Have you ever dreamed that you were wide awake, or gone through a day feeling as though you might actually be sleeping? That’s kinda what it’s like listening to Wake Up, the debut release from Toothbone, a project springing forth from the mind of multi-instrumentalist Dan Rossi.
It’s a very spacious album, though not so much empty as open, moving in the same way that your mind does when your head hits the pillow, before sleep takes you. Guitar lines come and go like stray thoughts, followed for a moment and then left for something new. Vocals lay back in the mix, hidden behind a haze of reverb. You can’t always quite tell what’s being said, but it seems profound, if fleeting.
Rhythmically, Wake Up shifts in unexpected ways, the changes often coming just before or after you’d expect them to, the progressions resolving into an understated dissonance that lends a subtle surreality to the listening experience. Like waking from a dream you were certain was real, it’s at once surprising and familiar, unexpected yet reassuring.
Sometimes I feel alone, but it’s ok, yeah, I guess it’s fine, goes the opening of “Sometimes I Guess,” a line which might serve as a key to understanding the album as a whole. Wake Up seems to be an exercise in becoming comfortable with the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of one’s own mind, charting the solipsistic landscape of dreams and the space that lies behind closed eyelids.
I had the opportunity to talk with Dan about Toothbone, dreams, and the strange music of our minds. Check it out:
I’m interested in how this record was recorded and produced. Are you the only one playing every part? How did you go about creating these tracks from the ground up?
The album was something I had been planning for a while. What direction it would take and whether the final product was cohesive I wanted to let happen on its own. I recorded half the album in my room in a weird little house in Hood River, OR, and half in my room in Corvallis, OR. I was using recording software, a recording interface, and some mics and instruments. It’s just me on the record, yes.
In general, I’ll hear the tune first, and work it out on guitar. Go in and record the rest. Some songs started with drums, or vocals. Kind of whatever I felt. Recording the way I did gave me a lot of room for error. I could basically go in and get the solo I wanted or the vocals sounding right, etc.
As a follow up, since this project is all you, do you plan on playing these songs live, and if so, how would you go about it? Or is this a record that can only exist in a recorded format?
Yeah definitely! I’ve got a band together now, we’re starting rehearsals very soon. We’re hoping to play some shows by June or July. It’s a four piece band. There are two guitars, bass and drums. I’m hoping to not just reproduce the recorded material. I think the energy of a live band can bring the music to life each time we play, in maybe a different way than I was thinking while recording the album.
Have any crazy dreams lately?
Hmm. Shit, I used to write my dreams down, that helped me remember. I’ve been having a bunch of dreams where my teeth fall out. Also, I’ve had some conversation recently about dreams that involve people you’ve encountered in your life many years back and they take on the feeling of someone else, but you realize who it really was when you wake up. Crazy shit always happens in dreams. Things you wished but never got, or some constant thought that’s been dragging you to the ground comes walking up to you.
If you were to express yourself via a medium other than music, what would that be?
I think I’d have to say writing. In a lot of ways it is part of music. It has a rhythm in it, a tone, accents, inflections, insinuation, etc. That’s what has drawn me to it in the past. I wouldn’t call myself a writer, but I have found some excitement in that realm.
You’re a drummer first, which becomes apparent on certain tracks, particularly the solo on “House,” but the album doesn’t necessarily sound like a drummer’s project. How does your background as a percussionist influence your writing, and how do you achieve a balance between the various instruments and voices when recording?
It’s always inspiring to put limitations on yourself. It is a whole different aspect of drumming to be in the back and just lay it down, but also bring new ideas, grooves, and energy as you fill into a section or interact with music that maybe doesn’t normally have that. I think the biggest influence is the rhythm and what I’ve liked hearing and playing over as a drummer for so many years.
In terms of balance, it’s about limitation and knowing you can go to that place, but letting everything naturally grow and using your ears. If you mean balance like mixing, it is kind of the same concept. There’s so much you could do, but what feels right? Which tone feels the way you feel, and so on…
Who are some musical influences of yours that people might not immediately guess?
A couple of my biggest influences are some amazing drummer/composers. Mark Guiliana and Ari Hoenig, and no one will forget Tony Williams for paving the way for all drummers and influencing both of them. Mark Guiliana and Ari Hoenig are both people who are pushing the envelope. Those guys are completely changing modern drumming and taking a stance as a drummer/composer. They are able to come at the music in such a crazy way.
Is Toothbone your primary musical focus at this point or are you playing with other groups as well?
Right now, Toothbone is what’s going on. Putting my head down and working. A couple other projects are maybe happening down the line.
Is there anything you could tell us about Wake Up that might change or enhance the way we experience it?
I think people can listen and dig the album in the way that they feel it. For me, I was writing about what I felt. The constant to and fro of life, asking questions, making you wonder, why, what am I doing. I think the feeling of the album is most important, and that might give someone a different feeling than I was attempting to portray, but that doesn’t make it wrong at all.
Henry Whittier-Ferguson & Dan Rossi