by Teemunny Published on Sunday, October 20, 2013
On one of those picturesque fall Portland days, we caught up with the band known simply as Dresses. The band is less than two years old and are already carving a path for themselves. Our friends at SideOneDummy Records just announced their signing this past summer. They have garnered buzz by the likes of MTV Buzzworthy, AV Club and Elle Magazine, among many other blips on the blogosphere, like us, that are too many to count.
The duo consists of female vocalist Timothy Heller (yup, deal with it, there’s A Boy Named Sue, here’s A Girl Named Timothy) and male vocalist and musician Jared Ryan Maldonado. The pair recently released (digitally) their debut album Sun Shy, a pretty much flawless collection of infectious and earnestly bubbly songs. We were insta-smitten with the twosome’s work on the first listen. If Dresses had stock we would be sure investors. Whether you want to categorize ’em as indie folk revival, indie-pop or frock rock –it doesn’t matter, as this pair of young (only 21 years old) song-making outliers have discovered a recipe for putting a smile on your face with their effervescent melodies.
We met up with the pair at Grendel’s Coffee Shop on Burnside, late afternoon, before their show (later that evening) across the street at the Doug Fir Lounge venue. I was delighted to find that Timothy and Jared are not only talented and hip but also cool without being aloof; not a bit of pretense there. They were courteous, present, enthusiastic and were good sports as we shot the shit over coffee and tea for a bit and the two indulged us with a photo shoot that led ’em all over the industrial district of Portland near Produce Row.
Maybe it’s their youth, maybe it’s their Portland upbringing, maybe it’s the fact that they haven’t been jaded by the industry. We hope that doesn’t change as they blossom into the rock stars they have the potential to be. Hell, any bit of arrogance would’ve been acceptable with how great their debut is. Any bit of attitude would’ve have been understandable with how tired they must have been as they were wrapping up their West Coast dates with Lucy Rose and about to embark on an exhausting 27-city (!!!) tour with The Limousines and Mona.
But they didn’t indulge in either –as these chill kids are as charming as the music they produce. That is just icing.
Check out our conversation with the two, below, as they discuss growing up in Portland, inspiration/influence versus doing your own thing, Elvis and pop music, the power of infectious, catchy melodies. There was talk of the process of assembling a tight album, producing an album over a long haul with the luxury of taking time with that production. How being young and happy leads to effervescent musical collaborations and partnerships, and their first clusterfuck on their current tour. People are going to become fast fans of Dresses. Be sure to catch one of their shows (dates below). Stand up, Portlandia.
DRESSES FULL U.S. TOUR WITH THE LIMOUSINES AND MONA
(click links for tickets)
Wednesday, October 23 – Boise, ID – Neurolux
Thursday, October 24 – Salt Lake City, UT – Bar Deluxe
Friday, October 25 – Denver, CO – The Moon Room
Sunday, October 27 – Kansas City, MO – The Riot Room ^^
Tuesday, October 29 – Minneapolis, MN – Triple Rock Social Club
Thursday, October 31 – Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall
Friday, November 1 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
Saturday, November 2 – Detroit, MI – Magic Stick Lounge
Monday, November 4 – Cleveland, OH – Grog Shop
Tuesday, November 5 – Columbus, OH – The Basement
Thursday, November 7 – New York, NY – Studio at Webster Hall
Friday, November 8 – Albany, NY – The Hollow
Saturday, November 9 – Philadelphia, PA – MilkBoy
Sunday, November 10 – Boston, MA – The Church of Boston
Tuesday, November 12 – Washington, DC – Black Cat Backstage
Wednesday, November 13 – Raleigh, NC – Kings Barcade
Thursday, November 14 – Columbia, SC – New Brookland Tavern **
Friday, November 15 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade
Saturday, November 16 – Nashville, TN – Mercy Lounge
Monday, November 18 – Dallas, TX – The Prophet Bar
Tuesday, November 19 – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s Downstairs
Wednesday, November 20 – Austin, TX – Stubb’s Jr.
Friday, November 22 – Scottsdale, AZ – Pub Rock
Saturday, November 23 – San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
Monday, November 25 – Santa Ana, CA – The Constellation Room
Tuesday, November 26 – Los Angeles, CA – Troubadour
Wednesday, Nov 27 – San Francisco, CA – The Independent
^^ = The Limousines and Mona ONLY
** = The Limousines & Dresses ONLY
TONY TRINH: I think it’s a golden age for music in Portland in general. I think this seed was planted around The Dandy Warhols time. It led to The Decemberists, bands like Menomena. Then there are the exciting newcomers like you guys, Dresses, we’re into Radiation City, our friend’s band Blue Skies for Black Hearts. So going back to this Portland pride thing, tell me about your backgrounds in this city. Timothy, I know you went to high school here.
TIMOTHY HELLER: Uh huh, so did Jared.
TRINH: What schools did you go to?
HELLER: I went to Sunset.
JARED RYAN MALDONADO: I went to Westview. They’re about 20 minutes from each other.
HELLER: They’re both in the Beaverton school district.
TRINH: What kind of musical training did you guys receive?
HELLER: I guess I haven’t really received “training” but I’ve always sang and been in choirs. I was in musicals in high school and high school bands.
MALDONADO: My dad…I wouldn’t say he taught me but he inspired me to play music and would buy me instruments and show me a few chords and be like, “Mess around with it!” So, I just kind of started when I was a kid and playing drums and guitar and stuff.
TRINH: Were you guys both born and raised here?
TRINH: Something I am really interested in is this notion of how previous artwork influences the next piece of art. If you boiled it down, everything is a remix. Every piece of art is influenced from one thing to the next; there’s this cross-pollination happening. Right? I’m always interested in the process. One piece of art is created and the next piece of art ascends or descends from that. I hear you guys being compared to The Lumineers, Rilo Kiley, Feist, Of Monsters and Men, all of that stuff. But who are your influences and inspirations? It doesn’t have to be musically. What is embedded in the DNA of a duo like Dresses?
HELLER: I feel like I really don’t get…I get inspired by a lot of other artists but I wouldn’t say it influences my music that much. I like to think about music that I used to write and listen to my old band’s music to get inspired…myself, in a way. But I do get really inspired by a lot of artists, kind of more like other girl solo artists that have interesting, different voices and writing styles. That kind of music inspires me a lot.
MALDONADO: I’m kind of the same. I love a lot of different bands. I more just get inspired by the fact that they’re doing it rather than the actual music itself, you know?
TRINH: It’s hard to reduce to one or a couple of bands because you want to be doing your own thing?
HELLER: It’s not like I try to write a certain way.
TRINH: Do you understand what I’m asking though?
HELLER: Yeah, I do get inspired listening to music and then it makes me want to write better music. I think that’s what I meant.
MALDONADO: I think we both really enjoy pop. Whether it’s mainstream or not, old (or new), Elvis…or anything, we enjoy melodies that get stuck with you whether it’s the lyrics or the melody itself. So I’d say just descending from other artforms, I guess it’s carrying on the torch of “poppiness”. You know, music in a relatable way that’s easy for people to hear and connect with.
TRINH: This infectious, catchy music, right? So, which leads us to Sun Shy. So you have 9 songs or tracks; a tight thirty minutes of music. I almost feel like it’s a flawless collection of songs. There’s absolutely no fat on this album. Was there a consciousness about being refined and precise about nailing the right amount of songage? Was there a bunch of content that was left off?
HELLER: No. We were originally going to just make it an EP with less songs than this but then we were, like, they all fit together so nicely that we can use all of the songs that we have fully done and just make it a short album.
MALDONADO: Our friend (Trevor Dahl) that we produce with, that produced the album, he had just bought, in the last two years, a bunch of recording equipment, a compressor, a really nice mic. He got signed so he bought all of this stuff to build up his studio. So before I even met Timothy, me and him would just record tracks and just try to make them sound as big and clean, heavily produced as possible. So over the year it took us to record he…a lot of it is due to him just spending so much time and diligence on the little, fine things a lot of people when they produce don’t think about. Like, you know, the tiny frequencies you need to take out so it sounds clean. So, really, I think, we all had an understanding that we wanted it to sound really big and clean and (well) produced but really we did it with a friend for close to nothing (in cost). It was a really long process that we were all learning throughout. There were times where he would mix the song and then a month later he would be like, “Aw, I figured another way to do this and I did it again,” and he’d do the same thing seven times. Friends Are Dead, we went through six or seven mixes.
HELLER: I think it was just easier to make them all sound so “tight and flawless” because we had a really long span of time and not that many songs. (laughs)
TRINH: How long (did it take to produce the album)?
MALDONADO: It took about a year. But also we had…we started with just the skeleton of the songs so we had the guitar, or the piano and the lyrics. So we would record that, from there we would just build slowly and be like, “Oh, what if we added this tiny thing here?” So it really was just kind of an organic in-studio process.
TRINH: So did SideOne have you re-record all of those tracks after you did all of that work?
HELLER: We recorded all of the tracks before we were signed. We were originally about to release them independently and then we signed with SideOne.
TRINH: So we briefly talked about the mood of the album, this pop, infectious groove, this infectious sound, right? It’s very upbeat and earnestly cheerful. I have heard the sound described as “effervescent”. Like, it’s so refreshing!
TRINH: It’s melodic. It’s happy. There is a little somberness in some of the lyrics. Say, Real People, that’s a lovely, poetic, touching song. But where does this effervescence come from? Is it your youth? Are you just generally well-adjusted, happy people not beaten down by life, like me and this guy over here (points to Photographer Nathan)?
NATHAN SANBORN: You haven’t lost the hope in your eyes.
HELLER: That might be it. Yup. I dunno.
TRINH: I think it’s a myth, you know, that you have to emotionally suffer or be in pain to produce great art. That’s the cliché.
HELLER: I think we both just kinda focus on writing songs from our actual feelings, so we’re never really gonna make a song that’s fake to us that we can’t sing and mean it. I wrote Real People and I know it isn’t the happiest song, it is emotional but the reason it makes it still refreshing to listen to, probably, is because I can’t really write a song that aren’t the actual emotions that I’m feeling.
MALDONADO: Yeah, we’re both happy people. I dunno, I think this collection of songs…it shows us over such a long span of time and, you know, one of the songs, Stick and Stones, which she wrote when she was in high school. Friends Are Dead, I wrote a year before I even met Timothy. They were just songs that we had, that we loved, that we wrote, that were just kind of like a first time growing experience for us. So they’re all…I dunno, I guess it’s just how they came out.
TRINH: Was Back To Life the “oldest” Dresses song?
MALDONADO: Technically, Sticks and Stones (is).
HELLER: I wrote it when I was sixteen.
TRINH: Oh wow.
MALDONADO: Blew My Mind was the first song we wrote together.
TRINH: That’s right. That was your first collaboration.
MALDONADO: And Back To Life, I started when I was fifteen. Like the first verse, I started a long time ago and brought it back.
HELLER: We finished it recently.
TRINH: So tell me about the whole process of collaboration. I read that you work separately and then come together.
TRINH: How does it work usually? Do the lyrics or music come first?
HELLER: It’s different (for both) because I don’t really play many instruments. I just kind of write songs and come up with the melody from…
TRINH: Don’t you play the ukulele on Painting Roses?
HELLER: I do but I don’t play it on Painting Roses. But I can play ukulele.
TRINH: That’s the ukulele on Painting Roses, right?
HELLER: That’s usually how I write with people, usually, but I don’t play in the band. I usually just start lyrically-based and then I bring it to Jared and he gives me more ideas.
TRINH: And then you generate the melody for the lyrics and then the musical accompaniment comes after?
HELLER: He’s just better with coming up with guitar riffs for it and stuff like that.
MALDONADO: We both have very different ideas for lyrics so we kind of just…for a couple of songs, I would write most of it, or she would write most of it, and then we would come together to finish off a few of the lines that we were stuck on.
HELLER: Well, even if our writing styles are different and our processes are different they still mesh together really well because we can appreciate each other’s writing styles.
MALDONADO: We like what each other does, so it’s like a fresh…it’s like (having) somebody else’s music that you’re allowed to mess with. Know what I mean?
TRINH: Yeah, there’s a great contrast that’s happening vocally also. You (Jared) have this warm tone and you (Timothy) have this soft, delicate sound…and not to be trite but there is this synergy happening that is delightful. “Dresses”…is there a story behind the band name?
HELLER/MALDONADO: Not really. (both laugh)
MALDONADO: Our friend, we were taking pictures with her and were thinking of names and I was literally naming things around the house, like shelves and refrigerator.
MALDONADO: She (the friend) said, “Dresses,” and then a month later we came back to ‘em and were like, “Hey, it actually stuck with us. So let’s just name it that.”
TRINH: How did you guys hook up with SideOneDummy? Did they track you down?
MALDONADO: Our manager is friends with one of the owners and he kept…
TRINH: Joe Sib?
MALDONADO: Oh cool!
HELLER: We love Jamie.
SANBORN: They’re really cool and super down-to-earth…
HELLER: That’s what really got us (to sign with them)…
MALDONADO: They’re really genuine people.
TRINH: Tell us about your tour.
HELLER: Well, technically, we started two shows ago. We played in L.A. and then Seattle, I mean San Francisco, and then this will be our third show of the tour.
TRINH: That was a good show (in S.F.) the other night?
MALDONADO: It was.
HELLER: But yeah, we’re gonna be on the road till Thanksgiving, going all over the U.S.
MALDONADO: We actually had our first (tour) mishap. We bought our (touring) van recently and we were driving from San Francisco to L.A., which takes only about six hours but it took us about thirteen because the back tire…it didn’t blow up, luckily, but the tread came up and hit the muffler and the muffler bent and was rubbing against the tire.
TRINH: Oh no! Were you stranded in the middle of nowhere? How did you guys fix that one?
MALDONADO: We called a mechanic who happened to be ten miles south and he came. We ended up having to get all new tires because I guess they were all crap.
TRINH: Where’s the farthest city you’re going to on this tour?
MALDONADO: New York, Albany.
TRINH: Wow! You guys are driving cross-country? Jesus.
MALDONADO: Yeah, we’re going down to Northern Texas. It is literally a big circle.
TRINH: I haven’t had a chance to see you live. Are there other musicians that join you? Like a drummer, another guitarist and bassist?
HELLER: Yeah, a drummer, another guitarist and a bassist.
MALDONADO: There are just five of us.
TRINH: So you all jump into a van and head out. Are you guys hitting SXSW this year?
HELLER: We would’ve.
MALDONADO: We were thinking (about it). We’re trying to figure it out.
TRINH: I personally think you would fit in perfectly down there.
MALDONADO: Ideally, we would want to, this next March, but it’s kind of a matter of booking. But I think it’s looking hopeful. We’ll see.
HELLER: Yeah. It’s the video for Blew My Mind, which we already have a video for but we’re redoing it with a bigger budget.
TRINH: Oh nice.
HELLER: It’s almost done! It’s gonna be (finished and released) really soon.
MALDONADO: It’s really fun. We got these directors that are friends with Christina (Johns) at SideOne, (they) pitched the idea and we were like, “We love the idea but we have a really small budget.”
TRINH: Beautiful location.
MALDONADO: Yeah, and they were like, “It’s okay, we really believe in the song and wanna do it,” and so they came up for a couple of days and we filmed up there at a cabin and it was really fun. I’m really excited to see it. It’s gonna be really cool.
TRINH: Well, awesome, Guys. That was good. Thank you very much. Let’s go shoot (photos).
MALDONADO: Yeah! Thank you.
HELLER: Let’s do it!