Each month, Brooklyn Based unveils an exclusive, new song by a Brooklyn band, recorded at Nadim Issa’s state-of-the-art recording studio in Gowanus, Let ‘Em In Music. This month’s mp3,“Radical Man,” is by Dinowalrus.
If the faces of synth-rock band Dinowalrus look vaguely familiar, consider their past allegiances. Lead guitarist Pete Feigenbaum previously played with Titus Andronicus, while drummer Anton Hochheim formerly played with The Depreciation Guild. The group is rounded out to a trio by Feigenbaum’s college buddy Liam Andrew on synth and bass. (That’s Pete, Liam and Anton, from left to right.)
This current line-up is two-thirds Brooklyn based (Feigenbaum has resided in Williamsburg for 4.5 years; Andrew has lived in Bed-Stuy and Williamsburg, respectively, for two; and NYC-schooled Hochheim is the lone Queens resident). And although Feigenbaum says he more often looks to the distant past than to present surroundings for inspiration, he does find the borough’s music scene highly motivating.
“Seeing a smorgasbord of bands that represent every last aesthetic subculture on earth has given me so many ideas musically and also a better sense of where my own vision fits in, or doesn’t,” he says. “The competition and constant arrival of fresh blood always keeps me on my toes and prevents me, or anyone else, from resting on their laurels or relying on scene cred rather than quality to get new opportunities.”
Dinowalrus’s songs are products of highly collaborative jam sessions. “Radical Man,” specifically, was written in this way just one week prior to the band’s Let ‘Em In studio session. “Generally, we jam out until we stumble upon magical shared moments, and then we base our songs off of that,” Feigenbaum explains. The result is a seemingly contradictory yet strangely complimentary fusion of electronic samples and synths alongside a more classic guitar and drum sound.
The successes and failures of their similarly experimental peers also inspire Dinowalrus’s brand of fusion, says Feigenbaum, especially when it comes to live shows. “We like the futuristic and lush sounds of many new electronic bands, but we don’t like the overuse of backing tracks and closed interfaces that a lot of these bands are plagued by,” he says. “It’s so boring to watch a live band that is essentially just doing karaoke.
“At the same time, I especially despise backwards-looking 90s indie rock revival bands that aren’t doing anything new or interesting sonically,” Feigenbaum continues. “Still, the guitar is a very expressive, fun, versatile, and visually interesting instrument, so I think we will always be a guitar band at heart.”
This past summer, Dinowalrus’s fill-in drummer was none other than music critic Chris Weingarten, whose now-notorious rants against the music blogosphere (in 2009 and more recently at the 92Y) were controversial enough to inspire an upcoming SXSW 2011 panel. Feigenbaum says he stands by Weingarten “100 percent,” agreeing that aspects of blog culture have pushed thoughtful, informed rock and cultural criticism into near extinction.
“I do think there is something cool and democratic about the fact that in this day and age, it’s very easy for would-be musicians to pick up Garage Band and put a song together, and likewise, for would-be critics to get a blog going and start writing about that same song. But this scenario can quickly devolve into a self-perpetuating circle jerk of mediocrity.
“The problem with the music blogger culture is that it rewards, via hits, total hype-mongering amateurs who ‘get there first,’ rather than those write the most thorough or informed response.” Two bands he thinks lost out on deserved attention this past year include Brooklyn-based Aa (pronounced “Big A, Little A”) and Electric Tickle Machine.
Dinowalrus is currently hard at work on a “slick and big” sophomore effort, which the band hopes to record in January and release by mid-2011. The new release will follow their reasonably well-received 2010 album “%.” The title is an allusion to the “schizophrenic, hybrid blend of serious avant-noise and psych-pop we explored,” says Feigenbaum. “It was also an allusion to the percentage declines related to the recession, and post-apocalyptic one-percenter biker gangs.”
And although Feigenbaum cannot recall the exact origin of the word “Dinowalrus” (“It’s been the band’s name for longer than I can remember,” he admits), he does harbor a certain affinity for it. “Rock critic types think it’s dumb, but girls like it, so I’m cool with that,” he jokes. “Either way, I’m glad it catches people’s attention instead of just being some boring word we came up with while thumbing through the dictionary.”
Text and studio photo by Sarah Lynn Knowles, the Brooklyn-based writer and editor behind pop culture blog sarahspy.com and art/fiction/music journal storychord.com. Her favorite ways to fill free time include live music, bloody marys, and fiction writing.