More so than any other La Dispute album thus far, ‘Panorama’ is the most personal record to La Dispute’s vocalist, Jordan Dreyer. Before now, the alternative Michigan group’s albums were largely influenced by correlating literature and poems into real-life feelings and experiences (‘Somewhere at the Bottom of the River’), or were driven along by real stories and then presented through the band’s own lens as a way to work out what could be learned from these tragic tellings (‘Wildlife’.) Yet with their upcoming LP, ‘Panorama’ is a striking, moody journey about two people coping with their own grief, as the always well-spoken and honest singer informs me. Not only is their upcoming March release different in thematic approach and lyrical reliability, it’s also a very different sounding record too; seeing La Dispute branch out sonically more so than anything else in their discography. It’s a bit of a weird one, but it’s also another beautiful gem from a band whose track-record is incredibly consistent. Before ‘Panorama’ takes you all on an intriguing, diverse-sounding and highly emotional road-trip, however, I recently spoke with Jordan about all things relating to their latest effort; the title, the cover, the lyrics, and the songs. This is that conversation.
Jordan, it’s the middle of summer right now over here in Australia, and I’m just trying to keep as cold as possible. How are you going in the dead of winter over there? I saw something gnarly that train lines were lighting train tracks on fire to keep the trains going – so metal!
Yeah, I’m on the complete opposite spectrum. It is indeed the middle of winter over here. It’s not too terrible, just very chilly and cold. Oh, the trains are pretty metal, but also pretty necessary because of how cold it is! That was in Chicago, and where I’m from in Grand Rapids, that’s just three or so hours away, and I hear it’s been apocalypse-like levels of weather from my friends and family back home.
Yeah, the weather reports I’ve seen look nuts. Other than braving the cold, what else has been happening in the world of Jordan Dreyer?
Well, I have been doing a considerable amount of interviews lately. We’re sort of in the calm before the storm right now, as the record’s out in a month and a half or so. Just tying up all of the logistical stuff, like pre-orders, and then just sit and wait around until the record drops.
For sure. I remember speaking with Brad [Vander Lugt, drummer] before you and the band did the Good Things festival run out here in Australia, and he was telling me that the record has some weird and interesting moments. And after my first two listens, I agree with him! There’s horn sections, there’s slam poetry, there’s really cool noise-rock, and I even noticed some xylophones in there too. There’s a lot going on in with it, and it even feels like a far more realised version of ‘Rooms of the House’ – I really liked it.
Yeah, for sure, there’s a lot there. And it’s interesting to hear you say that. In some ways, I feel that upon completion of each new record, we feel it’s the strangest thing that we’ve done and there’s concern about how it’ll go over in the public forum. Obviously, that’s secondary to our own enjoyment of our output and what we want, but it’s good to consider other possibilities. It was a challenging record to make, and one that was particularly gratifying once it was finished too. We’re proud of what we did, and we’re really excited for people to hear it. I have no frame of reference to how people will respond, but so far things have been mostly positive.
Well, I think you guys should be very stoked on what you’ve made on ‘Panorama’. It’s one of those records that you do have to take a few listens through, that you must spend some real time with it, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I also feel like most La Dispute fans are very open-minded, and a big part of that comes from your lyrics. And on that topic, Jordan, this is the most personal La Dispute album so far. A lot of it stems from your relationship with your partner; all of the different experiences and dynamics of your life together. So, has she heard the record and lyrics? What are her feelings towards it, if you don’t mind me asking?
There is not another person in my life on every step, not just on a creative level. It would’ve been a very difficult thing to make a record about my life without consulting a principle part of it. So she was the first person I played the album too. It’s a very personal record, yes. It breaches a lot of complicated issues, a lot of difficult things to talk about, yet the themes are very universal. I’m sure that we’ve all lost people, we’ve had our grief, and we’ve all shared in that, whether it be in a friend, partner, family member or neighbour. I believe that a lot of people will get a lot out of it. In contrast to the music, it was more intuitive, as the music was the so layered and analysed.
Even with ‘Wildlife’ (2011), and that Conversations podcast you did about the record and how it’s viewing all of these lives and stories through your own lens, is quite an interesting charm of La Dispute. Same with this record too, you write in such a specific way yet it’s still so relate-able. Something I’ve always loved about the band, in any case.
I feel that’s very true too. It’s interesting, we spent a lot of time on this album and I had a lot of thematic ideas and specific narratives I had hoped to shoe-horn into a new album’s worth of tracks. After a few months working on it, it became pretty apparent that it wasn’t quite clicking. So we started over and musically there was a big new spark, and watching the other guys work, I understood that I wasn’t supposed to tell these kinds of journal entries or specific short-stories, which was my original conception of this album. I moved away from the original intention of the record and realised that this album needed to be about capturing certain moods and tones to show complications in tumult and happiness. In that respect, to lyrically capture better abstraction, will hopefully make it more relate-able. As I’m now I’m not talking about a specific news story.
Thank you for peeling back the curtain on how the record’s lyricism and themes grew over time, Jordan. I also wanted to ask about that title, ‘Panorama’. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but the title seems to show that, much like an actual panorama shot, you’re looking at all of these issues, all of these stories, at once in an abstract way. And that’s then the record’s track-listing and overall flow.
Yeah, you’re right: it’s a comment on the record more than anything else, rather than any kind of metaphor or symbol. It’s a wide-angled shot of lives and two people and of a certain area and neighbourhood. Even from a specific structural angle, it takes the form of this drive that I would make, connecting our home and a city just outside of Grand Rapids. It’s a wide-angled lens of grief, of two people coping with grief. It’s also a comment on the record too: it starts in one-spot and ends in another, like a drive. The more I talk about this new record, the more I feel like people are inducing revolutionary moments of my self that I didn’t ever consider. The album is this panoramic shot of an area, and you can see all of the people in it. Not enough to know what they’re doing, like seeing a house but not the people in it sitting at the dining room table.
Cool, I always like it when I’m right [laughs]. Glad I was onto something there and thank you for talking about the title more. Do you mind if I ask how long this drive you’d take would be?
If we were to drive the full length of the road, it’d take three to four hours. But I’m talking about a particular section of what is Fulton Street. It’s about a half-hour drive.
Right! Well, the title is like that: you’re driving in a car, with all of the windows down, and you have this 360-degree shot of all that’s around you and passing you by.
That’s really cool, I actually like that analogy! I’ll give you credit for that one, though [laughs].
[Laughs] well, feel free to use it in an interview next time when someone asks about the record! So, I did want to talk about the album’s front cover, as it’s not really a cover that I’d expect from the band; with these two giant deities sitting back-to-back with this lone observer watching on down below. The way I saw it was that the one on the right, with the cloth draped over its chest, is your partner and your the other being behind it; this reflection of the two of you as a couple and how the songs within the record address those shared stories and experience. I may be totally off-base on that, though…
Oh! Well, no, sorry. That was not the intent of the cover. It’s much less literal. We actually all think of the two statues as being androgynous, but I can now see how that would be misleading. There was not any real direct symbolism. We wanted the record to feel ethereal and other-worldly; there’s a lot of messing around with time and space. I’m trying to tap into how grief can transport, driving along a road and having memories evoked of times past can bring you there emotionally. We wanted something that felt fantastical, but also something different for us. I think we accomplished those things. Any sort of specific interpretation is completely up to the person looking at. There wasn’t any specific direction from the artist with certain colours, moods and tones.
Interesting! I did notice some similar colours and tones used in the video for ‘Footsteps At The Pond’ too, what with that character venturing down into the maze to bring that Minotaur out – a nice little Greek mythology reference too.
For sure! We had really hoped that with all of the artistic presentation and the artists that we worked with, there would be some continues themes and some common threads, that was all Adam [Vass, bass] trying to bounce the ball into different people’s courts, and letting them run with it. It’s been very cool to have a cohesive artistic roll-out and get to work with super-talented people.
It’s definitely all come together well, both in the visuals and the songs themselves. It works well in tandem.
I’m so glad to hear that, man, thank you. I hope others do too.
‘Panorama’ is out March 22nd, 2019, via Epitaph Records & Cooking Vinyl Australia.
[PC: Maddie Bell.]