Last week, I posted a review of an album called Fantasy Memorial by a small independent band called Dinosaur Feathers. To put it lightly, the review was not one of my friendliest. In case you don’t remember, or just didn’t read it, I called out Dinosaur Feathers for being incredibly derivative and hollow, using elements from other bands to create something that was supposed to sound sweet and sugary but came off insincere, lacking the honesty necessary to validate the content of Fantasy Memorial, though the exact words I used were something like “Dinosaur Feathers are a bunch of shit-eating Chicken McNuggets.”
When the band found my review, they weren’t happy, but were interested in doing an interview. I was taken aback at first, but I was intrigued because a band I trashed with abandon was interested in even giving me the time of day. The following interview is the result of a week of emailing and discussion about Fantasy Memorial, what makes good music good, and whether or not Dinosaur Feathers will kill you.
AD: First off, I’d like to thank you guys for this. Not many bands would give the writer of the review I gave Fantasy Memorial the time of day, much less volunteer to do an interview with him. So let’s get down to it: my main argument in my Fantasy Memorial review was that, as you put it, “it resorts to cheap tricks to craft a sound that is familiar, but ultimately hollow.” So basically, I’d like to see if I’m right. Can you talk a little about where Fantasy Memorial came from? What was the goal of the project? What, if any, aesthetic were you aiming for with this album?
DF: Fantasy Memorial, believe it or not, is a break-up album. When I started working on these songs, it was just me, a drum machine and 4-track Tascam. Derek hopped on board at the beginning, but my goal for this album never really changed. While these songs were about loss, I didn’t want to write another Sea Change. I wanted the album to be like an Irish wake – a celebration of where I had been more than a mourning for what I had lost. So, by and large, the songs are pretty joyful. However, I’m always surprised when people talk about how sugary and happy the songs are, because there are themes of loss and abandonment in every song.
AD: It’s interesting you say you’re surprised when you hear people say how sugary and happy Fantasy Memorial is. When I heard “I Ni Sogoma,” for example, I felt the sugary joy come through so clearly I couldn’t imagine that that atmosphere wasn’t the goal going in. So the fact that you say this is a breakup-inspired album is pretty unexpected.
Knowing this, I’m curious: is the breakup the place where a track like “Teenage Whore” comes from? I found that song particularly emblematic of the thematic darkness/musical pep juxtaposition you discussed. The music in that song sounds quite celebratory, as you say, but the lyrics don’t seem to match up at all. I interpreted the song literally, as a sort of martyring/ballad about a teenage prostitute, but is the Teenage Whore referenced in the song a doppelganger for your ex?
DF: Well, I should say – I wanted things to sound joyous, but that was just one of multiple desired effects. There are a lot of other things at play in the music which I think are often overlooked. When someone says the album is happy from start to finish, I wonder what they think about a track like Sleeping In.
All the songs come from the breakup in one way or another, and that includes “Teenage Whore”. Using the words “teenage whore” were supposed to be juxtaposed by the words “island queen” in the following stanza, but I understand that title of the song will garner more attention, especially when it is something so provocative. This goes back to what I was saying about having mixed emotions about this particular situation. It took me a while to understand what this song was about myself, but I realized recently it’s about youth – and the strong need for freedom that people have when they’re young, one person in particular.
AD: In my review accused you guys of directly taking elements from bands like Animal Collective, fun., The Dodos, and Yeasayer. I was wondering if I was actually right about any of that. What bands were you listening to as you started writing Fantasy Memorial? Was there any particular style you were going for? Is Fantasy Memorial, as I implied in the review actually a direct attempt to replicate Sung Tongs?
DF: If Sung Tongs was the mark, we certainly missed it. That’s for sure.
The big influences were really the Ruby Suns’ Sea Lion and tropicalia music, such as Os Mutantes, Gilberto Gil and Jorge Ben. It’s funny actually – I remember reading a similar review site, one with a lot of user-generated content, last year about Sea Lion and people absolutely hated it. Everyone was calling it a bad Animal Collective rip-off. And that’s not the first time I’ve seen something like that – in fact, I anticipated some responses like that for this album. It seems like if anybody wants to make experimental pop music with some form of non-traditional instrumentation, they’re going to be cast as Animal Collective wanabees, which is unfortunate.
AD: I can definitely hear the tropicalia music, which is certainly a unique approach. I don’t know if your point about experimental pop-music=animal collective ripoff though is necessarily true. In the case of the Dodos, for example, 2008’s Visiter I found to be pretty similar sound-wise to Fantasy Memorial, but (at least with people I’ve talked to), The Dodos aren’t as linked to AC as, say, Keepaway or, well, you guys. The whole drum/acoustic thing is one aspect of it, but to me, the vocal performances on Fantasy Memorial recall what Animal Collective’s been doing of late. For example, for me, the high notes at the end of “I Ni Sogoma” immediately brought to mind Avey Tare’s chorus in “Unsolved Mysteries.”
However, what you say about several bands pulling from the same set of influences I find really intriguing, because it’s totally true. I don’t know how many times I’ve read Brian Wilson’s name in non-Beach-Boys-related articles (including ones about you), but he keeps popping up. What is your take on indie music in general right now? You point to the fact that so many people are mining the same influences and dressing/redressing them. Would you say this is leading to a kind of stagnation with the genre? Does that really matter if the music’s still good?
DF: Excellent call on the “Unsolved Mysteries” comparison. Not something intentional at all, but it is definitely and undeniably similar. Animal Collective is certainly an influence, they’re just not something we’re trying to be.
As for the Dodos, there are plenty of bands making music now in the indie genre that sound nothing like Animal Collective, but the band does cast a large shadow. More importantly, they’re an easy point of reference. For every AC comparison we get, there’s someone who says we sound like Vampire Weekend. Now, those two bands aren’t very similar, but they’re bands that a lot of people know and listen to, so it’s an easier comparison to make.
As far as bands having similar influences, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. Mostly, because I think a lot of indie bands have really eclectic tastes in music, so while one band may merge their love of Brian Wilson with their love of electronic music, another band may mix Brian Wilson and Fela Kuti. And look at some of the big indie albums from this year: Vampire Weekend, Joanna Newsom, LCD Soundsystem, the National, Beach House – that’s a pretty diverse lineup right there. There’s so much access to so much music these days that you are going to find bands that sound similar and have similar influences, but there is plenty of diversity out there as well.
AD: So what are the long term plans for Dinosaur Feathers? Aside from me, Fantasy Memorial is getting good writeups from New York Magazine and the New York Times, which suggests that you guys are starting to be players in the New York scene. Do you guys want to blow up and get really popular or is this semi-low profile thing a nice sweet spot for you guys?
DF: At the moment, there is no long-term plan. We’re just excited to follow whatever opportunities spring up for us. We’re playing the Sasquatch! Music Festival in Washington over Memorial Day weekend, and we’re all really excited to head out to the west coast and be a part of that. If we get more opportunities to pursue things like that, we will certainly take them. We just want the opportunity to get our music out there to as many people as possible.
AD: One last thing- when we were organizing this interview, I was tentative about starting because I thought you’d want my neck. However, you said something about music criticism that I found really interesting. I don’t want to be as blunt as “so, what’s it like to get such a negative review,” but could you reiterate that point for our readers?
DF: When you put your music out there to the world, there are going to be negative responses. This is not the first negative review we’ve received, and I’m sure it will not be the last. In some ways, you go in to it hoping you get some bad reviews down the line, because you only get backlash if you’ve been hyped up. I think that’s what made this bad review stand out so much. Fantasy Memorial hasn’t been all that hyped up. The only review in print we’ve seen from a major publication was a trashing by Vice Magazine (see – you’re not alone). When we saw that review, we felt a bit like we were being picked on, but Vice only cares about making jokes, not real music criticism, so you can’t take it too hard.