How do you define musical productivity? So Many Dynamos has had a busy three years since The Loud Wars was released, though that might not be obvious to casual observers of the band, people who only pay attention to things like record releases and tours. Since releasing The Loud Wars in June of 2009 and touring cross-country that summer and in Europe the following winter, the band has kept a very low profile on a larger scale. But between reworking the mechanics of the band and becoming even more entrenched with their local music community, it’s clear that the members of So Many Dynamos have been very busy developing a new sound.
The post-The Loud Wars era of the band really began with the departure of Ryan Wasoba, previously the band’s main creative force, in August of 2009. “We never hid the fact that Ryan was the primary songwriter throughout our career as a band, all the way up to The Loud Wars,” says Aaron Stovall, the band’s singer and, like everyone else in the band, multi-instrumentalist (for Stovall, that means keyboards and auxiliary percussion). Stovall explains Wasoba’s influence on that era of the band with a clear head: “He is, first and foremost, a guitar player. Dude likes to rock. Sometimes we jokingly compare our situation to what it must have been like when Peter Gabriel left Genesis, taking all of the prog-rock with him, and leaving Phil Collins to invite the horn section from Earth, Wind and Fire to play on their new songs.” Similarly, So Many Dynamos took Wasoba’s departure as an opportunity to retool their sound rather than panic. “After Ryan’s departure, we began approaching songwriting differently and expanding more on the electronics we had incorporated on some songs for The Loud Wars. Now, three years later, we’ve continued and have further explored how those elements have been, and are still being, used in music.”
The first taste of this new era comes today, Tuesday, June 26, with the offical release of the band’s self-titled EP. The three tracks maintain the energetic, intelligent vibe the band has cultivated for ten years now, but place more of an emphasis on rhythm and electronics; the EP is even labeled on bandcamp as “booty shakin’ nerd pop.” Stovall explains the retooling of sound in true nerdy fashion:
Beat-driven and electronically-inspired music is everywhere these days. You almost can’t escape it. It’s prevalent in nearly all forms of modern pop music. The thing I’ve been most interested in lately is drawing parallels between the present and that of the electro-disco era. The same things were happening then. Bands were finding ways to incorporate new technology in whichever ways suited them best. Whether it was Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ or Arthur Russell’s ‘Arm Around You,’ both songs share the common bond of breathing and providing the listener with rhythmic space. I’d say those are the two most important aspects of what appeals to us musically nowadays.
Those two aspects are especially prevalent in “Let’s Just See What Happens,” which uses its five-and-a-half minutes to stretch out and let the band explore new soundscapes, and in “Barely Listening,” especially in the way Stovall’s vocals keep the otherwise fast, frantic song grounded. It’s a promising batch of songs that foretells good things to come for the new-look So Many Dynamos, who are scheduled to begin recording their new album, titled Safe with Sound, at the end of July.
Aside from being influenced by electronically-based music, the band has decided to look within the scene of St. Louis, their hometown, for new inspiration. Stovall and drummer Clayton Kunstel are involved in the St. Louis Secret Sound Society, which helps encourage and facilitate collaboration in the arts throughout St. Louis. Stovall believes the Society is an invaluable resource for the St. Louis music community as well as So Many Dynamos. One unexpected collaboration the band was involved in was performing “Barely Listening” live with St. Louis rapper Black Spade. “Black Spade is a force within himself,” Stovall says of the collaboration. “We have plans of collaborating with him and his group, Hawthorne Headhunters, on their next release. Trying new things like that has offered us ways to step outside of our comfort zone and constantly challenge ourselves.” The performance in question begins at the 20:00 minute mark in the video below.
Not only have local collaborations helped to inform this era of So Many Dynamos, they’ve also helped change the St. Louis music community as a whole. “Playing music is beyond fun and it’s the perfect alternative to using words as communication with people you’re just getting to know,” says Stovall. He adds that the collaborations have been incredibly important in advancing the music culture and community in St. Louis:
It forces you to listen. It forces you to choose what’s right for the song and situation and not just for yourself. It’s a great way to step outside of your own expectations and limitations as a performer. It’s all about seeing how far you’re able to push one another, while at the same time, furthering your individual growth. I’d like to think that whoever else is involved walks away with the attitude that they’ve learned something new and can use it to their benefit in whichever way they choose.
Record releases and tours can offer false notions of productivity for some bands, both personally and musically. It’s clear through their experiences over the past three years that So Many Dynamos have found a way to be a more sustainable, creative band, and they’ve done it on their own terms. The result of all this soul-searching and growing is arguably some of the best music the band’s ever recorded.