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“Have some fun, clap, holler, get down!”
On some days, that’s hard advice to handle—even without all the looming weirdness in the world right about now, the cold weather snap that finally hit the desert of Phoenix may well have calmed down some of the area’s cheerier hearts. But Robert Cissell, of that city’s Dear and the Headlights, isn’t one of the ones suffering.
“There are so many bands these days that are so consumed by the idea of coolness and image that they forget about what it’s all about,” he writes via e-mail. “It’s about art and community; it’s about getting an entire room to work together on a moment rather than five dudes being a spectacle.
“When we get to let loose and have fun with our fans, it’s a party, not a play. It’s nice to be able to take our mind off the stresses of life and, together with a crowd of people, just let loose, even if its only for the 45 minutes or hour that we’re playing. People can escape from everything and just come together with music.”
Cissell himself is a newer member of Dear and the Headlights, who play Chain Reaction next Wednesday as part of the tour supporting the band’s second album, Drunk Like Bible Times. Formed by singer Ian Metzger and guitarist/keyboardist Joel Marquard some years back, the band recruited Cissell in 2007, after Marquard’s departure following a tour for their debut, Small Steps, Heavy Hooves. Both albums showcase a kind of indie-identified rock notable for its big, sonically upbeat approach even when the songs themselves are tinged with melancholia, as can also be heard in the work of the Arcade Fire and Akron/Family among others.
That said, Cissell is wary of labels, arguing that too many acts seek only to pigeonhole themselves, while acknowledging that the group’s own output—including support dates for Paramore and the Plain White Ts—suggests a certain context. “It’s been strange with us because we have a hard time defining what we’re doing,” he explains. “Is it pop music? Is it rock music? Is it folk music? It really doesn’t matter to us. . . . Forge your own path as a band. And I think we can bring music out of the funk that it’s been in. Don’t be afraid to be judged by pretentious music hipsters; they’re not going anywhere.”
One definite music connection that’s helped them is Arizona-based producer Bob Hoag; the former Pollen and Ataris member has built up a strong reputation with his Flying Blanket studio and his work with other Phoenix-area artists such as now-defunct former Elektra Records artists the Format. Cissell credits Hoag with helping the band think of their work collectively instead of each member concentrating on his own part.
“The man is so unique it’s inspiring,” Cissell says. “Everything in life is better if it’s at least 40 years old, including socks.”
Cissell separately notes that his own jack-of-all-trades role in the group allows for variety as appropriate, something he finds essential.
“I enjoy creating more than anything; to me, it makes no difference whether I’ve got flames shooting from my fingers in a tearing solo or I’m shaking a shaker,” the musician says. “It makes it fun to have a handful of instruments to choose from within our reach, too. Mixing it up puts a new light and new inspiration on the song. Sometimes a song needs a piano man, but sometimes a song just needs a tambourine man.”
In the meantime, the band are already looking forward to their next sojourn to Southern California, but at a notably different, more high-profile location—Coachella. They were recently announced as one of the first acts to play on the opening day of the festival, April 17. Not surprisingly, Cissell describes himself as “super-excited” about the prospect and admits that his list of other acts he’s hoping to see there “could go on forever.”
First things first with Dear and the Headlights, though, and Cissell says he’s been more than fortunate with his situation, which could explain his good cheer more than anything else.
“Getting to know [the rest of the band members] so deeply—they really are the greatest four guys I’ve ever met and have brought so many fresh thoughts and new views on life to light. It’s awesome,” Cissell says. “It would really suck to spend this much time with a bunch of assholes. I lucked out.”
Dear and the Headlights with Kinch, My Pet Saddle and Set to Sea at Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067; www.allages.com. Wed., 7:30 p.m. $10. All ages.