Christian Hower and J.R. Perez are two veterans of the Humboldt music scene, with the latter actually being a native of the area. The two played together in the power-pop trio Gnome Ranger, which was disbanded and restructured into their new group Dot Com Dot Com. Although they’ve only been around for a few months, and they haven’t released any recordings yet, the band is already drawing attention for their energetic live shows. After days of working nonstop on their debut EP, Christian and J.R. sat down with me at my apartment to listen to some jazz music and talk about guitar tech, analog equipment, and the joys of drinking Pabst and writing bad R’n’B songs.
NH: So what is the biggest difference between Dot Com Dot Com and your last band, Gnome Ranger?
Christian Hower: There’s different band members, the genre is a little bit different as well. I think the biggest difference though is that Gnome Ranger was a three-piece, “power trio” one guitar kinda thing, and now there’s another guitar player.
JR: Also I played drums in Gnome Ranger but I play guitar in Dot Com Dot Com.
NH: What was your first instrument?
JR: Drums. But I only really like playing guitar. I really only started playing guitar when I was going to CR and I had these huge gaps in my schedule and I would bring my guitar to school and just goof around. I used to only play with my hands and never use a pick.
NH: So you started on acoustic?
JR: Yeah. I still end up writing most music on acoustic guitar, even though I play everything electric in the band.
NH: What kind of guitars do you guys play?
CH: I play a Strat, and then a Dano DC 59, which is like a reissue. Jimmy Page used to play a 12-string version. It’s the pink one.
JR: I have two guitars, I like switching around a lot. I have a Strat, ut I play my Telecaster more often now I guess, because it has this three pickup setting so I can get those quacky tones you would get from a Strat, but I can also go back to using the Tele sounds if I want. My other guitar is just kinda hiding away these days. It’s kind of a love/hate thing with the Strat.
NH: What about pedals? Do you feel like you’re using effects differently in this band than you did in Gnome Ranger?
CH: I feel like I might be using them more in this band, but in subtler ways. It’s very noticeable in a three-piece when you change an effect, that’s all you fuckin hear. But when there’s another guitar I feel like it allows a little bit more freedom, like if we change effects at different times it allows to progressively alter the tone without it being too jarring.
JR: Yeah he has a ton of effects but when we were playing in Gnome Ranger they were really only used in this super dramatic fashion for certain parts of certain songs.
CH: We also had a lot of songs in that band where I would have like one delay on top of another delay on top of another delay. I was super influenced by the Animal Collective stuff, like “Feels”, that album had that kind of clanky, indistinct guitar tone that I was really into at the time.
JR: Swampy sounding.
NH: So what’s different about your approach to guitar in Dot Com Dot Com?
CH: Much more punctuated and sharp, a lot more attack. The way the guitar parts are written for this band are much more syncopated and kind of percussive, so if I play with too swampy of a tone it loses it’s clarity, and it’s not distinct where the individual guitar parts are.
NH: What other effects do you use?
CH: A lot of vibrato, I have this one Hammond-style vibrato that you can also mix in chorus. I also have a slapback delay.
NH: Three delays right?
CH: Yeah there used to be another one too, for the vocals, but I took that off the pedal board. Honestly I could probably do fine with two.
JR: We used to make some weird sounds with those though.
NH: What effects do you use JR?
JR: I don’t really use any modulations. I mainly just use a Boss compressor. I didn’t even have a pedal board until I started playing with this guy. I had a really crappy daisy chain thing of a few pedals and Christian gave me a pedal board.. I still don’t use that much of the stuff on there though.. I have an octave pedal too but I don’t touch that. That’s dangerous.
CH: In this band we tend to use pretty to-the-point, pragmatic pedals, things that are easy to play at live shows.
NH: How different do you think your material sounds when it’s played live compared to the recordings?
CH: It depends on the song. Some of it sounds pretty different because when you’re recording you can always keep adding more stuff.
NH: Could you talk a little bit about the stuff you’re recording now? Do you guys have any songs where you record more than two guitar parts? Are you recording and producing everything yourselves?
CH: I think it will be like a… six-track EP probably. Yeah we have a couple tracks with some double takes, nothing too fancy though. We’re doing it all ourselves, using all our own gear and shit. We’ve kind of just been recording for the past few days non-stop.
NH: What computer programs are you working with to record? Are you mastering it yourselves?
CH: We’re using Logic to record it. I’m not sure how we’ll master it. Honestly I’m leaning towards finding someone with a reel to reel or cassette or possibly even my MPC, which is a 16-bit sampler.
NH: So something analog.
CH: Yeah I feel like this project really sounds like it could use that. I mean I love the clarity and the control digital gives you, but aesthetically I like the analog sound a lot more, especially for this kind of music. When the EP is done I definitely want to try and release it on some analog format. I have all the means to do cassettes myself, that’s always super easy.
JR: Yeah and I have like two hundred blank cassettes.
NH: Cassettes are coming back. The highest selling item on record store day this year was actually a cassette, an old Metallica demo reissue.
CH: Yeah that’s awesome. I like cassettes because they’re super cheap and portable, and you can also like draw on them and stuff, and personalize them. We’re gonna try and do vinyl too but we’ll see..
NH: What about CDs?
CH: We probably won’t do CDs honestly.. I think investing in all the jewel cases or whatever you’re gonna do for packaging usually isn’t worth it. At least not up here for a band like us.
JR: I feel like the people that pay for CDs are buying CDs from a band they like and they know. If a big band comes through town, then people will probably grab some cds at their show, but I feel like small bands, local bands, people actually want the cassettes more, which is weird.
NH: The whole physical merchandise aspect of the music industry is in a weird place right now. I’m waiting for 8-Track to come back.
JR: If we got two more songs, we could do one.
NH: When the EP comes out, are you going to do any kind of release show or anything?
CH: I don’t know, I’m not sure if we’re gonna make a big hoopla out of it.
JR: As soon as we finished the bulk of the recordings Leo (our bass player) went home for summer, and then our drummer takes off as soon as he gets back, so we haven’t really discussed all that with the full band yet, we probably won’t for a little while.
CH: We’re gonna try and have it ready to release right around when school starts again for the fall, so yeah we’ll probably play a couple gigs around that time.
NH: Would you two ever think about playing some of your material live, acoustic, without the rhythm section of the band? Could be fun while they’re out of town.
CH: We were just talking about that earlier today. It’s definitely a possibility, we might have to change some of the guitar arrangements around a little bit.
NH: What about adding keyboard or synthesizer? It seems like you guys like to think of yourself as kind of a garage band, with some psychedelic influence in there as well. Synth could probably go well with that.
JR: That was another thing we were just talking about (laughs). Christian and Leo know a lot more about synthesizers than I do. There’s definitely some songs it could work on, some of the trippier ones.
CH: Yeah it’s something we will get around to at some point. We’ll probably have some acoustic stuff on a future release too, I think this EP will be pretty straight forwards though. We’re still kind of solidifying the sound of the band, since we haven’t been together that long.
NH: Just this semester right?
JR: Not even, it’s been almost three months. I actually have the exact date written down. I think we will do keyboard at some point in the future, I really want to. I have this one song where I wrote this part where I could play guitar and then hit keys with just my pinky while still playing the guitar. I was doing it in rhythm and everything but I showed Christian and he told me it looked stupid.
CH: It did look stupid. There’s some songs keyboard could work for, probably some simpler melodies.
NH: What’s the worst song you guys have written so far?
CH: We’ve only written like seven songs (laughs), including our joke song. I guess that’s our worst.
JR: That’s probably my favorite song. The lyrics are awesome they’re all like “Baby, take your clothes off…”
NH: Who wrote the lyrics for that one?
CH: I did. We were really drunk in my living room and just jamming and stuff. It’s pretty fun to play live.
JR: Except this one time we played it live and this big sweaty guy was like way too into it and dancing like right in my face while I was singing it.
NH: Did he take his clothes off?
JR: No but he got way too close and unplugged me. It sucked.
NH: So something tells me, if you guys were given a whole bunch of money, you would invest in buying new equipment for yourselves rather than trying to get studio time somewhere.
JR: Yeah, definitely. I think we’ve gotten pretty confident at doing all the recording stuff on our own.
CH: Yeah, as much as I would like to hear what some professional producer or engineer could do with it, I like being in control of as much of it as I can. I think everyone in the band knows what they’re doing, and until we start adding lots of extra instruments and tracks we can do it all ourselves. We probably will do it all ourselves then too.
NH: I think if bands can do it all themselves, then they should.
JR: Yo I gotta leave to go to work soon. I probably should have left already. Actually it’s whatever, I’m trying to get fired. I’ll just tell them I got hit by a car or something and it will still probably be fine.
CH: This guy uses that excuse a lot. This is like the fourth “car” he’s been hit by.
NH: Can I print all this?
JR: Definitely. My boss will think it’s funny.
NH: Awesome. Last question: what’s the most PBR you ever drank in one night?
CH: …man I don’t know. I usually lose count.
NH: It was probably the night you wrote your “joke song”
JR: Probably about three. I usually like darker ales, they just had some at rehearsal one time so I said fuck it.
NH: Was it a good choice?
JR: It was ok I guess.
By: Nicholas Hart
Interview with DREAMLAND creator: Ryan James Coyle
Lost Coast Avenger: What is Dreamland?
Ryan: Dreamland is a flea market at nighttime which has only cool stuff. Also there are bands.
Lost Coast Avenger: Why did you start dreamland?
Ryan: Once I went to a flea market and bought a box. On one side of the box was a poster for the original King Kong movie. On the other side was a movie from the same time that everyone had forgotten about called The Babes in the Woods. The picture on this side was of two children leaning on each other in the woods with leaves falling on them. I had no practical purpose in buying the box, and I remember thinking that I didn’t need it and that it would only take up space in my small apartment. But I liked it a lot. I liked the babes in the woods. So I bought it. Eventually I wrote a song called The Babes in the Woods and they played it on the radio a bunch in Los Angeles. So I guess the point is that things which are not practical are sometimes the only things that really matter. I also don’t like getting up early, though. So I bought a ton of lights and extension cords and made Dreamland at night. I basically just put everything that I like together and it came out as Dreamland. Oh, also, when I went to HSU, there was no Dreamland. I would have loved it. So maybe I’m partly trying to make my past self happier.
Lost Coast Avenger: What was your ultimate goal when you created dreamland?
Ryan: To make everybody happy. To create a practical outlet for everything that I find worthwhile in life.
Lost Coast Avenger: What’s the future look like for dreamland?
Ryan: I’m hoping to debut crazy new stuff each time. At this next one you’ll be able to send Dream Mail directly from Dreamland that comes with its own old, colorful, unused postage. Soon I also hope to unveil a new form of recorded audio—not a record or cassette or CD, but something different. I’d eventually like to have a ferris wheel.
Lost Coast Avenger: Dreamland, why the name?
Ryan: I was thinking “Fantasyland” and “Wonderland” and stuff. Then I remembered this old cartoon that Amber showed me, where these two nice, poor kids go to sleep in beds with holes all in their sheets and everything. When they go to sleep, though, they go to Dreamland, and there’s mountains of candy. They get everything they want and they’re really happy. That’s what I wanted my flea market to be like. Then I checked to see if anything else was called Dreamland and there was an amusement park at Coney Island that burned down around 1911. It had all this crazy stuff like freak shows and lions and a lion tamer with only one arm and incubator babies. It had incubator babies because incubators were just invented then and not yet allowed in hospitals. When it burned down the lion escaped and the police had to shoot it, and everyone was yelling that somebody had to save the incubator babies.
Lost Coast Avenger: Are you orienting dreamland to the community, because you want to be involved?
Ryan: Yeah, I like the Humboldt area.
Lost Coast Avenger: What inspired you to create such an event?
Ryan: Disneyland. Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. All that kinda stuff.
Lost Coast Avenger: What would your dream lineup for dreamland be?/ In other words who would you love to play at dreamland?
Ryan: My dream lineup would be Os Mutantes opening for The Beatles and The Velvet Underground. But in real life I’d like to get The Lemons.
Lost Coast Avenger: What improvements would you like to make since the last dreamland?
Ryan: I want there to be lots of cool candy that you can buy for a quarter. I had this gal from a candy place on board for a while, but she didn’t end up doing it. I also ended up getting the pizzas myself. It’d probably be better if there were someone there making food. And more colored lights. We can never have enough colored lightbulbs.
by Benji Aguirre