the band’s sound. What was it about these two acts that spoke to all of you?
JT: Those two acts felt like a good summary of what we were going for on the tape. With the Velvet Underground, there are two sides to it. On the one hand, they’re some of the best songwriters in pop history. They were a band not afraid of dynamics or of incorporating weird, abrasive elements into their songs. On the other hand, the actual sound of their recordings, especially the early ones, was a point of reference for us. Often they sound like they could be demos, with the drums barely audible and strange, noisy guitar textures. Cluster was pioneering psychedelic electronic music and ended up making some of our favorite records of all time. The improvisational approach they took obviously influenced us, as well as the sounds and textures they employed.
OS: When the work began on the EP, what was the main objective that the band wanted to achieve?
JT: We wanted to make something that might surprise people, something that didn’t sound like other bands. We had very limited means to do that, just a few mics, a ten-year-old laptop, and our instruments. We also wanted to take time to learn how to get the sounds we wanted, since we didn’t have much experience recording. Of course, we had a ton of help from our friend Joo-Joo Ashworth during mixing, and we feel a lot more prepared going forward onto future projects.
OS: When I listen to EP, I find myself finding different sounds that I didn’t hear previously. What parts of the EP stand out to the band?
JT: I think what stands out for us is in small details. Every track of every song was labored over, trying to achieve a certain sound. I don’t think we 100% succeeded in getting what we wanted, but considering our limitations, we feel happy with the tape.
OS: “Touch The Chimes” is one of the trippest voyages I’ve taken in with a song in some time. How freeing is it to go to that place and record such a piece as this?
JT: We feel free to do whatever we want. The modern music industry is so fixated on commercial viability; there doesn’t seem to be much room for artists who don’t fit a certain formula. We love ambient music and wanted to incorporate that aspect of our creative interest into this otherwise more pop-oriented project.