It’s no secret that Nashville has bragging rights to much of our nation’s musical backbone. Ranked as one of the Top 10 best places to live and work in America, it also boasts the Grand Ole Opry. The Bluebird Café. Every major country and Christian-music recording player in the game. The ghosts of country past emanate from the city’s Greek-inspired architecture, from its tiny cafes serving heavenly, greasy weekend brunches, from the streets known as Music Row.
Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman frequently haunt their local Starbucks, catching up on their Sunday papers like normal folk. Reese Witherspoon still keeps a home here, close to her roots. Happy new resident Jack White – who left his native Detroit last year because it was too “negative” – still sets off a wave of excitement when he frequents a local music venue. Local Southern-fried rockers Kings of Leon are splashed on late-night TV, on the radio, on billboards around the country.
Don’t tell anyone, but Nashville’s gradually found itself becoming another kind of Music City: one that’s also pop- and rock-friendly. And within this comforting revelation resides De Novo Dahl, an eclectic psych-pop crew that favors stunning Nudie suits as stage uniforms; names The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev among its major influences; and has nothing against having, say, beach-themed shows in the dead of winter (of course, fans wearing bikinis and trunks get in for free).
“Nashville is kind of a weird situation, if you’ve been here a long time – Kings of Leon ushered in some attention outside of country and Christian music, and it seems like there’s a bit of explosion,” explains singer-guitarist Joel J. Dahl. “Rock bands cling and support to one another; to get a really great show at a great venue, in the past you had to have a really great bill to get them to let you play. Bands would stick together to get them. Three or four years ago, we were all clinging together to create a gang of Nashville rock bands.”
Still, De Novo Dahl’s always felt at home in Nashville’s small pop community, but the five-piece can’t resist standing out in a crowd. They’re the first pop band to be signed to Roadrunner’s roster, the class clowns in a world of session musicians that take themselves very, very seriously. “We’ve always really enjoyed sticking out like a sore thumb,” says Dahl. “We wear ridiculous outfits, and we try hard to not play a normal rock show. We had a spaghetti Western night where we all dressed as cowboys and served free spaghetti to a big crowd of people who’ve been drinking for a couple hours. They were grateful to not have to go stand in line at Burger King afterward.”
With the release of its Roadrunner debut, The Shout EP, De Novo Dahl – whose moniker is a blending of Latin for "the new" and the last name of creative and visual author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, anyone?) – is poised to take its creativity to strange new heights. Self-produced and mixed by their heroes, David Fridmann and Tony Dugan (Flaming Lips, Super Furry Animals, Belle & Sebastian), the outfit’s sound has deservedly hit its sometimes glammy, sometimes retro stride. Mixing electronic layers with more spare vintage garage-rock sounds, DND arrives at a modern, completely engaging axis of experimentation and catchy songcraft.
Most importantly, the group wants to leave people with a memory, and an experience. “Rock bands today often don’t really put on a show,” says Dahl. “[I like it when someone’s trying] something early Genesis or KISS would do, like wearing costumes or really leaving your mark on an audience that says ‘Woah, this wasn’t like the last 50 times I’ve been to a show!’”
Like their beloved Flaming Lips, DND’s members pride themselves on adventurous recording acrobatics. “You can’t ever be afraid of different ideas in the studio, of taking things apart,” says Dahl. “When we were making the record, we were giggly like little children – we wanted to dance through the house after a recording session, like we were in middle school. It was ridiculous! All the excitement was perpetuating, pushing us further.”
From the Shins-y harmonies, gritty blips (think “Video Killed the Radio Star”), and catchy yesteryear singalongs of “Shout (Popple Mix)” to the giddy, Brendan Benson-esque “Sexy come Lately” -- a B-side leftover from the band’s stellar 2005 debut, Cats and Kittens – The Shout EP is an exercise in deconstruction, of tearing something apart and starting over to make it a completely new form of self-expression.
“Oddly enough, we found out that’s how the Flaming Lips started changing their sounds,” Dahl explains. “Dave and Wayne [Coyne] did some remixes for fun for other bands, and decided to mess around w/their own stuff, some old Lips songs, and ended up liking the remixes better. I like that mentality.”
Just as Cats and Kittens glittered with promise, and its confidently rhythmic tracks garnered praise from critics, The Shout EP beckons more ears to pay heed to the Nashville scene. Pitchfork said, "The net impression left by the two discs of Cats & Kittens is one of a confident, talented band letting its collective imagination run wild, deconstructing it own ideas and recycling them into something new... overflowing with mostly realized ambition," while CMJ remarked that the band was "bursting with new ideas."
De Novo Dahl’s full-length Roadrunner album will be released in early 2008.