Interview with vocalist Jordan Dreyer | By Dustin Verburg
La Dispute is a rock band, some would say post-hardcore band, from Grand Rapids, MI. Their forthcoming album, Rooms of the House, was written in an isolated cabin on the upper Michigan peninsula, and it’s a bit different than anything they’ve done before. That’s the La Dispute way, though – would we expect any less?
You’ve said you’ve finally found your musical identity. I think you guys have always had a distinct identity. What did you mean with that statement?
It’s a misnomer to say we’ve just now found our collective identity. I think we’ve always existed in a specific manner. The way the five of us work together is unique to us, and it’s probably the same with any band. In a way it’s a process of refinement, always. I’ll probably say the same thing the next time we release a record because you’re always getting closer to your end process, I guess.
It was a whole different animal this time. I think there was, at the same time, more of an individual effort from all of us and less of one. Given that we were all in different places writing and then we were all in one place for a burst of time. It gave us a way to contribute in solitude and then come together to amend and edit, fill in the La Dispute Blender at the end of it. I think we just came away from it feeling that we’d really refined the process, more than anything.
That makes sense. So you guys went to a cabin for a few weeks to really write and hash everything out. How did that work? Did you have individual things written before you got there, or did you do it all at the cabin?
We had a significant break from the time we recorded Wildlife and the time that we decided it was time to work towards another LP. Everyone was stir crazy because of the time off and they were tinkering with parts for when the time came. I had been mulling over a concept for an extended period of time, which is always kind of how I work.
When we got to the cabin we needed a place to start. On Wildlife I had given everyone a pretty specific direction and had everything mapped out previously from a songwriting standpoint. This time I had only a vague concept and we wanted to change the process. I wanted to just introduce this overarching theme to my band mates and see what happened.
I introduced this whole narrative and the theme of objects, shared space and history. Then everyone took what they had been working on, and some of it became songs. Just the four of them in a room jamming in a cabin in the Upper Peninsula.
That gave it the diversity you hear on the record. Some of those songs were very much one person at home writing, and then shifted around when we were all together.
So, the record talks about rooms as much as it does objects. Rooms are little compartments, each with a distinct function. How do those rooms fit into the emotional concept of the record?
When we first started approaching the concept we wanted to talk about a pretty well-discussed topic in a non-conventional way. The way we came up with was to discuss a relationship in terms of the environment and scenery. We wanted to talk about the objects that occupy space with the characters. It’s interesting how objects and rooms come to encapsulate the experiences that occur within them.
It became a third character. Each room and each object in the space, whether it’s a family heirloom, a personal keepsake, a coffee maker or the radio. They hearken back to what’s occurred in their company. That’s where the title came from and what I think the rooms in this fictitious house represent. The same goes for the objects. It represents collective memory in a way.
After you’ve had a certain experience, every song you hear at the gas station or on the radio takes on a whole new meaning even if you wrote it off before. It’s the same with objects, they remind you of what happened around them. You do a really great job with that concept.
Absolutely. That’s what I wanted to come across from my contribution. It’s a weird sort of time travel forwards and backwards. I’ve thought about it a lot because I was moving while we were writing the record. That process of picking things up and putting them in boxes and considering them and taking them out of a specific space. You touch, see or smell something and you’re back in that moment and experiencing that emotion again.
It’s a very interesting thing how meaningless objects hold so much meaning.
So there’s a good bit of personification of objects here as well, right? You know, assigning them human qualities.
Yeah, definitely. It was somewhat unintentional, It wasn’t something I’d planned on happening. But right off the bat, I set the scene and the coffee maker is hissing. That kind of became a physical, animated character in and of itself. The radio, too. Those two in particular because they’re objects that interact with space. They’re not just sitting there– the radio talks to you, the coffee maker makes noise. They’re disembodied voices from another plane of existence.
There’s a part in White Noise by Don DeLillo where it’s raining outside and he’s driving with his kid. His kid points out when the radio says it’s gonna rain, and the kid points out that it’s already raining. It’s the concept of “how do I know it’s raining without the radio telling me?” It’s like this weird other character.
They definitely became characters of their own because of the history they hold and the way they helped paint a memory.
So three songs really stood out to me as these kind of great, weirdo pop songs. “For Mayor in Splitsville,” “Extraordinary Dinner Party,” and “Woman (In Mirror).” It’s like they’re more up front and there’s less lurking in the shadows, if that makes sense.
We’ve always felt it was important to challenge the process and see how it affects the end product. We approach every release in a different manner for that reason. I think there’s as much or more of a challenge in trying to write concise songs in that mentality than it is to go back to things you’ve tried previously, especially when you know they work.
This time we wanted to leave everything on the table and try to dial things back. In the past things have been very part-to-part and sporadic and grandiose at times. We wanted to shrink things in scope and see what happened when we relied a little heavier on melodies and choruses. It was, more than anything, a challenge for ourselves creatively. I think those three songs are the strongest on the record. They give a level of diversity that helps the record as a whole to ebb, flow and transition. It was fun and interesting.
It’s a weird thing to get to a point where we weren’t trying to do the opposite. Where we were okay with shrinking things and subtracting rather than adding. It was fun, to boot. So I guess that was the best part.
You toured Australia in between writing this new record and recording it. How did that affect the end result?
We had the time to reconsider things and really what we ended at the cabin with and what we ended up recording were two pretty different things. That period of reflection really that we had and the opportunity to be in a different creative environment, be around other people and to have fun playing other songs really took our mind off of it.
We worked on it here and there on tour, but for the most part it was a nice little break. We got back to one of the most important parts of writing, which is just playing music. So for us to have the opportunity to travel, play songs and re-gel as a group really helped. And also to be around the dudes from Pianos Become the Teeth, who are phenomenal musicians, is always inspiring. All of those things contributed to what ended up getting recorded.
So you’ve been on a pretty extensive US and European tour. How did you prepare? Has it been what you expected?
We’re all very excited. We all live in different places, so we video chatted [prior to the tour]. When you’re not around the people that you love, you sometimes forget how much fun you have when you’re with them. Even video chatting on Google Hangouts, which was a miracle that I figured it out, was awesome. You just laugh, riff off each other and shoot the shit. First and foremost, it has been awesome hanging out with my dudes. We’ll also be playing new songs; we hadn’t played any of these songs live, so I was really looking forward to that.
So we had a week of rehearsal to fine tune everything and we’re touring with some awesome bands. It’s stressful to a degree because we had a short amount of time to fit the whole tour cycle in. There’s the stress of being away from home and leaving wives, girlfriends, friends and family elsewhere. It’s a juggling act, but I’m mostly excited to play music and hang out with my dudes.