Where:Tito’s Handmade Vodka
On their sophomore album Phenomena, DREAMERS reflect on restless nights, toxic romance, and all the highs and lows of ill-fated infatuation. To capture that emotional chaos, the L.A.-via-Brooklyn trio deliver a genre-defying sound built on visceral rhythms and dynamic guitar work that's equal parts frenetic and fragile.
"Our last album was a super-fun, summer-of-love kind of record, but this one goes into autumn and gets darker," notes vocalist/guitarist Nick Wold, whose bandmates include bassist/vocalist Nelson and drummer Jacob Wick. "When we started writing I had just gone through a big breakup, and had to really find myself again. That, combined with being on tour for two years straight - and dealing with a new, troubled political climate - made for a deeper and more aggressive album. These are things that change you forever, and though we were just trying to write our rock-and-roll dream songs, you can't help but notice those things bleeding through."
Phenomena arrives as the follow-up to DREAMERS' full-length debut This Album Does Not Exist, a 2016 release whose lead single "Sweet Disaster" shot to No. 7 on the Alternative radio chart. A powerful introduction to their expansive brand of alt-rock, that album took shape in fits and starts, with the band heading into the studio whenever they had a break from touring - a relentless schedule that's seen DREAMERS sharing stages with such acts as Catfish and The Bottlemen and Weezer, in addition to appearing at major festivals like Lollapalooza, Bumbershoot, and Firefly.
For Phenomena, the writing process spanned over the course of a year, any downtime was used to write, collaborate, and create the sonic direction. DREAMERS holed up in the studio for a month and immersed themselves in a more deliberate, unhurried process fueled by constant exploration of new tones and textures to put the album together. "I have all these great memories of those writing sessions - that excitement of getting started in the morning and not knowing what you're gonna come up with, and by nighttime there's this song that you never imagined you'd create," Wick says. "After two years of touring and getting to know each other better as musicians, the writing experience felt much more intimate," he continues. "We had a really strong collective idea of what we wanted to achieve with the record."
The bulk of the record was produced by DREAMERS' touring sound engineer Tyler Tedeschi, Phenomena was recorded in Tedeschi's home studio in Paso Robles, California. In sculpting the album's intricate arrangements, the trio made ample use of vintage instruments that included a decades-old synthesizer supplied by Wick, whose parents spent years playing in a rock band that performed in prisons all over California. "When I was a kid their keyboardist left a Roland Juno-60 at our house one day and never came back for it, so we used it to record a bunch of synthesizers on the new album," says Wick. "We also used the first amplifier I ever bought, which cost me about 50 bucks," adds Wold. "I love it because it just sounds really broken and cool." Several other producers also collaborated to contribute to the sonic landscape of the album; Tim Pagnotta, Ryan Ogren, Dan Armbruster, Dylan Jackson Scott, and Charlie Park.
Along with lending Phenomena immense sonic depth, all that time-worn gear speaks to the very soul of DREAMERS: an edgy vitality shaped by late-'60s rock-and-roll and early-'90s alternative. On "Screws," that vitality manifests in a sensually charged track driven by pounding drumbeats, blistering guitar work, and lyrics that perfectly channel the frenzy of mental unraveling. With its slow-burning verses giving way to a thunderous chorus, "Last Love Song" forges an epic breakup anthem out of heartache and shattered promises (sample lyric: "You said we'd get drunk and rule the world forever"). One of the album's most triumphant moments, the urgent yet soaring "Fake It Til You Make It" muses on the beauty of purposeful self-delusion. "That's a song about being no one but still reaching for the stars, and trying to hold on to your joie de vivre," Wold points out. And on "Take Me Home," DREAMERS close out Phenomena with a hazy and dreamlike meditation on enduring what feels like endless disillusionment.
In transforming Phenomena's many bursts of experimentation into tightly crafted rock songs, DREAMERS drew from a lifetime of dedication to their musical development. Growing up in Seattle, Wold played jazz saxophone throughout his childhood, then headed to New York University to study jazz. "Once I got there I realized I'd already expressed what I'd wanted to with jazz, and rock music was what I wanted to explore," he says. Wold began writing songs after college, and soon moved into his rehearsal space in order to completely devote himself to music. "I realized that if I didn't have an apartment I could get away with working one day a week, so for two years I lived in my practice space and got a $20 gym membership to have a place to shower," he recalls.
During that time, Wold wrote hundreds of songs and eventually crossed paths with Nelson, also a former jazz musician. "I played upright bass in high school and got a full scholarship to college, but instead I ended up touring around the country with this band that did USO tours," says Nelson, who's from the small town of Ridgely, Maryland. After years on the road, he moved to New York and started working as a studio musician. "I was pretty burnt out on the music world, but then I met Nick and heard his songs and knew that this was the band I'd wanted to be in my entire life," he says. "His songs felt really current and new, but at the same time they were referencing the music I grew up on and loved. And the fact that he was living in his rehearsal space was like, 'How much more serious can you get than that?'"
Arriving in 2014, DREAMERS' independently released debut single "Wolves" quickly made its way into full rotation on SiriusXM's Alt Nation and landed in the Top 18 countdown. The band soon caught the ear of Stone Temple Pilots (who hand-picked the trio to open a number of 2015 dates), and later paved the way for their signing to Fairfax Recordings. Also in 2015, DREAMERS solidified their lineup with the addition of Wick, who'd played drums since he was eight. "My dad's a drummer and my mom's a piano player, so ever since I can remember there was a drum set and a piano in the living room," he says. "Whenever I was bored, I'd sit at either instrument and mess around, and by the time I was a teenager I realized that music was all I wanted to do with my life."
In choosing the title for Phenomena, DREAMERS spent some time ruminating on their essential mission as artists and creators. "It came from a late-night philosophical talk about how everything in the universe coalesces into something that we can see or touch, even if we can't understand how or why - it's all just phenomena," says Wold. "That applies to everything, from the molecules in drops of water to the experiences that change our lives. So the title of Phenonema gets to the core of why we make music in the first place: we're just minds trying to understand the universe."
As they gear up for the release of Phenomena, one of the band's most closely held hopes is for the album to connect with others who share that curiosity, and who might feel a lack of belonging in everyday life. "One of the things we want to do is form some kind of tribe for people who might feel alone, or who can't really find themselves in mainstream culture," Nelson says. It's exactly that sense of communion that makes Phenomena undeniably life-affirming - and ultimately imbues the album with a deeper sense of purpose. "We call ourselves DREAMERS because we want to be and to attract dreamers, thinkers, imaginers. We believe that's the artist's role in society," says Wold. "We think music can unite people, move people, and - through the strength of all those people - maybe end up changing the world."