The Dopamines will release Vices this week and we caught up with singer/guitarist Jon Lewis to talk about the new record and the band's future. Thanks to the users who helped come up with some of the questions:
Did you have any specific goals in mind when you started writing Vices?
No, not really. How most Dopamines material works, well I guess with how Expect the Worst was done and typically what happens. Youíll have the material and then ages later itís out for everyone to hear, so by that time the material is old for me and Jon and Michael. When Expect the Worst came out, we had already written ď10 Stories,Ē which is the last track on Vices. We had written that song probably 2-3 weeks after Expect the Worst came out. Thereís no set goal or themes. We just write and when thereís a collection of them over the course of however long we just throw them all together. We keep whatís good and scrap whatís not.
So Iím guessing the recording process was fairly quick then?
Yeah, for us it is. We spend as much time as we feel appropriate to prepare for it. Weíre not the type of band that goes into the studio and writes and records. We spend as much time writing and practicing as possible beforehand, just because we donít have a ton of money to go and sit in a studio for a month. We usually spend a week, I donít think weíve spent more than 14 days. This record came together pretty quickly.
How would you say this record varies from Expect the Worst?
Itís just mostly the lyrics. The music varies slightly, I think the transition between all of our material has just been adding elements of other influences sparingly, but lyrically things definitely change. Itís still self deprecating, which has always been our shtick if you want to call it that. But I think the different life experiences over the course of the five years have definitely affected the lyrics. Graduating college, trying to get everyone off my back about a degree and job, that was the first record. The second record was accomplishing all those things and then having the rug pulled out from underneath for being laid off from my desk job. And now all the lyrics are about finding steady ground and observing everything that has happened over the past five years. I think thatís the biggest difference. Expect the Worst was a lot of hate for what everyone expected me to do and then Vices was more about having my feet on the ground, having a fresh perspective and looking back. And finding new things to hate I guess. Itís easier to write about negative things than positive things.
I guess it just goes back to that analogy where you for every great thing that happens, you remember 8 things that are bad. Plus itís easier and more fun to go to a darker place. Because in general Iím a fairly happy dude and Iím not that aggressive or angry, I have a very passive personality. I donít like confrontation so lyrically itís fun for me to dive into that. But if someone put me in a situation that was full of confrontation Iíd just crawl into a ball. I pretty much avoid the things that I write about.
Why'd you choose Vices as the title?
It all came from the lyrics. Originally we were going to call it Guided by Vices, as a play on the band Guided by Voices. We also recorded a Guided by Voices cover for Vices, which we didnít put on the record just because we didnít want to put covers on the record. But the album title, a friend also had that name for a band and we asked him if we could take it and he said no so we figured Vices was appropriate, more than a joke title. None of our other records had joke titles so it made sense. Of course the lyrical content helped too. A lot of the songs are a reflection on the vices that we all have or are trying to get away from, like drugs and alcohol. The artwork is a little cryptic, but the plants on the album cover. Thereís a cocoa plant for cocaine, a barley stock for beer and the other plant is an aphrodisiac. Sex, drugs, booze, our lyrics tend to be about that stuff anyway so it made sense.
Did you draw the artwork?
Yes, I did everything from the ground up. Same with the rest of our material. The first record was a photo, but I did the layout and for Expect the Worst I drew and coloured everything as well. When I can Iíll do everything. It was more of a necessity back in the day, we couldnít afford to pay an artist to do something for us, something that we were shooting for. It was easier to bullshit my way through something that could be considered acceptable and over the last six years Iíve kind of honed into what Iím good at bullshitting as far as art is concerned.
Do you do a lot of art otherwise?
Yeah. Right now Iím doing a series of paintings for my sonís nursery and I just finished donating some graffiti pieces I did on canvas for charity. They raised a bunch of money, which was pretty flattering. Usually other than Dopamines records no one ever sees the art that I produce. Iím my own worst critic.
Moving back to covers, someone actually submitted a question asking about bonus covers.
Cool, yeah. It would have been ďQuality of Armor,Ē which is off of Guided by Voicesí record Propeller. We just prefer to do covers live, but weíve recorded a few that weíve put in the world for free. That Guided by Voices cover itís just sitting in the vault for now, we donít know what weíre doing with it. We started doing a cover of a cover live. ďI Am the WalrusĒ by Gray Matter, which is originally by The Beatles.
Whatís your favourite track on Vices and why?
ďPaid in Full.Ē I really love that song. I feel bad for my family because a lot of the shit that I write is very scathing. You know when you keep all of your emotions bottled up and donít really tell people how you feel about their opinions on what youíre doing? Like the song ďHeads Up Dusters!Ē which was also on our split with Dear Landlord. That song is literally about my family and my wife wanting me to be on medicine for anxiety, which I didnít think I needed. I was taken aback by everyoneís collective interests in my well being. But in the case of ďPaid In Full,Ē it was cool because it was just going to be a song for my wife that included specific musical styles and parts that she really enjoys. I wrote that song for her and then Jon heard it and told me it should totally be a Dopamines song. Itís definitely poppy and it sticks out like a sore thumb with the other tracks, but I love that song and it was fun writing it for my wife. It was cool stepping outside of the Dopamines style of writing where itís all kind of pigeonholed into a certain style and chord structure. It strays a little bit from what weíre known for, but I donít think anyone is going to pull it out. Everyone has accepted it so far and I love it because of the nice lyrics about my wife.
Would you agree that Vices isnít as catchy as your other records?
On a whole I can agree to a level. I noticed when the record was done that a lot of songs were just pieces of music. There wasnít a lot of hooks, like verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, where youíre relying on a hook to get you through a song. A lot of the stuff on Vices is just kind of an arrangement of parts that are songs. Some of them donít even have a beginning or an ending, it just happens and theyíre over. Each song doesnít have a crazy hook. Expect the Worst had a ton of hooks throughout, but Iíd say Vices has some of the individual catchiest songs weíve written yet. Like ďHeads Up Dusters!,Ē Paid In Full,Ē ď10 Stories.Ē I know Iím missing a couple, the two songs Jon wrote, ďUselessĒ and ďKitchen Cleaners.Ē
What was your main motivation for going back with Itís Alive this time around?
I think the thing about Paper + Plastick, Iím not even sure if Vinnie wanted to put it out. I know he heard it, but we never really even talked about it I donít think. We seldom stay with the same label anyway, weíve worked with Traffic Street, Cold Feet, Itís Alive, Paper + Plastick, the thing we just did with Adeline. With every record we donít necessarily commit. Of course like with every record we thought about our dream labels, like Fat, Epitaph, SideOneDummy. But in our heart of hearts we knew it would go to Itís Alive. Adam had really, really wanted to put out Vices. The interest and passion is important. Vinnie had been interested in Expect the Worst from the start through Matt Drastic, our friend who records everything weíve done. We record in his studio in Nashville and for that one we recorded in Gainesville so Vinnie was aware from the start and wanted to put it out. But with this record itís not Expect the Worst, itís a completely different monster. Weíre excited to get back with Adam, heís such a good friend and it just made sense.
Someone was wondering if you had a favourite festival that youíve played over the years?
Thatís hard because thereís so many. I like them all equally, but Insubordination Fest and Gainesville Fest, those are the two weíve played every year. I like them all equally for the camaraderie, weíve made a lot of friends in a lot of different states and we donít get to all those places all the time. In the case of Insubordination Fest, we get to see Adam Alive from our label, weíve only hung out like four times I think. Itís cool seeing the people you rarely get to so I like them all equally because thatís my favourite part of them. Itís not necessarily what big bands are playing or what reunions are happening. Although Fest, thereís always one night thatís really fuzzy. That one brings out the partier in me more than the others.
Lastly, I know youíre touring with Teenage Bottlerocket next month. What else will The Dopamines be up to in 2012?
The TBR tour and thatís it. I have a son on the way so right now this July tour is the one and only thing aside from Fest in October. Time and money permitting, weíd go somewhere for the weekend if we could break even. Like we were going to do Awesome Fest, but itís too close to my wifeís due date. Weíre doing this TBR tour, weíve passed a few tours this year and we had to regrettably say no, but Teenage Bottlerocket it worked out. We didnít really expect it at all either. I heard a rumour, strictly a rumour in the past, but I guess we were going to go out years ago, but someone said we partied too hard and were really fucked up on tour, which can be true, so they passed on us. Like I said, thatís a rumour, I think there were a few missed opportunities and talks in the air, but nothing came into fruition until now. We canít wait to tour with them, itís going to be fun.
So family is going to be your main focus from now on?
Yeah. I donít know, Iím not a father yet so I donít know what itís like, but I expect itís going to take up most of my time. I have to expect that Iím not going to have much time for anything else aside from being a father and working. But that said Iím in a writing frenzy right now. It would be cool for The Dopamines to record sometime early next year or late this fall so itís not like we wonít be doing things. But as for the rest of this year, weíre not talking about it. After Fest weíll just let the dust settle on the life changing aspect of becoming a father. But weíre totally excited that this opportunity to go out with TBR fell into a good spot, just before my son comes into the world.