Interview with: Dear and the Headlights

As Dear and the Headlights prep for the release of their sophomore album Drunk Like Bible Times, a few of the guys took some time to discuss their busy tour schedule and upcoming album with me. Below you can read my interview with bass and key player Robert Cissell, guitarist P.J. Waxman and lead vocalist and guitarist Ian Metzger.

Bethany, Popwreckoning: Can you tell me a little bit about your band formation? You guys almost didn’t happen, right?
Ian Metzger, Dear and the Headlights: Yeah, It was just a long process of years of trying to get a band together, then it breaking up and reforming. Of having different members and format. It’s been a slow click. It’s been three years of a sort of trimming the fat process.

PW: Now you [Ian] actually left town for awhile. Where you looking to just leave Dear and the Headlights behind?
IM: Well, we weren’t really Dear and the Headlights at that point. It was just me, P.J. and another guy. It just wasn’t working out, so I was just looking to do something else. Then this ended up working out.

PW: You guys met Mark Kulvinskas through Craigslist. How did that process workout? Did you run into any kooks trying to do that?
IM: Well, Craigslist was kind of a last resort. We had tried out 13 different people: drummers from friends we knew and friends of friends, but they were no good.

PW: With a solidified line-up and not all the drama of finding members, how has recording your sophomore album compared to the first one?
Robert Cissell, Dear and the Headlights: It was easy and fun. It was my first recording experience because I didn’t do the first record with them. So, it was awesome and I don’t think it could have gone any better. Unless, if we had like three months instead of six weeks.

PW: How involved was Equal Vision with the album?
IM: With the recording? They were involved financially and that was about it.
P.J. Waxman, Dear and the Headlights: They had no say in what we actually put on the record.

PW: So it wasn’t very different then when you guys recorded through Bob Hoag?
IM: Bob? We did it with him again, but he has a new studio, which made things easier. There weren’t motorcycles revving in the acoustic tracks and airplanes going by during everything this time.

PW: No free sound effects?
IM: Haha, yeah, exactly.

PW: Another thing you guys tried out was not demoing the songs. How did that work, you just tested them out live?
PJW: Yeah, we would just play them out live even if they weren’t actually finished.
RC: We’d play them without singing actually lyrics.
IM: Yeah, I’d try them out with different lyrics every night. I’d say different stuff and it worked out. It was cool. It definitely made the recording itself a lot more exciting for us.

PW: So, when the lyrics quit did you just remember them from the night or did you take notes?
IM: The lyric process is a lot more in-depth. I would just make all the sounds I wanted to make and then I would just say words that had the same syllable count I was looking for, but wasn’t necessarily the word I wanted to use. It kind of was like a weird game, I guess.

PW: So how did audiences respond to that? Were they confused by that?
IM: They don’t know.
PJW: They don’t know if you’re singing the right words, especially if it’s a new song.
RC: Especially if they’ve never heard the right lyrics.

PW: The new record comes out on the Sept. 30. What can people expect from this? Is it similar to the first album or are you trying some new styles?
IM: I don’t think it’s like the first album, but I don’t think it’s going to be disappointing to anybody that liked the first album. It’s not like a big disconnector or anything like that. It seems like any sort of lack of maturity that we might have had on the first record came through as a more mature idea on this second record. With having different members in the band, a lot of parts worked better together than they did on the first record.

PW: So, Rob with this being your first time recording, since you weren’t there for the first album, how was your contribution? Was it pretty exciting to be involved in the songs finally?
RC: Definitely. I had been playing the old songs with the guys for like close to a year so it was cool to actually get together and write a batch of new songs that I could say that I actually had a hand in writing and recording.

PW: So do you think you had something really different to offer?
RC: Yeah, I think every single musician has something different to offer.

PW: So you didn’t try to emulate the original?
RC: No, I just tried to do my own thing.

PW: Are you guys worried about sophomore slump reaction or anything like that?
IM: I think we’re all really happy with what we did and we’re all really happy with the way it came out.
RC: It’s not like we really stress out about whether it’s going to be a slump or not. We’re just excited to get it out there and see what happens really.
IM: Even if every one else thinks it is a slump, we’ll be proud of it.

PW: It won’t be a slump. I’m sure it will be fine. So which song on the record are you most excited for people to hear?
PJW: I hear every one on there and think, “I love this song,” but then it will go to the next one and think this is the one.
IM: I think every one will be pleased by the diversity. I’m excited for them to hear the whole record in its entirety, not just one song.

PW: Are there some common themes throughout the songs?
IM: Lyrically, each song is kind of about it’s own thing.
RC: I think it’s about Ian’s comments on like the last year or so of his life.
IM: Yeah, the last two years since this band’s been going. A lot of it, lyrically, is just about my experiences and just a kind of current recap of things that I have been thinking about or occurrences.

PW: Like relationship stuff or do you get political?
IM: No, I’m not really political, per se. It’s not even necessarily relationships or stuff like that. Some songs are, but not just male/female relationships.
RC: Relationships with friends.
IM: Conversations. I don’t know. One song is kind of dealing with a poem that I read.

PW: What poem?
IM: “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg.

PW: How did that poem inspire you?
IM: Hm.

PW: It’s not like a recap is it? Like Ra Ra Riot did a song based off an e.e. cummings poem that basically restated the poem.
IM: Oh, really? No, it’s not like that.
RC: I don’t think you’d even be able to tell that it’s really about the poem reading the lyrics.

PW: Which song is it?
IM: “Carl Solomon Blues.” It is like the third song on the record. I more so read that poem and it made me question my abilities as a writer or anybody interested in poetry or lyricism. So it kind of is a song mocking myself and my abilities as a poet after reading such a dense, crazy work. As much as I’m kinding making fun of myself in a way after reading that poem, a lot of that poem and that style has influenced the ways that I write. I really connect with Ginsberg and his writings.

PW: Do you like the other beat poets, too?
IM: I’m most familiar with Ginsberg. I’m not really familiar with beat poetry. I’ve read some Kerouac.

PW: So you guys have toured with some pretty big names, like fellow Arizonians Jimmy Eat World. Did you know those guys before you toured with them?
PJW: Yeah, we just kind of met up with them on that tour.

PW: How was that tour, I know their were some people questioning the line up because it was you all and Jimmy Eat World with Paramore, which was kind of a weird combination.
IM: Yeah, it was great.
RC: It was cool.
PJW: We had really good responses. There were lots of people there and then we did like five or six shows after that with just Jimmy Eat World.
RC: That was really cool.

PW: So, is there much of a music scene?
RC: I don’t even know anymore.
IM: There’s much more of one than before.
PJW: There’s tons of bands.
RC: I guess I don’t really know. What exactly is a scene?

PW: Well, like I’m from Omaha and there is kind of a scene built up around Saddle Creek or you go to Chicago and you get a lot of bands that sound like Fall Out Boy. I actually heard something about screamo music being big in Arizona?
RC: Is that still going?
PJW: We don’t really hang out in Arizona too much anymore.

PW: My last question then, what would I find on your iPods or whatever music device you use?
RC: So much.
PJW: A lot of stuff.
RC: Different stuff. Harry Nelson to Dr. Dre.
PJW: Haha. Seriously though.
RC: The most hardcore rap to the most beautiful, touching music.

PW: What’s the most embarrassing thing anybody has on their iPod?
IM: I’m not embarrassed by anything.
RC: Bon Jovi.
PJW: It’s not even Bon Jovi. It says Bon Jovi, but it’s really one of our songs.
All laugh.

PW: You labelled one of your songs as a Bon Jovi song?
PJW: Yeah, we were just driving and I was like I’m going to just play this song as a joke.
IM: Then one of our songs started and I was like, “What?”
PJW: The Walkmen.

PW: That’s not embarrassing.
PJW: No, that’s not embarrassing. I just bought a lot of older records. A lot of our influences are older.
IM: Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Harry Nelson, Flaming Lips. We listen to a lot of stuff.
PJW: Kinks.
PW: That’s all I have. Thank-you so much guys.

Dear and the Headlights: website | myspace

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