Who, exactly, are Dear And The Headlights? Sure, we know they’re an indie-rock band from Arizona. They released their debut full-length, Small Steps, Heavy Hooves, to much critical praise in February 2007. They have toured the country over and again with a wider variety of bands (Circa Survive to Dredg, Plain White T’s to Fear Before The March Of Flames) than most acts will play with in their entire career, let alone a year. Currently, the band is on a U.S. tour opening for emo powerhouses (and fellow Arizonians) Jimmy Eat World and pop-punk royalty du jour Paramore-a bill that is opening up a whole new legion of fans to Dear And The Headlights’ introspective, catchy, piano-laced, country-tinged rock.
But really, this quintet-Ian Metzger (vocals/guitar/keys), Robert Cissell (guitar/keys), PJ Waxman (guitar/keys), Chuckie Duff (bass/keys) and Mark Kulvinskas (drums)-are just five guys who love creating music. No frills. No egos. No exceptions. “I just want to play music,” affirms Metzger. “I don’t have a strategy for doing so.”
Things weren’t always as simple for Dear And The Headlights, though. After struggling for years to get the band off the ground and solidify a lineup, this five-some came together in 2006 to record what would become Small Steps, Heavy Hooves. Personnel questions aside, the band continued to demo songs, planning to self-release them on Duff’s (who was not yet in the band) own label, Common Wall Media. Though the recording was successful and DATH handed out CD-Rs at their live shows, the members weren’t sure how long they could sustain the band without a solid decision on who should play in the rhythm section. After some much-needed time off, the lure of the previously recorded material pulled the band back together, and Duff was an obvious choice for bass. Shortly after, a successful ad on Craigslist brought Kulvinskas to the mix, and Dear And The Headlights were complete.
The band intended to continue with the process of self-releasing Small Steps, Heavy Hooves when producer and friend Bob Hoag sent the self-released CD to Equal Vision Records and recommended the two get in touch. The band and the label discovered they had a mutual admiration for one another, and a new partnership was forged, leading to their 2007 full-length debut. However, most of the songs on the record had been five years in the making, and by the time the band inked a deal with Equal Vision and released their debut, they were different people, both musically and in the life experiences they’d shared.
A successful album and a year-plus of touring under their collective belts, Dear And The Headlights are poised for a breakout and more comfortable with their emerging identity. Settled and happy with their lineup, DATH are working on fresh material that reflects their current states as people and musicians, as well as playing out as much as possible “Everything is all good now,” summarizes Waxman. “We’ve been working really hard writing new songs for the next record, touring a lot and just being pretty involved in the band.”
Before the band put their new inspirations to tape, though, they’re conquering the road with Jimmy Eat World and Paramore. “It should be a lot of fun,” says Waxman of the tour. “We’re excited to meet them and play in such big rooms. It’ll be a great opportunity to spread our music.” Perhaps a strange lineup to some, DATH are used to playing in front of disparate audiences with bands of all backgrounds. Last year saw Dear And The Headlights on the road with more than seven very different packages-all which worked due to the band’s universal appeal and broad musical scope. “We are influenced by every kind of music,” explains Waxman. “From Bob Dylan to Tool to Elliott Smith to Modest Mouse to Depeche Mode to Leonard Cohen to Tera Melos to Cursive to the Beatles to Radiohead to Joanna Newsom. If anything, we sound like everyone.”
Modesty aside, Dear And The Headlights have tapped into a sound that speaks to people of all musical “scenes,” from screamo to folk. The band plan to elaborate on their sound-and capture some of their live energy-when they hit the studio to record their sophomore album in May. Planning to record with Hoag (who they also worked with on their debut), at Duff and Hoag’s Flying Blanket Recording, the band are ready to tackle new ground. “I think part of the issue with the first record is that we demo’d a bunch of songs, and we just demo’d them to death,” says Metzger. “By the time we ended up recording the actual record, I was having to go in and sing about stuff that I didn’t even slightly relate to anymore. When we went into the studio and heard the polished version, we’re like, ‘Ugh! It’s a little lifeless.’ On this record, we’re not going to demo any of the songs. We’re going to let playing them out live kind of be the demo-just by playing it out and remembering how it sounds live.”
“The song-writing process is very collaborative,” adds Waxman. “Anyone who has an idea-if everyone likes it-we put it in a song. We’re all very open to criticizing each other and don’t lift our chins on any idea. We luckily don’t really have any problem of egos, so things work out really well.”
While the band hope you hear-and enjoy-their newest material, they’re not about to take the liberty of telling you how to interpret it. “I made a decision after the last record to not discuss the meaning of any of my lyrics for the songs on the new record,” says Metzger, the main lyricist for the band. “I just found too many people had built up an idea of what the song means to them, and when offered the real meaning of the song, it seemed to cheapen their previous feelings about it.”
So maybe we’ll never know who Dear And The Headlights really are as people. But after their current tour, an appearance at the high-profile Southern California festival Bamboozle Left and a new album full emotionally charged and refreshed tracks slated to hit shelves this fall, you better believe that people will recognize their sound. As five musicians’ musicians, that’s all Dear And The Headlights are asking for, anyway.
The band’s sophomore album, Drunk Like Bible Times will be available September 30th, 2008.