Leading up to Dreamers' show at JJ's Bohemia on Friday, May 13, lead singer Nic Wold chatted with Chattanooga Times Free Press music reporter Casey Phillips about playing to empty rooms and sell-outs, the band's anticipation of its long-awaited debut LP and his love of Star Wars.
Q: How has 2016 treated you guys so far? You're fresh into your spring tour. How is it shaping up?
A: Time flies. It's been an amazing year, man, really. We started it off touring Canada with this band, The Arkells. Then, they came to the U.S. We just got back from a month tour with them in the U.S. Then, we had a few weeks off in L.A., and we're shipping off for another five weeks touring with The Young Wild, who are on our label and are amazing friends of ours. We can't complain. We're excited for our album. We finally have a release date pinned down — or somewhat pinned down — in late August.
Q: Is this "This Album Does Not Exist?" It's finally coming out?
A: Yeah. It's been a long time coming, which is why we called it that. [Laughs.] Now, it may or may not exist. Vinyls are being pressed.
Q: What's behind all the delays? Wasn't it initially supposed to come out late last summer?
A: We originally wanted to make it in 2014. We had all these songs, and that's what became our first EP, the self-titled EP. We ended up first releasing that, and that's when we signed the record deal and moved to L.A., so that pushed that back. We kept writing new stuff, so we wanted to move on from the old stuff and have our first full-length be the new stuff. That's what ended up taking so long. We had a whole new set of recording sessions here in L.A. at Sound City.
Q: That's the studio where you recorded your last EP, "You Are Here," right?
A: Exactly. That's the first release from those sessions. That's what the album is going to be from.
Q: Tell me about the material you created for the LP. Where were your heads at when you were working on it? What was inspiring you?
A: Good question. It's kind of an album about newness, change. It's kinda halfway between a breakup album and a new romance album. I don't know. Mostly, it's just a bunch of fun, weird, different songs that we wrote over a period of several months and then picked whichever ones we were feeling. There's not really a core concept to the album other than our own artistic ideas.
Q: Am I right that this current tour is your first as headliners? How's that sitting with you? Is it tough to keep egos in check and heads from swelling when you're top of the bill?
A: Actually, last month with The Arkells was our first as headliners. Yeah, it is weird, but it's cool. It's what we want. It's like too early in our story — we haven't even put out an album yet — to even do that, but it was amazing, and we saw some great turnouts in cities. Some cities where we've never been, like New Orleans, there was one person there who was a super-big fan. [Laughs.] Then, New York was our first sold-out show ever, in our hometown, Brooklyn. We had this whole spectrum of experiences on that one.
Q: Is it a hard transition, emotionally, to go from a place like New Orleans where you're playing to a bunch of empty space to packing out a venue a few days later?
A: The second one is more weird. We've been in bands for a long time, and we're road warriors. We're used to playing empty shows in bars in the middle of nowhere. So yeah, it's more weird to get the awesome turnout. It's great, though. We can see it grow over time, which is really encouraging. But it's always fun to play. We know what's up. We don't expect a sold-out show every night yet. [Laughs.]
Q: Walk me through the band's origins. I know it was in Brooklyn, but you used to be based in Seattle, right?
A: We started in Brooklyn. I grew up in Seattle, but I moved to New York when I was 18 for NYU and ended up staying in Brooklyn to do music. So the band came together there. That's where we consider home.
Q: How did you meet the other guys?
A: The original drummer we started the band with, Chris, was my best friend in high school. We had a band with some other guys, and that broke up. Then, it was me and Chris, and we found Nelson by auditioning bass players, and he was this amazing choice. Eventually, Chris didn't want to continue the band, so when we came to L.A., we found Jacob, who is our current drummer. That's the final lineup. We think. [Laughs.] I would bet lots of money that this is definitely the final lineup.
Q: What makes you say that? Why are you so certain this time?
A: I don't know. We just have a really good rapport. We're all on exactly the same page, which has never been the case before in any band I've been in. We're all lifers. For instance, Jacob just quit his job, finally. He's the last of us to have a day job. He quit that to choose the dream, as it were. We're all just right on the same page in that way.
Q: I guess everyone having the same level of commitment to the band is pretty important.
A: Yeah, and not to mention that the music is working better for the first time, probably better than it ever has. [Short pause.] Definitely better than it ever has.
Q: You guys have played some insanely big stages at festivals and venues. JJ's Bohemia is a small place. You can fit 150 people in there if you tell everyone to hold their breaths. They'll be right in your face. No separation. Is it hard to go back to that kind of situation after playing such in such spacious places?
A: Nah, I think we like that. We're into punk rock, and it kind of works well in a club as well as in a big theater. We think it's cool. It's fun when it's a party and it's face-to-face. We think it's better to have a 150-person room that's packed than a 500-person room that's half full. So I guess until there's a line out the door and people can't get in, then we'll keep playing that size venue.
Q: Do you and your bandmates come from the same places, musically? Do you share many influences?
A: We totally do, and it's probably not a coincidence that we grew up on the same stuff. We're all big Beatles-heads, and we were all huge into Radiohead in high school and The Strokes. I think those are some of the most common threads that we share. And when we met Jacob, he showed us a bunch of new music we'd never heard of that was right up our alley, like this band Alvvays. We'd never heard them before, but we dig them. A band from Denmark called Kashmir. They're huge in Denmark, but not a lot of people know them here. It's cool to dig into his playlist and be like, 'Oh, this is totally what we like.' [Laughs.]
Q: Do you trade off who has control of the radio or Spotify playlist in the van?
A: There's so much time on the highway. It's insane how much time there is. There's time to do it all. Everyone can play whatever they want for pretty much as much as they want. For instance, today, we're shipping off for Tulsa from L.A. which is going to be 24 hours on the highway. Fortunately, we've got two days to do it.
Q: Last year, "Drugs" was featured on an official Star Wars playlist on Spotify for "The Force Awakens" themed after the character Finn. Were you guys aware of that? Was that a big deal for you? Are you Star Wars fans?
A: Oh yeah. We were aware of it after it happened. We got an email about it. We were thrilled. I'm a big Star Wars fan myself. Any way I can be a part of it. I'm still hoping I can leverage that into a role in "Episode IX" or whatever. [Laughs.] Yesterday, we played a show, and it was Star Wars Day, May the Fourth, and I wore a Darth Vader mask onstage. It went over well. [Laughs.]
Q: Did you just happen to have that in the van or did you bring it with you with the intentions of wearing it that night for Star Wars Day?
A: A friend brought it for me, actually. There's a couple who comes to a ton of our shows, and for that show, she was like, "I'm bringing my Darth Vader mask, man." [Laughs.]
Q: Tell me about "You Are Here." The EP came out earlier this year. What were your ambitions going into the studio to work on it?
A: It was all just part of that same L.A. session we've been doing. It was like, "We aren't ready to put out an album, but we have these songs, so let's get the ball rolling." That was the first release with our label. It was kind of an inevitable thing.
Q: It seems like a useful tool, as a band, to release material from a forthcoming LP in advance to gauge the level of interest in the material you're working on. How have people been responding to it?
A: Yeah, totally. Today's world is less album-dominated than it was before. It makes sense to put out singles and EPs and spread it out. People have been responding great. "Drugs" is the first single we've put out since "Wolves," which was over a year ago now. It's going great. It's caught on on the radio hotter than "Wolves" ever did. I think the play count just passed "Wolves." That's what you hope for — growth.
Q: Your website includes a Dreamers manifesto. Would you consider yourselves to be message-driven? If so, what is that message?
A: Yeah, maybe not necessarily a message, like a cause, but we think that music is a lot about philosophy and art is about philosophy. It's about thinking about life and how to live, the kinds of things that people don't think about when they're at work or doing whatever we do. We thought with a name like Dreamers, we had to explain what we meant by it. That's why we put the manifesto up there. I always felt growing up that great music taught me about how to be a person and that artists were the people who could think and dream and discover how to live a better life and what it's all about. That's what we would hope to be.
Q: How is that working out? Do you feel like you're filling that role for yourself and listeners? Are you getting closer to doing that?
A: Yeah, definitely. Just in personal ways, I feel like we have time to think about it, and also writing makes you put your thoughts into a definite place and figure out who you are and what do you like, in a simple way, not necessarily in a really profound way. Yeah, there's still more to do, as always.
Q: Have you ever been to Chattanooga before?
A: We have been to Chattanooga. It was last May. I can't remember the place we played, but I remember everything about it. It was a narrow bar and it was next to a building that was under construction. This will be our second Chattanooga experience. I remember it being a good night. There was a party vibe. People got loose. I think it was a weekend show, and it's definitely a different vibe on Saturday than on Monday night in every city.
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.