Album review: iDKHOW – Gloom Division
Former Panic! At The Disco man Dallon Weekes is still flowing with plenty of Razzzmatazz on iDKHOW’s dark but uplifting second album.
For the longest time, Dallon Weekes says he’s been feeling like “an overinflated tyre”. The iDKHOW mastermind has been sat on the material that makes up debut album Razzmatazz for months, even years, waiting for the green light to commit his meticulously-crafted ideas to tape.
“Now we’re finally releasing new music, it’s sort of like releasing some of the air out of the tyre and taking some of the pressure off,” he grins, as the Fearless Records full-length finally arrives. “We can finally step back and go, ‘Okay!’”
Dallon and bandmate Ryan Seaman hit the studio in February of this year to continue the creatively inspired ideas they’d set in motion since forming in secret back in 2016. The frontman used to work with Panic! At The Disco, while Ryan previously drummed in the likes of Falling In Reverse, I Am Ghost and Icon For Hire – but both were keen to quietly build the world of I Don’t Know How But They Found Me without relying on the bigger projects they’d been tied to before.
The pair’s 4K-rated debut EP, 1981 Extended Play, introduced listeners to a fictional band from the past – and while Razzmatazz certainly extends those concepts, it also brings in whole new elements to the world of iDKHOW…
Did being so prepared with this material allow for some more off-the-cuff moments while you were recording, or do you generally work better when everything is very much laid out and ready to go?
“Well, both of those things are true. I feel like I do work best when I’m prepared beforehand and I have a very clear vision of what it is I’m trying to chase down. But I think that being prepared like that lends itself very well to finding moments to get weird ideas. And our producer Tim [Pagnotta] was really great about letting me chase down weird things and sort of answering those question marks that were over certain parts of ideas. Sometimes we would get weird with an idea and it would work out great and then end up in the song, and sometimes it wouldn’t really work, but at least we tried it and we at least we got to answer that question, so we didn't have to wonder about it ever again.”
It must have been important for you to work in the studio with someone who really appreciated your vision, too.
“Yeah, Tim’s really great. He’s based out in LA and he’s made some really big records. He comes from this world where everything that he does has a real like pop foundation to it, and that was important to me because I feel like I approach writing that way, too. The house that I try to build on is built on a foundation of pop, but I always try to make that house as weird as possible – a little bit left of centre, a little bit left of pop. All of my favourite stuff is like that. I mean, if you listen to Sparks, or David Bowie, or any number of people who find moments to take a pop song and just take a left-hand turn with it and make it a little weird, I really appreciate that.”
Have any songs on Razzmatazz changed drastically since you first wrote them way back?
“There’s one in particular on the record called the From The Gallows, and that started as this old 1930s jazz-sounding barbershop song. I really loved it – and I think we’re gonna release the demo of that eventually – but when we got into the studio, that one seemed to sort of stand apart from everything else we were doing, so we decided to disassemble it and put it back together and see what happened. And now it sounds like something off of Lawrence Welk but on acid! I love how it came out, but it is a little bit different from how it first started. But I think the time that we’ve had between the inception of these ideas and actually recording them allowed us to really finetune things; to live with those ideas for that amount of time really helped us to be able to dial everything in. And it gave us time to write some some new stuff, too.”
You spoke to Kerrang! last year about being influenced by these Instagram accounts that are about analogue synthesisers. But are there any less obscure influences in there?
“I think that things that influence you can come from everywhere and anywhere. And it’s not just the artists that you listen to. I’m a huge Beatles fan – they’re a big influence on how I write. But little things like these analogue synth Instagram accounts that you’re talking about can also be an influence in small ways. They definitely find their way into what you do. And old commercials from when I was a kid and jingles and things like that. I remember being in the studio and trying to find one sound in particular, and I don’t know why I was chasing it, but eventually it clicked with me that it was a sound from an old Tootsie Roll commercial that was made in the ’70s. It would re-run when I was a kid, and I never forgot the jingle. And eventually it clicked with me, like, ‘That’s what I’ve been chasing!’ Influences can creep in from all sorts of places.”
It’s interesting how Razzmatazz is bookended with two singles – Leave Me Alone and the title-track – and then both straight after the opener, and right before the closer, there are these little interludes. What was the idea behind that?
“I’ve been inspired a lot by artists who have done concept records: you know, Sgt. Pepper and Bowie did Ziggy Stardust. Presenting your music along with a fictional storyline was something that I was always really fascinated by. And we’re not the first people to ever do that, but I think that when most people do undertake that it would be probably a little too obvious to start your album with that introduction into that world. And Leave Me Alone also felt like such a great opening statement; it felt like it should be the first thing you hear on the record, and then start diving into the the fiction in the storyline afterwards. And it was the same thing with Razzmatazz being the title-track: everything on that song and the themes really seemed like a great closing statement, so we put that last. And it also felt like such a strong message to me that naming the album that seemed really appropriate.”
When in the process did that title come to you?
“Well, I’ve always had the word floating around in the back of my head – just like a Tootsie Roll commercial I was talking about! When I was a kid we would have music education in elementary school, and the teacher would wheel in this giant TV on a cart, and put in this VHS tape of a Canadian TV show called The Music Machine, and the host would always start every episode by asking the music machine in this giant computer to ‘play some razzmatazz’. I never forgot that word. When we were making the song that word just kept popping up, so wrote it down and put it into the lyrics. And as we formed the song, I feel like I exorcised a lot of demons, lyrically. It was one of the last ones that we did, but probably one that I connected to the strongest. It felt right naming the album that.”
If that was one of the last, what was the first song written for the album?
“I feel like it was probably Lights Go Down; we've been living with them for a while and just haven’t been able to record it or release it. But we’ve sporadically played it live over the course of the last couple years, just because doing headlining tours off of a five-song EP can be a bit of a challenge (laughs).”
Speaking of older material, 2018 song Nobody Likes The Opening Band is included on the Razzmatazz tracklist…
“I wrote that one on the way to one of our early secret shows that we had at the Viper Room in LA. We were in the opening spot of the night, and I had a 45-minute drive down to the venue, so I wrote it on the way. And when I got there told Ryan about this thing that I wanted to do before we started the set. And he’s always on board, which is one reason I love him so much! We started this show that way, and we still start our shows that way if we’re the opening act of the night. If we’re the headlining act, we’ll either not play it or we’ll talk to the openers beforehand and tell them about the song and say, ‘It’s not about disparaging anybody, it’s about giving new things a chance.’ And if they’re into it, sometimes we’ll invite the opening act’s singer to come join us onstage and add an extra verse called Nobody Likes The Headlining Band, which is really fun.”
You’ve said that you changed the narrative of the band somewhat with this album. What do you mean by that?
“Well, we don’t lean on the whole fictional storyline stuff too hard; it’s just another layer of entertainment for the people that care to dive into it. But when we first came out, the narrative and the way that we presented it was: ‘This is a band from 30-40 years ago that just got forgotten about.’ And, rather than do the same thing twice, and just continue with that storyline, we twisted it a little bit. Rather than a ‘forgotten about’ band, there’s a little bit more of a science-fiction element that gets introduced with this record. Moving forward, I don’t know what we’ll do. Maybe we’ll just make an album and ditch the whole fictional storyline. I don’t ever want to have to do any one particular thing, you know? I don’t want to have to play to the gallery, so they say.”
It sounds like a great deal of care and attention went into Razzmatazz. Is it almost the antithesis to today’s streaming world, where singles are more reactive and can just online straight away?
“You know, I grew up with albums: when you discovered an artist, it wasn’t just a song here and there, you would really dive into them. We seem to really be living in a musical landscape that’s driven by singles – like it was in the ’50s and ’60s. Maybe that will change again some day, but I think it’s important to keep that in mind if you want to make music your business. But I’m still an album guy at heart, and I try to make pieces of music that all make a one big declarative statement, or talk about a particular subject. That’s just because that’s what I grew up with. I’m just a fan of albums.”
How do you think you’ve changed as a songwriter since iDKHOW’s debut EP?
“I think that window of time that we got to tour off of the EP – with being onstage and playing this stuff live for people – gave us a great opportunity to sort of rediscover these roles that we’re playing. Because, for the longest time, Ryan and I both were relegated to very specific roles in the bands that we were working for. And with this band, there are no rules. So it’s been great to have that opportunity – both in that first year that we were playing in secret, and the time we had to tour off the EP to really find ourselves. Musically speaking, I think it allowed me to remember how to write for myself rather than for another artist: to say what I want to say and not have any filters on any ideas or not look at them through someone else's specific lens.”
Were there any points during the creative process where you felt like you had to rein things in at all?
“We’ve definitely got another album-and-a-half worth of half-ideas and beginnings of ideas that I'm starting to dive into right now. But ‘weird’ is definitely the right word! Weird is just kind of my default setting when it comes to ideas. I feel like if you get too comfortable doing something, then you owe it to yourself to sort of take another step further out into the water, where your toes are barely touching the bottom. And once you get too comfortable there, you have to take another step out. When you get too comfortable and start doing any one particular thing, I think your audience might get bored, and you might get bored. This whole pursuit of music as a career, first and foremost, is supposed to be fun. And if you’re not having fun, then you need to change something.”
On the flipside, do you have any worries about being too arty, or people not quite getting it? You have an amazing fanbase who are completely onboard, but are there ever any worries about alienating people?
“Yeah, it’s something that I think about. I definitely never want to be weird, just for weird’s sake. I still want to write good music and have that pop foundation that we were talking about. But there’s definitely moments where I wonder if this is too left of centre. But my gauge for that stuff is if I like it or not, and if I like it, I’m going to do it – consequences be damned. When you make art, you need to satisfy yourself first and foremost. And anybody else happens to like what you're doing then that’s just an incredible bonus that you get to enjoy.”
Have you always had that ‘This is for me’ approach?
“I think it’s just something that anyone who’s an artist should be doing. That’s just my ethos as someone who considers themselves to be an artist: you have to make art for yourself. Never give people what they’re expecting from you, but rather, do what you want to creatively. You could chase down writing a hit song, and if lightning strikes and it becomes a hit, and you make all this money and become a celebrity then wonderful, but that’s a song that you’ll have to live with for 20-30 years, and you’re still gonna have to sleep at night (laughs). Is this music that you’re making genuine, or is it something that you’re manufacturing to try to get a hit? Manufactured art and music is not something that I enjoy.”
Razzmatazz is out on October 23 via Fearless and is available to pre-order/pre-save now.
Former Panic! At The Disco man Dallon Weekes is still flowing with plenty of Razzzmatazz on iDKHOW’s dark but uplifting second album.
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