“Rock n’ roll as a genre is different from pop and hip hop: it is about bands, and that for me suggests brotherhood, family, friendship and community.” – Steven Van Zandt.
What the revered Steven Van Zandt has expressed with this statement is a declaration of sincerity. An actor, author, producer, activist, songwriter and musician who has performed with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band for nearing five decades, let alone appearing on The Sopranos for numerous seasons among many other accolades; this is a man with an immeasurable knowledge of the music and arts universe. What he describes here is more than aspects of a genre of music, it is about the unifying element of that raw gritty and uncompromising energy in rock music. It is a bond, a family and in certain scenarios, a brotherhood.
L.S. Dunes represent these credentials and so much more. Built from the foundations of iconic post-hardcore, progressive rock and emo groups such as Thursday, Coheed & Cambria, My Chemical Romance, Saosin and Circa Survive – their origination is more than just “sound” tailored, it is bound by a bewildering bond. Each member of these adored outfits have toured together, whether decades ago or even with their future plans. Most have performed around the world side by side in their respective outfits; the connection is so cohesive, it is above the idea of a “reunion”, it is in fact an astonishing affinity. As guitarist (of Coheed & Cambria fame) Travis Stever elaborates:
“It’s interesting now playing in a band with Frank (Iero, guitar, of My Chemical Romance prestige) and seeing My Chemical Romance on these enormous shows that they’re doing. Then, with Anthony (Green, vocals, [Saosin, Circa Survive]) singing, I mean, he is just so powerful.” Travis pauses in almost disbelief about his talented band brothers before continuing – “With Thursday, I remember Full Collapse came out and Claudio (Sanchez, guitar and vocals of C&C) and I would like listen to that going back and forth from the studio or going to rehearse or even in the van doing shows. Then, they took us out on tour and it was the furthest we had gone in the States. I don’t even know if The Second Stage Turbine Blade was out yet; we might just have been travelling with an Equal Vision Records sampler (laughs). Anyway we travelled to Arizona and I remember thinking that this is the furthest we’ve been out in the States on tour, this is amazing! I am so grateful to them for that!” Mr Stever exclaims with unbridled excitement.
“But I mean, all the while all these bands, except for the select few times, I never really listening to them with the outside perspective of that’s who we’re playing with tonight. Playing with all these guys now, it makes me dive back into what they did. I have this whole new respect for it; the My Chemical Romance music and Circa Survive! It is so cool, because we have this real band, but it almost reminds me of when you were in high school and everybody had all these different bands, but you started bands with each other. I feel like at 40, oh, I’m not going to tell you the rest of that. But my birthday is coming up, too haha!”
For context, Vera Wang did not begin designing wedding dresses until she was 40 and the prominent American author W. B. Pitkin’s most famous work is entitled: Life Begins At 40.
“You know, to be in those years, that you’re still able to have that excitement and that kind of experience, like, wow! It’s mind blowing, actually; we have made music together we all really love. And now it’s the full circle.”
Age is only a number, undoubtedly. In discussion about L.S. Dunes’ debut full-length, or better defined as their brilliant benchmark (our review here) – Travis is bursting with elation. Understandably, as he described prior, this LP was crafted with artists he is a fan of and now family with. However, there is more to the story than the five-piece’s Past Lives; in essence, this artwork is a pandemic album. The excellent entanglement between the quintet through history is an immeasurable nexus assuredly, but the creative process wasn’t the conventional method of being in the same room; the outfit literally honed their collective craft from their bedrooms.
“The DNA is there, but it is in a bedroom, because we were stuck in said bedroom. So Tucker (Rule, drums of Thursday distinction) and I had been talking about doing things months earlier, before the pandemic hit. It hits and everybody was staying busy here, but almost like six, seven months into it, momentum was needed. There was plans to do a Thursday Signals showcase (streamed live performance), I was a part of this too, which was an honour to be a part of.” Travis pauses for a moment with a sense of gratitude before continuing – “Everybody got tested and did the whole thing, during that time, there was chatter between some of us. Tim (Payne, bass of Thursday prestige) had been writing a lot with Tucker, then Frank (Iero) was interested – so let’s just try this. There’s no expectation. We agreed that if we sent some stuff back and forth ideas and it didn’t gel, then we could let it go. We already knew that we would gel, as stupid texts back and forth and stupid dialogue – we were doing that like memes and all that stuff.”
Mr Stever laughs in a deafening manner before switching inspirationally – “Then, here comes the music. So I sent something that now became ‘Antibodies’ on our album, I sent that as a loose arrangement of riffs. Tucker played to it right away – I was like: ‘Holy sh*t!’ Tim added bass – wow. Frank added guitar, I was in awe!”
These progressive post-hardcore pioneers had more than ideas floating around to share with one another, there was a foreseen chemistry that exploded with life to a level similar to the big bang theory – in an alternative music sense. Each member latched to the project and as Travis illustrates, this was quickly becoming an infatuation beyond measure.
“Then Frank sent an idea – I added a bunch of guitar and it was like, you know, the addiction. I was also addicted to waiting for the text that went: ‘Oh, man, this is so cool’! I would look at my phone hoping that something was coming through. Before I’d go to sleep, I’d have to turn the phone off. It’s like, that’s all you have.” In a slight change of tone, Mr Stever recalls the earlier reality – “We can’t go out and play live music right now. I can’t go to one of their houses, but we’re sending these texts, speaking sonically to each other through text and email. Eventually we had a handful of song ideas instrumental and Tucker kind of tricked Anthony in the sense that this was a good thing because we didn’t want him to get psyched out either. We also didn’t want him to think that everybody was judging him, so he told him, it was just some friends creating or something like that. He sent him ‘Antibodies’ and maybe one other track, if my memory is right. Then when we got ‘Antibodies’ back – that was it man. It was the missing puzzle piece.”
With this exuberant creative energy, there must have been a requirement to harness it, to make sense of the overflow of ecstasy that would burst through five men who have lived this “sound” for decades?
“Tim (Payne) really played a conductor and engineer from afar. He would say things and organise them. Sometimes he would just send guitars and say: ‘Hey, I just threw a bunch of paint at the wall if you want to cut parts in and out or see if anything works, go for it’. But a majority of the time, like most of the record that was worked on this way, was just everybody’s parts were just left what they were. And then some things were worked out when we finally did get together and be in a room and do what you’d call pre-production.
It was so spotty though, because we’d be together and then something would come up, like a spike in COVID, or whatever. So another pause – once Will Yip (Lauryn Hill, Code Orange) came into play, he did magic from afar too. Frank was able to go do his guitars there which helped, once it came to recording the finals and Tucker did the drums also. But Tim and I still did everything remotely.
“I imagine that without the confines of the pandemic, all of us will probably go back to going into a place when we do the next record; but I was fine with how this one was constructed – I prefer how it evolved when we were all together.”
The culmination of the virtuosos who make up L.S. Dunes have an almost insurmountable magnitude of where their sound trajectory might take them, expertly experimental almost summarises it. In all probability however, even the most perceptive of admirers will be surprised by the slightly left-field closer ‘Sleep Cult’. A salute to ‘In The Still Of The Night’ by Fred Parris And The Satins – this doo-wop number transcends time to a romantic genius where music really is adored regardless of age or genre.
“So that chord progression I could hear Frank playing it from the other room while I was working on a different song. Basically doing the pre-production for what would go to Will Yip -while doing that pre-production, some song ideas came out of it. Interestingly enough, ‘Sleep Cult’ and ‘Permanent Rebellion’ came out of that time. And that was an example of Frank just working on that chord progression and decided to throw this down.”
“I wrote some lap steel guitar to that song and then Anthony just added the ‘do-woop’ bit – it was actually my favourite song on the record for months, but that always changes for me, which to me means it is a good album!”
So will the next film clip be a throwback to 1956?
“Well I guess Anthony, he’s from the Philadelphia area right? I could see a bunch of dudes standing around the garbage can with a fire doing the ‘do-woop’ together, like in the Rocky film!”
Welcome to L.S. Dunes – brothers in charm.
Interview by Will Oakeshott @TeenWolfWill
Get L.S. Dunes’ debut album Past Lives here
L.S. Dunes – Past Lives tracklisting:
3. Grey Veins
4. Like Forever
6. Past Lives
7. It Takes Time
10. Permanent Rebellion
11. Sleep Cult
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