La Dispute have deeply embraced the philosophy of "If you're going to give something a shot, you might as well give it everything." The Grand Rapids, Mich., screamo quintet write turbulent songs that do absolutely anything they must to affect you.
Guitars amble, stab, and soar in histrionic fashion, while Jordan Dreyer--a top-level student at the Geoff Rickly Academy of Vocalization--screams, sings, and rambles as if he's making grand confessions the whole world is observing.
This pledge to squeezing emotion out of a song has some powerful positives though, as when La Dispute are really clicking, they can devise some really moving material.
Wildlife, their recently released second record, vaguely centers around the idea of an author revisiting his memories, allowing reality and fiction to blur along the way. Dreyer's writing on Wildlife, however, is pointedly not vague: "King Park" follows a child's accidental death in a drive-by shooting and the incident's aftermath (in the song, the shooter pleads, "Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?"), and "I See Everything" is about parents having to watch cancer eat away at their young son. Dreyer details his stories in morbid, jarring fashion, and this tactic that gives the record great gravity. La Dispute stray from bullshit "feelings" clichés to give you something with true substance, which is really a pretty daring move for a young band.
Tonight and tomorrow night, they play the House of Blues in Anaheim with Thrice, Moving Mountains, and O'Brother. In advance of the show, we had a quick convo with Dreyer, discussing his voice, Wildlife, and the band's past, among other subjects.
OC Weekly (Reyan Ali): Tell us about the development of your singing style. How'd you find out you had this voice, and what it was like when you first sang with it?
Jordan Dreyer: When we started making music, we were pretty young and it was really our first go at it--particularly for me. I had never sung in a band or did any sort of singing at all. When we started writing songs, that's just kind of what came out. I walked up to a microphone, and it wasn't really any intentional process. I wasn't trying to emulate anyone or anything, it just kind of happened that way, and it worked for me, and it didn't irritate people too much. It's definitely changed, but there's never ever really been any deliberate attempt to make it one thing or the other.
Jacob Bannon from Converge--a guy who does some harsh things with his voice--has talked about he purposely eats well, sleeps well, and takes care of himself to preserve his voice. Do you practice any regimen for maintaining yours?
I don't really. If it's bothering me, I try to drink tea and honey and a lot of liquids and take care of it. I think Jake from Converge puts a lot more strain on his voice. Obviously, I don't know exactly what it feels like for him, but it sure sounds like it. Mine is relatively close to my speaking voice, so I think I've just kind of settled into a spot where I'm hopefully not doing too much damage to my throat and I don't very often have any trouble with it. Sometimes, when the weather gets dried out or [when I'm] on the West Coast, it's a little trickier and I'll start to have difficulties, but when that happens, it's just tea and honey and lots of water.
In an August 2010 interview with Review Rinse Repeat where you discussed the band's style, you said, "[W]e tried to take a very organic and raw approach to the songs. That is, letting the natural movement show, and zeroing in on the feeling it creates--on how a part affects your mood--rather than calculating and critiquing and editing to create a feeling." Can you elaborate?
I think our approach to everything stems from the manner in which we grew up playing music. We grew up in punk and hardcore, which was [a scene that was] very do-it-yourself and self-reliant, and very heavy on passion, emotion, and the connections that you make with people when you make music. It's important to us to not just write the songs as honestly as possible and with passion but to record them that way and to present them in a very transparent way rather than doctoring everything with Pro Tools and computers. We want it to sound like us: five human beings writing music. Obviously, you also want it to sound good. You want the recordings to do your songs justice. There's a little of both [factors at work], but the raw, organic part is the way that it should be.
Stylistically or musically, what is the most idiosyncratic element about La Dispute that separates this band from others you've toured with or admire?
Oh man, it's really hard for me to step outside of our music and speak objectively. I don't know that there's anything that we're doing that hasn't been done before by someone else in some capacity. It's never really been important to us to push anyone else's boundaries, it's just a matter of satisfying our own creative urges and seeing what happens when the five of us make music together.
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Wildlife's been repeatedly cited in reviews as a concept album. Do you consider it a concept album yourself?
You know, our last record [2008's Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair] everyone wanted to call a concept album, but I was very reluctant to admit that. [With] this one, I'm a little bit comfortable saying it is. The thing about a concept record is that when you talk about a concept record, people have a kind of pre-perception of what that entails. It's so story-based and so operatic, and when you think of it that way, it's a little bit misleading because our record is not really a typical concept record in that there's not a specific story arc, a rising action, a climax, and a conflict and everything. But there is a linear narrative throughout: There is a character, and there was a consistent idea behind every track on the record, and the structure of the record as a whole.
Speaking of a track from Wildlife in particular, is the title of "Edit Your Hometown" a reference to Facebook?
I don't have a Facebook, but that song is about moving, growing up, being a twenty-something, and having to make that decision about where you go next and suffer the consequences and the inevitable casualties of losing friendships. Part of what I wanted to capture in that song was that it's not a new concept. It's not something I'm going through for the first time in history, y'know? Everyone goes through it. The title "Edit Your Hometown" was supposed to just reference this specific manifestation of that feeling--of losing friends in 2011. So yeah, it was definitely a reference to whatever social media you want. That is literally the first time anyone has asked me about that.
Returning to when La Dispute formed around seven years ago, you initially came together to cover an At the Drive-In song, right?
Yeah. We covered "Cosmonaut" from Relationship of Command in our practice space.
At the time you were covering "Cosmonaut," did you think that La Dispute would develop further--not even to where it is today, but just to the point of being a solid band?
We definitely never had any intention of being a touring band. We never thought so far ahead in that regard. Really, we just saw ourselves playing a couple of shows on the weekend. Seriously, if you had a timeline of our band and you could pick one day and ask what I would be doing a month from there in reference to this band, I don't think any of us would have a really good answer or would have known what to expect. It's been a wild ride, so to speak--"a long, strange trip," to quote The Grateful Dead. It's been a lot of fun.
La Dispute perform with Thrice, Moving Mountains, and O'Brother at the House of Blues. Wed. and Thurs., 7 p.m. $23 in advance, $26 at the door. All ages.