Smile Politely

The evolution of the Dirty Feathers

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly three years since The Dirty Feathers formed out of the ashes of Shipwreck. Not to take away from how our own Chris Davies characterized Wicked Walls rising from the ashes of New Ruins, but, considering there are feathers involved here, it makes a bit more sense in terms of bird analogies. Either way, The Dirty Feathers have been making noise in town for quite some time, and a plenty of it has been great. Almost all of it has been meaningful to the music scene of C-U over the past several years, and as a patron of countless shows, I can say that it has meant something to me as a fan of music in this town.

They’ve been through a lot in their short lifespan as a band, and it seems like they’ve been in the picture a lot longer than they actually have. Show after show in town, plus dozens of shows outside of C-U around the Midwest and even out on the East Coast, the experiences start to pile up very quickly.

I had a chance to sit down with Andrew Kling, lead guitarist of the band, at Jupiter’s last weekend to discuss what’s going on with the band now that they’re at work on their second full-length and follow-up to their solid Midnight Snakes debut. It was good to get a chance to dig in with what’s really going on with this band that seems to be doing so much all the time, while merely releasing one track last year, which was pretty damn good.

The progression from where the band was a few years ago, before they even started playing live shows, to where they are now has been an interesting path. After Kling began playing with Harman Jordan and Vladimir Brilliant, both of whom were integral parts in what made Shipwreck so great, more pieces started to come together and form what we see today as The Dirty Feathers:

It had been over a year, year and a half, that we had been playing those songs before they came out on Midnight Snakes. Those songs feel so old, because those were the first songs that Harman, Vlad, and I jammed on before we even played our first show. So when we finally recorded them, we had been playing them for two years. Everything since then has been totally different. Just the way we write songs together, we don’t have one way of doing it. This one will be a lot different than Midnight Snakes, even though I’m really proud of what that record was, I kind of think it could have been better.

The band was just in the early stages of putting themselves together and forming something they all had invisioned from the get-go. Although their first album was somehting that represented the band at the time, there were certain areas that felt restricting at times. Although the new record only has a placeholder name at the moment (Our Totem is the Raven) to represent the work, there’s still something to be said about having a vision when it comes to making the next record. Kling discussed how the band is using the title to focus on a more distinct theme and concept for this record:

I just kind of have been using it as a center of coming up with ideas for the album. We’ll probably come up with something different, and I’m using it as a way to refer to it. It’s been helping make me focus on what I’m doing. I wanted to do that with Midnight Snakes, but it just kind of represented our first show. I wanted it to be as close to the live experience as we could, so the concept was just that; this is us in the live setting. I think it was successful in that respect, but it was a short, small picture of who we were.

The band had gone through the process of duplicating what they thought to be the best indicator of what they were, which is a pretty raucous live band. This is not a particularly uncharacteristic thing to do, and they did it very well. From the first times seeing the band, and then listening to the record itself, they were pretty spot on with replicating their live sound and making it fit onto the record.

However, they’re not totally abandoning that process of turning live songs into tracks for their upcoming record:

I’d say most of them are probably songs you would recognize. We’ve been playing some of them for a while, and some of them have been naturally coming together and fitting with one another. We’ll change arrangements, but I think with Midnight Snakes, we basically sat in a room and played it how we play it live and just moved on. I think this will be better because we will think about things and rearrange and see how it works.

I brought up questions about the band and the concern that they would be pigeonholed for trying to sound exactly like they do in the live setting, but Kling discussed the shift to experimentation with the new material they’ve been crafting:

I think this will hopefully prove that we’re not just some one-trick-pony band. It will be interesting. We don’t really have a name for it yet, but I think we have a lot of ideas tossed around and I’ve been trying to write it as it’s almost a history of us as a whole and how we got to this point. I remember those early shows when we wanted to be as tight as we could, and it felt like that a lot of times. I enjoyed playing, but it almost felt like a runaway train, where you’re just trying to not fuck up and just hoping to get through the set. I think we’ve gotten better playing together through all of that. We’re all pretty comfortable playing with each other now.

As far as experimentation goes, we’ve always wanted more than what Midnight Snakes was, but that was who we were at the time. I don’t think we came out with that and we were like, ‘Oh, this is great, let’s never improve and keep doing that.’ I think all of us are wanting more. It’s just kind of a struggle you’re always fighting to get to where it sounds like it does in your head and finding where you want to be. You just try to get as close as you can.

Sure, every band worth listening to is always trying to get more out of the things they do well. It only makes sense to progress as a band rather than stay stagnent. It is interesting to see the development of a band firsthand over a stretch of time, to see how they grow and shift according to what is happening around them. Seeing the band evolve has been an interesting process to experience, and I can only experience it from my shoes.

I asked Kling about what it has been like growing as a band, and how those relationships affect the music:

To be where we are right now, I feel very lucky. To be in a band with four other guys that I love like brothers, and they’re all very talented, and crazy, and fucked up, and weird. It’s five strong personalities, but you know, we all started together and have been through all of this together. Playing shows and going on the road together, you become linked forever. It’s almost like a marriage or something. You might get divorced, but you always have some connection there.

I feel very lucky to be in the sitiation that we’re in. If you told me five years ago I would be here, I probably wouldn’t of believed you. Being where we are now, it kind of makes me look back on where we’ve come from, where I’ve come from, and now I have this opportunity, a lucky opportunity, and I need to take advantage of it. I’ve been thinking a lot about the music that has influenced me most of my life, or the moments growing up listening to albums that totally changed my life. Just trying to get that feel. I really want this to be an album that feels like an album. A whole idea behind it. Recurring themes and melodies. I guess trying to recreate that feeling when I was sixteen, listening to Dark Side of the Moon in the dark, or going out in the country, getting high and listening to Tommy or something. Instead of overthinking it, just fucking doing it, and hoping it stays true somehow.

Influences can only go so far when making music, and as the band starts work on their newest album, they control what they put to tape. They’ll be recording it in a great place, at Matt Talbott of HUM‘s studio, Earth Analog, Easter weekend. Kling also discussed having a timeline for the record, believing that having those deadlines allows the band to have some sort of structure in the recording process to get done what needs to get done. Leading up to these sessions, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing:

A week before the cover up, we kind of were at a critical point where everyone was kind of pissed off with everything and not happy with the progress. So, we moved all of our stuff from our basement to the upstairs, because it was just five guys sitting in the basement, not getting anything done, playing random noises and being pissed off. We wanted to change it up. We played a bit quieter; [Keyboardist] Ted [Faust] played the actual piano that’s in our living room, and we sat around and got work done. That felt really good beause no one really knew what to expect, or what was going to happen.

Luckily for us, as the band heads to the studio, they have plans to put this next record out on vinyl, which is somewhat of a rarity from the standpoint of a local band. They’re planning on doing a Kickstarter to help fund the project in the near future, but for now, they’re going to keep their attention focused on making the new record before they get ambitious and press it on wax.

In lieu of all the other business happening with the band, they’ve got a show coming up tomorrow night as a part of the Smile Politely Show Series, and I asked how the idea of putting rock acts with acts like DJ Belly and Swords on the bill came about:

It was kind of a clusterfuck as it started. We kind of combined shows, because Swords & The Struggle were suppposed to play at Mike ‘N Molly’s that same night. We had this show set up at Cowboy Monkey with us and Barrowe. I’ve always been talking with Kevin [Miller], DJ Belly. We’ve always been wanting to do something together. His shows are fun and it’s not the same music, but I still think it’s the same vibe. DJ Belly shows and Harsh’s shows are always an event. It’s exciting. I don’t know how it all came together, we just decided to combine shows and everyone was psyched about it.

Just around the corner is Record Store Day (April 20), and although the band will be hard at work on getting their new record ready to go, they’ll most likely be putting out a digital release of a b-side or a cover song for the annual celebration of independent music. Speaking of covers, I had to ask about the Great Cover Up, in which the Dirty Feathers covered The Who. It was a smashing time.

That was probably one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been a part of. I love that band, and I got to see them do Quadrophenia last year. I’d never seen them before. That was so much fucking fun, to do The Who. By the end, I’m sure we messed up plenty, but not really any big fuck ups, so by the end it just felt good to be like, we made it through, now I’m going to smash the shit out of this guitar [laughs]. 

I got the guitar at a pawn shop the day before. I had been wanting it and I went in there two minutes before it closed, and the guy was about to lock the door. He just kind of let me in and I pointed and said, “I’ll buy that guitar.” He asked if I wanted to play it, and I asked if it worked; he said yes. He gave me the receipt and told me there was a 10-day return policy if the electronics didn’t work. I asked, “Well, what if I break it in half?” He said that wasn’t covered [laughs].


You can check out the Dirty Feathers tomorrow (Saturday, March 2) with Barrowe, Swords & The Struggle, and DJ Belly as a part of the Smile Politely Show Series at Cowboy Monkey. Tickets are $5 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

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