Sinless celebrates the release of its new EP this Sunday at Holocene. This month, we catch up with the band’s singer and songwriter Cor Allen to discuss moving to Portland on a lark and how he overcame anxiety in a new music scene.
For the uninitiated, Daydream Machine is one of a recent crop of Portland psych-ish bands less indebted to the sonics of ‘60s psychedelia than the techniques and attitude of late-century indie from the UK. Imagine The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid having a beautiful and unsettling technicolored dream that somehow involves The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. Daydream Machine’s sophomore LP, The Show Must Not Go On, is out on Picture In My Ear Records March 7.
I sat down in a cozy North Portland living room to chat with the band about their new record and the double-edged evolution of the Portland venue landscape in recent years.
Eleven: Since there are four of you here, why don’t we get started with some introductions?
Jsun Adams: I sing and play guitar. I’ve been in the band since we started in 2012. We write together, so I guess I’m also one of the songwriters.
Josh Kalberg: I play bass, sing background vocals and… groove as much as possible I guess?
Jonathan Zang Allen: I play guitar and do a lot of the technical work and recording. I’ve been in the band from the beginning.
Bob Mild: I play drums. I joined around the beginning of 2016. It’s my favorite band ever!
11: Well that’s convenient! So, it’s been about three years since you released your first album, Twin Idols. What do you think has changed most for the band? Lessons learned? New creative directions? New influences?
JZA: The first record was very much based around three-part harmonies with three separate singers and lots of layered vocal textures. Circumstances changed and we ended up with Jsun as the main vocalist, so things have become more song-focused as opposed to arrangement-focused. I don’t think stylistically any of us have changed what we’re into, but I think the lineup changes have had an effect. Maybe more than anything the changing political environment over the past two years has had an inadvertent influence on the music.
JK: I think we’ve all had the same influences for years or decades; I don’t think any of that has necessarily changed. For me, I think I drew from Joy Division or Galaxie 500 on a couple songs, but aside from that I was probably subconsciously going off of a lot of other things. I think we all were.
JA: Some of the bass lines are really that Manchester, early-New Order, late-Joy Division kind of thing. Other songs are probably influenced by loving bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain or Echo and the Bunnymen. We’re not afraid to be a Northwest band sort of exploring dreamscapes with a dancy rock beat.
11: I read you had some heavy hitters from the likes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols collaborate in some capacity on Twin Idols. Are there similar cameos to look out for on The Show Must Not Go On?
JZA: We recorded most of the new record with Gregg Williams at the Trench Studio.
MB: He’s in the Oregon rock and roll hall of fame.
JA: He did the Dandy Warhols Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia and all the Blitzen Trapper records. We also recorded a song for this record at Revolver Studios with Collin Hegna who plays with Brian Jonestown Massacre and Federale.
JZA: We recorded a lot of the first record at Revolver with Collin too. He played piano on two of those songs and Peter Holmström from the Dandy Warhols played guitar on a couple. On the new record though, we only recorded one song with Collin, and Peter also played on it.
JK: Nathan Junior’s on there a bunch playing synth too. He’s a Portland powerhouse; he’s played with Rick Bain, M Ward, Fruit Bats. Bunch of stuff.
11: You mentioned earlier that you tend to write collaboratively. What does that process usually look like?
JK: I think a lot of our songwriting is just building on spontaneous ideas. I think we know how to feed off each other really well. We’ll sit there and jam for 15 minutes on something, and Jonathan will take it home and turn it into a demo. He’ll even add some extra drums or lead parts and send it back to us.
JZA: Yeah, like on “The Show Must Not Go On,” Jsun had a chord progression and a rhythm in his head that we spent a day playing, so I went back to my studio knowing the chord changes and the rhythm and I created a template of instruments playing the song. Then we started filling in spaces: recording live drums over it, chopping it all up, rearranging it. It’s kind of like an album of remixes from a certain standpoint – from how they were originally conceived to how they were finally edited and presented on the album.
JA: At a point, I actually went away to Jamaica, and Jonathan sent me some of the recordings in progress. It sounded like Josh and Bob’s bass and drums had locked in really well so I ended up writing a lot of the lyrics there.
JZA: The first album was recorded in like nine different places, so things were getting recorded constantly all over the place. But this new one was pretty much recorded at Gregg’s place and in my studio. Basically, the band comes up with an idea, then I’ll take it and make a demo of it. Then we take the stems from the demo into the studio and re-record some stuff but keep some of the demo tracks I’ve gotten too attached to to properly rerecord. Then it goes back to my studio and I manipulate it, and mix it, and add more things. It’s an odd way to make a record I think.
JA: It’s a secret! What are we giving this away for!
11: It makes sense it would be such an elaborate process. The album’s so dense it would be hard to conceive of all those little nuances without approaching it so methodically.
JK: Yeah, there’s a lot of freedom somehow in all that planning and plotting. Sometimes you take things that happened organically and you work them into the song, and other times you program stuff. There’s a lot of freedom playing in this band that I haven’t had in other bands. We don’t really hold each other to song structures. There are no song structures in this band!
11: Tell me about the album title. Does The Show Must Not Go On refer to any specific themes woven throughout the album?
JA: Yeah, a lot of the songs have this political edge to them – not on purpose, but it’s there.
JZA: The title originally had no political meaning, but all the lyrics that Jsun wrote in Jamaica during the presidential primaries ended up being really poignant in relation to the results of the election. It’s bizarre.
JK: I don’t know if it’s something that anyone can escape right now. I don’t know if the intention was to make it political, but politics are sort of seeping through everything everyone does these days.
JZA: Yeah, and I don’t think that was an element in the first record at all. I think Twin Idols dealt with very different themes.
11: You said you wrote a lot of the lyrics in Jamaica. Did your experience there influence the content of the album at all?
JA: Yeah I think so. There’s nothing specifically Caribbean happening, but there’s this ongoing sentiment of soulful resistance that underrides that whole island that probably influenced me – at least subconsciously.
11: Picture In My Ear Records out of Minneapolis released Twin Idols and now the new record too. How did you end up getting hooked up with them?
JA: Maybe 10 years ago I was playing with my other band, The Upsidedown, in Minneapolis, and Colin Axel was in the audience. We ended up becoming email friends, and later, when he started Picture In My Ear, I sent him some Daydream Machine demos. We’re lucky to be working with him; he’s got a lot of great bands from all over the world, like New Candys from Italy – their name’s actually a combination of Anton Newcombe and the Dandy Warhols – and this band STAY from Spain who got produced by Oasis.
Just having such a cool label that’s so supportive of what we do is huge. We send Colin new songs, and usually he’s just completely elated with them. But sometimes there’s like 15 seconds on a song here or there that he thinks we could do better. In the end, there have been a few songs he was totally right about, and they got better from the back and forth.
11: Will you be touring at all to promote the album?
JA: Yep. We’re doing a West Coast tour next month with our Portland brethren, Souvenir Driver. We’re kicking it all off with a big show at Mississippi Studios on March 21, so we’re excited about that. This past year we’ve been lucky enough to play with some of our favorite bands. We got to play in Austin at the Black Angels’ Levitation festival. We played a festival in California with the Dandy Warhols. It’s been a lot of fun.
11: You seem pretty deeply connected to a specific musical lineage in Portland with some of the older bands you’ve mentioned who have made a name for themselves over the years. What kind of changes have you seen that are either encouraging or maybe cause for concern?
JK: One of the biggest things is there seem to be fewer and fewer venues to play, especially all-ages and smaller places that can allow themselves to be more daring and cater to more exploratory music. But the good thing is the music has gotten a lot better because it kinda has to. You can’t just be a couple of dudes getting drunk and playing in your basement and all the sudden go from that to playing really good places any more. It seems like people work a lot more on their stuff at home and music around town is getting better because of it. That’s not to say there haven’t always been great bands in Portland. I guess there just has to be a different approach now.
JA: I hate to see fewer of those small venues because that’s where bands get to cut their teeth and play on those weeknights when maybe no one’s there, but just being able to have stage time in the beginning is really valuable.
BM: Yeah, I can think of three recent venues that are probably condos now… Slabtown, Langano Lounge, Habesha. But the music is thriving. It always has.