Interview: Dinowalrus

Dinowalrus

Williamsburg’s own Dinowalrus recently released their critically-acclaimed sophomore LP, Best Behavior; a decidedly more dance-driven and synth-based approach than their debut, the noise rock-inspired %My Social List caught up with Pete Feigenbaum, their self-proclaimed “curator of riffs” at El Beit to discuss his band’s progression, the erosion of local music scenes, the continued gentrification of Williamsburg and what he described as a Warholian appropriation of culture as a driving influence in his band’s sound.

Peter Rittweger – You’ve said that Andy Warhol’s or Mike Kelley’s “appropriation” was a source of inspiration on Best Behavior. I almost immediately think of your album cover, which is an image of the Domino Sugar factory, this “iconic” Williamsburg landmark.  % was more “no-wave” or “noise rock” inspired, while Best Behavior seems to be more influenced by the best music AROUND you.  Would you say the image symbolizes that sort of appropriation?

Pete Feigenbaum – Yes and no.  I mean, the album cover is just an allusion to Animals, that Pink Floyd album… which isn’t a very good album, but that album cover really resonates with me.  I mean both albums (% and Best Behavior) are sort of appropriations in a different way.  I have this theory that nostalgia comes in twenty year waves.  I guess there’s only really been two years between the two albums, but in my mind it feels like more, so we’ve jumped from 1982 to 1992 in our minds, haha.

I was vaguely interested in this Madchester acid-house sound for a while, so it just made sense to dig even deeper into that and really let that influence the songwriting on Best Behavior, and the production too.  So I feel that that’s the biggest re-appropriation on Best Behavior…like taking ideas from the Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, Charlatans, Primal Scream, Candy Flip, Flowered Up… all those bands.  I feel like our interest in them is a very unique thing. It seems like no one else around here is into that.  Revivalism can be kind of hokey, or even a cheap thrill but I like to think the way that we’ve done it, we’ve kind of made it our own and made people see this style that they may have overlooked previously.

PR – How do you feel about this neighborhood and where it’s headed, being a Williamsburg resident?

PF – *laughs* Yeah, I guess I’ve lived here six years, and when I moved here I could already tell it was not necessarily culturally vital anymore; I mean, things were already happening in Bushwick. There’s still enough going on that resonates with me… it still feels like a community.  I still walk around and run into tons of people I know.  I feel like as long as that exists, and the rent is cheap, and as long as there’s a few bars I like going to there’s really no reason to move or “write off” the neighborhood.

I think there’s been this influx of money and condos and these “gourmet” supermarkets that I don’t really appreciate, just because I’m trying to live a somewhat frugal lifestyle.  You know, it bums me out that none of the bodegas around Bedford have twenty-five cent bags of Wise potato chips…its all overpriced “rustic gourmet” potato chips that are a dollar fifty a bag.  What’s nice about Bed-Stuy is you can go into a bodega and you can buy a slice of pre-packaged pound cake for fifty cents.   New York has this constant evolution of neighborhoods, and if you want to have entertainment and so-called amenities close-at-hand, you are going to have to realize that you will have to live in a neighborhood that’s very much evolving and in perpetual flux; it will probably morph into something you may not like over a five or ten year period.   As long as you don’t expect things to stay the same, you’ll probably do fine anywhere.

PR – Who are your favorite bands to play with?

PF – Tough question – I feel like we’re really doing our own thing now and there’s just not a lot of bands we really want to play with.   We don’t have a “partner in crime” stylistically.  I will give a shout-out to Yvette, which is my friends Noah and Rick.  I don’t think we’re that into making noise music anymore, but I definitely appreciate what they are doing.  I feel like they’ve really stuck to their guns and developed an exciting new language of pitchshifters and ring-modulators.  Ava Luna is great too.  Felicia is singing a few tracks on the next album we are working on!  But as far as bands that are on our level that are trying to do exactly what we’re doing—making dance-oriented psych rock, I don’t think there’s really anybody around town who’s not huge and out of our league.

To be honest, I think a lot of what’s happening lately is there’s a lot of music being made singlehandedly by people in remote corners of the world in their bedrooms.  There’s not much of a local “scene.”  The most common trajectory is that somebody in Nowheresville, USA gets inspired, records a bunch of bedroom songs, sends it to Gorilla vs. Bear and then some big label picks them up.  Then as the last step, they find a bunch of people to play in their band.  Then they move to New York.  Which is fine by me, but obviously this type of music is going to be somewhat removed from any context.  So new bands aren’t really coming up together, playing the same venues, and trying out similar ideas at the same time during their formative periods.  I think most of the bands I’m excited about are much more established than we are, but we can’t play with them because their agents won’t throw us a bone!

PR – Who would they be?

DW – I really like what Bear In Heaven is doing.  I think they have a very advanced musical sensibility.  They write really interesting chord progressions, and have great synth sounds.  I kind of like the new Black Bananas album, it has some tasty 70s rock sleaze with modern-sounding electronics backing it all up.  I’ve been a fan of Royal Trux and even RTX for a while.  I wouldn’t say they’re a new band because they’ve been at it since the 90s!  Gauntlet Hair are pretty cool and they’ve been real nice to us!  And Liam is a big fan of Matthew Dear.

PR – You talk about like a partner in crime; in the past you spent some time with Titus Andronicus.  Patrick Stickles guests on Best Behavior.  I was wondering how that all came about.  It seems that you guys have such different ideas.

DW – Well, yes and no, I think.  Much like a Titus album, our third album is going to be more anthemic.  I mean, we’ve already recorded it.  I think we have this shared interest in weird 80s British music sub-cultures.  I’m really into baggy whereas Stickles is really into Big Country or old oi punk.  We played a show with them in like 2008 and they really liked what we were doing and vice versa, which is how we met.  We were a very different band at the time, more like a psych-punk band, I guess that was the best way to describe us: like the Butthole Surfers Liars, or Hawkwind.  At the time, I think both our bands had a mutual appreciation for big power chord riffs and shreddin’ guitars.  They asked me to play in the band with them for like six months, and I played a few solos on The Monitor.  We’ve been friends and on the same wavelength for so long and [they’ve] always helped us out and respected us, even as our career trajectories diverged significantly, haha!  Occasionally Titus have influenced us directly: while the Dinowalrus track What Now is inspired mostly by Krautrock and postpunk, the melodic guitar line was influenced by Patrick’s guitar line in A More Perfect Union.

I’ve always liked pure “rock and roll,” it’s just that with Dinowalrus, or other bands I’ve aspired to start, I just never felt like I would be lucky enough to make real rock and roll and have people care about it, you know? If I were to start a REAL rock and roll band, which I really want to do, by the way… like a band that sounds like Iggy Pop, The Faces, The Stones, or The New York Dolls; a greasy, sleazy, struttin’ vibe, I think people would hate it and be like, “Gimmie a break! this is the dumbest thing ever,  are you serious?” so I have a lot of respect for the fact that Titus are miraculously able to take rock and roll and make it new again, and make tons of people excited about it in their own way.

PR – You say that you’ve recorded this new album; does any of this “rock and roll” style come out in it?

DW – I think so, in subtle ways.  The chord progressions are more pentatonic: more like an AC/DC song, rather than major-y like an Animal Collective song, still the textures are very synth-oriented, rather than guitar driven.  It sounds like The Chameleons, The Church, Simple Minds or Echo and the Bunnymen.  It’s very anthemic, or almost arena-ready, but in a very synthy and new-wave vibe.  It’s very electronic, but like I said, the chord progressions and the bombastic choruses are sort of inspired by Titus to some degree, especially after touring with them and seeing their audience respond to their songs!

PR –  You mentioned the whole “bedroom-pop” phenomenon of artists submitting their music to blogs like Gorilla vs. Bear.  You guys are getting some pretty positive press from blogs like Gorilla vs. Bear, Pitchfork… all the usual suspects.  I mean, you guys even got a 7.0!  That’s pretty good.  How much attention do you guys pay to stuff like that?

DW –  *laughs* Well, I mean… we’re as narcissistic as anyone, so we pay a fair amount of attention.   With any criticism… you can choose to reject it or accept it, but a really well-written review can present insights into your own music that you never really even thought of.  Its really interesting actually, to read a review that somebody put as much effort into as you put into the album.  I mean, it’s rare, most reviews are pretty half-assed, but on the rare occasion where the reviewer clearly listened to your album ten times; I think it’s really rewarding to read that.  I come from an art and architecture background, and the way you progress creatively is through these “pinups”; these studio critiques, where you put your work up on the wall and your professor or visiting critics discuss your work.  I think it’s very much a part of our process.  If somebody makes a flippant remark that makes no sense, or is not relevant, or silly, or ill informed, I think I would ignore it, or reject it, but I’m certainly open to well thought out criticism, and I think that has influenced us.

In that Pitchfork review, Ian Cohen says one of the problems with Best Behavior is that it tends to “reverberate” but not “resonate”.  While there were parts of his review I didn’t like; I thought that was a good line and it summed up a thought that was already in my head with what I wanted to do with the follow up album, so it’s kind of cool when somebody reviews your album and verbalizes abstract thoughts you may have already had.  Still, there have been some annoying reviews too.

Peter Rittweger of My Social List

My Social List is happy to partner with Freewilliamsburg to bring you the best of music in the New York area.  My Social List tracks nine of the most popular music blogs and aggregates mentions of bands to create weekly Top 10 Lists of the city’s most exciting and highly-anticipated shows.

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