Dial-Up's Euro-vacation inspired their music-making approach
For many young bands, making music is a booze-fueled rush of late nights in bars, and even longer nights on the road, all spent in the name of making art or, more likely, just rock 'n' roll. But for the old souls in Dial-Up, a still-young band who play an eclectic brand of indie rock, music is a means of conjuring something deep and meaningful — to put down roots. Ironically, their seeds of inspiration weren't sown in their native south Minneapolis, but in the streets of Paris, Berlin, and Copenhagen, and the hallways of European art squats — vacant buildings that get taken over by dozens, sometimes hundreds, of artists, all living and working together. The band's vision has taken shape in the form of Forever House, the house where singer and chief songwriter Andrew Jansen lives with his bandmates, Aila O'Loughlin (who's also his fiancée) and Elliott Snyder.
Over a warm beverage in Forever House's dining room, Jansen recalls the inspirational trip to Europe he and now-pregnant O'Loughlin took two years ago, barely a month after they'd met. He was fascinated by the art scenes he found abroad, and when he returned, he felt out of sync with his old group, the folk-heavy Paper Cup Band.
"Everything was kind of different," he remembers, running his fingers through his thick, dirty-blond beard. "And I had had different ideas, anyway; I wanted to try some dancier music, poppier but more art-laden."
Jansen and O'Loughlin bought Forever House last fall. "I really wanted to find a venue, like a specific place that would be home," he says, before pausing and glancing around the room. In the living room behind him, there's an array of plants on display, some homemade paintings on the walls, and an old piano in the corner. "I wanted to entrench things a little more."
Yet if putting down roots has been the primary theme in Dial-Up's story, then the music itself provides a noticeable contrast: shiftless, if not exactly restless, in its mashing together of genres and ideas. That experimental streak, not surprisingly, is primarily down to Jansen, who started the group as a one-man project. "It was this squelchy noise music with a beat," he recalls of those early songs. "There was so much delay, and there was distortion on everything." He eagerly pulls out his cell phone, where he keeps scores of voice memos, and starts flipping through some examples. One is basically a synth beat with some shaky vocals over it, while another is Jansen beat-boxing. Yet another is just him screaming.
Dial-Up began taking on a more definitive shape when Snyder, who met Jansen through a mutual friend, came in on drums. Soon, O'Loughlin was added on keys, and Jesse Schuster took up part-time bass duties. "When [Andrew] first came to me, he was like, 'No computers, just boxes of knobs,'" Snyder recalls. "I was definitely into that." Appropriately enough, Jansen welcomed Snyder on board without ever hearing him play. "The theme is that I trust people like that," he says wryly, snapping his fingers.
The songs on Landline, Dial-Up's first full-length recording (they released an EP last winter), carry on that same playful, easy-going spirit. The 12 tracks vary widely in style from one to the next, making for a sort of Beck-like sound collage that's anchored by glitchy, but dancy, rhythms — what Jansen refers to as his "dub-booty beats" — and rich, vintage-sounding tones. A song like "My Child," for instance, is all about a slow-burning, funky synth line, while "Biit" bears the closest resemblance to the early demos: all distortion and sharp, jagged angles. "Designer Homes," meanwhile, bundles those ingredients into a spry, poppy exterior, and tops it off with a manic guitar solo and hand-clapping breakdown.
Still, Dial-Up isn't just held hostage to Jansen's whims; it has evolved into a true group effort, one where Snyder says there's plenty of room for everyone to make their own contributions. "There's some looseness built into the songs, especially the drum parts," he says, reaching down to pet their cat. Jansen gets up and walks into the kitchen, where he turns on the faucet for the cat to drink out of. "There's fills and solos that I'm not trying to reproduce from the record. I like that kind of freedom."
O'Loughlin, her freckly face all but glowing under her straw bowler hat, agrees with Snyder. "Energy and collaboration sound good," she says. "You can always hear it in a song." Without realizing it, she sums up everything that's brought Dial-Up to this point: the friendships, the house, even the baby that was conceived ("poetically," she says) on the last day of recording Landline, and which is due right after the release show. "One person making music is cool," she continues, "but when three people create something, it's just really unique, and dynamic. And the listeners pick up on it, too — even if you can't describe it."
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