Words Mikaelie A. Evans.
Dumb Numbers are back with their latest collaborative showcase that has been self-titled; Dumb Numbers II. Following their 2013 album, this gem was released to the public via Joyful Noise Recordings on August 19. Predominantly formulated by Australian musician, Adam Harding who was joined by a variety of artists, this album of only eight songs has without a doubt created a rad selection of lengthy and transient jams. Joining Harding on this recent release were the ever-alternating line up of musicians that on this occasion included the likes of: Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr. / Sebadoh), Dale Crover (Melvins), David Yow (The Jesus Lizard / Scratch Acid), Murph (Dinosaur Jr.), Bobb Bruno (Best Coast). With each musician bringing their own little zing to the sound, it inevitably has turned into this crazy array of genres that make it quite hard to label, adding to the bonus of how enticing this album actually is.
Unveiling their showcase with ‘My Mantra’, the album begins with a psychedelic slur. Laced with radical guitar riffs and a dooming, drum beat that bounces with a strong Melvins essence, the lyrics sound borderline demonic through the heavy distortion as the progression strengthens through each section. ‘Will You Earn A (include bolded symbol here) Star’ certainly sounds like more of a rhetorically titled question as this album deserves at least several stars for each of the members in the collaborative act. Less distortion reveals the saddening lyrics that groan the anniversary of something slightly indistinguishable. A killer guitar riff spirals through the pounding rhythm; this is a track that would fit the unlikely combination of shoe gazing and head banging.
Momentarily mellowing out for ‘Girl On The Screen’ is track number three, which musically accompanies the memories that might also be flooding through your mind; thus creating a kind of black and white image suited to the listener. This song combines an eccentric energy through gentle lyrics and wailing guitars that tremor alongside the detailed drumming patterns. ‘Essence//Existence’ comes wandering back up again through the album with an introduction of another psychedelic slur. Soft vocals warm the chilling instrumental sections, each formulating their own intricate notes that flourish along through the track listing. With a fierce interlude, this track has so much to offer to the listeners ears. Where does one focus their attention on such broad sounds?
‘No-One’ shows another side of the album with this song that has included, again, so many detailed and alternating dynamics to the instruments. Setting itself a part from the album with the continuously mellow guitar riffs, vocals and relatively soft drumming. ‘No-One’ is a track that really certifies just how hard is would be to try and label this band; so probably don’t try to give them a genre. Each ten seconds involved in the song adds another layer to the thickening sound, with receptive lyrics that reverberate into some kind of comfort. ‘Unbury The Hatchet’ does exactly that; with a haunting introduction that leads back into dooming riffs of psychedelic incorporations and unrecognisable words through that distortion is this lucid number that makes you question when the last time you dropped acid might have been. The vocal murmurs fall into line with silent yells and a deep bass groove. Through the subtle fading sound of instruments, the song revives itself as you think it comes to a darkening close; a transient kind of chanting leads into another dimension that will soon become ‘Wonder Why’.
Tribalistic drumming, maybe from the medieval days, lays down the rhythm for what is followed on another level. When you think the album can’t become any more complex, the song changes and it does exactly that. Fastening up discretely through pre chorus’, the mellow lyrics resonate throughout the guitar riffs. Formulating a memorable jam with a larger variety of instruments, the album is brought to a staggering close with ‘Sometimes There’s No Next Time’. This entire album has sounded like the ideal soundtrack to a wild journey that has no real direction but upon reaching the closing track sounds like you might’ve conquered your journey anyway. An indefinite closing track, the lucid sounds are a friendly reminder to the songs title; sometimes there’s no next time. The vocals reach new highs, with the drumming pattern riding along in alternating time signatures, with the rest of the rock n roll orchestra riffing closely along.
Mikaelie A. Evans: Hey Adam! This project you’re leading sounds pretty rad. What gave you the initial inspiration to start such a collaborative project?
Adam Harding: Thanks Mikaelie! I’ve been making music for over 20 years now but in all that time I’ve never been in an actual real band with a solid line-up or regular members. I started writing and recording songs back in 1994 in Geelong, with a Tascam cassette 4-track, an old Yamaha acoustic guitar and a shitty mic from Radio Shack. I was a big Sebadoh fan, and I’d record songs in my bedroom and then ask friends from Geelong who were more talented than me to play drums or bass or lead guitar, like Claire Birchall, Daniel Herring from Magic Dirt, or Matt Nicholson and Stacka from Golden Lifestyle Band. They’d take a sad song and make it better! So 20 years later I’m basically still doing the same thing, but doing it in LA instead of Geelong.
Mikaelie: Before getting Dumb Numbers underway, you were better known as an L.A based videographer; how long had you been songwriting for before you started this project?
Adam: The first video I ever directed was in 2006 or 2007, so about 10 years ago. That’s about the same time as I went into a real studio with a nice big mixing console for the first time, and recorded onto 2″ tape instead of a 4-track, which I’d been doing since the mid ’90s. We recorded at Birdland Studios in Melbourne and Daniel Herring and I slept there in the studio for a few days while we recorded, and Lou Barlow was in town with Dinosaur Jr and he came in and played bass. That experience really marked the beginning of what would eventually become Dumb Numbers. It was also around this time that Dean Turner from Magic Dirt gave me some advice that I still hold onto to this day. I had asked Dean to help me finish up the Birdland recordings as a producer, and he had also asked me to direct a video for Magic Dirt. I think he could sense a lack of confidence in me, and he said “you should back yourself because your ideas and your instincts are good”. That really meant a lot and it gave me a little confidence boost that I probably needed with my video making and music making. I really never looked back after that.
Mikaelie: You’re originally from Australia. When did you relocate to LA?
Adam: I moved to LA in 2003 and actually arrived here on my birthday after driving halfway across the country! It took a few years to feel like home, but it finally does now.
Mikaelie: Would you say that being in such a diverse city like LA gives you the opportunity to mingle with and mix it up with so many different musicians?
Adam: I don’t really go out and socialize very much, and if I go out to see bands I usually go by myself and when the show is over I go home. So I’ve never really met anyone that way. I knew Lou Barlow for a long time before I moved to LA, we’d been corresponding since the mid ’90s, so when I moved to LA we become real friends and eventually we lived together like family. Pretty much everyone I played with came from Lou’s circle of friends. That’s how I met Dale Crover, Murph, Chad Matheny from Emperor X, and by extension David Yow and Bobb Bruno.
Mikaelie: How did you get in touch with all of the collaborators who feature on the Dumb Numbers II album? Was it easy to get them all into a studio together?
Adam: We recorded all the songs on the new album live with me on guitar and either Murph or Dale Crover on drums. Everything else was recorded later, either in LA or in Melbourne. I’ve only worked with people that I’m friends with, so getting in touch was easy. The only person I didn’t know for a long time previously was Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubauten. He’s been friends with David Yow since the ’80s, and David introduced us and suggested we work together. Alexander and his wife Danielle were my next door neighbours for a month while they were in LA writing and recording, so Alex came over one morning and recorded some throat singing and electronic soundscapes in my living room. Everybody needs good neighbours!
Mikaelie: I’ve read through a few press releases regarding Dumb Numbers but I haven’t found the answer to my potentially naive question – other than songwriting, what role do you primarily take in Dumb Numbers? Do you write literally everything and have these guys come in and play it?
Adam: Yeah, I write all the music but then it becomes something so much greater when everyone adds their magic. I generally record demos and send them to Murph and Dale before we record, and almost always the song changes tempo from the demo version. Sometimes slower, sometimes faster. But I think it’s really important to record live with the drums so you can kinda jam the song out a little bit and discover something new about it and record that while it’s still fresh. I like a certain looseness, before things become too rehearsed. I also never tell anyone what to play, that seems pointless to me. I want my friends to do their thing and make it their own.
Mikaelie: How do you find the concept of having no permanent band members when it comes to writing and recording? Is it like an all in jam-session where anything goes?
Adam: I love the way Neil Young records with Crazy Horse, so that’s a huge inspiration behind recording this way. Neil plays with lots of different people but there’s something really special about Crazy Horse. The songs that end up on those records are almost always first takes, so that’s what I try to do also. Capture it fresh. So it’s not completely anything goes, as there is usually some kind of structure and everyone is staying true to the original idea of the song. But within that there’s room for experimentation and sometimes we just say, “okay when we get to this part let’s just make some noise and see what happens”.
Mikaelie: Having such a broad variety of musicians and influences involved definitely gives Dumb Numbers a unique sound… How would you personally describe the overall sound?
Adam: Avant-garde clue!
Mikaelie: Although the current line up of musicians is pretty outstanding, do you have any plans to start introducing new musicians to the mix?
Adam: I’ve been working with a couple of other musicians for what will become the third album. But they have been friends for a long time, and that’s really how it all happens.
Mikaelie: Touring would inevitably become a little bit complex for Dumb Numbers but it’s hard not to ask: do you have any upcoming tours on the horizons? Maybe a home visit back down under?
Adam: I wish I could afford to come back down to Australia but that’s just not a possibility right now. But I love making records, and am happy for the live thing to just be kinda special where it only happens when everything falls into place. The very first Dumb Numbers shows were in Melbourne and I’d love to come back with that same line-up, with Bonnie Mercer on guitar, Steve Patrick on bass, and Murph on drums. Murph was in Australia with Dinosaur Jr and after the other guys flew back home, Murph stayed behind and we played our first show at Yah Yah’s, with Dead River, Bricks Are Heavy (an L7 cover band who I thought were even better than the real L7, and I love L7!) and River Of Snakes. It was such a great night and is still a highlight for me. Murph later showed Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine some footage of the second show we played at the Public Bar with Bodies, Hotel Wrecking City Traders and Claire Birchall. I guess Kevin liked it and later that year we were invited to go on tour with MBV on the east coast of America, so that was an absolute dream! Bonnie and I even got to meet Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye! Kevin’s last words to us was to keep doing what we’re doing. So that’s what we’re doing!