A little while ago we wrote about Super Paradise by Dicktations, an epic indie/garage rock album that serves as a swansong for the band. You can read the full review to get a sense of what made it special, but to whittle down the themes and direction changes into a basic summation, the album is about coming to terms with your present self, and not letting the past (or the future) mould you into shapes you’d rather not hold.
“For all the woe and doubt, the record never deviates from its primary message – each and every moment is a law unto itself, be sure to live in it and for it because, be it good or bad, it will not last forever”
To explore the record a little further, we put some questions to the faces behind Dicktations and received some rather interesting answers. Dig in below!
Hi Dicktations, thanks for speaking with us. How is life at this time of year in NYC?
Miguel: It’s just now starting to become very cold. The heat in our building is finally on and it gurgles in the manner of a large beast with Troubled Bowels. The leaves are half gone, and it is all very pretty. I find myself compulsively listening to Yo La Tengo, Nico, and Joni Mitchell. The fall is a special time—I always feel completely awful. Maybe recent L.A. transplants Brian and Torsten can offer their thoughts on the west coast’s take on this season.
Brian: LA is its usual sunny self but we actually got some decent rain this past weekend, which I loved. I’m troubled at how cold 60 degrees feels to me now. It was funny watching the debut of Jared Goff, the no. 1 pick of the Rams, playing at home in the pouring rain.
In our review of Super Paradise we mentioned how you said the album was “an index of a weird time in our lives” and was created in response to a period of what can only be described as existential crisis. Did the record help you make sense of all of that? Was it a cathartic experience in recording and releasing it to the world?
Miguel: It’s hard to say. The record took forever to make and felt like a sticky thing. Letting go of the record helped me let go of that time. But I don’t know that making music or art, for me at least, is really cathartic, or even a way of processing things. Music-making is like this alien compulsion that the events of my life, at best, furnish. My emotions and experiences are the most readily available material through which to articulate it. The compulsion is indifferent to all of that, though. Most of the time it is hard to express how I’m feeling or where I am through any medium or mode of communication, let alone music. I can’t say I really sit down and make music for the purpose of expressing myself. That being said, making music feels extremely correct, in a way that nothing else does, and in a way that I think is distinct from the classic artistic framework of catharsis and sense-making. It’s probably the only thing I do for the sake of doing it.
Brian: Agree completely with the last line, I think you summed it up really well. As far as the “weird time in our lives,” Miguel and I were both living at home, working mindless if not thankless jobs and wondering what the next step was. I kind of see my last year as a state of limbo – most days I felt like I was just hanging suspended in this reality. For me at least, it was existing, not living. That impulse pushes me to make music.
At twenty tracks, and running through a variety of styles and moods, the album is pretty much a double album in terms of length and scope. How/why did you decide that these songs all belonged on the same release? Was it to do with themes? Or the period of time in which they were written?
Miguel: We were eager to produce as much material as possible. The folder on my hard drive that contains the original demos for this record is titled ‘Dicktations Swan Song.’ It was my understanding that this was the last thing we would make when we started making it—at the time, towards the end of college and the beginning of that summer, I thought I might be moving to L.A., too. ‘Dicktations Forever’ was one of the first songs I wrote for it. The lyrics came to me spontaneously, which is rarely how it works out for me. I was about a month before graduating from school and, maybe I couldn’t recognize it at the time, I was on the cusp of this really difficult reckoning with how the self is constituted and the strangeness of being able to identify all these major, imminent changes in your life but being unable to anticipate how they will feel. That kind of provided a goal post for what the record would be about.
We used every song we recorded on the album. I tried sequencing it as a full twenty track record, and I think, by merit of these songs being written by us throughout this whole period, it felt thematically cohesive and even had a narrative arc. I think by the time I wrote ‘Heather,’ I knew it belonged at the end of the record that charted out this course towards refusing to be defined by history, trauma, and sadness. We talked a little about cutting tracks but decided not to. I have always been drawn to sprawling records that jump across genre. The first quasi-Dicktations record set out to be that way very deliberately. H*CKHOUND is basically the one time we’ve ever engaged in self-editing.
Brian: I also love the sprawlers. I’m really happy with how all the songs ended up fitting together despite the different styles. I love records that flow from song to song and I think we achieved something like that.
Who/what do you consider influences on your work, both sonically and in terms of writing? Are there art forms other than music (literature, movies, visual art etc.) which you consider important in shaping your style?
Miguel: I’ve always seen Dicktations as my dream rock n roll outlet. Something that takes its cues from everything I like from rock. I think the main reference points for my songs on that record—Thin Lizzy, The Replacements, Big Star, The Wrens—were formative for me but not necessarily indicative of what I listen to and resonate with most at this point in my life. Writing lyrics is extraordinarily difficult for me. When I was writing words for my tracks on the record I kept pushing myself to be as direct and frank as possible, which I think all those bands do well. I love the unceremonious nature of Paul Westerberg’s confessions. The way he loses his resolve at the end of ‘Unsatisfied’ or has to work his way up to sing a line like “[a]ll I know is that I’m sick of everything that my money can buy” on Here Comes a Regular. There’s nothing monumental about the way he expresses his feelings. I like to think that for all its length and scope, Super Paradise is ultimately pretty unambitious and understated.
I find literature and critical theory to be really influential on how I think about my relationship myself and others and how I ultimately write. I think my anxiety about being overdetermined by history was a pretty direct result of the spiritual and intellectual fatigue I felt studying Anthropology for four years. Most recently, the novel I Capture the Castle [by Dodie Smith] helped me finally write the words to a very difficult song.
Alex: For me, my playing style is truly influenced by my personality…and my personality is truly influenced by Kate Bush (my perception of her based on videos, interviews, and her music in general, at least). I feel very animated and emotional when playing music; sometimes I think about what I would look like if the drums were totally transparent, with just my wobbly, swishy, bouncy, flailing and/or unnaturally still body visible (i have no formal training on how to play drums in a way that won’t eventually cause self-harm) and every time: I see myself surrounded by characters in one of her amazing choreographies.
Brian: Musically, influence #1 will always be The Beatles for me I think. As far as influencing me as a writer and rocker, Bruce Springsteen. I’ve teared up to “Backstreets” so many times. Richard Thompson is a guitar god I dream of playing like one day. The Smiths, Weezer, The Band and Teenage Cool Kids are some of my other favorites. The Wrens were my soundtrack for the past year, they’re an amazing band. If I did a ‘Mount Rushmore’ of my singing influences, it would be: Jonathan Richman, Charles Bissell, Kevin Whelan, Rick Danko (so f*cking plaintive!) and Andrew Savage.
Most of your releases were accompanied by creative and rather in-depth supporting pieces of writing, which I find really interesting and illuminating. I was wondering how central these are for you to the albums as a whole? Are they footnotes or another facet of the main body?
Miguel: I think the way I’m about to answer this is a way of thinking about it that definitely came after putting out Super Paradise, so I’m almost interpreting myself here. I think of the essay and annotated map that you get when you download the album are all parts of the artwork-as-a-whole. A friend of mine mentioned using Google Maps—I do this all the time—to cruise the locations on the annotated map and in the essay while listening to the record as an illuminating experience, and I think that’s almost how I would recommend experiencing it. I think the internet and digital medium offer great opportunities to rethink what an ‘album’ is. Lemonade and visual albums are a big budget way of approaching this, but I think there are plenty of more DIY ways to realize the possibilities of the medium. H*CKHOUND dabbled in this too—the liner notes featured “stage directions” for each track.
I can be very obsessive. I love the idea of exhausting something, like what Georges Perec does in An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, where sits in one intersection for days and describes every detail he sees. Or a gothic cathedral—a space so dense with signification, through all its decorative statues and stained glass, that it’s never available in its entirety to any given viewer.
You said in a recent Facebook post that Dicktations are no more, and posted a song from a new project. What can we expect from you in the future? Do you see your new work as a marked change from Dicktations?
Miguel: I’ve been doing stuff as Miserable chillers for a few years alongside Dicktations and other projects, like Drug Pizza and Magic the Happening!. Miserable chillers is my outlet for music that engages with referents that have more in common with what I’m into now. It’s synthier and a little more abstract. I’m letting my love of all those British sophisti-pop bands from the ‘80s, like Prefab Sprout, or Blue Nile, consume me.
Brian: I’ve been releasing music as Living Large since high school and recently my brother Dan (aka Rick Rubin of Dicktations) and I have recorded two albums at his spot, Boca Studios in Somerville, Mass. (Boston bands, hit him up!)
Finally, could you name four or five acts you think we should be listening to (be they old or new, popular or obscure, etc.)?
Miguel: Jay Som, Tredeci Bacci, Wintertime, and Mal Devisa are new artists that I really like. Willis Alan Ramsey is a Texas troubadour from the ‘70s who is somewhere between Townes Van Zandt and Harry Nilsson and his one album has been on heavy rotation for me for the past year. Also, Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest has been a pretty indispensable champion of our music, and I owe him a big thanks and shout out. Teens of Denial was one of my favorite indie rock records this year.
Brian: Teens of Denial is an amazing record and the show we played with them was also one of the best concerts I’ve attended. I mentioned them before, but The Wrens are one of New Jersey’s greatest bands. Out here in LA, I’ve been listening to two artists heavily: Steely Dan and more recently R.E.M. Aja and Murmur are both classics. Check out the early records. Early R.E.M. can hang with The Smiths. Our friend Chris has a gallery space (As It Stands LA, if you’re out here!) and a local band called Roses played there one time. I wasn’t at the show but I like them a lot, especially their song ‘Florence Girls.’ I recently found Greatest Palace Music by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy at the thrift store down my block so that’s my go-to driving CD. ‘New Partner’ is one of my all-time favorite songs.
Torsten: When I listen to Bach I feel as though God is real and that, though am I not perfect, there is a perfection I can sometimes glimpse and aspire to. It is a worthwhile trick to play on yourself. I really like John Eliot Gardiner’s groups performing the cantatas and Glenn Gould’s performances of the piano works.
You can grab Super Paradise and all of the Dicktations release now from Bandcamp.