So Many Dynamos
For the past six years, Edwardsville, Illinois’ So Many Dynamos—Aaron Stovall (vocals, keyboards), Ryan Wasoba (guitar), Clayton Kunstel (drums) and Griffin Kay (guitar)—have been developing their own highly evolved brand of indie rock that touches on math rock, dance punk and indie pop while staying firmly outside the confines of any one genre. Their sonic evolution has culminated with the group’s third full-length and Vagrant Records debut The Loud Wars (04/28/09). While the band have already built up a loyal fanbase by playing over 400 shows and sharing the stage with mainstream luminaries like The Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, and Cursive, with the release of their latest album it’s now time for So Many Dynamos’ own moment in the spotlight.
That isn’t to say that So Many Dynamos’ passage has been an entirely smooth one. In fact, as they’ve continually traversed the country, the foursome has wrestled with everything from Staph Infections to stolen gear and potentially fatal van accidents. “When those types of things happen it really puts everything in perspective and makes us realize this is worth doing,” Wasoba explains. “Everything negative has a positive and in every instance what’s happened to us could have been so exponentially worse—and we’re happy that it happened how it did.” A perfect example of this is the fact that if the band’s gear hadn’t been stolen in Seattle in 2006 they wouldn’t have connected with Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla. Walla not only loaned them guitars to finish their tour but also offered to produce The Loud Wars at his home studio in Portland, Oregon and Tiny Telephone Studio in San Francisco, California.
“I think one of the reasons Chris wanted to work with us was we’ve always been really self-sufficient in the way we’ve handled ourselves,” explains Wasoba, adding that the band have self-produced all of their previous recordings, including their 2006 breakthrough Flashlights—the album which initially got Walla’s attention. “We knew what we wanted to accomplish musically, and Chris knows how to make great records, so it was constantly an exciting experience to be making the record with him.” Aided by mixing engineer Alex Newport (The Mars Volta, At The Drive-In), the result is an album with its roots planted firmly in the nineties Midwestern indie scene that’s also forward-thinking enough to prevent it from the pitfall of recreating anything that’s ever been done before.
The result is an album that showcases all of the band’s personalities, from the futuristic dance-jam “New Bones” (think Talking Heads’ “Born Under Punches” performed in space) to the progressive pop number “If You Didn’t Want To Know” (think Minus the Bear covering Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad”) and intricately arranged six-minute opus “The Formula” (think Yes meets Odelay by Beck).
Not only does The Loud Wars show traces of some of So Many Dynamos’ favorite musical touchstones – Talking Heads, Pinkerton-era Weezer, Q And Not U – it also features some unique reinterpretations of the group’s old material. The band listened to all of their previous albums in reverse and recontextualized some of these moments into their new material. For example, “Glaciers” is largely built around the melody of Flashlights standout “Search Party” played backwards. Some songs share lyrics with their earliest releases and the self-referential aspects don’t end there: the left-channel guitar part to “Keep It Simple” is the melody created by spelling out the band’s palindromic moniker via text message.
“I think this album is a more honest representation of who we are as people and musicians and what we’ve been trying to accomplish since we started our band,” states Wasoba. “We didn’t really come out swinging on our first release, and we’ve been slowly figuring ourselves out as we go. This is the first album that we don’t have any baggage with and we don’t have to make excuses for. I think this is finally a straightforward statement of who So Many Dynamos are.”
In fact listening to The Loud Wars, it’s obvious that instead of fixating on genre constraints or marketing plans, the album is simply a musical snapshot of four unique individuals who have come together with a common goal to craft the album they want to hear. Walla’s inventive production complements the band’s efforts and suffuses the album with audio trickery that includes the sound of strings being cut off of an acoustic guitar on "Novelty of Haunting,” the spliced-together collage of tape rewinding sounds on "New Bones,” the pitch shifted snare drum on “Keep It Simple”, and the orchestra of guitar feedback at the end of “Oh, The Devastation.”
None of this overshadows So Many Dynamos lyrics, which are as fully-realized and ambitious as their music. “The lyrics definitely did not come easy on the record and many of them came out of a really mentally strained place,” Wasoba says, adding “a lot of the lyrics are about the strains of playing and performing music in indirect ways."
That’s obvious on the aforementioned opener “Artifacts of Sound” which discusses the continually shrinking attention spans of listeners in the mp3 age (”we can’t keep their interest now/they’re getting down to the artifacts of sound"), the discouragement that comes with anonymous internet criticisms (“don’t listen to what the pre-teens say/dialed up on the twenty-eight eight k”), the double-edged sword of the religion of music (“I showed up for the water and the wine/but I didn’t sign on for the fire and the hail”), and dealing with the personal responsibility of releasing an album (“The record doesn’t lie/so what friend could the record be?”) – all within the context of a four-minute rock song.
The band has so far managed to avoid getting caught up in this darker side of making music by staying true to themselves and letting their sound evolve accordingly.
So Many Dynamos have accomplished this by not limiting what their band sounds like, spending much of their year on the road and, most importantly, sticking to the ideals that have defined their group since they met back in high school. “That’s been the coolest thing about Vagrant,” Stovall says, “they were along with us the whole way and want us to uphold our same beliefs and ethics and that made us really comfortable with the process.” Wasoba is able to explain the band’s mission statement even more directly: “We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘If I wasn’t in this band what would I think of this?’” he summarizes. "If we weren’t in it, we would want So Many Dynamos to be our favorite band in every aspect.”