Get lost in the fuzz with Dazy

Big fuzzy hooks never sounded so good.

Get lost in the fuzz with Dazy
Dazy, photo by Amanda Pitts

I've said it before and I'll say it again (and perhaps a third time) but the best part of doing this newsletter is getting to run pieces like this that I couldn't anywhere else. That's because I am [rides in on a motorcycle] breaking the law when it comes to journalism and interviewing my friend, James Goodson.

I first came into contact with James over email, because as long as I've known him, his main gig has been being a publicist for bands (and occasionally touring with them). So he's helped me arrange interviews, I've written press bios for bands he's worked with, and through all that, we realized we were both into weirdo punk stuff that doesn't usually get covered as much in the big publications. He also had me on his podcast to talk about Green Day, though that's since rebranded to the Best Good Band Podcast, which I also recommend. I knew James had played in bands, but last August he dropped a couple songs on Bandcamp under the name Dazy and they were really, really good. He dealt in short digital singles and EPs for a while and then, just recently, had the fine folks at Convulse Records put together a tape collection called MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD: The First 24 Songs which you should go buy if you're into tapes. Or just buy it digitally if you want all the Dazy songs he's released up to this point in one convenient place.

Oh, and in terms of breaking the rules of journalism, I also wrote the little blurb that accompanies MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD: The First 24 Songs, because I once said something to James about how Dazy sounds like Godflesh covering Oasis (or the other way around) and he liked that so much he let me make a bunch of similar comparisons for the official release. But the point is: these are big, fuzzed-out pop songs that appeal to folks who like soft, summery hooks but also ugly, washes of distorted guitars. It's equal parts Creation Records and Big Black, and that specific intersection is very up my alley. And since I wanted to know how James happened upon that specific sound, I called him up and forced him to tell me all of his secrets.

So I know you've arranged interviews for other people a lot, but you've not been interviewed much, right?

Not really. I was just talking about this, but I've done maybe one or two interviews for my other bands, but there's always been another band member present to bail me out when I inevitably sound like a dumb-dumb. [Laughs]

Well if this goes south I guess I can just ask your guitar some questions.

Yeah, exactly. [Laughs] But yeah, so I haven't really done this. I've done a few email interviews here and there, but never something like this.

Consider me your training wheels before you get tossed out to the wolves.

I figured this was a friendly place to begin was doing it with a bud.

That's where you're wrong, James, because my next question is about your thoughts on U.S. interventionism and its relation to the destabilization of Afghanistan.

Oh my god… [Laughs]

So I guess actually starting the interview, before we even get to you putting out music as Dazy, when did you start writing songs in this style? Was it a pandemic thing, or was it just wanting to do a solo thing?

It wasn't a pandemic thing per se. I'd actually been writing a lot of these songs for a pretty long time and didn't really know what to do with them. They'd sort of been floating around and, really, piling up to kind of a ridiculous degree—I still have a pretty massive backlog of songs. I guess I sort of realized that I hadn't really fallen out of practice with making music, but I'd really fallen out of practice with putting it out.

I was making lots of songs, it was still my number one thing to do for my own enjoyment, and I was constantly feeling compelled to write songs and work on stuff, but releasing it is where I would get hung up. I'd always been in bands—and I'm still in bands, and I love being in bands—and to a certain degree I want Dazy to have a live component that has that as well, but ever since I was a kid I've written songs, and my friend Harris from that band Sundials—shoutout Sundials—he taught me how to loosely use GarageBand when we were kids. And it kind of blew my mind that you could map out the whole song right there on the computer and get a sense of what these different parts would sound like together. So I got really into writing songs that way, and it was only when I started doing the Dazy stuff that I was like, oh, maybe the line between demo and finished song isn't as big as I thought. I was always partial to songs that were pretty raw and had this homey vibe to them and, at a certain point, I was just like, "What if these songs just were what they were?" When you're coming up in punk and stuff like that, and I guess guitar music in general, there's always this feeling that everything's gotta be played live in the room with other people to be real or whatever.

Yeah, it's a weird authenticity test that doesn't really make much sense that it has to be a band for some reason.

For sure. And I have a ton of love for all that stuff, and I don't want to sound like I don't think that's cool because I 100 percent do, but it took me a long time to realize that a lot of the quirks and weird bits and pieces that were there when I was demoing songs, I actually liked that stuff. I like tinny little drum machine sounds and guitars that sound like they were recorded by a shitty mic…because they were. [Laughs]

I just got it in my head finally that I needed to rip this band-aid off. The pandemic thing was part of it, and not to sound like a total cornball, but the combination of nothing really happening and it just kind of feeling like suddenly everyone was stuck in my position of not knowing what it's like to put out music right now, it made it easier to just rip that band-aid off. When I did it, it was kind of like getting on a bike again after you haven't ridden a bike in forever and you're like, "Oh shit, I still know how to ride this bike and it's really fun to ride this bike." And once you're on it and picking up momentum, you just want to go faster and faster. The more I put songs out kind of randomly, I felt like I was in the hang of it again and realized that it's not this crazy, scary thing to put your songs out into the world. Then I started to do it a lot.

And on the other side of it, if you just sit on those songs, you'll tinker with them forever.

That's the downside of the home recording thing because you can definitely go down the rabbit hole of just never thinking something is done.

I did a bio for someone last year and they were talking about how they didn't demo any of the songs before going into the studio because, once a demo is recorded, you start trying to recreate that instead of working out the performance. I thought that was an interesting thing that definitely applies here too, because you're using whatever sonic limitations exist and just making those part of Dazy. At what point did you start realizing that was giving Dazy its own unique sound?

I really feel you on the idea of having limitations being really helpful and being a guide, and that's, big time, something that ended up playing a part with the Dazy stuff. It was just embracing the home-ness and having these tools at my disposal.

In terms of how I stumbled upon what Dazy sounds like, that kind of core sound or whatever, it was a little bit of an accident. When I first started writing these songs in the back of my mind I first thought they'd maybe end up being full-band songs or something. But I'm also obsessed with The Jesus And Mary Chain, I think that's pretty obvious from the Dazy stuff, and that band has used a lot of drum machines and non-actual-drummer percussion throughout their career and that was a big thing where I finally kind of accepted that I like the sound of the drum machines. I was like, "The drum machines sound cool and it's okay to run with that." On the collection thing, on some of the earlier stuff, you can kind of tell I wasn't super comfortable with letting the drum machine sound like a drum machine yet. I was trying to make it sound a little more real, but as it goes on, you can kind of hear that I embraced the drum machines and that mixture of shitty laptop and shitty amp stuff.

I really strongly feel that whatever sounds cool works. I'm not big on it all having to be analog or all be on a computer. If it sounds cool to you, that should be it. It wasn't until even later that I became comfortable with that in other ways. Most of the recordings are guitars that were recorded out of an amp into a mic and you can kind of hear the air in the room and all that kind of stuff, but there are also guitars mixed in that go right into a pre-amp and have that kind of crazy computer sound to them and I like the way that sounds sometimes. I know a lot of people don't like the way that sounds, but for some reason it really appeals to me. It was funny, because one of those earlier singles that I had done, whichever one was the first one where I experimented with more of the computer-y guitar sounds, Justin, who mixes and masters all this stuff, he hit me up and was like, "What's that guitar tone you have on the lead? It sounds awesome." And I was like, "That's my secret shame. That's my right into the pre-amp tone." I expected him to be like, "Wow, I'm shocked that sounds as cool as it does." But instead he was like, "Oh, that rules. The Beatles did it, so it's cool to do it." And I didn't even know that.

What, you haven't read all 7,000 books about The Beatles?

[Laughs] I would love to! There's probably a good number of them sitting on my bookshelf right now that I haven't read yet.

Was recording these songs in whatever way sounded coolest to you, and just dropping them at random, did that help you get past whatever preconceptions you had about what "rules" there were for making music and just do what you wanted?

Not so much with how I was releasing it, as that was just a mixture of necessity and my inability to aggressively self-promote. [Laughs]

Oh, we'll get to that…

But with what you were saying about the punk authenticity stuff that gets drilled into you, especially people who came up in punk who are our age or a little older, kind of living in the shadow of the '90s when sellout was a really heavy word…

The book by Dan Ozzi? Yes, I'm familiar.

[Laughs] Shoutout to Dan. Shoutout to the book.

But I think, like, the thing that I really found myself really shaking from that was kind of more sonic. The one thing I had a really hard time getting out of was being obsessed with consistency and wanting everything to sound consistent. So many of the bands that I grew up loving had these very consistent sounds that they'd only tweak a bit here and there, or when they did try to change the sound they kind of went off the rails a little bit, so I got it in my brain really early on that consistency matters and things have to sound cohesive, to a degree where it was hard for me to shake the idea that you could have different guitar sounds from song to song and that didn't matter. Nobody's gonna be mad at you that you betrayed punk or whatever. Even experimenting more with dynamics and quieter songs and all that, everything before was always about being able to play the song with two guitars, a drummer, and a bassist, and that's all that there can be. And I'm sure you can play any Dazy song with that, but it wasn't about this having to exist in the live space, first and foremost. Getting rid of that structure allowed me to just kind of throw whatever at the wall. And I realize I say this about a collection that is 24 songs where the vast majority of them are extremely loud and similar. [Laughs]

I don't think it sounds as similar as you're saying though. With Dazy, I hear pop stuff like Oasis or Jesus And Mary Chain or whatever, but it almost feels like the project embraces modern listening habits. You have songs that could sit on a few different kinds of playlists and no one would really balk at it.

That's interesting, and it's definitely an accident. I'm glad to hear you detect a range of vibes because that became my hope at a certain point. And I guess…well, two things. One, the bands that you mentioned, I think of Dazy as a punk band because that's my musical worldview, but I'm super influenced by a ton of that U.K., '80s and '90's, Creation Records stuff. Jesus And Mary Chain was my entry to that stuff because they kind of sound like the Ramones in a lot of ways, but I think the thing that really blew my mind with a lot of those bands, and even gave me a new appreciation for something like Oasis that I was into is a kid but didn't really "get" was that the people in those bands were into punk but were trying to make music that was super influenced by the '60s and stuff like that. They were taking a punk approach to these completely different types of music while still infusing it with this punk feeling, whether or not it was actually a punk song. That was huge, and it became my second great musical love in my early '20s.

You and I talk about this kind of thing all the time though, because when you hear a band, you can kind of tell if they're punks or not. You really can tell in a band when they have that background. And the fact a lot of your songs float around the two-minute mark helps that.

Oh, that's very important for me. Obviously, it's all kind of tangled, because we're grown-ups but the punk identity is still extremely important to us and kind of defines a lot of the ways we look at the world. As far as that goes with music, it comes down to a shared language. Whether that's a musical language, or just the way you bond when talking to somebody, it's a shared experience that kind of only comes through having those specific tastes. Punk, unlike a lot of other genres, it comes with a lot of baggage, for better or worse. You can kind of hear in the music what it was informed by, and I guess I just feel really at home with songs that were written by punks, as bizarre as that sounds.

I think that's a thing that's been really hard for me to shake. If I don't get that vibe, I'm not usually interested.

I'm sure so much of it just comes back to the music you loved as a kid, because that music you first fall in love with, and because punk comes with so much different stuff that you can take from it, when it lands, it lands in such a big way.

Not to say that punk is the most important thing in the world, but with a lot of rock music, many of the major developments have kind of come from punks trying to do something different after being in a punk band for three years. I've made the Godflesh and Big Black references to Dazy before, but those are prime examples of that.

That's a big thing for me with Dazy, which is just taking a lot of the music I love the most, and always return to, and just try to cram it all into one band. I think one of the things I find so appealing about so many of those Creation Records bands is that they found ways to do a lot of different stuff in one package. That goes back to what you were saying about the sounds being different enough to land on different playlists—and hook me up, Spotify—but what was so appealing to me about those bands was that they could put so many different things into one container. When I finally started putting this stuff out, it kind of felt like I was behind, so I felt like I was in a rush to get these songs out and sort of show, at a certain point, that this could be a bunch of different things. I wanted to set different expectations and show that there's going to be a lot of different sounds in here. A lot of those bands were great at that, and I wanted to show there could be the most noisy of noisy songs and then there could also be a pretty song.

I think it's always important to level set a bit. This will come as a huge shock to you, but Goddamnit by Alkaline Trio is one of my favorite albums of all time…

Yeah, I've heard a thing or two about that…

But there are two acoustic songs on that record, and that really threw me for a loop as a kid and made me realize that I could do whatever I wanted as long as the spirit was there. And though I don't like talking about my own band very much, there was a reason the first EP opened with a song that was 90 seconds and closed with one that was 9 minutes.

To reference a band I know you like, I think of it with Green Day all the time, but people would probably be a lot more forgiving if Nimrod or Warning were their first releases.

Right. They set expectations really aggressively for the first few records before they started throwing curveballs in there. I also think that's just a symptom of, when you're making stuff that's really close to your heart, and to get really high-minded about it, when you're making a song with your band, there's a certain degree of wanting to control every little bit of it and guide the audience as much as possible even though that is not at all possible. It can't be done. There's sort of some magic in the mixture of the artist desperately trying to have a hold over everything and shape everything and being so in the weeds with it and then the fact that, once it gets out there, it's out of your hands completely. Obviously that's the kind of thing that can cause friction between an artist and the people listening, but that's an inherent part of it, and it's part of the fun. I do think that, at the end of the day, this shit is supposed to be fun to do and fun to listen to. There's definitely something fun about trying to figure out whatever the musician was trying to do. I don't try to shy away from getting in the weeds when I write music, but I'm also incredibly grateful if people connect to my music on any level, whether that level is someone being like, "I completely get what this weirdo is going for," or even just, "I like the one pretty song and the rest of it I can take or leave."

Has that mindset changed your approach to writing at all? Does it make it so not every song needs to be perfect—in whatever sense that means for you—in order for you to be able to release it?

I think it has changed my approach. That's a huge part of maybe the reason I feel a little more at peace with all that is because how fast I put stuff out and how enjoyable and freeing I found that to be. It's difficult to put out whatever you just worked on, for a lot of artists that's a full-length they worked on for a couple years, and that kind of has to be your thing for the next stretch of time. That puts a lot of pressure on, and it holds a lot of weight, versus what I like to do, which is writing the songs. It's really fun and enjoyable for me, so I like writing them. Getting to put them out faster means that I don't have to be as worried that this small handful of songs has to represent the next however many months of my life, it can just be, "Here's the songs I put out right now." And if I want to put out more a little while later, I do. You also don't want to be overwhelming and just put out so much music that it doesn't really matter, but that's a problem for another time. [Laughs] At the end of the day, you have to be doing the thing that makes you happy, and I just like writing the songs and putting them out, so that's my main priority right now.

The reason I mentioned my band is because I noticed a kind of similar thing, which is that we both seemed to shy away from promoting it at all because we both worked in music. When my bands put out stuff, I just tweet it once and walk away because I don't think people are going to be honest about what they think about it, and I also don't want to do the whole song and dance of having to be the band guy promoting my music. Early on in Dazy, I got that same vibe. You just put up the songs then kind of let it be, even though you had the tools to really push it out there a bit more. But then people started to catch onto it anyway. So how did you navigate that when people started to pay attention to Dazy?

First of all, I 100 percent had the, "I'm uncomfortable with putting this out" thing and that definitely played into how I was putting the songs out there, and it was playing into why I wasn't pushing it super hard or anything. I think that probably played into why it took me so long to get back into putting out music, and you have experience with that, because your job is working in music, you don't want anything you're doing to impact your job, especially when you're working with other artists and writers and stuff like that. I try pretty hard to keep those things totally separate, as much as I can.

I will say, once people started to find it in the wild, and I've got to give a lot of appreciation to folks like you or Ian Shelton who were definitely pushing it, and were some of the first people who were into it, which was pretty unreal, because it was people whose opinions I respect a lot, but then people just found it out in the wild and you can't really ask for more than that. It was pretty unbelievable to have that happen. With everything Dazy related, I was sort of aggressively like, "I'm going to do this the exact way that I want to do it and that's it." I really love two-song singles as a format, I think it's really cool, and I love EPs and smaller releases, and I love bands with consistent-looking cover art, I love old punk zine-looking stuff. So I was like, "I'm going to make the art, I'm going to put it out the way I want to put it out, I'm going to let it sound the way my demos sound," it was just all this stuff that was me aggressively being like, "I'm just doing it the way I want to do it," in a way that I did not expect to be conducive to anybody really fucking with it. [Laughs] To have all that happen just organically, it was great, and it was crazy. Shoutout to Tom Breihan who wrote about it for Stereogum, and he sort of let the cat out of the bag that I work in music.

Yeah, he kind of blew up your spot a little bit.

Yeah, but I really appreciated it because he specifically said, "This guy hasn't been bugging me about this." [Laughs] He really went out of his way to say that I wasn't emailing him about it constantly, and I found that to be a really insanely generous thing for him to do. Anybody listening to it at all is amazing, but there's something really nice about other folks I work with and colleagues from the music world being like, "I had no idea you do this and it's awesome." There's something about that combination of, "I had no idea you did this and I like it" that just makes me feel really good because it means I've successfully kept my lanes separate in a way that feels normal and natural. It's made me a lot more comfortable about both working in music and participating in it in the same way I did when I was 15.

How does it feel having been in bands and put in all that work to then have it be the project that you didn't actively promote at all become the one that kind of cracks through?

You talk to anybody that makes music, and I'm sure you've experienced this, but you can never get back to the way you were when you were putting shit out and you knew that nobody was listening to it. The second that even one person acknowledges that they're into it and are going to be keeping an eye on it, it makes you nervous—it adds something into the equation. That's not to say you end up writing all your songs to cater to whoever is going to be listening to it or whatever, but you're suddenly like, "Oh wow, I'm nervous now." Maybe that's just me—I get nervous.

I think as far as the way I put stuff out and all that, this is kind of the first time in a while where I haven't had a clue what I'm doing next. I put out the collection and the only goal I ever had with this whole thing was that I wanted to do a bunch of smaller releases and then put them on a collection tape. That was the only thing I had in mind. When Adam from Convulse Records hit me up about it, it was like, "Alright, you're saying everything I want to do." Working with Convulse rules, I've had such a good time working with them, so I don't really know what I'm doing with it next, but in the most long-winded way to eventually answer your question, the only thing I've kind of locked into isn't that you can kick back and relax and something will happen, it's more, as corny as it sounds, to follow your gut. Do the thing you want to do. Do the thing you're interested in. If people like it, that's just the gravy on top.

Even with shit like the artwork or whatever, it's not like I had some grand plan to express some certain thing or whatever, I just think it's fun to make this stuff and make it look this particular way. Everything was just trusting my gut and was like, "That's the way I like to do it because it looks cool." It's been really gratifying to have anybody listen to it, and it's been truly wild.

That's the best place to be, where you realize people seem to like the things you're doing, so you can just kind of keep doing your thing because that's what got you there in the first place. Which is kind of how it used to be, where a band just kind of started and did the thing for a while until someone asked to put something out. It's nice to not have to question whether or not that's still possible anymore.

I'm a big believer that, if people want to find something, they'll find something. Things work best when an artist is getting to just do what they want to do and all the other pieces are facilitated like that. Things tend to turn out the best way when that's happening. Whether that's for a giant band or some tiny thing, it's really, really easy to get bogged down in all of it. There's just so much that can hang you up with putting out music nowadays and the best case scenario is that the people who made the thing are getting to do what they want with it and everyone else is just helping them with it. But I definitely understand how things can get so dicey, because there's so much that seems like what you're supposed to do or not supposed to do or whatever and, in reality, as far as I can tell, there's no set way to do anything. When people are telling you that this is the exact way to do something and it will magically work, or that's the impression you're getting from the internet or whatever, that's the thing you should try to avoid.

To cycle back to wanting to have a live version of Dazy, what were you envisioning with that? A full band or just an Atom and His Package kind of deal?

The short answer is: I haven't figured it out yet. [Laughs] The long answer is: Maybe a little bit of everything. I think I definitely want to do the actual band thing, and I'm super lucky that I play with a bunch of awesome musicians in other bands and they're all down to play some Dazy songs at some point, so I kind of have this little group of people that I've been playing with for so long that are always down to slot in with a new project. I like the idea of the live thing being different from the recording, so that the live thing can be what it is and the recordings can be completely different and still be cool. That's a thing I've loved since I was a kid and first got one of the live Nirvana albums and they sounded one way on the records and the live recordings sounded really, really raw. I always thought that was cool and appealing. But I do think it would be fun for it to be me and an Atom and His Package-style drum machine. It would depend on the situation, I guess.

It is cool to have that flexibility to do a live version that works literally however you want it to.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but what I kind of keep trying to lean into with the Dazy stuff is doing whatever makes sense when it makes sense and not trying to overthink it too much. I just leave the overthinking to when I'm tweaking the songs. Easier said than done, I guess.

Don't overthink it, just do it. That's a good place to be.

If nothing else, for all our endless talk about punk, at the end of the day, that really is kind of the thing that was most appealing about it. Anybody could do this thing, so just go do it. You're going to be happy you did something, that's kind of the bottom line.