March 24th, Los Angeles, California
It’s early on a Thursday morning when I wake up on the living room couch in the Highland Park apartment of Dummy’s Joe Trainor (guitar), Alex Ewell (drums), and Nathan O’Dell (guitar, organs, and vocals). Dummy is leaving on their first full U.S. tour today. It’s 14 hours to Twin Falls, Idaho, en route to the group’s kickoff show at Treefort Music Festival in Boise, and they want to get out of L.A. as early as possible. The reason I’m waking up on the couch is because I’m going with them.
The idea that I should go on tour with Dummy started taking shape in the last months of 2021—one of those things that starts as a joke and slowly becomes real the more you roll it around in your head. The joke was that I needed to get from Los Angeles—where Dummy lives, where I’m from, and where I tend to spend the winter months—to New York City, where I pay rent. So why not, you know, catch a ride? Ha ha ha. I was already friendly with the band (Trainor has contributed to Bandcamp Daily in the past), so it didn’t seem like it would be a drag for anyone involved.
But the “real” part is that I’m a huge fan, both of Dummy’s music, as well as the way they approach music in general. In an indie music world overflowing with dour, shouty rock bands and strummy songwriters dribbling their feelings over the dullest chords ever played—or some blighted combination of the two—Dummy is a blast of sunshine. I like how smart and “song-y” their music is, their musical references intentional without being over-intellectualized or condescending, their overall vibe of euphoria sans self-consciousness. There’s an integrity in Dummy’s music that feels rare in rock & roll, and I’m not the only one who’s noticing.
Consider how quickly things have moved for the band since releasing their second EP on Born Yesterday Records in 2020. First, they signed to noted Chicago independent Trouble in Mind Records, releasing their debut full-length, Mandatory Enjoyment, in October of 2021. A few months later, the booking agency Ground Control—who work with acts like Kim Gordon, Angel Olson, and Superchunk—reached out to offer the band an opening spot for DIIV on New Year’s Eve; Dummy got the email while on their way back from their self-booked West Coast tour. They were formally added to the roster soon afterwards.
In January of 2022 came another cold email, this time from Sub Pop, asking if the band would like to contribute to the label’s legendary singles club series (“Mono Retriever” b/w “Pepsi Vacuum” was released on June 10th.) In July, they’ll be opening some shows for Chicago noise-pop wunderkinds Horsegirl. There’s a European tour happening in the fall. It’s all a bit head-spinning for a band whose only ambitions were musical, as Ewell told me when I interviewed the band for a Big Ups feature last year.
Yet Dummy are still, for now, a “DIY” band in the truest sense of the word—another reason I was interested in going on tour with them. Trainor booked Dummy’s tour himself over the course of many months, reaching out to like-minded folks in other cities and looking for bands with strong local roots, many of whom were also friends of mine. Before I was paid real money for the fake job of being a music journalist, I booked and promoted underground shows in Los Angeles, and I still consider my work an extension of my participation in that community. Seeing how DIY was faring after three years of a pandemic was interesting to me. And also: Going on tour with Dummy would be fun—which isn’t always the most advisable reason to do something, but a very underrated one nonetheless.
After Trainor, Ewell, O’Dell, and I leave their apartment, we pick up Mark Greshowak, Dummy’s bassist and the newest member of the band. Next is Emma Maatman (vocals and keyboards) who, along with her luggage, carries two garbage bags packed with Dummy shirts to be sold on tour, including the last tie-dyed versions of their original shirt design: A smiling geometric sun they call “Mister Dummy.” Maatman and Trainor sometimes disagree over the pricing of the shirts. He likes to keep things affordable: $20 for regular, $35 for tie-dyed. Maatman, an artist herself who created the cover for the Sub Pop single, directed the video for “Final Weapon,” and designs many of the band’s tour posters, would like labor to be factored in—it is she who dyes all of the shirts by hand.
Once everyone’s been picked up, it’s off to the band’s practice space to grab their gear. After packing everything up in their 1995 Ford Econoline van, dubbed “Sonic,” Trainor snaps a photo and posts it to his Twitter account. He tags the band Low with the caption, “how we doing?” Low (who are very active on Twitter) reply right away, complimenting the band’s efficient packing and wishing them safe travels. In a few weeks, members of Low will test positive for COVID-19 and be forced to cancel some tour dates while they quarantine. Dummy hasn’t been unaffected by the virus—their European tour was rescheduled because of Omicron, and O’Dell caught COVID in January. But this U.S. tour has been in the works since last year, so everyone has packed testing kits in their luggage and agreed to wear masks whenever possible. It’s a little before noon when we finally leave, heading east through the fringes of Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire, turning northeast at Barstow towards the Mojave desert to Las Vegas, where we stop at Whole Foods, and Bandcamp (aka me) buys everyone lunch and also a bunch of road snacks.
This is where we should talk about money. Bandcamp did, indeed, provide a budget for my time on the road with Dummy, and since such an arrangement is both rare and not particularly fair in that no DIY band is ever granted that kind of cushion, I want to be transparent about the economics of said cushion. Bandcamp gave me a budget of $2,500 for 16 days on tour with Dummy; I ultimately expensed $1672.76. This covered meals, snacks, and coffees—sometimes as a group, but not always—and four nights in hotels—two in Denver, Colorado, one in Springfield, Massachusetts, and one in Lexington, Massachusetts. Gas, food, and hotel stays for the rest of the time were covered by the band. However, if anyone wants to be mad, I will tell you that we bought so many bags of dried mangos that Whole Foods emailed me a coupon midway through the tour.
Driving north out of Vegas through the eastern part of Nevada is equal parts dramatic and strange. As the landscape slowly changes from high desert to low valley and then begins creeping up into mountains, I notice that every rest stop we pass is advertising “Alien Jerky.” I take out my phone and discover we are a mere 40 miles west of Area 51. At one point, while Greshowak is navigating a particularly scary mountain pass outside the city of Ely, founded as a stagecoach stop in the late 19th century, Trainor decides to play a spooky song from Hydroplane, a band he’s been listening to obsessively. Everyone gets a little weirded out.
“This is the vibe, though,” Trainor says, as though it were obvious that you should listen to anxiety-inducing music during an anxiety-inducing situation. “This is the exact vibe.” Eventually he makes a concession to Ewell, who is visibly stressed, and changes it.
Rest stops are even fewer and further between the closer we get to the border of Idaho, so around 9pm, the band pulls over outside the ghost town of Currie so Maatman can take a piss at the side of the highway. It’s pitch black and freezing cold outside, which is why I’m surprised when it takes longer than five minutes for everyone to get back into the van. I pop out to see Maatman and Greshowak standing in the field, holding their phones aloft. Apparently, the area is home to some of the darkest skies in California and, looking up, I see what has caught everyone’s attention: the constellations twinkle like little diamonds, the faint swirl of the Milky Way is visible behind wisps of clouds. It’s almost too much to take in. We left the city of Los Angeles and its 500 square miles of earthbound electric grid not 12 hours ago and here we are in the velvety blackness of nothing, nowhere; cosmonauts cast adrift and gazing at the stars.
March 25th & 26th, Treefort Festival, Boise, Idaho
The town of Twin Falls, Idaho, where we stayed the night, is cute, small, and mostly closed, so after leaving the hotel, we hang around Twin Falls Park, which is situated next to a hydroelectric power plant. The band climbs trees and records the sound of rushing water on their phones. They want to make recordings like this the entire time they’re on tour. The idea is to use them for an ambient release that Dummy is planning to do whenever they have time for it.
After arriving in Boise, the band picks up their festival wristbands, gift bag, and drink tickets from the artist check-in and then we head to the Holiday Inn Express. Treefort has paid for the lodging, so there are two rooms for the band, which means Maatman and I get our own room—the girls’ room! The rest of the time I’m on tour with Dummy we will be six to a room or crammed into whomever’s home we happen to be staying.
Dummy is being interviewed by Radio Boise at 5:30pm, but when we arrive, nobody at the station seems to be expecting them. “Are you fans?” asks a woman as everyone stands around the indoor planter awkwardly. No they’re the band. Eventually, the station manager emerges and greets them warmly, mentioning how much he loves Mandatory Enjoyment, ushering them into the studio. After welcoming the band to Boise and chatting a bit about their record, the show’s host, DJ Kevin, touches on something Dummy will be asked over and over again while I am with them: “What do you mean when you say, ‘Making music shouldn’t be fun?’”
He is talking about the band’s motto of sorts, which appears in their Bandcamp bio and is, much like this story, kind of a joke, but not really. It is, in part, a reference to the militaristic nature of their practices—twice a week normally and three times a week leading up to tour, rehearsing the set over and over until, as Trainor puts it, “Alex is incapable of playing anymore.” But in a more philosophical sense, it encapsulates Dummy’s belief that making good music takes time and effort and commitment; it’s not just a cool thing they do on the side. Still, even the suggestion that music should “not be fun” seems to wig people out.
It’s understandable, because listening to Dummy’s music is really fun, a quality present by design. Trainor thinks Mandatory Enjoyment is similar to the new records by Turnstile and Empath because, “it’s celebrating the blissfulness of music. Obviously, our lyrics are like: ‘Everything’s terrible.’ But the music itself and the melodies are all presented in a fun and energetic and uplifting way.”
“That’s a trope that we wanted to avoid,” says Ewell. “It’s more subversive in my mind to play fun, joyful music that’s uplifting rather than playing into the idea that everything’s hard and sad and dark. Like, that’s obvious. We’re all living in this world that’s obviously bleak, we don’t need to reinforce that.”
Treefort has a strange vibe, which I suppose is to be expected, since it’s the first edition of the festival since the pandemic began in 2020. Still, it feels unfocused and overwhelming, with so many bands playing at the same time and so many music industry types wandering around. But live music is live music, so O’Dell, Maatman, and I go out the evening before Dummy’s show to see some bands. They indulge my request to catch an early set from the Seattle band Black Ends and then we go see Vanishing Twin, who remind me very much of Dummy in the way their music superficially falls on the avant-garde side of the psychedelic spectrum but, when you strip away the outré exterior, may as well be the Beatles.
Members of both Black Ends and Vanishing Twin will be at Dummy’s set the next evening, which takes place inside a huge hall in a Masonic Temple. The best thing about the place are the floor-to-ceiling oil projections that fill the entire place; it’s like being in a big swirly kaleidoscope.
Though I think they sound great, Dummy isn’t really stoked. The room is too big for them and it doesn’t feel like their crowd—which it isn’t. They are but one in a sea of musicians with varying levels of name recognition and hype, hoping to draw in over-stimulated attendees on day four of a five-day festival. Then there’s the fact that Dummy are playing after a truly mediocre band who dress up in matching baseball uniforms, make a bunch of self-indulgent Guitar Hero moves onstage, and then, to add insult to injury, take forever to get their shit off the stage after they’re done.
All of this is anathema to the way Dummy comport themselves. Costumes, stage moves, even something seemingly as inconsequential banter is subject to scrutiny. They never post photos of themselves to their Instagram account—which is the only social media platform they use in any “official” capacity—and sort of look down on bands who do. Anything that might distract from the music (aside from the projections O’Dell makes to accompany their live shows—because, you know, it’s nice to give people something cool to look at) is suspect, because, “if you have a gimmick, it’s because what you’re doing isn’t actually interesting in and of itself,” says Ewell. “It’s just my opinion, but the image obsession that’s happening with musicians now…It’s not even an expectation, it’s a requirement that you look a certain way and do photo shoots and have a social media brand.”
“I feel like that’s when aesthetic turns into gimmick,” says Maatman. “We are very much about our aesthetic, but I think it goes with the music.”
Regardless of the room size, the weird crowd, and the shitty band, there’s a good reason for Dummy agreed to start their tour at Treefort, which is the big guarantee waiting for them the next morning that they can use to help fund the rest of it; this is, they all agree, the best reason to play any festival at all.
March 28th & 29th, Denver, Colorado
Venue: The Hi-Dive
Line-Up: Dummy, Candy Apple, American Culture + Infant Island, Greet Death
Driving around the American West, though stunningly beautiful, can be rough on vehicles. Dummy’s van is no exception. In four days we have traveled from the high desert (Southern California) into the mountains (Idaho) and back down into a mountain desert (Utah.) Now we are driving along the foothills of the Rockies to Denver and, in addition to a temporary van breakdown in Salt Lake City that was quickly fixed by topping up the gas tank, there’s concern about a whirring sound that’s been happening on and off for the past day or so. This becomes an actual problem when the van once again dies right as we exit the highway on the way to our hotel. Greshowak is able to maneuver the van into the hotel parking lot, a Comfort Inn about 5 miles north of downtown.
I’ve booked the hotel, chosen for the fact that parking was free—which is now ironic since, as it turns out, we won’t even need parking at all. The band has the van towed to Pep Boys, who won’t be able to look at it until tomorrow morning; for now, we’re stuck far away from anything cool or fun. But we’ve been given a room on the top floor with a lovely view of downtown and the Rockies, and a balcony with a few of the neon letters spelling out “Comfort Inn” bobbing up over the top. Before going to bed, we watch the Foo Fighters horror movie, which opens with a scene of the band pulling up to the creepy mansion where Dave Grohl is soon to become possessed by a demon and start murdering all his bandmates. “Well, they have a working van,” jokes Trainor darkly.
Tensions are running a bit high the next morning; if the van is kaput, then so is the tour. There is vague talk of going downtown and hanging out for a few hours while waiting to hear from the mechanic, but it’s gradually subsumed by bickering. The band go around and around, trying to figure out who will stay, who will go, what they will do if the van isn’t ready by tonight, and also why did you open the curtains when people were still sleeping, you need to be more considerate, no you need to understand there are other people in this room than just you.
Rather than continuing to listen to them argue in uncomfortable silence, I decide to remove myself from the situation completely. “Okay, I’m going downtown,” I say. “Anyone who wants to come with me can come, but I’m going.”
A few members of Dummy do end up coming with me and we spend a few hours exploring downtown until good news arrives about the van in the mid-afternoon. O’Dell and Greshowak go pick it up before everyone piles back in the now-working van and we head to the Hi-Dive, an actual dive bar and venue where tonight’s show will be held.
The show is sort of stressful because the promoter has, without asking, added two other touring bands to the bill. Although the promoter’s intention to help out-of-town bands who’ve lost their original venue is honorable, it’s a bummer for Dummy. It’s their first proper show, and it doesn’t even feel like their show anymore. They do, however, make an impression. Chris Adolf of American Culture, a long-time Denver indie rock band who open the night, comes to the merch table afterwards to buy an LP and says something that I will think about a lot as I watch Dummy night after night. “The record is very soft,” he says. “But live they go really hard.”
This is incredibly true. While listening to Mandatory Enjoyment can sometimes be an invitation to zone out, live Dummy are very much a rock band who want to be pummeling and present, to defy expectations of whatever people expect them to be as an “indie band.” “I’d rather go to a punk show than an indie rock show because you know it’s gonna be more fun and exciting and there’s gonna be energy,” says Ewell.
“I feel more of a kinship with punk bands than indie rock bands, because indie rock bands are all soft. My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth—they were all punks, basically. I do feel like ‘back in them times’ the best music was made by punk people who transcended punk, or were really influenced by it and then distilled in their own way,” says Trainor. “It’s just more fun to just beat the shit out of some eardrums.”
March 30th, Denver, Colorado to Junction City, Kansas
Before we leave the next morning, the band requests that I take a photo of them on the balcony of the hotel room. They wrap their arms around each other and lean forward over the neon letters of the Comfort Inn sign. They wave. They make goofy faces. I can barely hold the phone still because I’m laughing so much. I feel like I’m on tour with the Monkees.
This is an impression that continues in the van, where it’s impossible to get bored despite the long drive time between gigs. The band is just too entertaining; speaking to each other in baby voices, reciting a litany of inside jokes that they run through over and over again, talking shit on other bands, talking shit on each other. Whenever someone says something particularly funny, it’s immediately called out as a potential title for LP2: Oceanic Obsession. Provocative Mantra. Mid Bands Bow Down. This last one is inspired by the fact that Trainor is known for being a “grouchy motherfucker” on Twitter, which his bandmates—none of whom are on the platform—constantly needle him about. Not that he cares.
“I’ll publicly trash any band,” he declares after I remind him that I’m recording our conversation.
“But when we get too many followers and we’ve talked shit on every band, we won’t be able to play with anybody,” Maatman tells him.
“But then we’ll be able to choose all the bands we play with, and it’ll be tight,” he replies.
“But no one will choose us.”
“That’s fine. No one cares how much shit I talk except for us.”
“And everyone who reads Bandcamp dot com,” says Ewell.
“No,” says Trainor. “Mariana already said she’s not going to throw us under the bus.” (This is true, I did say this.)
“Joe, what else do you talk about but shit,” replies Maatman, laughing. “There’s nothing else for the article.”
I ask about bands they do like. Trainor mentions their Trouble in Mind labelmates Smoke Bellow. Ewell likes a band from L.A. called Sprain. “But you’re naming bands nobody cares about,” I say. “People care about your band.”
“We like the bands that no one cares about,” says Trainor. “Those are the ones that are inspiring.”
March 31st, Kansas City, Missouri
Venue: The Greenhouse
Line-Up: Dummy, Ducks Ltd., Koney, HXXS, Collidescope
Dummy is playing tonight in Kansas City, a place I’ve never been before, at a house venue called the Greenhouse. It’s the first proper DIY show of tour and everyone’s looking forward to it.
Somewhere in Missouri, Trainor is hit up by a fairly new jangle-pop group who, despite being on their first U.S. tour ever, are already playing 500+ capacity venues in support of a much larger band. Their show that evening in Kansas City has been canceled and they want to know if they can hop onto Dummy’s, which Trainor agrees to. It’s the sort of thing he wished others would have done for his bands throughout the years—help them out when they get into a tight spot, be generous with their good fortune. And of course, it’s always nice to be asked rather than informed, as happened in Denver.
But then something weird happens.
The jangle-pop band starts promoting the show on their social media, which is fine; but, for some reason, in every post, they make sure to mention that it will be a “DIY show” e.g. “DIY show baby!”, “DIY til we die etc!!!!”, “Come see us at the DIY show!” (this last one is accompanied by a photo of one of the band members holding up a book entitled The Millionaire Mind.) Trainor is the first one to notice and point it out to the rest of us.
“Maybe they’re just excited,” I think, feeling uncharacteristically generous towards a group I’ve always found to be the band equivalent of every dweeb who ever tried to talk to me about this really obscure label called Flying Nun Records. Yet as I start scrolling through their posts, my annoyance level starts to rise.
To me, the band’s DIY-as-promotional-shtick brims with unearned condescension toward the underground music community whose hard work and willingness to take risks has made it possible for them to have a show tonight in the first place. It’s doubly insulting coming from a group on their first full U.S. tour ever and already playing big rooms as the support act for a much larger band, as if the “DIY show” is a cute novelty that’s useful only when the “real show” falls through.
Before the “DIY show,” we buy alcohol at a nearby CVS because there will be none for sale tonight at the Greenhouse, the most wholesome punk house I’ve ever set foot in. The show will be held in the basement of the house (which is indeed painted a spring green), accessed by attendees through the garage in the back. Everyone enters through a side lawn that has a firepit, a few chairs, and, to Dummy’s delight, two swords that have been anachronistically thrust into the ground. One of the Greenhouse residents runs a taco stand and sets up a grill in the back to feed showgoers. They also make their own hot sauce, and gift the band a bottle after the show.
Though low-ceilinged and not particularly large, the basement is perfectly clean and about as professionally set up for an illegal show as possible, including an entire editing bay where the kids stream the shows on Twitch (this will, of course, malfunction for Dummy’s set tonight). I follow the sound guy, a lanky kid in jeans and Ugg slippers, around as he prepares for the evening. I ask about the state of the local scene. It’s alright, he says, tapping on his iPad. Nearby Lawrence is better, because it has more all-ages stuff, which KC doesn’t. It’s mostly bars around here, but the Greenhouse is trying to change that. They’ve been putting on shows since the summer of 2021. He says they do most of the booking on Instagram.
A lot of people come out for Dummy that night, including an older fan who enthusiastically tells Greshowak that they remind him of “trippy shit” like Hawkwind. The band is really happy with the show in general, which is why everyone’s bummed out the following week, when we’re in some town in Massachusetts, and Trainor, who is always trawling the internet for mentions of his band, pulls up a review of Dummy’s show at the Greenhouse written in a tone so smug and patronizing that it’s kind of weird.
The piece opens with the risible assertion that Dummy aren’t used to playing basements, before going on to wonder how they came to have a show at Greenhouse in the first place—hilarious considering it’s the most common story in all of DIY: the touring band (Dummy) reaches out to a local music scene mover with strong local connections, who then helps find the venue, put together the line-up, and promote the show so everyone has a good time and the touring band hopefully makes some money.
Unsurprisingly, the writer is full of praise for the jangle-pop act—the actual basement tourists—who will follow up “the DIY show” in Kansas City by playing Thalia Hall, an 800-capacity venue in Chicago, the next night. This is the end result of unlinking the term “indie” from the ethos and community that once defined it: People stop being able to tell the difference between a band that is truly indie and a band that is cosplaying as indie because they have been told over and over again that there isn’t one.
It’s ironic, too, because some of Dummy’s favorite shows will be in the Midwest, where enthusiastic crowds and strong local openers will give the impression that DIY is thriving despite everything stacked against it; something, Greshowak, as a Seattle native who grew up going to all-ages punk and hardcore shows, seems particularly attuned to. “I was introduced to quote-unquote DIY punk ethos at a very early age and the idea that when you’re going on tour, you’re not doing it for profit,” he says. “You’re doing it because you’ve saved up enough money and you want to go show your music and your craft and your art to people where you can experience a similar sense of community to where you’re from.”
“I never really felt like I would see any of this again,” he continues. “With the pandemic and everything, not knowing what was going to happen; and then, all of sudden, seeing that it was still alive. You know?”
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
April 1st: St Louis, Missouri
Venue: The Heavy Anchor
Line-up: Dummy, The Mall, Shady Bug
Before leaving Kansas City, we go to a place called Second Best Coffee, whose logo is an eagle clutching a cup of coffee with the motto “Midwestern Modesty.” The place has been chosen by Ewell, a barista with opinions about coffee as strong as his opinions about music. While we’re waiting for our orders, Trainor recognizes the song that’s being played over the speakers: it’s by Stuck, a Chicago post-punk band fronted by Greg Obis of Born Yesterday Records, who released Dummy’s second EP. It seems like a funny coincidence until the band turns to leave. “Wait,” calls the kid behind the counter. “What band are you in?”
About 30 minutes later, once we’re on our way to St. Louis, the Dummy Instagram gets a DM. It’s from the barista at Second Best Coffee. He is also in a band, a local Kansas City post-rock group called Abandoncy; they’ve worked with Obis and played shows with Stuck. Ewell reads the message out loud. He tells them that he’s refunded all of their money from breakfast, writing that he knows it’s weird out there for touring bands right now. Dummy is visibly touched by the gesture.
After arriving somewhat early in St. Louis, we try to figure out something to do before going to the Heavy Anchor, the bar where Dummy will be playing tonight. After visiting a record store, where Trainor finds a cassette of Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque, we attempt to go look at the Gateway Arch. We’re almost too successful: due to the nearly unnavigable layout of downtown, we end up driving back and forth across the Mississippi into Illinois and back into Missouri about three times, giving us a prime view of the Arch glinting in the early spring sunlight each time we cross the river.
The Heavy Anchor is a bar decorated with murals described on Yelp as “quirky,” but are actually more creepy: a tiny human speared on the horn of a giant narwhal, a ship going down in flames, an evil-eyed squid rising from the deep. But it does have a few booths with outlets, so Ewell and I take the opportunity to plug in our phones before Dummy plays.
At 29, Ewell is the youngest member of Dummy, and the only one who has never been in a band before. He always wanted to be, though, starting when he was a kid in Virginia, breaking all the heads on the drum kit his older brother had left behind when he went to college and transitioning to guitar in high school when he started listening to a lot of Fleet Foxes and Deerhunter. The problem was, Ewell didn’t know anybody who also wanted to make music until he moved to Baltimore and met Trainor. “The idea of playing a show was so crazy to me back then,” he says. “Like, how do you achieve that?”
Despite his relative youth and inexperience compared to his bandmates, Ewell strikes me as the member of Dummy with the clearest vision; at the very least, he is the one most easily able to articulate what exactly he wants their music to achieve. “When we were trying to come up with stuff for [Mandatory Enjoyment], I personally was thinking, ‘How can we create something that’s new, that’s not something we’re all familiar with immediately, that we’ve not already heard a million times?’ That’s challenging, especially now, because the history of music is so rich and it’s getting even crazier with more and more and more music coming out all the time,” he says. “It’s literally hard to think of something new. But you have to because there’s nothing worse than just regurgitating some shit you already know and plagiarizing, which so many bands do.”
To that end, Ewell chafes at the Stereolab comparisons that Dummy constantly gets—not because Stereolab is bad or because it’s untrue, but because it’s such a superficial way of interpreting both bands’s music: “Stereolab isn’t a genre,” he points out. “Their whole shtick was that they were a super eclectic band and they had all these influences. They’re a weird band, too.”
Trainor will later tell me that it’s Ewell who pushes the band to get further into the weeds during the writing process, to always seek the more unexpected avenues of musical expression and not fall into the trap of “writing a song and having it be whatever it turns out to be,” as Ewell puts it. “We’re trying to make something people can listen to more than once and get something new every time. That’s what we wanted to create. And I think a lot of bands just don’t think that way or don’t worry about that. You get either a good pop song or a serviceable pop song that just sounds like every other song, or you get music that has no pop element at all and it’s just pure annoying challenging whatever.”
You can feel the effort—I guess that’s the best way to put it,” says Greshowak, who has joined us at the table. As the newest member of the group, who joined after the recording of Mandatory Enjoyment, he is the insider with what is closest to an outsider’s perspective. “Like when you listen to the music, it’s well thought-out. You hear the intention behind it, nothing seems rushed. Everything just kind of grabs you.”
Tonight’s show, which features longtime DIY locals Shady Bug and darkwave act The Mall, seemingly draws “everyone in the whole city,” as the Mall tweets out, and ends up being one of Dummy’s favorites. “It really feels like they give a shit about music in the Midwest,” Ewell says later.
April 2nd, Indianapolis, Indiana
Venue: State Street Pub
Line-Up: Dummy, Gümmi, K-Selection
Dummy’s show in Indianapolis is being presented by Medium Sound, the experimental tape label run by Mark Tester and Landon Caldwell, who are also the evening’s DJs. Trainor is delighted when they play a track from the uncategorizable British duo Woo before Dummy’s set. Though you wouldn’t assume that two Indiana weirdos who favor tape loops and field recordings over electric guitars and organs would fuck with a rock band, that is partially what makes that Dummy so compelling. They’re able to connect with people not so much due to shared taste as much as shared values—a prioritizing of adventurousness and artistry over ambition that manifests as mutual support in cities that might otherwise be a black box. All of which is to say: This is another packed show, and the band again turns a profit.
April 3rd, Chicago, Illinois
Venue: Sleeping Village
Line-Up: Dummy, Cafe Racer, Malci
In Chicago we’re staying at the Portage Park home of Bill and Lisa Roe of Trouble in Mind, Dummy’s label. This will be the first time any of them have met in person, and tonight’s show will be the first time the Roes have seen Dummy live. Their relationship until this point has been conducted entirely online, starting from when Trainor sent Bill an email saying that if he liked “the Velvet Underground, the United States of America, and Neu!” then he might also like Dummy.
“I had no pictures of them. I had never seen them before. That had nothing to do with it. I just felt like everything that they are doing soundwise and influence-wise I could pick up on and they were specifically things that I enjoy,” Bill says. “There was sort of like an instant rapport and connection because we’re all starting from the same reference point.”
We are at Sleeping Village, where Dummy is playing with local rock band Cafe Racer and rapper Malci of Why? Records; members of local indie luminaries Dehd and FACS will be in the crowd. Sadly, teen band Lifeguard, whom Dummy is excited to take on the road for a few dates in the summertime, won’t be in attendance due to being underage.
The Roes tell me about the first time they ever listened to Mandatory Enjoyment, while stuck in traffic getting out of Chicago. “We had to go on surface streets,” says Lisa. “And we listened to it like two or three times in a row.”
“We weren’t really speaking, just listening, so I felt like I could tell that [Lisa] was feeling what I was feeling, that it was kind of a special one,” says Bill. “It’s optimistic music, but optimistic in a way that’s not trite or played out, and I think, ultimately, people want to feel good when they listen to music.”
I ask the Roes if they’re surprised at how strongly Dummy has connected with listeners. They aren’t. “Especially considering we pressed 1500 copies [of Mandatory Enjoyment] and it was gone in a week,” says Lisa. “We had to immediately repress it.”
The next morning, Bill makes the band breakfast (biscuits from a tin) and then lets everyone pick out as many records from the Trouble in Mind office as we like to take home. The kindness of the Roes is overwhelming and their commitment to supporting independent music and musicians—from putting out records to opening their family home to touring bands—is beyond admirable. Before we leave, I take a photo of Dummy with Bill on the front steps of the Roes’s house. It’s the rare band photo to be posted to their Instagram account.