La Dispute Talk Rawness, Concept Records and Growing Up

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” clich├ęs 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

Stylistically or musically, what is the most idiosyncratic element about
La Dispute that separates this band from others you've toured with or
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.

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.

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