Album Premiere & Interview: Dollar Signs Breakdown Their New LP ‘This Will Haunt Me’
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North Carolina based, power-punk outfit, Dollar Signs, are set to release their second studio album, This Will Haunt Me, Friday through A-F Records. Vocalists, Dylan Wachman (bass) and Erik Button (guitar), took some time to talk about the contents of the album at greater lengths. Enjoy an exclusive stream, interview, and track by track below where we play marry/kiss/kill, discuss Hilary Duff, and more.
Would you consider yourself a political band?
Erik Button: Yes but also no. Lyrically, I don’t directly talk about politics much directly in our songs because things move so fast now that once you address one problem in politics another, usually worse, issue comes up. However, the political landscape was very much apart of the anxiety and grief in this record.
Dylan Wachman: When we all started writing songs together, we knew right away that we didn’t want to sing about politicians or policy or anything hyper-specific because there’s so many bands that could articulate it better than we could. Bad Religion and Propagandhi have that covered, among others. I feel like we used to touch on it a bit when we first started, in a satirical way, reminiscent of Jello Biafra’s style of writing, but for the most part, it’s just never been our thing. That being said, the nature of today sort of forces us into it, because it seems like everything ties back into it — we have such anxiety about jobs and relationships and how they interact when you’re overworked and underpaid — so it seems like merely existing in 2018 as a twenty-something in the workforce is a statement whether you want it to be or not.
The album falls along the lines of saying fuck you to pop culture and the mainstream as most punk does, but what are some of your “guilty” pleasures when it comes to popular culture?
EB: I’ve lately gotten into watching Star Trek: The Next Generation which is an awesome show, but dear god some episodes have aged VERY poorly. I keep a guide up as I watch it so I can skip all the cringey “sexy planet” episodes. The first season is a bit of a mess. In the third episode of that show the Enterprise is infected with a disease that makes everyone act drunk and horny. Even Data, the android, fucks in that episode. YIKES.
DW: I love Kanye West, and I feel like I have shouted this from the mountaintop for so long that people now come to me with questions, takes, and concerns (kan-cerns). For the last few years, I feel like I’ve done a lot of free PR for him whenever he does or says something misguided or outright ridiculous. It’s been especially taxing as of late, but it only further sutures my connection with him, where I have this deep depression, and then these manic bouts in which I do and say things that I regret. It’s hard to admit later that I was wrong, but I do it, hoping that people understand. With Kanye’s struggles, with addiction and mental health, he is a truly gifted artist and has, for lack of grandiose phrasing, changed our culture for as long as he’s been a part of it. I don’t blame anyone for disliking him, but it’s hard for me to stop admiring that kid from Chicago who made his dreams come true, where he’s successfully imprinted his vision into our lives. He’s a constant source of inspiration, for not only creative outlets, but for self-esteem, outlook, and attitude.
I also really like the show Psych that used to air on USA. I think it’s my all-time favorite TV show. There’s just something magical about a dude in California who solves crimes with his best friend because the Santa Barbara police station thinks he’s a psychic but he’s faking it the whole time. I don’t know why it’s perfect. It’s so corny and I’m embarrassed every time I’m watching it and someone walks in the room. I’ve seen all eight seasons at least four times. I also made everyone in my band watch the first season of Jersey Shore on our last tour. And I love WWE. Wow, I am so embarrassing.
What were you listening to most while recording this?
EB: A LOT of Open Mike Eagle. Aside from that, I was listening to the Max Levine Ensemble, that last Dopamines record and Tom Waits, and true crime podcasts.
DW: When we were recording This Will Haunt Me, and every time I record, I typically only listen to things in the tone in which I want to record these songs, and for me that was — The Clash’s flawless self-titled album, The Exploding Hearts’ Guitar Romantic, and Toys That Kill’s Sentimental Ward. All three of those records are amazing examples of extremely hooky, riff driven rock and roll from totally different eras. Everything else was Aphex Twin’s various albums. The first day we showed up to record, Jeff Rosenstock dropped POST— so that became something to listen to when we went home each night.
Can you tell me a little about all the different instruments and digital elements that are featured on the album?
EB: So this is our first time recording music as a five piece band so we really tried to add in more melodies and think about new ways to be dynamic in every song. Fortunately for us, Luke can play pretty much any instrument he can get his hands on and the studio we recorded at had a lot of toys laying around. I was really excited to add synth onto the record because we’ve been toying around with doing that for so long, and we finally wrote some songs that fit with that sharp MOOG sound.
I’m sorry but I have to ask, marry/kiss/kill: Jeff Rosenstock, Pat Schneeweis, Chris Farren
EB: This is tough. But marry Pat, Kiss Jeff, and kill Chris and that’s only because Chris Farren Can’t Die.
DW: I think I’d have to marry Jeff because that’s a long and varied discography. Kill Pat, if only because I’m really into depressing folk punk and its over-the-top nihilism but it’s bad for me. Kiss Chris, because it rhymes and he has a good haircut.
Now for a real treat: a track by track breakdown of the album from Button and Wachman.
Dylan and Erik: This is basically, as intended, our most melodramatic song about sadness. It’s blunt and repetitive to the point of comedy. We wanted to set the tone for the rest of the album by having a short and punchy song, presented in a fun way, about some dark shit.
EB: I used to be someone who would hide their sadness from people, but now I’m someone who cries very easily for big and small reasons, mostly an unintended reaction. I cried at the birth of my nephew, but I also cried watching a Youtube film review of The Force Awakens.
Both: This song is about when Erik went to his cousin’s wedding, where he realized his fear of commitment, and the blank stares you get from family when you explain to them that you play in a band. We tried to write a really dancy song with an ominous bass part that sort of just glooms over everything. The end of the song is supposed to sound like you are present at this wedding, probably during the end when everyone has had too much to drink. Luke layered his horn part for the solo portion like seven times — the goal for all of these songs was to make them sound huge.
“Shallow Pop Songs”
EB: This idea was born when Dylan went on a depression trip at Disney World.
DW: I was standing in Disney Springs when I heard a Hilary Duff song over a PA, blaring through the oasis of ice cream shops and mascot shops. I found myself tapping along, trying to have a good time, shaking off my nerves. I let it wash over me, and I suddenly found myself consumed by Hilary Duff.
Both: The song is about self medication, with bad music, with alcohol, with hedonism; cognitive dissonance for whatever is going on in your life. We wanted to pack as many melodies into this thing as possible, really playing into the idea that this song is about “too much of a good thing”. The bridge of the song is hard to explain (cw: suicide). This is an actual experience that Erik had — where he had sent trivial texts about the movie Avatar and his dislike of it, to a friend, who he did not yet know had passed away from suicide. There’s no real “smart way” to talk about this — sometimes bad things happen and we’re forced to deal with them in reality, no matter how ridiculous the details of that reality may be. This was an extremely difficult part to write, that went through countless reworks, but ultimately it’s one of our favorite songs we’ve ever written because we feel that it is very true to all of our discomfort concerning grief and the internal struggles we carry. We decided to end the song with a lone piano playing the main melody, as if the dream-curtain drops and you’re left alone. By dropping all of the melodies we built in the song, it creates this feeling of a vast and silent depth, which fits neatly in the next track conceptually.
“This Will Haunt Me”
EB: I’ve always wanted to write a piano ballad because I’m a huge Tom Waits fan.
Both: We wanted the “ahhhhs” in the beginning to sound like they were crowding the pianist. Like ghosts. This is a song about staying out at a bar a little longer than you should — the longer that you try to have a good time, there’s always that moment where it gets weird and dark. As you get older and you drink at the same bar for a long time, you begin to see what being a barfly can do to you, mentally and physically. The end of the song is this rejection of that idea, with the fear that it may be too late.
Both: This is a song about a guy that Erik used to work with. Every day after lunch, he’d listen to pornography loudly in his office. He didn’t realize that Erik could hear him through the walls of his office.
DW: This song, despite its content and length, features the the most gutsy Erik vocals of all time, literally using an auto-tuned version to perfect it in practice so it could be recorded perfectly.
Both: You can reject following your dreams and work in an office, but that doesn’t automatically mean that your life will turn out great, or be free of its own problems.
Both: Our goal was to write a punch-you-in-the-teeth punk song about working an office job. We existed as a three-piece band for some time, with Luke in Japan and California, and Tommy either not being in the band yet or being in Virginia. Using what we had with us three (Erik, Dylan, Arion), we wrote most of this record together, and I think this song pushes that the most. As we were recording this, our engineer started singing “Walkin’ on Sunshine”, and we all realized at the same time that they share some similarity in the instrumental hook, the irony being that this song is definitely not about walking on fucking sunshine.
“The Devil Wears Flannel”
Both: When we were writing Yikes, way back in 2014, Erik came to us with this weird song he had wrote. I remember he was super excited to show it to us, and despite us all thinking it was awesome, we swept it away because of the concern that it was “too weird” and “very long”. The original cut of this was nearly six minutes.
EB: This is a song about how I am often afraid that I try too hard to please people, and it’s something that I hate about myself. So I thought I’d write a song to address that fear by taking a huge risk and either pushing people away with how unlike the rest of our music this is, or by hopefully bringing people closer who can embrace this weird diversion with curiosity.
Both: This shit turned out so goddamned heavy. The ending is practically Dollar Signs does nu-metal. We must have recorded that last bit of the song at least fifty times. We just couldn’t get it right, which is why we got Arion to scream “fuck” where a drum fill was supposed to be. Barney, the band dog, came to the studio for a brief appearance where we captured a bark and threw that in there as well. Every singer-songwriter needs to have their song about the devil, and this is ours.
“Waste My Life Away”
EB: This song came about at the open mic that I host in Charlotte, where we did a songwriting prompt with the topic of “apology”. Everyone wrote songs about heartbreak, but I wanted to write a song about forcing my friend to take care of me for getting too drunk.
Both: We talk about drinking a lot in this band, but we’d rather sing about the consequences of the drinking we do. We like to consider ourselves a party band for people who have work in the morning. So we initially planned for this record to have a lot of organ on it, but our engineer wanted Luke to try playing the organ parts on his Moog analog synth. We were like “holy shit” and sort of just ran with it. Luke famously said, when he finished recording his solo part, that he felt it sounded like what you’d hear when a drunk man levels-up in a video game.
“Tears Beers Fears”
Both: This was initially going to be the first song on the record, another one written heavily with three-pieces in mind like Sadderday. This is the fork of the album, where the narrator must decide if they want to continue on this path of self-destruction or chase the catharsis that they’re looking for. We were playing around a lot with songs inside of songs and genre swapping when we were writing this album, and this song was a positive result from that experimentation.
DW: I wanted the latter half of this song to sound like a western folk song, with the horns hanging high above the vocals. I remember like five years ago, I heard Comadre’s self titled record, the song “Drag Blood” fucked me up. I’d say that the risk they took in that song is so admirable, and paying homage to that idea in our own way was really fulfilling for me.
“I Used To Bury”
Both: The true turning point of the record. A lot of this record was written about times in Erik’s life where he was internalizing a lot of his problems.
EB: I felt like it wasn’t worth it to bother anyone, or to explain myself or my issues to anyone, I just felt blank. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that you can’t just express yourself through art. Connections with others is important, friends, even family, just someone to talk to. I think art helps you acknowledge pain, but your connections with others help you understand it.
Both: This is our song about getting better, or at least the desire to. So dance those problems away in the second half with us, because we’re all in this together.
“The Real Folk Blues”
Both: This is a song about not worrying about your dreams or expectations, and just creating art for yourself. It’s our love song to basement shows and DIY spaces, which have been really good to us all around the country. The song title is a double-entendre, a Cowboy Bebop reference, but also a reference to Erik Petersen of Mischief Brew, who passed away in September of 2016. We had played a show with him a few months before he took his own life, and it was really big for all of us, having grown up on folk punk and getting to play alongside such a hero to us and such a legend in the scene. We got to meet his dogs, and he even gave Dylan an early copy of the re-issue of Smash The Windows, plus an iron-on patch, which has since been sewn to the back of his guitar strap in Petersen’s memory. We were all together when we heard of his passing; we were recording our last EP, Life Is Ruff, and it was a lot to take in at that moment. We had a chance to reflect when the session ended, when we were driving home together. I think that was the moment we started writing This Will Haunt Me.
Make sure to pre-order the record and follow Dollar Signs on social media for more updates.
Emily Kitchin | @deathnap4cutie
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