By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Dog Bite.
One question that plagues musicians of all styles is: do you consider your music to be (insert genre name here)? This insufferable desire to label and brand follows us wherever we go — at work, school, and, at least in Atlanta-based musician Phil Jones’ case, on stage.
But if you ask him how he defines his music, he doesn’t really care. Jones is the brainchild of Dog Bite, a project on Carpark Records that’s supposedly at the forefront of a small band of refugees still carrying the banner of the once-heralded chillwave movement. I say supposedly because Dog Bite is certainly on the verge of something exciting but it’s everyone else around them giving what they do that tired name.
Born out of the summer of 2010, the term ‘chillwave’ emerged to brand a DIY sect of Macbook-centric electronic music. The signature texture of which focuses heavily on samples, reverb, and dissonant vocals. Depending on who you talk to (see this encyclopedic entry from Pitch Music, for example), chillwave was not only born in 2010 but apparently died in 2010, even though almost every band under its umbrella are all still pursuing careers in music.
Among that list are Toro Y Moi, Dog Bite’s upcoming tour and labelmates, as well as Washed Out, the incendiary solo act of harbinger/producer Ernest Greene who arguably made the genre a hipster household name and tours with Jones on the keyboard. Jones has most definitely paid his dues in his local Atlanta scene, and with his album, Velvet Changes, set to drop on February 5th he’ll find himself deeper into the chillwave sound but trying to reinvent the form at every turn.
Outside of the usual callsign, Dog Bite’s music has been called “sample-based psych-folk” and “psychadelic new wave indie pop,” but for the sake of brevity let’s just keep calling it chillwave, even if it supposedly no longer exists.
When asked how he feels about all this genre-grubbing Jones said, “I don’t really mind it. People are going to label music whatever they want, no matter what. Plus, I like changing up my sound every so often so I’m interested to see how they keep up.”
He does seems to embody the dao aspect of chillwave. The interesting part about musicians is that, a lot of the time, they’re not primarily concerned with how people classify their music, they just make it. With the internet growing more and more into an ever-competitive platform, artists must be creating at all times to stay relevant.
Phil Jones’ became Dog Bite a few years back when he released the single Machino Machino on the British label, Young Turks. He followed this with the hard-to-find Gold Rings Last in 2010. Now, fans are eagerly awaiting his debut full-length on the Washington D.C.-based label Carpark, home of heavy-hitters Cloud Nothings, Toro y Moi, and Beach House.
To curb his fans’ anticipation, Jones released a teaser mixtape of his biggest influences, entitled Winter in Atlanta. The mixtape spans a wide spectrum of sounds including Boards of Canada, Acid Flashback, and even pompadour haircut aficionados, The Smiths. When BTR asked about his affinity towards mixtapes he told us, “I wasn’t really an active music listener when giving physical mixtapes was popular, so I don’t really hold any kind ‘longing’ for them. But I do like that you can make a digital mixtape and people can listen to it from wherever they are in the world. And the mixtape wasn’t really wasn’t spawned by the winter, I just wanted to make a mix and it so happened to be winter.”
While putting up a nonchalant front, Jones’ strong DIY work ethic permeates his answers. Arguably the most democratic way to distribute music, the internet has helped electronic musicians in almost every way. This desire to give anyone the gift of music wherever they are would make Ian Mackaye proud.
Dog Bite embarks on their first large-scale huge national tour with their friends in Toro y Moi this week, and when asked about his time as Washed Out’s touring keys man, Jones tells BTR that “I definitely learned a lot about music, people, and traveling when I played with Washed Out. I also got a sense of how to get a live show together. When I started recording the album, I wasn’t really even thinking of playing the songs live. It was just fun to record at the time. I don’t play with Washed Out anymore because Dog Bite is taking up most of my time now, but hopefully one of these days we can make some music. I really enjoyed my time playing with those dudes and lady. But I have a few other projects that I’m doing at the moment.”
Atlanta is where Phil Jones calls home, as a former student of the Savannah School of Art and Design. His Georgian hometown electronic scene is small, and prolifically incestuous. His live band consists of members of local bands Balkans, Red Sea guitarist Stephen Luscre, Mood Rings guitarist William Fussell, and drummer Cameron Gardner, also from Washed Out’s live band.
“I think the Atlanta music scene is in a good place right now. There are a lot of bands playing all the time and most people just want to make music and experiment with sound. I do wish that a few new venues would open up though, it gets stale going to the same place every night,” says Jones.
Decrying the lack of venues is no new nor terribly noteworthy complaint, as the predicament tends to be an initiation for every scene trying to break out. However, it is nice to hear a grievance other than, “The scene is dead, man.”
Velvet Changes has a few singles available on Soundcloud and other platforms that feature deeper tracks like “Prettiest Pills” and “Forever, Until.” Both have a dreamy feel to them as if they were actually conceived in a dream and set to wax after having woken up. They have the surf guitar melodies of the good Best Coast songs and a vocal style that’s indiosyncratic but harder to decipher. It’s okay though, Phil could have recorded his dog panting over these melodies and they’d still be totally listenable. In fact, these two songs could be played on repeat for an entire week and they’d still sound fresh. They just lend themselves well to being listened to over and over without getting boring, which bodes extremely well for a full-length record of yesteryear’s hip new sound.
Phil speaks of the recording process in a Dude-like fashion, completely natural and at ease. “Recording Velvet Changes was a pretty relaxed deal, I wasn’t talking to any labels about putting it out until the album was pretty close to being all recorded so there weren’t any deadlines. Mixing the record was a little hectic though, and a new experience for me, but overall it was really fun.”
Be chillwave dead or alive, Jones makes the perfect spokesman for any laid-back style of music, as his disposition as a musician is well… laid-back. And the world should take comfort in that — Dog Bite, taking ‘er easy for the rest of us high-strung cynics and sinners.