It’s not without a hint of irony that the Brooklyn trio Dances–who self-admittedly “formed from the skull of a rat”–can trace their roots back to a far gentler image of serendipity.
It began a couple of years ago, while songwriter and guitarist Trevor Vaz was still enrolled in college. His music production class let out one day just as a torrential storm throttled the campus. Vaz stood in the downpour under the cover of his umbrella, watching the rain fall.
An unexpected stranger sidled up next to him, asking if he could share some shelter from the storm. Vaz obliged. The stranger introduced himself as David Su, a fellow classmate. The two began to talk.
“So what are you up to?” Su asked.
“I’m trying to start a rock and roll band,” Vaz replied.
“Really? I play drums.”
Vaz didn’t believe him at first. Su proved a stark contrast to the “rock and roll” look; in conversation, he reserved both a quiet and shy demeanor. But Vaz humored him, asking Su to forward along some of his music. Later that evening, after drying off, Vaz settled in and donned his headphones.
Needless to say, he was shocked at what he heard.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Vaz recalls with a laugh. “The recordings sounded like he weighed 500 pounds.”
The hidden powerhouse was revealed to possess far more than just a knack for exemplary force. When Su showed up to his first rehearsal with the band, he already knew all of the songs better than the founding members. As Vaz puts it, “He was a complete shoe-in.”
Circumstances for recruiting a bass player, however, couldn’t have been more antithetical. At the time, Vaz and Su were playing with an ever-rotating and impermanent cast of musicians. While at a party, Vaz was introduced to Sam Stoeltje, a recent transfer from Texas.
Drunkenly, Vaz asked if he could play an instrument.
Yes was his answer. He could play the guitar, but admittedly wasn’t very experienced.
Vaz pressed further.
“I asked him if he could play the bass, and he told me that he never tried before,” says Vaz. “So I told him, ‘Great! Want to play bass in a band?’ He said yes, and three years later we’re still here.”
The reason why I’m taking the time with all of this back-story is because, at their very essence, Dances are a trio that wields the synergy of such seemingly disparate elements. These three produce a sound that simply wouldn’t be possible without the unabashed contrast of their personalities. Anyone and their grandmother can make a half-assed assemblage of post-pop, but they couldn’t come close to the niche and vision these guys have perfected out of their diverging collation.
As Vaz so aptly explains, there’s a certain sense of nakedness while performing in a trio; you can’t hide behind anything. Listening to the band’s most recent outing, Keep Talking, you’d be hard pressed to argue why they’d want to. The fulminant acridity of Vaz’s guitar snarls between bass lines that soften the jab of each chord. Stoeltje is the kind of bass player who keeps things interesting, choosing melodic lines over favoring the root changes. And while Su lends his calculated thunder to keep the songs driving, his background in syncopated jazz stylings eschew any notion of an implied beat.
That’s what renders Dances different from every other post-pop variant and makes them so damn interesting. It’s music that hearkens towards the familiar, while simultaneously shifting things before they can settle into contrived uniformity.
“There’s a lot of misdirection in our sound,” says Vaz. “It’s pop music with one thing that doesn’t quite belong, a melody that seems off but is actually on. That’s what post-pop needs to be; otherwise it’s just beating a dead horse.”
It’s not entirely fair to write off Dances as “post-pop,” or any other meaningless moniker. Listening to Keep Talking yields a diversity of influences, united through a sound that’s equal parts gusto with gut, grace with gall. A song like “Rat” is chock full of the aggression perfectly suited to Su’s furious abandon, while the Stoeltje-penned “Jones” underlies more melodic sensibilities. The cherry on top of this devilish treat? Beautiful three-part harmonies that lull everything together.
Despite the very recent departure of founding member Su, the band is busier than ever. It’s been a month since the release of Keep Talking, and Dances are taking to venues across Brooklyn. They’ve also started work on their next album.
Vaz is a bit melancholic about parting creative paths with his old friend, but remains optimistic about the future.
“It’s a lot to commit to–being in a sort of weirdo-art-punk band,” he says. “There’s a struggle to what that entails, and I understand. But it’s also exciting in a way, we get to try something new and rediscover our process all over again.”
To hear the rest of our interview with Dances, tune into this week’s episode of Discovery Corner.
Or interpret the music for yourself by clicking here.