Words by Jonathan Stout
When approaching Mystic Operative, the newest album by Portland’s Daydream, the cover art may lead you to believe that you’re in for some hypnotic psych rock. As the feedback rips at the start of the opening track, “Prophet of Peace,” you know at once that you’re in for a completely different trip. A message on the album’s Bandcamp page rails against conformity, declaring “We are designed and raised to be soldiers, informants, producers, and workers for the state.” Indeed, the album is full of some heady material, but it occupies a much different headspace than your typical soundtrack for “tuning in and dropping out.” The band’s sound instead blends the noise of (Osees founder) John Dwyer’s early band, Coachwhips, with nods to the SST alumni of 80s hardcore.
Off Shelf: When I listen to your album, all I can think about is how much I’d love to hear the songs played live. I think punk is potentially the most exciting genre to see performed live, as it’s very nature is excitingly high energy. Are you looking forward to gigging and playing live again or are you more enthusiastic about writing and recording?
Alix: Yes! I miss playing live so much, in any kind of project. Playing shows has always been a cathartic and therapeutic experience for me, and it’s been difficult to cope at times without having these things in my life. I’ve been playing shows since I was 13 so it feels weird to not have that coping mechanism in your life anymore that’s been there for so long. It was nice to have a break at the beginning of quarantine, but now I think all of us included in the band really want to play. In our existence, we have done a good job of consistently writing new material, but playing live has been a little more sporadic. But during this time period, we are excited to try to hunker down again and write a bunch.
Tyler: I think writing is my favorite part, the three of us have a way of communicating through sound that’s always seemed to come natural and easy. Shows and touring are more work for us, although it’s really nice to connect with other people and something that gets taken for granted when there are different events every week, and slowly realize how much you miss it more and more during this pandemic.
OS: What is your creative process? Does one member usually bring a majority of the songs to the table or are they composed together as a unit?
Tyler: All of our songs are written as a group excluding vocals and lyrics. A lot of times we just start with a riff or drum beat, basically jam on it for a long time, trying different stuff, and extract the parts that we all felt clicked. After that, basically just trying to connect all those parts that we feel fit the same vibe. Faster parts get discussed more, some of the jam type parts are just kind of played for long periods of time until we’re like “hell yeah.” If it’s not clicking we usually just move on.
OS: Many bands that would normally be touring have been increasing web presence via streaming performances, etc. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you all seem to be relatively anti-modernist. How have you navigated band matters during the pandemic?
Alix: We hadn’t played since late February 2020, and we just practiced for the first time in January 2021. So things have been quiet for sure. Chris [Mason, founder of Dirt Cult Records] really helped us chug along and get Mystic Operative out before the end of 2020 at least. We had big plans for the record, some tours planned, a film to go along with the record that we are 75% done shooting, but the pandemic killed all of that.
Tyler: We are not anti modernist, we have our music on Bandcamp and Spotify. I think live streams are cool, but that’s not really who we are. We have taken a long break during the pandemic, which is refreshing but I think we all miss writing songs together.
OS: What brought you to Dirt Cult Records for your newest release?
Alix: Dirt Cult released an LP for Tyler’s project, The Chinchees, a few years ago! But also we’ve known Chris from playing shows together and just being around in the PDX scene. Chris has always been so supportive of us and expressed interest in doing an LP with us, so we took him up on it!
Tyler: Chris is great, and was into our band, simply. He’s been around Portland, and put out a bunch of Portland bands. I like Dirt Cult a lot. It’s a non-pretentious, mixed bag of bands always putting out something new. Chris putting out our record has been exactly what you’d expect, like a friend putting out a record they like.
OS: In your press release for Mystic Operative you mention that your first album, released by French label Symphony of Destruction, largely “flew under the radar.” Have you considered re-releasing it for a wider release on an American label?
Alix: If any American label wanted to do a release of our first record, by all means we are down to do that! At the time we were trying to get it out at least, no labels in the US expressed interest in helping get it out.
OS: The statement attached to your album tackles some pretty serious issues with American culture and society. How do you think the pandemic has affected these issues? Are things better or worse?
Alix: I definitely think the pandemic has accelerated the wealth gap, and has made it more apparent than ever that we have to take care of each other and rely on each other in our communities for survival. No one in any position of power is going to help anyone who is not their own. There’s millions of people in America struggling more than ever, and when people try to do something about it, they’re met with even more repression than ever. I think things have gotten worse and that the Biden admin will be even more repressive, but under the guise of “liberalism.” Surveillance will be heavy.
OS: To briefly quote the artist statement mentioned in the previous question, you state: “We are designed and raised to be soldiers, informants, producers, and workers for the state. The more categorized we are by identity, the easier it is to be commodified; all culture, ideas, and thoughts throw into countless algorithms.” These concepts are examined frequently in modern punk, but also become complicated by the context of delivery: playing in a band gives one a certain identity and creating a product/album that is sold for profit thereby takes part in the capitalistic system. How do you make peace with this dissonance?
Alix: Sure, I think there is a dissonance there because as artists, we sort of have to play into those concepts of marketing, like using instagram or spotify for example, at least a little bit in order to survive or have anything we do heard. Which is sort of what we were getting at in saying what you quoted, but it’s also about how heavily surveillanced we are through our social media and in turn our art forms, and how not only that is used to implicate us, but also is free labor in the sense that all of this data is being gathered by companies to then be able to better market to us, or to be giving them ideas for new products to sell to us or what have you. Playing music for us is all about catharsis, fun, healing and communal movement. Physical & spiritual.
OS: The pandemic has exposed the music industry as being very fragile, especially from a financial aid standpoint to musicians and independent venues. What changes would you like to see happen in this realm once we enter post-pandemic life?
Alix: Death to Instagram and Spotify [laughs]! But I think the music industry being fragile is just a piece of everything that has transpired during the pandemic and throughout history even. It’s that the people producing the art/music/culture are exploited or commodified for capital gain. There are countries in Europe that give out government money for art and cultural spaces, and while that would be nice if the US government could do something similar, I just don’t ever see that happening. I feel like we are on this accelerated path of all being app gig workers, which includes musicians and artists, in that our labor is exploited so heavily and there’s kind of nothing we can do about it. With Spotify giving out fractions of a cent for a stream, but I think this also relates to other labor like Lyft, Uber, Instacart, etc. People’s minds, energy and resources are so being taken advantage of in a way they haven’t before.
OS: Do you have a favorite track on Mystic Operative? Why?
Alix: I think my favorite is “Baptized & Blessed,” It’s more mid-tempo in comparison to some of the songs but it has this feeling that I really like in particular. It packs that particular punch.
OS: Although we are at a precipice of change in our country, entering a new presidential administration and a wide distribution of a COVID vaccine, many bands haven’t been able to rehearse in months due to distancing measures. With many bands potentially feeling rusty, it may take a little while for local scenes to flourish again and for DIY touring to be re-established. What are your plans for the band as we enter a new year?
Alix: I think we are just trying to write together as safely and as much as we possibly can. We will see what happens beyond that!