At one point during the making of our new record I said to my bandmates, “Hey, you only get the chance to make a first Dream Syndicate album in 30 years once in your life.” It’s a strange statement but one that’s hard to refute (unless we end up making one at some point in our late 80s — which, well, you never know).
But that was the attitude we brought to the project. Either the record was going to be great, everything we hoped it would be, or we would just shelve and write it off, both financially and publicly, as a bold experiment that didn’t work out.
We felt the odds were in our favor. The 50+ shows we’d played since we reunited back in 2012 had been among the best the band ever played, the perfect mix of agile improvisation, wild abandon and rock-solid grooves that had always been the band’s hallmark. The only 21st-century addition to the band, guitarist Jason Victor, who had played with me for years as a member of my solo backing band the Miracle 3, silenced any doubters within minutes of every show. He was the perfect and undisputed heir to the Syndicate axe-slingers who had come before — raw, mercurial, knowing and skilled.
And I wrote a bunch of songs to take down to Montrose Studios in Richmond, Virginia, a place I had worked often in recent years and felt was the perfect immersive retreat where we could conduct our laboratory of past, present and future. It’s the kind of studio where you can grab a guitar, sandwich, cup of coffee or beer from your temporary home and stroll just a handful of steps to the studio, ready to work at almost any hour of the day. The Dream Syndicate, after all, was never really about a ticking clock, never a slave to time or space.
The magic? It was there. It was there with almost as much ease and grace as the first rehearsal we had three years before in Madrid, despite Mark Walton, Dennis Duck and I having not played together for several decades. In a little less than a week we recorded much more than we needed, guided as co-producer and joined on keyboards by our old pal Chris Cacavas (who was on hand as full-time chef as well — love that guy!).
It was obvious that this would become a record, would not be tucked away as a curio to ooze out over the decades as a bootleg or maybe even forgotten. This was for real. This was going to be the fifth album by the Dream Syndicate, albeit with a long gap since the fourth.
What was started in Richmond, ably recorded by Adrian Olsen (with assistant from his dad, Montrose Studio founder Bruce Olsen) was moved back north to be mixed at Water Music in Hoboken, New Jersey by the legendary John Agnello, who has produced, engineered and/or mixed six of my previous albums. He was the perfect choice, a kindred soul in history, savvy, humor and boundless enthusiasm. The cherry on top was the peerless mastering skills of Greg Calbi, another legend and another regular collaborator of mine.
Oh, and there was one last surprise, one more perfect link to our past and completing of the circle. One of the more intriguing of the songs we recorded was a hypnotic trance and mantra called “Recurring.” I had a pretty decent lyric and sang a good vocal but somehow it just didn’t work. The song and riff were cool; the band’s recording was evocative and beautiful. But I began to realize I wasn’t the right singer for the song. And I knew immediately that the perfect singer would be the only other person to sing lead on a Dream Syndicate song, our original bass player Kendra Smith. I was amazed and delighted that my old friend and bandmate agreed to do it and then wrote some astounding lyrics and sang a vocal that at once was true to the spirit of the song and also turned the whole thing upside down. Now called “Kendra's Dream,” it’s the perfect coda to the record, tying up loose ends from the past and then opening them up again to the future.
The past. The present. The future. I always felt that the Dream Syndicate was largely about receiving, carrying and then passing along a torch of the bands that we loved passionately but who didn’t necessarily get the love and attention they deserved, living in the shadows as cult favorites, secret passwords into a society of musical fanaticism and time-delayed impact on generations to come. When we made The Days of Wine and Roses we were obsessed with bands like the Velvet Underground, the Fall, the Gun Club, Neu, the Stooges, Big Star, the Modern Lovers — bands who are much more well known now but were almost invisible at the time. Over the course of our lifetime as a band we felt a kinship with other bands in our various scenes around the U.S. (you can take your own guess, you'll probably be right) and in the years since we disbanded in 1988, I’ve heard bits of our sound in many bands that followed. It’s how these things work and it’s beautiful.
And that’s one of the many things I love about this new record. It feels like the perfect mix of everything we loved and everything that followed in the wake of what we did and what we loved. It sounds like everything that I loved about the Dream Syndicate and yet sounds unlike any other record we made. It’s what we did but it’s also what we do. Dennis, Mark, Jason, Chris and I set the bar high. It’s the way it had to be. And you know what? We cleared that bar with room to spare. And that's why it’s a finished record and will be available to listen by more people than just ourselves. We couldn’t be happier.
The Dream Syndicate
Goes Great With: Steve Wynn, Mission of Burma, Robyn Hitchcock, The Replacements
American alternative rock band associated with neo-psychedelia and the Paisley Underground music movement.
Show 9:00 pm