Photo by Leanna Kaiser

SO MANY DYNAMOS: THE FORMULA

By Justin Price

I happened upon So Many Dynamos first live performance as a band at Sally T’s in Saint Peter’s, Missouri on the lamb from work one evening. Devoid of any background information on the band, and unfamiliar with them on a personal level, I was able to approach it with a clean slate. That earliest incarnation of the band registered off the charts as far as potential goes, and it was an unbelievably tight performance for a band who was making their debut performance. Standing there in the midst of all their family members and friends, I couldn’t help but to feel thrilled at the chance of seeing that initial spark for such a talented group. Even the fact that my car battery died because I left my lights on during the show didn’t hamper my excitement. Fast forward 7 years: The band has gone through two line-up changes, they’ve played over 600 shows in 44 states, and found the time to release 3 albums (the most recent being the excellent release ‘The Loud Wars’, which is it on Vagrant Records). Ever since that first show I’ve cultivated a great friendship with these guys, and MOTH is privileged to have them as part of our first interview series.

MOTH: So Many Dynamos came on the scene at a very vital time for local music in Saint Louis. It seemed like new bands were starting every day, and there was a very strong, communal vibe throughout the city. Now, at the turn of the decade, Dynamos are one of very few bands that are still around from that period. Is Saint Louis a conducive environment for local music?

AS: I think the fact that St. Louis is a smaller city makes it a very conducive environment for not just local music, but all things community oriented. It’s definitely a “everyone knows everybody” sort-of-a-vibe. Throughout touring, we’ve been to bigger cities, like NYC, where bands have to rent practice spaces because it would be too loud to practice in an apartment.  Luckily, we had our parents’ houses in the suburbs for that. I think back to seven years ago when we were just stating, and it did seem like something unique was happening here.  I’m not sure if what we were doing was anything incredibly innovative, but just the idea that you could be in a band, record albums, book your own tours and help your friends do all of the same things was something new and exciting for all of us.

MOTH:  How has So Many Dynamos survived in an ever changing economic climate?

AS: We’ve survived like everyone else has; we have a band credit card.

GK: We got some good advice a while ago to begin taking the business side of our band as seriously as the music side. This has led us to be more calculated in our touring and over all decision making. In the past we would make a record and go on tour as soon and as long as possible with just about anyone who asked us (beggars can’t be choosers, right?). While it was a lot of fun, it left us in a lot of debt and burnt out, not to mention destroyed a few van transmissions! We also have the luxury of a manager and booking agent. Still, with more experience and outside help we still have to stay on our toes to keep afloat.

“We have deep roots in St. Louis, both as a band and as individuals. Moving to another city would imply that living here is holding us back or denying us opportunities and that just isn’t the case.”

MOTH: ‘The Loud Wars’ was released on a well known and respected label, Vagrant Records. Has the band every considered moving to a more thriving independent market like Seattle, Brooklyn, etc. to expand its potential, or do you feel that it’s important to keep your roots firm in the city?

GK: For some bands moving to a bigger city like New York makes sense. Take White Rabbits for example, they moved from Columbia, MO to New York and it worked out great for them. That just wouldn’t work for a band like us. We have deep roots in St. Louis, both as a band and as individuals. Moving to another city would imply that living here is holding us back or denying us opportunities and that just isn’t the case.

MOTH: Your latest record, ‘The Loud Wars’, went through a very long gestation period. If I remember correctly, “It’s Gonna Rain” even pre-dates ‘Flaslights’. Was it an organic development, that now just felt like the right time to release the record, or did roadblocks keep it from coming to fruition?

GK: There were quite a few roadblocks that kept the record from coming out sooner. We began recording in the summer of 2007. During the mixing process we decided to ditch a song, so we wrote and recorded another in February of 2008. Between mixing, mastering, artwork, and ironing out details with Vagrant and working into their release schedule a lot of time passed. Needless to say, we went a little stir crazy waiting for it to finally come out.

MOTH: There’s a strong thematic narrative that runs throughout all 3 records. What’s the origin of the narrative, and is that something that we are going to continue to see in future albums?

AS: The theme you’re referring to is one of a post-apocalyptic world.  The majority of us were raised in very conservative households where religion was a big part of our families’ lives.  I don’t think you’ll be seeing much of that in future records, simply because I feel like we’ve taken it as far as we can.  However, we’ve always liked the idea of being self-referential; placing a lyric from one song into a completely different song to make the whole record feel cohesive has been a trick of ours for a while now.

MOTH:  What was it like touring for the years in between the release of ‘Flashlights’ and ‘The Loud Wars’, in that by 2009 you were playing songs that were written and recorded for a period of time. Did the songs evolve? Were you itching to write new music?

AS:  The funny thing about the songs on ‘The Loud Wars’ is that the majority of them were written only months before we were supposed to record them.  We didn’t have much of a chance to play them live and figure out how to shape them; a lot of that just happened in the studio.  Since ‘TLW’ took a couple of years to come out after we finished it, we had the time to develop the songs and make them more dense and dynamic.  Another one of our favorite past-times is rehashing old songs and making them sound and feel more like songs we’re working on in the present.  It’s a challenge for us and it makes the shows more enjoyable for the people that have been there since the beginning.  As far as new songs are concerned, we’ve recently starting working on some ideas and it’s definitely an exciting time.

MOTH:  Are there any specific cities that you’ve encountered on tour that have a particularly intriguing local music scene?

CK: The Athens, GA music scene is definitely one of our favorite and one that we find most intriguing. If I had to move today and leave all of my belongings to start a new life, I would move to Athens. Its a college town 45 min outside Atlanta that is home to way too many musicians for its own good. Almost everyone we know in Athens is in at least 3 bands/projects and they are constantly pushing each other to progress and take new exciting chances. Some of my favorite bands from Athens are Cinemechanica, Maserati, REM, Harvey Milk, Of Montreal, We Versus the Shark, and Powers. I’m probably still forgetting some.

AS: Athens, GA is also home to Hello Sir Records, which is where ‘Flashlights’ found a home on vinyl.  You can also keep an eye out for ‘The Loud Wars’ on vinyl in a few months, brought to you again by the fine folks at Hello Sir.

MOTH: The bands first tour outside of North America is imminent. How long is the tour, and where is it going take you?

CK: – Our UK/Euro tour is going to be just over 3 weeks long. We’re going to spend about half of that time in the UK and then we go to Norway, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Luxemburg, France, and Switzerland. We’re beyond excited.

MOTH: I could only imagine through incessant touring, and seeing bands night after night, that it’s reasonable to think that you’d get tired of music. How do you find things new and exciting to listen to, or do you prefer to do something different?

CK: It can be really easy to become burnt out on music while on the road. There is a lot of down time on tour, especially when driving, so we try to use that time as an opportunity to treat our ears to lots of new things. Usually before we leave for a trip, all 4 of us stock up our mp3 players full of new songs and records to kind of “present” to each other. We’ve also been really fortunate to tour with other bands who have great taste in music, so we do a lot of inter-band music trading in order to keep it fresh. Sometimes we get lucky enough to have friends or fans make us music mixes.

MOTH:  Being that MOTH is all about what people are listening to at the moment, what are some of things that the band has been listening to lately?

GK: I’m so glad you asked, because it gives me another chance to talk about how much I am in love with The Lake from Murfreesborro, TN. They put out two eps, Have a Kick ass Summer and Nothing Ever Happens and it’s Happening RIGHT NOW!, the latter of which is probably my favorite record of the year.  They write these catchy guitar driven rock songs that I can’t help but sing along to and play air guitar in my car, which I should note that in the 6 weeks since I got NEHAIHRN it hasn’t left my car cd player.  It’s one of those cds that at first one song stands out as my favorite but with each passing week it changes and now they just take turns. Please, check this shit out!  (http://www.myspace.com/thelaketheband)

CK: Dirty Projectors, Bobby Brown, lots of movie scores, Tyondi Braxton, Turing Machine, and Yeasayer.

AS: I’ve been really intrigued by 90′s dance music for the past eight months or so.  I’m mostly referring to songs that could or could not have been found on the “Jock Jams” series.  There’s just something about the subtle changes in a six minute dance song that makes it worth my while.  Other than that, I’ve been listening to bands like What’s Up, Mahjongg, Foals, Dirty Projectors, Maserati, and Genesis.

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