Alternately bouncy, glitchy, abrasive, droney, and subtle, the Brooklyn trio Dinowalrus is impossible to pin down. Its album is a frenetic mishmash of dissimilar styles and approaches, which is both jarring and entertaining. The band released its debut, %, on Kanine Records (home to Surfer Blood and Chairlift) last January, and it’s hitting the road for a few shows with Aa, including one tomorrow night at Everlasting Life with Grandchildren and Hume. Arts Desk had a quick chat with Dinowalrus’ frontman, Pete Feigenbaum.
Washington City Paper: How long has Dinowalrus been making music together?
Pete Feigenbaum: We’ve been playing out for about two-and-a-half years, so basically since December of 2007.
WCP: Did you start in Brooklyn?
PF: Yeah, typical story, we all met in Brooklyn.
WCP: Has NYC affected your music?
PF: Without a doubt. There was some pretty amazing stuff going on when we started, then there was a dip about a year ago when stuff was pretty bland and twee, and now stuff is getting interesting again. Stuff like Aa and Parts & Labor and Ex-Models. We also had some ideas of what it meant to be a band, and even though bands like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars weren’t active as local bands at that point, their specter still loomed large at that point.
WCP: Is there a particular aesthetic aim you have with all this chaos?
PF: Yeah, we’re trying for both worlds. We’re trying to be a band that’s very live, where there’s a visual to 90 percent of what you hear, but we also want to incorporate weird futuristic sounds like sampling and looping. So, we don’t want to be just a guitar band that strums along, and we don’t want to be just a knob twiddling electronic band. We want to do the best of both of those approaches. Very few bands are in that middle ground, except maybe like Liars or Health—-the live band with live drumming and guitars but a futuristic mentality. We’re narrowing down historically what sounds we’re after now. Bands like Trans Am, Primal Scream, and Stone Roses might be where we’re headed in the future. In the past, we were inspired by crazy NYC no wave acts like Liquid Liquid, ESG, and Suicide.
WCP: Do you worry about or take joy in confounding the listener?
PF: We were definitely taking joy in confounding the listener. Just being contrarian and teasing the listener was fun, but we don’t have much of an established career right now. We still tease them in how we have rapidly shifting parts. I think people want music in this day and age that has an even keel that just rides a groove. I know a lot of chillwave like Neon Indian will just have one beat the whole song. We thought it’d be fun to do the opposite to mash things together in your face and demand attention. Put them in a trance and then wake them up. From a career perspective, maybe that wasn’t a good idea, but I thought it would be interesting to make an album that played with people’s moods and mentality.
WCP: In a live setting, do you let these songs get really out there, or do you maintain a certain loyalty to their composition?
PF: We stay pretty loyal. There are parts that are improv and parts that are tight. Sometimes there’s improv over a certain number of beats, where the length is the same but what happens is different. There are parts that are more free, with an understood but unspoken length, feeling it out how long the section should be not as strict, but all the improv sections have a definite end. I think we saw some bands early on with an improv mentality like No Neck Blues Band and Excepter that were pretty influential.
WCP: Is there any sort of lyrical theme to the new album?
PF: Most of the words are just free-associative wordplay, like a Mark E. Smith or Thurston Moore approach. A lot of the themes have to do with work and economics, but not in an academic way. It’s about finding your way in the world, it’s about making money versus not making money. It’s kind of about a technological dystopia, but mostly there’s a psychedelic free–associative aspect.
WCP: Kanine released your album, %, last January. How has the label treated you?
PF: They’ve been good. We’ve been happy having a legitimate label behind us, though they haven’t been pushing us as hard as, say, Surfer Blood. They haven’t spent a ton of money on us because they knew they wouldn’t get it back. It’s weird because we have worldwide deal, but no distribution outside the U.S. At the same time we can’t license out the album to some of the other niche labels in other countries. Having it out in some capacity in Europe would be nice. Hopefully, whatever we do in the future will be a little more strategically done.
The label Sacred Bones in Brooklyn has a really cult mentality for gothy post-punk, and British ’80s-sounding stuff. Kanine is more cosmopolitan and eclectic. I sometimes wonder if we would’ve done better on a niche label. Either way, being on Kanine is cool because we’re in a more middle-of-the-road arena instead of a fringe, cult arena. Maybe we would make more diehard fans if we went with smaller label with a specific stylistic reputation, but for me it’s actually enjoyable to do music that a lot of people would enjoy rather than doing exactly what I want and losing everybody cognitively.
Dinowalrus plays with Hume, Aa, and more this Saturday at Everlasting Life (2928 Georgia Ave. NW) at 8 p.m.