Dust City Opera are gearing up for the release of their sophomore album, “Alien Summer” this Friday, March 4th. The 6-piece from New Mexico brings about an eclectic mix of grunge, gothic country, folk and rock whilst diving into atmospheres of cosmic horror, transformation and transcendence. They recently released the music video for new song “Angie,” a somber and heartbreaking track, which despite it was conceived in a remote cabin, explores a different kind of isolation, as front man and sonic ringmaster Paul Hunton explains.
“I had gotten an Airbnb as far as I could from anything and set out to write. I eventually stumbled on the first chord and ‘Angie’ came tumbling out,” said Hunton. “I had the notion of someone unconscious and dying, having a hallucinatory death trip. The guy revisits parts of his life and walks through his memory. It’s all stripped away as he loses consciousness. He has the impression of a woman named Angie, but the memories have disappeared. He keeps looking for her, but she’s the last concrete impression to go. It’s goodbye.”
The video’s creator Sydney Counce added, “The first time I heard ‘Angie’ it devastated me. I wanted that same reaction for the video. Something beautiful and haunting. The video follows an old man with dementia, who is wandering, confused in the woods, seeking out his old love, Angie. He cannot separate memory from reality. He’s haunted by flashbacks of her as he stumbles through the woods, becoming more hopeless.”
Ahead of the album release, Sonic Perspectives contributor Josh Muncke curated some questions for the band to gain insight into their unique approach to music, the production process, and their future plans as we look to a less Covid-crazy world.
With so much going on musically throughout the album, how do you make space for each member of Dust City Opera to stand out and show the listener what they’ve got?
Sometimes I’ll conceive a song with a particular instrument having a solo, like the trombone on “Angie,” sometimes there’s a convenient part to loop after we’ve recorded to add some space before another verse, like the drum and bass breakdown on “Love of Mine.”
This is obviously a very eclectic and energetic mix of styles. What is the writing process for Dust City Opera? Does it change from track to track or do you have a tried and true formula?
As far as writing, I write the songs. All the chords, words, vocal melodies come first from me in a complete unit and then I deliver them to the band usually, but not always with some arrangement ideas. For writing, sometimes I’ll just mess around until a sound grabs me and I mumble out some syllables that suggest some kind of a narrative, or I’ll refer to a list of concepts or titles I’ve thought of that have something juicy worth exploring. I’ve also taken other people’s songs that I like and tried to write something with a similar vibe.
How do you traverse through and employ all of these styles without straying too far from the Dust City Opera vision?
The vision as I see it is just writing songs and seeing what they want to grow into. I’m not trying to stay within any specific sound, but all the songs are tied together by my aesthetic which is usually some mix of melancholia, desperation, violence and humor.
You worked with Matthew Tobias for “Alien Summer”. What motivated you to work with Matthew?
I’ve worked on at least 4 projects with Matthew over the last 8 years or so. I enjoy his sincere enthusiasm, honest criticism and good natured ribbing. He’s a joy to work with.
Did you have all 12 of your tracks more or less written before you entered the studio, or was Matthew also quite helpful in contributing some musical ideas during the process?
Most of the stuff is pretty much written and arranged, but on “The Fog” we felt like something was missing so we added a long interlude and Matthew went nuts on some spaced out drums and really helped the song come together and gave it some dimension.
Paul, what do you see as most important when it comes to the sound of Dust City Opera? Is it the music itself, the messages and themes within, or a bit of both? It sounds like there is a lot of fun being had, musically and lyrically, so my apologies if this is a tough one to answer!
It’s important for me to first find a compelling concept, which can either be suggested by some chords or come from a phrase I heard or thought of, or a joke, or something intended in jest that sounds dark when taken seriously. And then it’s just a matter of fleshing it out with lyrics and some contrasting sections and then maybe trying some different keys to find where my voice is gonna sound the coolest and then bringing the band in to create some lush scenery.
What made you all choose to release “It” as the first single off of “Alien Summer”? I can imagine that you must all be so impatient and eager to finally release this full album!
I think “An Okay Way to Go” was the first song from this album that we put out, but I’m not sure we even knew what the album was gonna be yet. I think it was just a matter of putting out what we had when we had it and then after the difficulty of getting through the pandemic with a toddler and a newborn deciding it was time to get our shit together and get some more songs done. Very excited to get this one out and get working on the next one
Paul, when writing, how much is influenced by artists and music that you enjoy? Is it something you actively think about, or is it a more subconscious urge to write something a certain way?
There are a couple artists that are hugely influential and in different ways. One, in particular, has a big influence on my lyrics and stories, another on the instrumental textures and arrangements, and another on my vocal tone. So it’s those aesthetics I’m drawing on or that are coloring my decisions as I’m creating something. Occasionally a word or two or a few notes from another song fall in and I leave it there as sort of an easter egg or a nod to the artist.
When I reached the end of “Alien Summer”, I was quite simply impressed with how many musical ideas you packed into it! I’d love to know, are there any tracks you created for this album, but ultimately decided to leave off of it?
Thanks! There aren’t any finished tracks floating around that aren’t on the album. In fact, we were gonna put it out with 10 and that didn’t feel like enough so I put together “Love of Mine” and “You’ll Be Okay” and we pushed the release back a bit to get those on it and I think “Love of Mine” might be my favorite now. I’ve always been kind of a stingy writer, preferring to write just enough to feel complete rather than create reams and reams of stuff to chop down.
As the world looks to a less pandemic-centric future, and we see live music hopefully return to its former glory, who are some artists or bands you’d love to share the stage with? Are there any festivals you’d love to be a part of?
Yes! We’ve always had this grand goal of touring with CAKE. It feels like a natural fit for us and our manager Sydney has been in touch with their manager Tommy so, who knows? Maybe that’s in our future. We’d love to play with The Handsome Family–anytime. We’re right up the street!
As far as festivals go, we have our eyes set on those that make space for emerging artists like SXSW, Treefort, and Timber Music Fest. We’ve seen some friends break into the national consciousness after hitting these festivals and we’re eager for the same opportunity, pandemic-willing.
“Alien Summer” is available to pre-save on DSPs and pre-order on CD and vinyl at this location.