The summer of love inspires much of today’s indie rock world, but few contemporary bands manage to achieve what Dream Phases has set out to. The fairly new psych rock outfit is led by Brandon Graham, supported by his brother Shane and frequent collaborator Keveen Baudouin; their Harvard and Stone residency last January marked their debut as a group. Their first release, an EP called Maybe Tomorrow, came last year, followed up by a 7” that dropped a few weeks ago. Dream Phases has several more releases in store later this year and ambitious hopes to continue creating at a breakneck pace.
Brandon Graham began writing for Dream Phases during his time with other bands, where he was typically in a background role. He currently plays with Avid Dancer and has played extensively in the Blank Tapes as well, taking figurative lessons from each of those songwriters–Jacob Dillian Summers and Matt Adams, respectively. Not that Graham is new to leading a band; in fact, the decision to play with other acts was borne of a dissatisfaction in previous attempts to get other projects off the ground.
His last real attempt to do so was with the dense rock band Nacosta. With hindsight Graham acknowledges some of that group’s fundamental issues; he actively works to avoid the same pitfalls with Dream Phases. Lyricism in Nacosta was filled with oblique metaphors, but these days he values simplicity and directness, mentioning Tom Petty as an influence. He also appreciates that there are fewer interpersonal conflicts to resolve, having begun this as a bedroom project by himself.
While he was still working on Nacosta, another group came together called Soft Sun, which was “one of the funnest bands I’d ever played with,” according to Graham. Since everyone involved had other priorities, it wasn’t intended to last long, but he still kicks himself for letting it die. “I was like, no I gotta focus on this thing that’s killing me,” he remarks, continuing, “I should have buried [Nacosta] then and there but oh well.”
Eventually they did put Nacosta to rest permanently. Graham spent his time in other bands, writing sparingly, biding his time. It wasn’t until the end of a long relationship that songs began to pour out of him, releasing pent up emotional energy that he didn’t realize he had been clinging to. In a way, this breakup became the de facto catalyst for Dream Phases, with the origin of many early songs emerging from this well.
Graham seems to be in a brighter headspace these days. I encouraged him to talk about influences in his life that aren’t related to music, and after listing many artists in other media he told me, “Life experience in all capacities plays an influence in what I do.” He admires the detail and precision of Wes Anderson and the Coen brothers, and mentions the aweing synergy of camera direction and musical score in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. He also cited the poet Dylan Thomas, known for deliberate, interconnected imagery; Thomas’ relation to the world is not dissimilar to Graham’s, though Thomas may have been slightly more cynical.
The Dream Phases frontman also adds his admiration for architecture, naming John Lautner–the architect responsible for the Sheats-Goldstein Residence featured in the Big Lebowski–as particularly influential. It takes a creative mind to invent the façade and functionality of a building, but it also requires rigorous training and planning to actually execute. Graham wants to reach a point where he has mastery of these aspects in relation to songwriting; he tries to edit himself less and trust his instincts more, and judging from “Easy Love,” he’s definitely getting something right.
He may not know exactly what the future will look like, but Graham is determined to continue dropping material at a healthy momentum. This is great for a number of reasons: first of all, what fan doesn’t want frequent updates? Also, for an artist, there’s nothing more agonizing than idly sitting on new music. Some will wait years between releases for personal reasons, others withhold new music until they can get a record label to help get it out, and there are a handful who simply don’t have a choice in the matter. Since Dream Phases is free from those hurdles, Graham would rather put out new stuff as frequently as he records it, telling me, “It’s not necessarily about trying to be ambitious, it’s about getting over the subject matter that I’m writing about so that I can move on.” Not to mention that this is how record releases used to work, especially in the ‘60s, a decade of prime importance to the Dream Phases brand. The many interim b-sides and singles from that era allowed fans to track the changes in an artist’s sound; Graham promises to meet this level of sonic transparency with his band.
Hopefully, the band will have longevity like those they emulate once did, but even if not, Graham appreciates every moment. Their name is a reference to the ever-changing nature of human desire, with the unavoidable implication that the band itself may just be a phase. Graham doesn’t let that worry him; he learned from his stint with Soft Sun: “Everything is fleeting and the more you try to cage anything, the more likely that it will leave.”
Today, Dream Phases is secure in its freedom. With a loaded future ahead, this phase is bound to last for the foreseeable future.
words: Zoë Elaine