This week’s interview is with my old friends Darrell Long, Gregry Gilroy and Barry Mangione, collectively known as The Dalliance. These guys have played on and off in bands together since we (well, Darrell, Greg and I) were in high school together. The band recently released their first full studio album, BIRTH LOVE DEATH. I’m happy to finally be able to interview them officially.
ANTHONY: Hello, gentlemen! Glad we’re finally getting a chance to talk. Let’s cover a little bit of history first. You’ve performed together in various combinations and with other musicians over the years. What makes now the right time for this combination of personalities to come together as The Dalliance?
DARRELL: I’ll say that whether big or small, successful, or not, I think we’re all very proud of the music we’ve made with other projects. When we started playing music together in Brady Bastards, our previous collaboration – a pop-punk quartet – it was some of the most fun we all had playing music in years – things came together quickly and it didn’t feel like work – something that can easily take away from the reason people join bands in the first place. This is not to say that we don’t work hard at our craft, but I think we had, at that point, hit on the right chemistry of personalities – everyone brought incredible talent and musicianship, varied influences and similar goals. With Brady Bastards, we always felt a little pigeonholed by the genre. This is not to say there aren’t plenty of amazing punk bands who we revere and who define the genre – we just felt more and more that we were all writing new music that we could do better if we weren’t shoe horning it into one idiom. If we tore down the definitions and just started writing organically without any specific genre in mind, we could more easily expand our palette and define our aesthetic with a fresh start. Because we didn’t know if this new project would necessarily be THE band, or a side project, I always thought The Dalliance was a good name for it. It went from apt description to somewhat ironic, but not in an overt way – The name holds a bit of mystery – I feel a prospective listener or fan should be able to bring their own interpretation to what we are when they decide to listen to us or come to a show, etc.
ANTHONY: The new album is called Birth Love Death and has a Tarot theme. Did the theme come together after the songs were chosen, or were songs chosen from your catalog to fit the theme?
DARRELL: The album theme and artwork came last. When we decided to put together a full length recording, the first thing we wanted to do was put out the best versions of the songs we felt were the best written to that point. Once we had what felt like an album, we started playing around with the order of the tracks. There’s a white board in our studio that, despite all our tech savvy and forward thinking, gets a tremendous amount of use in situations like this. When we finally had what we felt was the order of tracks, we basically walked away for a week or two to listen to the demo mixes of everything on our own and figure out what each mix needed, how the track order felt and what we were going to call this thing. As we are a trio, we like the rhyme scheme associated with visually representing things in threes for flyers for shows and this seemed to feel a natural next step. Greg suggested Birth Love Death as the three words that could describe every song on the record. Originally, we were going to have a tarot card for each word as the cover. We struggled over not using just Major Arcana cards for this (you may or may not be surprised to know that we all have a fair amount of tarot knowledge). At one point, we thought we had hit on a perfect combination of cards and for a few weeks, that’s the layout I was working on graphically. The more I tried to make it work, the more I realized it wasn’t an authentic tarot spread, nothing was photographing right and it just felt disingenuous and maybe a little too literal. In the past we have had success finding and licensing stock images as a starting point for graphic design, so I went that route. While this task was a time consuming quest, I think we finally hit on images that expressed the theme with a little more mystery (there’s that theme again) as well as a little more authenticity. And, there’s still the undercurrent of ‘threes’ throughout. OK, I guess the three of swords as the cd image isn’t much of an undercurrent – but the card also represents the band well in its interpretation.
ANTHONY: Several songs on Birth Love Death also appeared on your 2009 EP and as single releases, but the BLD versions range from almost the same (“Leave It All Behind”) to subtly different (Greg’s singing in a slightly higher key on the BLD version of “I Need A Relgion”) to very different (a new take on “Minor Disturbance”). Why go back into the studio and continue to tweak songs that have already had some limited release instead of crafting an album of all new material?
DARRELL: The EP was the first formal recording session we ever had as The Dalliance. We all have tons of experience working in other people’s studios, but we made a decision to do everything ourselves with this band and that included complete DIY recording – not something I recommend to every band. I had some experience with engineering, but to this point it was still a trial and error kind of thing. The EP was made in a weekend, in Greg’s basement, before we had a space to call our own, and with a limited budget. We were literally unboxing gear and throwing up blankets for sound dampening while recording. Next, we endeavored to put out a new song every month for a year. In lieu of having tons of promotion money, we felt if we gave the fan base that we were building something new every month, we would keep their interest in this digital music ADD world that we live in. During that time we started renting space in Meriden, CT and building a proper project studio. The space was in an historic building and it was nice to have a place where all we did was make music. Since this was really designed as practice space and not recording space by its current owner, the downside was the 30 other bands also making their home there, the resulting noise and the sometimes one hour drive to get there. Given the opportunity to move much closer to our homes into a new, slightly larger space, we jumped and built Disgraceland, our current studio. Over time, we added pro gear from Cascade, Oktava, Focusrite, KRK and more. As we started talking about a full length release, we went back to our existing recordings and realized we had not always made the best versions of those songs, especially given the resources that we now had at our disposal. Add to that the inevitable way our music changed as we played it more and more in live situations. We felt that, before we did all new songs, we owed it to ourselves and to the music to put out the very best versions of everything we had. Many songs needed a complete re-recording, while others had salvageable parts. Everything needed to be remixed in the interest of continuity. In that regard, making an album is a lot like making a movie. Once we did all that, we had the whole of the new mixes remastered. Mastering is an art that we believe is so specialized, we’re not going to take that on. It also puts fresh ears on your music when you send it out for mastering. We have been very fortunate to find Memphis-based Channel Fuse Media. They’re thorough, fairly priced, easy to work with and the masters come back sounding incredible almost always on the first try. If I can give one bit of advice to DIY artists, it’s to never master your own music. We could never do the job that someone who specializes in this art can. Believe me, I’ve tried.
ANTHONY: What is your songwriting process like, both as a group and individually?
DARRELL: Both as a group and individually, when we write music that might work for the band, we’ve established a strong, honest peer review process, for lack of a better term. What this means is that, whether one of us comes in with a finished song, or just a skeleton, we encourage and expect that the other members of the band will be brutally honest with what we’ve brought in, help tear it apart and put it back together as a song we all buy into as something that is, The Dalliance. Not every band has a democratic process like this – many work differently, but this is our process and it’s definitely what’s best for us.
BARRY: I like to try different methods to keep the creative process fresh. Sometimes I’ll start with lyrics and then write the chords & melody to match the meaning of the lyrics. Sometimes I’ll have music in my head first and then write the lyrics to match the music. I also try to follow Steven Pressfield’s advice of sitting down & writing regularly to strengthen that creative writing “muscle.” I often will wind up throwing away a lot of the ideas I come up with this way, but sometimes I get a gem, and in those moments when inspiration hits out of nowhere and I have to pick up a guitar or notepad & write it down, I’m much better at translating the idea into words & music.
When it comes to writing as a group, when I bring a song or song idea to the table, I try to bring just guitar and vocals and let Greg & Darrell do their magic with the rest. The beautiful thing about writing with these guys is that we’re able to tell each other if something doesn’t fit. I think that because we’ve created a catalog of songs that we’re proud of, we now have trust in each other that we’re going to respect each other’s visions and elevate each other’s ideas. When I brought “A Quiet Cam” to them as a demo, for example, it was just my vocals and a ukelele. I never heard anything else in that song, but when they added the bass line, the drums, the piano and the vocal harmonies, it elevated the song to a whole new level.
GREGRY: I tend to come up with subject matter or a song title first and it sometimes sits in my brain for a lonnng time before it becomes a song. I will usually wait until the music either presents itself either from myself or from the other band members before I write all of the lyrics. Perfect examples are the two songs I sing on the album. “I Need A Religion” I have been playing that progression on guitar forever, but in all of the other projects I’ve been in prior to The Dalliance It was just never a good fit. When I came up with the title and theme for the song and we were all writing for the new album I thought “I wonder if I can use this music finally for this idea?” then I came up with the melody and wrote the lyrics around that piece of music. “Ghost..” all I had was the subject matter, the song title and the first line as an idea “There’s a ghost in the bedroom where your body used to be” and that was it. Barry had given me a CD full of music ideas that he didn’t have lyrics for and one of the songs he had on there when I sang back that first line, it fit perfectly so I wrote the lyrics around that music. It’s funny, when I write lyrics it literally takes minutes since most of the time I’ve had the idea in my head for ages and it tends to just spill out on the page very stream of conscience. I often get picked on for not knowing my own lyrics when we play live since when I write I seem to spit it out and it’s gone.
As far as the group, what’s been interesting about this band is since we have our own rehearsal space and studio I’d say like 95% of the songs were written in the studio. In the past the way I’ve always written is you sit in the room, throw out riffs or ideas and you bang it out in the room live until you have something. With this band we demo a lot and each of us come in with ideas recorded already. So if Barry comes in with a song like “Ghost..” or “Pain Has Gills” we can listen and if we like, we can sit down and write our parts and add our individual personalities to the song whether it’s a harmony, bass line, whatever. You almost put on a producer hat where you listen and say “I think that should be a C” or “I think this should be faster”. Another cool thing is because Barry writes in a lot of alternative tunings, it has forced me to listen and write my part by ear instead of jamming in a room, watching his hand and following what he is playing. It’s helped me become a better musician and come up with some of the best bass lines I think I’ve ever played in any band prior.
DARRELL: When I write, sometimes I’ll bring in either just a quick idea or a chord progression for us to all work on together. Or, I’ll bring in a more complete composition often, to everyone else’s confusion, complete with sheet music.
When we work on a new song together, I think we often try to take each other out of our comfort zone. I once suggested that Barry play guitar in an alternate tuning for a song or two and have since created a monster – but in a good way. Since nothing is truly created in a vacuum, a result of that has been Greg organically writing amazing bass guitar parts by ear, since alternate turnings mean not being able to follow what Barry is playing by following his hands.
Barry often records ideas with a drum loop. What this does for me is often polarizing – I will often run toward the beat I hear in the loop or I’ll consciously play the opposite.
ANTHONY: What are your favorite tools to write and record with?
BARRY: My most frequent method is probably writing the music first. I use GarageBand to record my demos. I find it’s quick & easy. I record my guitars into GarageBand through a USB amp interface. From there, I’ll upload it to my iPhone and listen to it in the car while I’m driving. I’ll play it over & over again, writing the lyrics in my head as I’m driving. With the iPhone 4S, I can talk-to-text lyrics onto the notepad app as I go, so I don’t lose any ideas. When it comes time to record my vocals onto a demo, I use a Blue Snowball USB microphone. It’s got surprising sound quality.
GREGRY: Like I said earlier, I’ve always been old school in the past where I would just bang out song ideas in a practice space so I would never demo anything or record ahead of time. It was only within the past year where I got an IPad and started using GarageBand and now I love it. It’s amazing it used to cost hundreds of dollars to purchase a 4 track recorder, drum machines, etc. and now for a $5 app download for GarageBand and like $40 for an IRig (which is an adapter where you can plug your guitar right into the IPad and software) you have an easy little home studio with drum loops, samples, everything that sounds amazing. Once you record something, it’s as easy as hitting “send to dropbox” and it goes right into our band account where the guys can open it up and listen on their end.
Actually I shouldn’t say that I have never tried recording in the past on my own, I just dug up an old Fostex 4 Track and Alesis Drum Machine which I will never throw out since it holds so much nostalgia for me. Some of the first songs I ever wrote on my own and even some of the early Brady Bastards tunes I came up with are on that cassette sitting in the deck.
DARRELL: Most often, I write with a keyboard, though sometimes I write music on guitar. Often, I use composition software, like Finale, to get things into sheet music – I visualize and hear and understand things best when I can see them in standard music notation. This is what music school does to you and it’s good to have a universal language, but it then often takes collaboration to put emotion and drama, style and substance into what’s on the page.
In terms of recording, we record on a Mac using Logic Studio. Because it’s not as strict on hardware requirements as ProTools, we could build the studio that we could afford with the elements we wanted and always feel confident that Logic can work within those parameters. A great result is the live performance part of Logic – Main Stage can easily use all the sounds we used to record in Logic so that we can duplicate what we did in the studio quickly and easily for the stage. We can’t duplicate everything live, of course, but our sound is bigger thanks to what Logic can do.
ANTHONY: Who brings what talents to the table, not just in terms of songwriting but band organization, booking, etc?
DARRELL: I think we all play enough of each other’s main instrument to be dangerous. That’s great, because we never spend 20 minutes trying to articulate something we hear in our head – it’s articulated clearly and then we can ‘try it that way.’ I definitely bring the most engineering and recording knowledge. It’s a discipline that I’m self taught in, but they say anyone can be an expert in something when they put in more than 10,000 hours. I’m getting there. I’m also the Band Den Mother. By that I mean that I’m the guy printing the set lists, organizing the merchandise, bringing extra cables, figuring out logistics with how to pull something off live and the like. Usually if someone needs duct tape, or a flashlight, chewing gum or a quarter inch cable – I’m there with it.
BARRY: Darrell is definitely the Den Mother of the band. I feel like my job is to bring inspiration & ideas to the band, because the other guys have WAY more knowledge of music theory than I do. Often when I bring a song or idea to the band, it’s Darrell & Greg who have to figure out what chords I’m using & what key it’s in so they can make sense of whatever they’re going to add to it. I’m probably the last guy out of the three of us to book gigs. Darrell & Greg are much better at that and have more connections. If I do book a gig, it’s usually an “outside the box” kind of gig, like our recent album release event where we rented a private space. I’m usually the one booking acoustic shows or coffeehouse-type gigs. I also create a lot of the band’s videos for YouTube, and I try to help out as much with online promotion via social media.
GREGRY:Darrell is really the “evil mastermind Band Mother” to this whole band where not only is he an amazing musician and songwriter in his own right, he is responsible for all of the recording of the album, artwork, basically all of the technical aspects of the group. I walk on the stage or in the rehearsal space and the microphone is set-up, working great with a printed set list on the floor and a cold beer in the fridge. To watch him play is quite remarkable not only is he playing the drums he’s singing harmonies, hitting samples (that he recorded of course) and playing keys in some parts! Plus it’s awesome no matter what hair brained ideas I come up with he knows exactly how to do it and executes it to a T. Barry and I honestly would be completely lost with him.
Barry I think to me is definitely the “singer/songwriter” of the band where he comes up with the most of the song ideas. I tend to write very slow, sometimes only 2-3 songs a year where Barry will come up with sometimes 10-12 and dammit, they are all good ideas (laughs). Plus all of the funny You Tube clips and video you see about us online, that all comes from Barry. He is like the “documentarian” of the band where he always has a video camera running capturing all of the comedy that goes on during the recording process.
Myself? I think where Darrell is the high-tech aspect to the band I bring in that low-fi, almost punk rock swagger to the music and attitude. This is in no way a jab at my band brothers, but where they are tweeting pics of their fancy meals they are making or eating and talking about Apple programs or software, I am in the corner eating 7-11 nachos, drinking cheap beer, cutting my hair in a Mohawk and trying to fix my bass with duct-tape and spit (laughs). I cut my teeth playing in hardcore, punk and metal bands for decades and although I love this type of music and like a lot of the same artists as Barry and Darrell, I still inflict that percussive, heavy thumping attitude to my playing and persona on stage. Plus I love coming up with concepts and ideas for the band whether it’s an album title, artwork, stage look and promotion/booking shows. Also, I love to make those two laugh. I’m always cracking jokes and being a goofball.
ANTHONY: Have you ever just roundly rejected a song because it “wasn’t Dalliance enough?”
DARRELL: Yes. I think when we were first writing the EP and the subsequent singles this happened more. There are no hard feelings – One day, we’ll probably all release solo music like KISS did in 1978 and that’s not entirely tongue in cheek… But, yes, there’s plenty of music we’ve either tried and rejected or rejected outright. It rarely means we don’t like those songs – just that we feel we have a pretty good handle on our aesthetic and what works. As we grow more as a band, future releases will not all sound like Birth Love Death, but there will still be that glue that makes them a part of this band.
ANTHONY: A lot of the songs on BLD are very dark subject matter. Will we ever get to hear a “shiny happy” Dalliance song?
DARRELL: Don’t rule it out. The songs come from real places and real experiences. Dark is not our shtick – its where some of us were when we wrote a lot of the material and lives and experiences tend to evolve. I think that if one of us writes music about a positive life experience, you’ll get that shiny happy song. We wouldn’t write dark for the sake of darkness and we won’t write happy and shiny without a tangible experience that matches those emotions.
ANTHONY: What’s the most unusual instrument that’s made its way into a Dalliance song?
DARRELL: I think this depends on your musical experiences before listening to us. To me, nothing is out of bounds, so I don’t find too much unusual. Some people might listen and pick out the ukulele, but so many bands have used it and artists like Amanda Palmer brought it to the fore long before we wrote anything on uke. I picked up my ukulele on EBay because I wanted a portable instrument and it was shaped like a Gibson Explorer guitar. Barry added a pick-up and guitar strings and the ‘rock-ele’ was born. It shaped the sound of some recordings, but in the end, we actually recorded with a more traditional uke to get back to a more organic sound. We use glockenspiel in Broken Ballerina – That’s also something being used and sometimes overused by a lot of bands, although, Los Campesinos are a great example of a band using that sound to perfection. I think that we sometimes have more unusual ways of recording than unusual instruments. I’ve made a tent with moving blankets and had Barry sit on the floor, inside the tent, in the dark, to record vocals. We used the smallest guitar amp we own to track those big guitars you hear on Leave it All Behind. We tracked Drown With Me almost completely live and in one take, just to see if we could do it and, in my opinion, it’s a much better version than the studio version we did with Brady Bastards that took more than a day to complete. Yes: that song is the bridge between the two bands – Its our Beethoven’s 9th, but with only 3 chords I think we like to experiment when we can’t get something to work the way the book says that it should, but we’re not going out of our way to bring in unusual instruments.
ANTHONY: Where will you be performing in the near future?
DARRELL: We’ll be at Red Star in Brooklyn on September 8th and there will be some more show announcements in the next few weeks. We’re trying to play out about one or two times per month, so that we can continue to write new music AND we’re very excited about starting a regular podcast where we will talk with anyone who is an independent artist about anything as long as its got more depth than promotion only. We are actually looking for guests – With the magic of Skype, this doesn’t mean they need to come to our studio, so, dear readers, if you want to join us as we get this thing off the ground, contact us and we’ll make it happen. Please be interesting and articulate.
ANTHONY: Possibly the most important question of the interview: When will the video for “Minor Disturbance” get made?
DARRELL: We had hoped to start getting this going this Summer, but there may be a few obstacles to making that happen right now. That said, we really WANT to do it and we will. We may use the podcast, as well as this interview, to reach more people who have the expertise we need. We could do this ourselves, but if someone has access to better cameras, can edit better than we can, can direct, etc. we’d love to talk to you. Of course the issue is always money, but nothing rules out the possibility of crowd funding it. To this point, we’re proud of the fact that we have made everything with our own hands and our own money, but there’s no reason to explore all avenues to get the video made, as well as future recordings, promotion, etc if there’s a good fit.
ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What are your favorite books, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read them to convince them that they should?
BARRY: I have a lot of books that I love. I don’t often read fiction, but when I do… I read Chuck Palahniuk. Fight Club is amazing, and Haunted is a great read if you want your guts wrenched. I enjoy reading anything by Russell Simmons. He has a unique mix of spirituality, social responsiblity and business savvy. I read a lot, I mean a LOT of Deepak Chopra. My most recent favorite is The Shadow Effect, which he wrote with Marianne Williamson and Debbie Ford. I think everyone should read it, but especially anyone who struggles with their “dark side” like I did for many years (those Dalliance lyrics had to come from somewhere, folks). It’s about accepting yourself as a whole, shadow and all, and learning to live as a complete, loving human being. The Seven Spiritual Laws of Super Heroes was also a great read. If I knew anyone who was into super heroes, I would highly recommend it. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Against the Stream by Noah Levine was also an important book for me. Noah Levine is a former skate punk/addict who got himself clean & sober through Buddhism, and he presents the principles of Buddhism in a language and style that’s accessible to people who’ve lived hard or self-abusive lifestyles. The book I’m currently reading is The Laws of the Ring, by Urijah Faber. He’s a former world champion MMA fighter who also has a degree in human development. It’s an inspirational/motivational book made up of many short chapters that are easy, quick reads. I try to read one every day as a tool to motivate and inspire me.
DARRELL: Favorite Books as in, of all time, is far too daunting a question for me to take up. In terms of recent reads, I would recommend just about anything from Malcolm Gladwell. No one makes sociology, psychology and social psychology an incredible journey like this guy. Examining unexpected outcomes in experiments, understanding why people born in a certain year or month are more successful than their peers, and exploring the adaptive unconscious was never this much fun. I’ve read every book, every New Yorker Article, repeatedly watched his two TED Talks and seen him speak live at the 92nd Street Y. I am that into him.
GREGRY: I really don’t read as much as I like or used to, but when I do I love to read autobiographies especially on musicians because it really gives you a detailed look into how they got to where they are and how it is to be a famous working musician. Boy George’s Take it Like A Man was an amazing account of what he dealt with from being not only a famous musician out of nothing, but his descent into heroin addiction, his relationship with the drummer and how he dealt with his image and sexuality in the 80’s. I read that from a recommendation from a friend and literally bought every Culture Club and Boy George solo album during and after reading so I had a soundtrack while I was reading.
On the other spectrum was David Lee Roth’s Crazy From The Heat. When you are reading it the chapters are all over the place (meaning in real no chronological order) and the way it’s written you can literally hear him in your head because it’s written exactly how he talks in almost that scatting type of rhythm. People take him for a nut-job, which he kind of is but he was sooo important in making that band as big as they became because he was the flashy front man and was responsible for a lot of the image and attitude of Van Halen.
Last big one for me was Henry Rollins’ Get In The Van. I read this while on tour with one of my former bands in the 90’s and it was an awesome account on the early days of his band Black Flag and the touring they used to do. These guys were a major influence on myself and punk rock/hardcore in general and these guys never had a massive tour bus, groupies or stadium arena tours it was all DIY and hard living. It was a very good read and the fact that I was reading about Rollins toughing it out, sleeping in a Ryder truck with the equipment going to the next dive bar while I was doing the exact same thing while reading was amazing.
I can go on and on with others, but those three along were the biggest. Plus I’ve always loved the overall works by Hunter S Thompson, William S. Burroughs, Nic Cave and I hear that guy who wrote The Firflake is quite the humdinger J
ANTHONY: Well, if Gregry doesn’t know how to end an interview on a good note (sucking up to the interviewer), no one does! Thanks again, guys, for taking time out to give such detailed answers. Now, let’s get going on that “Minor Disturbance” video, shall we? The guy who wrote the script isn’t expecting to be paid, but he’d like to be able to show it to people….
You can find The Dalliance on their own website and on Facebook. You can stream or purchase their music on Bandcamp. You can follow them on Twitter collectively (@thedalliance) or individually (Darrell – @floopjack; Gregry – @Gregry13; Barry – @BarryMangione). For general inquiries, email Info@thedalliance.org and for booking email Booking@thedalliance.com.
And of course they have a Youtube channel, where you can find concert videos as well as the official video for LEAVE IT ALL BEHIND: