Peter Feigenbaum, Liam Andrew and Max Tucker are the constituent parts that make up the brilliantly-named New Yorkers Dinowalrus, a band that despite that name don’t play stoner metal (well, anymore) but ply a strange and heady brew of psychedelia, Krautrock, Gang Gang Dance-style electro experimentation and, perhaps most strangely of all, a take on late 80s British indie-dance. I’m not using the ‘M’ word, no siree.
Following the relatively well-received debut album %, Feigenbaum – sometime guitar player in Titus Andronicus – parted company with the rest of his band, recruited Andrew and Tucker and set about making Best Behavior, a fine album that pulls together all the Dinowalrus influences into a surprisingly coherent whole. I caught up with lead man Feigenbaum to talk about his new album, and how that British influence came to pass.
I decide that the best place to begin the interview is with that name; what the hell is Dinowalrus? “It was a name I had for a jokey one-man electronic stoner-metal project from college in 2005 that used looped breakbeats nicked from Black Sabbath drum solos,” explains Peter. “I just wanted a name that evoked heaviness, prehistory, and slowness. After trying to find a better band name back in 2007 without any success, we just put it back into play since early Dinowalrus had heavy psych-rock tendencies.” Given his musical influences, it may come as something of a surprise to learn of Peter’s stint as guitarist in New Jersey’s finest (sorry Bruce), Titus Andronicus. I want to know if the music he makes as Dinowalrus is what really makes him tick. “Totally! I was doing Dinowalrus before I got involved with Titus. They just liked what I was doing and poached me for a 6 month period.” Peter goes on to explain how the sound of the band seems to be constantly evolving: “Whatever I’m into musically, Dinowalrus is going to be a reflection of that; whether it was Boredoms, Liars and Comets on Fire in the early days or Primal Scream, Spacemen 3, Psychic TV and Stone Roses last year, or Chameleons, The Church and Echo and the Bunnymen today.”
And it’s the middle selection of band that reviews for Best Behavior seem to be picking up on, suggesting Dinowalrus love the “Madchester” and Factory Records sound, but to me it seems a bit more of a psychedelic experience than that simplistic comparison. When I ask Peter about the music on Best Behavior and where it comes from, I get quite a detailed answer. “I think we had the Madchester theme in our minds as a sort of lodestone to guide us,” he begins, “especially on the flagship songs like ‘Gift Shop’, ‘Riding Eazy’, and ‘Phone Home from the Edge’.” But it’s not a new thing, is it? “We were already playing around with Madchester-y elements on our first record,” agrees Peter, “though in a more experimental context – bongo sounds, farfisa organs, Peter Hook-style basslines, and wah guitars. So we thought it would make sense to put them all together on Best Behavior. Basically if you cross-pollinate ‘Cage Those Pythons’, ‘BEAD’, and ‘I Hate Numbers’ [from debut album %], you end up with ‘Gift Shop’.”
Feigenbaum explains, though, that the band that left most of an impression wasn’t from the Manchester scene. “I think the single most influential song on Best Behavior may have been ‘Big City’ by Spacemen 3. It’s just a brilliant combination of spacey/droney minimalism and italo-disco beats.” So do Dinowalrus, as a three-piece, take Spacemen 3’s approach as inspiration? “In some ways,” he agrees. “The fact that we are a 3-piece band and use a lot of layers and also that Liam [Andrew, bass and keys] switches back and forth between bass and synth, sometimes mid song, forces us to be clever with the arrangements, or turn the song into a game of hot potato where the bassline idea gets passed from bass to guitar to synth over the course of the song.” He goes on to explain the extent of Sonic Boom and J Spaceman’s influence on him: “Much like Spacemen 3, we rely a lot on static synth drones and textures to hold everything together while we play over them, which either come from the sampler or the brilliant ‘hold-button’ on the JUNO 60 synth. This might be what makes us sound more psychedelic than, say, Happy Mondays.” Is there anything outside of music that influences the Dinowalrus sound? Peter reveals that “I think our layered/iterative/modular approach, especially in the studio, is probably influenced by my work as an architectural designer and as an installation artist.”
Dinowalrus changed its members between % and Best Behavior so I wanted to know why this had happened; was it due to a change in direction and the old members not fitting in or going with it? “I think it was mostly an issue of motivation and commitment more than anything else,” reveals Feigenbaum. “The other guys had their own conceptual agendas and wanted to pursue them on their own terms. Ironically, I think Josh, our old drummer, was the inspiration for the change in direction. When the old guys and I wrote ‘Phone Home from the Edge’ together in 2009, it was an epiphany about where to take things, but even with that, it still didn’t work out.” With the new band in place, what can we expect from Best Behavior then, a mix of old and new? “I think this is a coherent and highly enjoyable body of work; plus it nicely represents both our present state of mind while also alluding to our past. The little ambient fluttery sections of ‘Phone Home’, ‘What Now’ and ‘27 Club’ bring the vibes of the old Dinowalrus into play without killing the up-beat pace of the album. We made this record for people to enjoy, rather than as a strange, confrontational trip like the last one.”