Artist Interview: Dollar Signs Discuss ‘Heart of Gold’
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“A lot of my songwriting is very therapeutic, so I’m usually going for some kind of catharsis,” Dollar Signs frontperson Erik Button tells me over the phone, discussing the group’s record, Hearts of Gold. “But I think with this new record, I’m starting to branch out beyond to what’s after catharsis. It feels good to understand that other people are feeling bad, but what do you do after that? What do you do with that feeling—with starting to feel OK through art—and how can you actually make your life better?”
It might sound a little intense for a punk band known for funny lyrical turns and wild singalongs, but don’t worry, Button assures that he “tried really hard to keep the comedy in this record even though the topics are often time heavier than what I’ve done in the past. So to try and see the light in a dark situation.” Certainly the single “BAD NEWS” reflects this idea with the line “barkeep asks me what to drink / I tell him whiskey rye / barkeep asks me what to drink / he never asks me why?”
The North Carolina punk group has been sitting on their record for a few months, due—obviously—to the COVID pandemic. “We finished recording Hearts of Gold six days before quarantine started. So we had this record and it pushed back our timeline getting masters since the whole world was going crazy. When we finally had the record finished, originally we were gonna do it through A-F Records, but we just decided to go a different direction…so A-F graciously kind of sent us up the food chain and got in touch with Pure Noise.”
In addition to a new label putting out the record, it was the band’s most collaborative writing and recording process to date. “The way that we write records is usually I’m the one that puts the bones of the songs together with the simple chord structures and all of the lyrics…if I have a song that has a whole bunch of parts, and me just throwing every idea I have about a song out there, I bring it to the band and they’re like ‘no, cut that out’ or ‘we can take this verse and half of this verse and smush it together.’ So they’re part of the editing process as well as adding any instrumentation or melody ideas when it comes to guitar licks or horn licks or synth parts.”
In the past, this process would be somewhat limited since the band was not all living in the same state, but the band was able to work on Hearts of Gold together from the start, crafting the songs as a group. “This record was cool cuz some of the melody ideas were just pieces that Luke or Tommy gave to me to be like ‘oh here’s a guitar riff and here’s the chords for that’ if you wanna try to work out a song with that. And it was a lot of me flipping through my notebooks of lyrics and trying to like craft a song out of that.”
The record also features production work from bassist Dylan Wachman. “That’s when they were going through a phase of wanting to add samples and some glitchy stuff in there, which fit well because I had these thirty-second long songs or thirty-second little pieces that I didn’t really wanna develop any further. I felt like they were like concrete ideas even if they were short…so we played around with ways to make them transitional moments on the record. And that was a lot of their doing.”
Button describes the influences for the new record as rooted in “the 2010 era of folk-punk with bands like The Taxpayers or Defiance, Ohio. A lot of that stuff I think ended up in this record just because for whatever reason I was exploring the sound…it’s not a country record, but that kind of folk punk record where it’s still electric but has kind of a rootsy feel to it.” You can hear the feel he describes on “B.O.M.B.S.,” a rocker that burns relentlessly with the sixteenth-note feel of a bluegrass band.
It seems like a fitting influence for the lyrical themes delved into on the record. Folk and punk are both characteristic for their bare-bones, straightforward approach to songwriting, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy genres for lazy musicians. It’s the simple things that everyone assumes they can do that prove to be more complex when you actually try.
“Our music is written about these transitional phases in life. Usually, when you’re in your early or mid-twenties, the transitional phases are always because you’re in between relationships or jobs or moving different places. Whereas this record is more about having all of the tools that you need to change yourself and fix yourself and then how difficult it is to change. Putting in the energy to work on yourself is extremely difficult and instead of making a record that’s like ‘oh, I went through this transformation and now I’m a great person’…it’s more about doing the hard work on yourself to hopefully become a better person and not just make the same mistakes over and over again.”
Hearts of Gold is out now on Pure Noise Records.
Aaron Eisenreich – @slobboyreject
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