I first found out about Dress Black from Alexz Johnson, whose brother Brendan Johnson joins Stephane Monten, Colin Mercer and Justin Ross to make up the quartet. An indie-rock band, Dress Black got their start back in 2014 as a group of friends who bonded over a passion for surf rock and Motown, and since then they've gone on to release several singles and a self-titled EP, even picking up a nomination at the Toronto Independent Music Awards.
Now Dress Black is preparing to release their debut album, Future Songs, set to drop next month. They took some time out of their busy promotional schedule and tour planning to discuss how they came together as a band, the signifigance of their debut album and where they see themselves heading in the future.
Hey guys, thanks for being here! How are you doing today?
Hello! Thank you for having us, we’re very excited to be here.
Let's go back to the beginning. What led to you all becoming musicians? Has it always been a dream for each of you?
I believe we all picked up instruments at a young age and with that comes a love for music. You play along to your idols, learn new songs and get better at playing. It’s a powerful thing to listen to your favourite bands and know that they started by picking up an instrument for the first time too. And you think, "Maybe I can do that." In short, yes, it’s work but the dream is worth it. We all really just want to be rock stars. Who doesn’t? Maybe James Taylor.
How did you guys get to know each other? Were you friends or musical collaborators first?
Stephane and Brendan were working at the same restaurant when they discovered they had a mutual appreciation for music and songwriting. After a couple of sessions mucking around in the studio, they wrote 'Money', 'Black Dress' and 'When You Gonna Love Me' which are three songs you’ll hear on the upcoming album. From there they asked friends Colin and Justin to jump on board and we’ve been solidly climbing ever since.
The band came together pretty quickly, but it’s been three years since you wrote your first song. Where would you like to see yourself in the next three years?
That’s a good question. We focus so much on the immediate steps that we forget to ask ourselves that sometimes. We would love to have another record or even two out by that point and be playing in festivals around the world. One of our members is from New Zealand and we would love to play an Australian/New Zealand tour.
Your new single ‘Single File Girl’ is a song with a laidback, positive vibe perfect for summer. What inspired the sound for the song?
We wrote this song after two weeks of intensively writing new material. We were exhausted of ideas and just lazily put 'Single File Girl' together without thinking it would turn into much. A day later we were inspired by MGMT’s “Kids” which helped finish the melody. We then wrote a story about a young, dysfunctional couple who were addicted to each other for the lyrics and the song came together.
If you were to list some of your major inspirations, who would they be and why?
We once had a friend describe us as "The Beach Boys for college kids." Some of us are still trying to decipher that one but we do lean towards that 50s surf rock vibe. We were inspired by 70s Motown and 50s surf rock; it was a classic era for a reason. The simple hooky melodies grabbed our attention. We wanted to take that and make it modern. Artists like Foster The People, Prince, Daft Punk and Phoenix make you want to dance. We are finding the blend of that dance/melodic driven sound and we’re excited to see how our sound evolves.
Your debut album Future Songs is set to be released next month on August 1st. How would you describe the sound of it?
Similar to what we mentioned in our list of inspirations, this album has a modern surf rock vibe. We use dueling guitars and falsetto vocal stylings to deliver a melodic, dance-driven, indie rock sound. You can definitely say that we’re not your stereotypical band set up; we utilize two vocalists that sing the same melody and drift in and out of harmony to give the songs width and dimension. Basically, two lead singers.
When writing songs for this album, did you approach the process from the perspective of own experience or from the role of storytellers?
It’s a mix of both, some of the songs on the album are based on personal experience and some tell stories. Some of them were written because a certain phrase sounded great phonetically so we wrote it around those words.
Do you have any must-haves while recording in the studio?
Claps. Lots of claps. Brendan really likes claps. Justin doesn’t like claps, but Brendan doesn’t really care. But seriously, there was a lot of compromise on claps…. And food. Stephane gets really, really hungry.
Your last two music videos were directed by Alexz Johnson. What's it like having your sister direct your videos, Brendan?
To be honest, Alexz and I have a long history of collaboration so it’s quite easy for us to jump into new projects together.
Speaking of music videos, who came up with the idea for the 'Straight Line' music video?
Do you mean 'Weekend' or 'So Lovely'? 'Weekend' and 'Single File Girl' were Alexz and Brendan’s brainchild and 'So Lovely' was conceptualized by our very good friend Nick Posthumus of Current Sessions Productions.
Alexz is going on tour with her upcoming album A Stranger Time soon and Dress Black will be joining as a support act. How do you guys feel about your first ever nationwide tour? Are you more excited or nervous?
We’re very excited about it! This will be our first time playing in the States and we are incredibly grateful that Alexz is giving us some opening slots.
Since it is a US tour, which states are you the most excited to perform in? Are there any plans on touring throughout Europe as well? Which European countries would you like to visit the most?
We’re still in the early stages of planning and we’re focusing on the east coast for now - New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. I would say we are excited to perform in all of them! Europe is in the cards - that’s in the coming planning stages. We would love to play in Italy, France, Germany, England and Scotland.
Brendan, you're well known for your work with Alexz and we already know that you've contributed to her upcoming album. How do you manage to work on two completely different projects with different sounds and viewpoints? Is it hard to seperate your Dress Black Work from your other duties?
Not necessarily, it’s quite easy for me to focus on the genre of music I’m working on. Where it gets difficult is time management. Every artist has their own sound and my job is just to accentuate that sound.
You and Alexz have released three compilations of the Basement Recordings so far, a series containing demos from throughout her career that didn't make their way officially onto albums. Will you give in to the fan demand for a fourth compilation?
It’s hard to say now; Alexz and I have definitely been entertaining the idea. The Basement Recordings is a compilation of old demos and old recordings from our past, so we just need to look back a little further and see what we can put together.
I can imagine that over the three years you've been working on the Dress Black album you've recorded quite a few demos yourself. What songs would you put on your own version of The Basement Recordings?
'Rough To The City'… we don’t talk about that song.
Are there any collaborations coming up? Who would you like to make a song with the most?
Not in the near future. We’re very focused on getting our album out there. Given the style of our record, it would be awesome to write a song with Foster the People or Glass Animals.
Thank you so much for chatting with us today! Are there any final words you'd like to say to your fans or people who haven't tuned in yet?
Originally, we were considering calling our band Young Sleep. That’s a little easter egg for you. We look forward to sharing more music with you!
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