ABOVE: DUB THOMPSON
Don’t let their age fool you: Matt Pulos and Evan Laffer are well aware of their trajectory. The 19-year-old friends behind Dub Thompson met as junior high schoolers in Agoura Hills, CA, a small, upper-middle-class suburb just north of Los Angeles. Bound by a mutual love of The Talking Heads and a uniquely bizarre sense of humor, they took to jamming out in their parents’ houses. By the end of high school, they’d filtered through multiple incarnations (with names like Hot Father and The Mint Condition) and completed the songs that would become Dub Thompson’s debut.
The eight tracks on 9 Songs, out this week via Dead Oceans, often resemble the dynamic between Pulos and Laffer: they’re funny, chaotic, and a little rough around the edges. While the pair cites touchstones like Can, Big Black, and This Heat, 9 Songs is unarguably a product of its creators. Produced by Foxygen guitarist Jonathan Rado, the album is infectious in spite of its scrappiness. Some cuts slink along, reminiscent of a tape reel set to half-speed, while others blast off with a sinister fury. Whether it’s the silly lyrics, the liberal helpings of reverb, or the noisy flashes in the pan, there’s an underlying sense of mischievousness to Dub Thompson’s vibe, and it makes for a record that’s both oddly heady and brazenly defiant. Below, we talk to Pulos and Laffer about seminal albums, impractical magic, and the inspirational power of Kanye West.
ALY COMINGORE: A friend asked me this question earlier, and I think it’s a good jumping-off point. Complete this sentence: I’m not sure a human being has ever loved a record as much as I loved ________ in _________ year.
EVAN LAFFER: I can answer that. I’m not sure a human being has ever loved a record more than I loved Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch in 2013. I was listening to that every day, all day, and I couldn’t talk to anybody else about it. It was really hard to get people to listen to it, and if I did they would either be blown away by it or they wanted me to turn it off immediately.
MATT PULOS: For me it’s Goat by The Jesus Lizard, 2013. It speaks to me on a level that I could never communicate to anyone else.
LAFFER: Scott Walker’s record scared me so much. I would listen to it in my car, parked in my garage, with the volume all the way up and the lights off.
PULOS: He forced me to listen to it. He was like, “Matt, we’re gonna fucking do it,” and then he played that 20-minute track. I dunno. I was pretty unfazed. Everyone told me they were terrified of it.
LAFFER: But that’s because Matt is not a normal person who, like, feels emotions about scary sounds.
PULOS: I love terrifying music. I love that band Sunn O))). I love that new The Body EP. That kind of stuff just sounds like cool music to me; it’s music that I want to walk to the beat of, you know?
LAFFER: No one else would ever want to hear that when they walk around, man.
COMINGORE: How old are you guys?
COMINGORE: The reason I ask is, I feel like most people your age don’t really sit down and listen to albums front to back.
LAFFER: Yeah. Scott Walker definitely made me think about music in terms of full records. He does things that only could happen in a recorded album. It doesn’t work in any other context. You have to listen to it in one go. You can’t play a Scott Walker song in a DJ set.
PULOS: I feel like This Heat is also like that.
LAFFER: I remember the first time we heard Deceit…
PULOS: It was this moment of “Wow, this is insane. I’ve never heard that,” but also, “I’ve been dying to hear this my whole life.” It’s like an opera.
LAFFER: That said, our first record is nothing like any of those things. It’s a bunch of songs thrown together.
COMINGORE: What’s the story behind “Mono”? When and how did it come together?
PULOS: That one happened in the course of about five minutes. It’s a loop.
LAFFER: And a jam.
PULOS: And a lyric.
LAFFER: [The lyric is] “I believe in a lonely god,” which sounds to me like something an angsty kid would write in their diary. It’s a joke about monotheism. So it’s a one-joke song and it’s not that funny.
PULOS: It’s also the least produced song on the record.
COMINGORE: Are there things that inform your songwriting outside of music?
LAFFER: Yeah. I’m really into certain writers. I’m really obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft. He’s this square dude who writes really drily about things that are fucking nuts. Like, when he’s describing a horrible evil ancient creature, he says things like, “To describe it would be impossible.”
PULOS: He doesn’t even bother.
LAFFER: It’s kind of like he’s saying, “I just can’t do it.” I think it opens his stuff up to feel more real. Like, if I saw something in real life that was that fucked-up, I wouldn’t be able to describe it either.
COMINGORE: Some people would argue that that’s just laziness.
LAFFER: Exactly. People say he’s a bad writer, but I think it comes across as nice and honest.
PULOS: Yeah. For me it’s books by H.P. Lovecraft, movies by David Cronenberg, and David Blaine.
LAFFER: Yes, David Blaine. Matt used to be kind of obsessed with David Blaine.
COMINGORE: Did you do magic?
PULOS: No, no. I never got into magic. I just liked that he would do anything, and that he was obsessed with this thing that made no sense. It’s impossible to explain why he’s dedicated his life to this shit.
LAFFER: He’ll pick a bizarre thing to do and then put in all this technical work into it just to make it happen.
PULOS: Like when he shoves a whole needle through his arm. I have to imagine that he pierced a hole in his arm, probably fucked up his nerves…
LAFFER: Just so he can make Ricky Gervais freak the fuck out.
COMINGORE: It’s an art form that translates strangely well to television.
PULOS: Yeah. There’s so much appeal it’s ridiculous. I’m such a sucker.
COMINGORE: Why do you think you guys make music?
LAFFER: We were asking ourselves this last night, actually. I think we both agreed that it just has everything we would both want in an activity.
PULOS: It fulfills all the good activity things.
LAFFER: It’s a job. It’s not a job. It’s creative. It’s challenging.
PULOS: But it’s also easy.
LAFFER: It involves traveling, both physically and non-physically. I don’t know. One thing I’ve been doing, which I think relates to the bigger picture of the band, is I’ve been getting full discographies of big recording artists. Instead of buying individual albums that are notable, I’ll download everything—everything by Bob Dylan, or Swans, or David Bowie—and I’ve been discovering stuff that I never knew existed. I think that I would like to see our band have a deep, long list of albums and for there to be a lot to see in it, if you want to. I think the more music you have the less precious it is, and the more the good ones stand out.
COMINGORE: I think nowadays that means that you have to put stuff out there for free. Otherwise you end up with a crazy backlog. The industry can’t keep up.
LAFFER: Yeah. I don’t know. I think there are artists that I appreciate right now who understand and appreciate people’s ADHD. They are aware and respect the fact that most people are not going to have the patience to listen to an 88-minute-long ambient record. A thing that Kanye does is he makes each song into a blockbuster, which I think is cool.
PULOS: That’s our next record.
LAFFER: Totally. Every song a blockbuster.
PULOS: We’re trying to be the Michael Bay of music.
DUB THOMPSON’S 9 SONGS IS OUT NOW ON DEAD OCEANS. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT ITS FACEBOOK PAGE.