"I see the world in a swirl of hues / but my favorite color is shame”
This confession, delivered by Gatsbys American Dream vocalist Nic Newsham in opening track “Theatre,” begins the journey that is the band’s third full-length album, Volcano. Filled with literary references ranging from Jurassic Park and The Lord Of The Rings trilogy to Interview With A Vampire and The Lord Of The Flies, Volcano is not easy music to swallow—and it’s not meant to be, says guitarist Bobby Darling. “We’re pulling from a lot more influences to tell a more personal story; this record has a much stronger central idea than anything we’ve done in the past.”
But what is that central idea? Darling explains: “I’ve always been attracted to stories about volcanoes, not to mention my childish fixation on dinosaurs. We all loved the story of Pompeii, and somehow we came around to the idea of the volcano narrating a song [track two, “Pompeii”] and becoming the main theme of a record.” A refresher course, for those who slept through World History in high school: Pompeii was a Roman city that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption; but instead of learning their lesson and moving away, the prideful residents rebuilt their town—only to have the same volcano erupt 50 years later, completely wiping out the entire city and turning its citizens into ash. The band took this story of pride and ignorance and let it inspire the songs on Volcano. While each track can stand on its own, the album as a whole is an intense look inside the heart of man and human nature.
The concept might seem a bit heady for those who are unfamiliar with the band’s back catalog; but for a group whose previous LP, 2003’s Ribbons & Sugar, was based around George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Volcano is just the next logical step for a band who have never been content to be pigeonholed. Starting off as a young speed-punk group with their 2002 debut Why We Fight, the band quickly progressed into a multifaceted indie-rock hydra, fusing together conceptually stimulating lyrics with soulful vocals by Newsham, as well as polyrhythmic drumming from Rudy Gajadhar (whose last name you may already recognize—younger brother Mark Gajadhar drums for fellow Seattle intellipunks the Blood Brothers). The quartet’s sound is even further propelled by bassist Kirk Huffman’s vocal interjections, and ingenious time and tempo changes scattered throughout songs. Essentially, Gatsbys American Dream are not for the faint of heart.
Showcasing the band’s diversity, Volcano contains everything from “Fable,” a Strokes-esque pop song about (what else?) The Lord Of The Flies, to “A Mind Of Metal And Wheels,” which finds Newsham and Huffman trading vocal lines alongside the most unironic use of a cowbell in ages. The band’s penchant for interweaving lyrical themes pops up all over Volcano, with “Shhhhhh! I’m Listening To Reason” recalling lyrics from former albums, before decaying into a drunken pub sing-along. “Badlands” also revisits older lyrics, where “Meet Me At The Tavern In Bowerstone” actually becomes the lyrical postscript to “The Giant’s Drink,” just two tracks prior. It’s nuances like these that reveal Gatsbys American Dream to be more than just another band.
As the cult of Gatsbys has grown over the past few years, many have championed the band for seemingly ignoring the idea of inserting choruses in their songs, as a sort of middle finger to record labels—this is best documented on the band’s 2003 EP, In The Land Of Lost Monsters, where Newsham howls “‘The songs are uninspired / Where’s the fucking chorus?’ / Here it is, but you can’t fuck with my integrity” in “The Dragon Of Pendor.” Darling says this is a common misunderstanding about GAD, however. “We don’t really focus on writing songs without choruses, and we don’t have a problem with choruses—but we’re not gonna put a chorus in our song to make a record label happy. We’ve heard a lot of industry-types say that Ribbons & Sugar would have been a great record with some really strong choruses. Ribbons & Sugar is a great record. We just didn’t sound like other bands; and we still don’t sound like other bands. I think more times than not, it’s the bands that are doing something new or different that make the biggest impact.”
Gatsbys are definitely one of the bands doing something new and different, and are helping spearhead a scene that is quickly becoming “the new Seattle”—Seattle itself. “We’ve been so lucky to be part of what's been going on here the past few years,” says Darling. “There were some key people in the scene that taught us a lot about being in a band, the right way to do business and how fucked the music industry is.” Gatsbys American Dream join fellow Seattleites Minus The Bear, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Akimbo, the United State Of Electronica and the Blood Brothers—all of whom are branching out in previously uncharted musical directions. They may not sound alike, but their goal is shared: Make the best music possible. Darling sums it up perfectly, saying, “This town has been amazing to us. It's more than a scene; it's a community.”
Of course, for a band this obviously intelligent, both musically and literarily, one simply has to ask: Why is there no apostrophe in Gatsbys? Darling laughs, before admitting, “That is straight up because we thought the apostrophe would make finding us on the internet confusing.” Luckily for the band, Volcano’s inevitable eruption will undoubtedly make Gatsbys American Dream a household name—correct punctuation be damned.