THE LUXURY: IN THE WAKE OF WHAT WON’T CHANGE
by Max Heinegg
These days Jason Dunn is the prince of Allston, when once he was the pauper. The singer/ songwriter, bandleader of the Luxury and musical journeyman has sweat it out for a decade and recently, hit a well-earned stretch, winning the Rumble, opening for Coldplay, and planning a July CD release at the Paradise. I caught up with Jason recently after listening to an advance copy of the Luxury’s new CD In the Wake of What Won’t Change.
Noise: How have you stayed at it over the years when so many other Boston bands have come and gone?
Jason: This is all I know how to do, and all I really want to do, so it’s kind of a no-brainer. I have to do it; I don’t really have a choice. When I finally went back to school I went back for audio engineering to make sure that even if the day came when absolutely no one liked what I did anymore, I could just keep doing it anyway. I’ve dealt with plenty of people coming and going in bands I’ve been in, and if people have other things they have to do then that’s their path. The thing that’s great about this band right now is that we all really believe in each other musically—I think there’s a strong sense of faith that we’ll continue to make music we can really love, and if other people love it too, that seals the deal.
Noise: What’s been enjoyable about the recent success?
Jason: I’m not going to lie: any success in music is pretty amazing these days, especially if you’re making the music you want to be making. This last year has been an incredible time for us, and if it’s not the beginning of something bigger then it’ll go down as a great period in all of our lives. Now we’re dealing with bigger opportunities, and we’ve taken on a great manager, but everything up to this point was accomplished on our own terms, and with the help of our fans and friends. That makes all of this much more special.
Noise: Tell me about the album’s title.
Jason: “In the wake of what won’t change/ This is something we can take” is a line from “The Mirror Fogs,” at the end of the chorus. I feel like we all get dragged around by the passage of history, by what seems like this big unstoppable and unchanging juggernaut up ahead that we can never quite catch up with or reason with. We’re never really in charge or in control outside of our own bubble, no matter how big it may get. But if you can look around your bubble and see something you can cope with, maybe even something you can be glad to call your own, you’re on to something.
Noise: Listening to the CD, some lines stick out—particularly “I can’t imagine anyone/ Would know me now.”
Jason: I think there are a lot of lines on this record that mean more than they say. That’s the funny thing about language, writing, painting, making songs—you own it for as long as you keep it to yourself, but then as soon as it’s out there for people to hear it’s a different story, and you hear back all kinds of interpretations of your own work. Sometimes the re-interpretation is far more interesting that what you wrote. But at the risk of spoiling the fantastic, the line and the song are basically about my separation from my home in Vermont. The beauty of the hard winters; the influx of spare-changing trust fund kids in the summer, the self-imposed glass ceilings, and in the end the realization that there’s no reason to prove anything to your past as you try to forge ahead. I think. Honestly, I wrote and recorded that song in about six hours out of the blue one day.
Noise: Which song’s lyrics are most central to the CD —“Mirror Fogs”?
Jason: “Getaway Car,” most likely. Besides kicking off the record in 11/8, with a theremin and string section, I think it conveys the escape theme that runs through the record in a very immediate way, before other songs on the record lead you in different directions.
Noise: Has your approach to songwriting changed?
Jason: I’ll either build up from a specific personal experience or strip down to one from random ideas, melodies, and words. The approach depends on what I’m starting with, and one way feels very organic and happens very quickly, like with “Rockets” or “’Til Your Last Year,” and the other is far more abstract and can take months. Someone recently asked me how long it takes to write lyrics for a song, and my answer was “either under an hour or over a month.”
Noise: Approach to singing changed?
Jason: I’m not afraid of what people think anymore, so I’m going for it a lot harder now than I have previously. I hear the good and the bad in my voice, like I’m sure everyone else does, but I’m stuck with it so I’m going to make the most of it. I can hit some notes, sure, but these days I’m trying to make the delivery more emotive than before. Particularly with the last Halogens EP I feel like I was shooting for some vague notion of vocal perfection, which is a terrible idea and makes potentially good records sound bland. Way better to sing your guts out, especially on a record, where you’ve got one chance to give the songs the impact you want them to have.
Noise: Do I hear a more pronounced ’80s vibe on this CD?
Jason: Hell’s yeah, you do! I’ve never been good at playing up to what’s “in,” musically, but when the keyboards came charging back a few years ago my inner nerd exploded with delight. I’ve always loved the sound of a big synth pad under guitars, and I’m a sucker for Moogs too. Now I get to use both! And to top it off, we found Steven Borek, a total nerd about keyboards whose head is deeply steeped in ’70s prog and early ’80s pop and rock like the Cars.
Noise: True or false: “Take it Back” is stadium rock, and that’s okay.
Jason: Ha! True, and it’s pure awesome! That song started as a much quieter, slower demo that I made a couple years ago, but when it was introduced to the band it just kept getting louder and faster. I thought we were finished altering it with the big dramatic pause before the chorus, but then Daanen went and got himself an octave pedal for the intro and we were all like, “Okay, this is totally over the top.” Of course, that finally meant it was just right.
Noise: Influences: What’s stayed in constant play for you over the years, musically?
Jason: Thanks for specifying “musically,” otherwise you would have had about 10 years worth of boring self-analysis. I’ll always love the Beatles, Marillion, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Yes, Def Leppard, James, and all those ’90s Britpop groups. I know that’s an odd list, but each of them brings something different for me. The Beatles got the songs, Peter Gabriel, Yes, and Marillion have the atmosphere and the prog roots, James is sonically gorgeous, Def Leppard is huge… and Duran Duran’s fun for dancin’. The thing is, though, if you asked the other guys in the band you’d get very, very different lists.
Noise: Do you still think that the band has its feet in Britpop stylistically?; I still hear Oasis, the Verve, and, of course, the Beatles.
Jason: Well, I have a good solid anchor there personally. For me it’s all about the melody, and I think that particular movement created some of the best melodies since the ’60s so I’ll always love it. The band’s sound as a whole is defined by everyone’s individual sounds as players, though. So you hear math-rock drumming, prog keys, hard-rock guitar, and some deep grooving bass winding up in the same songs, with results that are nearly always miles beyond the initial idea that anyone came in with.
Noise: Lastly, there seems to be an Oscar Wilde “I’m in the gutter but I’m looking at the stars” twist to the last line of “Firefly” which the lovely closing track; “I’ll be the firefly/ Breathing my last in the jar.”
Jason: That Wilde quote pretty much sums up my life, man. “Firefly” was another quick write; it’s about knowing you’re a little guiding light in someone’s life, regardless of how they treat you or whether they acknowledge such a thing. It’s vaguely autobiographical, like most of the stuff I write, but I’ve been on both ends of this. If you keep that light sealed up, counting on it for what it offers but never tending to it, eventually it’ll die out in the cage you’ve given it. So I guess the key message is, take care of your tiny insect friends, or simply let us go.
The Luxury, live and on the web: The CD release will be Saturday, 7/11, at the Paradise tickets on sale at the box office or at www.theluxuryband.com; guests are the Click Five, Midatlantic, and Aloud. The Luxury’s set will be augmented by original short films from student and amateur filmmakers created as backdrops for each of the new songs, projected behind the band as the new album is performed in its entirety.