“New Age Punk“: that’s the description that LA via Baltimore cosmic rockers Dummy have settled on for the music on their ambitious self-titled first EP, and damn, does it fit. Released on May 1st via Pop Wig Records, the five track stunner is a zero-waste buffet of stargazing mini epics, packed dense with face-melting fuzz pop and levitation-inducing ambient exercises that soothe and excite with every subsequent listen.
Produced by Joo-Joo Ashworth, who excavates similar territory in his own band Froth, Dummy creates impossible sonic landscapes through careful sculpting and pruning. Explosive guitars phase in and out on “Angel’s Gear,” contorted into surrealistic shapes that allow the sunny “ba-ba-ba” harmonies and swirling organ to pierce through the mix. “Avant-Garde Gas Station” coasts on luminous, pulsating keyboards that perfectly set up the left hook of the fiery back half. When the record shifts into ambient calm on the dreamy, pastoral “Folk Song,” you’ve crashed into a burnt out heap. Once you’re under that song’s gentle acoustic spell, it’s time to disappear into the blissed out finale of “Touch the Chimes,” a sonic bath that will wring out every last drop of anxiety festering in your skull.
Harnessing our finest stress-management techniques to guide us through multiple dropped Zoom calls, Joe and Alex (who are married) joined me with their band mate Nate to talk about the inspirations behind the music and the warped visualizer they designed for “Touch the Chimes.”
ETF: How did Dummy come together in LA?
Joe: I was born in LA but Nate, Alan and Alex moved out here with me after it became clear that Wildhoney was on a pretty permanent hiatus. We knew we wanted to play music together again and LA was a new creative environment that is just the polar opposite of Baltimore. We didn’t know anyone really but we’d toured with Froth as Wildhoney and just made the jump.
We started writing songs to a drum machine and practicing with a different drummer. Alex joined later down the line.
ETF: What was the first song you wrote for the project?
Joe: Angel’s Gear was the first Dummy song. Within the first month of living in LA, it was written and finished.
ETF: What was the recording process like? How was it working with Joo-Joo Ashworth on it?
Joe: Joo-Joo came in pretty late in the process. He helped us mix it but we recorded it all ourselves.
Nate: At first it was miserable. We spent a week on just the first song, but then it got easier. We actually recorded it all on GarageBand with two microphones. Alex took those stems and did some initial mixing before we handed them off. We’d never recorded ourselves before so it was a huge learning process; really arduous and the mixing process with Joo-Joo did a lot.
Joe: We were really well-practiced beforehand. The three songs on the A-side had been written for over a year. Alex had never actually played drums before Dummy, but once he joined the band, transcribing all the parts off of drum machines we’d been working with, it all came together in practice.
ETF: Wildhoney dabbled in ambient sounds on a few releases – what inspired you to do a full on, 8 minute ambient track for “Touch the Chimes”?
Nate: We’ve always listened to a lot of new age and ambient music. But with Dummy, it definitely was something we wanted to push further.
Joe: For Joe’s birthday, we went up to a cabin and recorded Folk Song. Then we set up one mic and just about every synth or keyboard we owned — I think it’s about seven of them — and hit record. We did two takes and the one we ended up using was initially about 18-minutes long. That became “Touch the Chimes.”
ETF: Tell me about the visualizer you made for the song.
Joe: When we started Wildhoney, we started making projections for the band. We always have projections going in live shows, update them regularly to keep them fresh. Projections hide the band from having to “perform” too much. It makes the room ours for the moment.
So when we started this project, we decided to do a visualizer for every song. The collages in this one are from videos taken from hikes during lockdown. Some are manipulated visuals, but 80/90% is video from hikes. Our video players messed up a lot so there’s plenty of distortion in there that we didn’t intend, but adds to the overall effect.
ETF: What have y’all been listening to stay creative during lockdown?
Nate: We don’t have a record player yet, so we mostly listen to tapes at the house. Mostly New Age and Ambient stuff. Especially while we’re cleaning.
Joe: Lots of Roedelius and Moebius. A few bands are in there too. Mo Dotti and Toner in particular have been really great. Telephone Exchange too, an amazing Mexican artist who used to be an architect to form the band.
You can snag a copy of their EP here.