Photo by Leslie Hampton
A few years ago, Worker Bee and Doctor Nurse were two of the biggest local indie-rock bands. They haven’t broken up, but they aren’t as active as they once were. Evan Jewett, Worker Bee’s lead singer, moved to New York, and a couple of members of Doctor Nurse had kids, which made gigging and maintaining a regular practice schedule tough. In the midst of all this change, Dinners, consisting of two members of Doctor Nurse (Jeff Brummett and Todd Sandigo) and two members of Worker Bee (Andy Barnes and Damien Wendel), formed in the most unassuming of ways.
“Jeff was bored and started hanging out with Andy,” Sandigo explains. The band performs during the latest installment of Daydream Nation at San Pedro Square Market on February 23.
While Brummett was the primary songwriter for Doctor Nurse, it was Jewett who took the lead with Worker Bee, yet Brummett found that Barnes was actually quite the songwriter. Both brought their songs to the table, singing lead vocals to their own compositions. Wendel and Sandigo quickly joined and made it a full-fledged quartet.
“It was organic,” Brummett says of the process. “It was going well, and those other guys weren’t around.”
The songs they came up with were entirely different from both Worker Bee’s lush, meditative, dynamic sound and the subtly complex psychedelic-folk songs of Doctor Nurse. Instead, they played bare-bones, heavy, guitar-driven indie-rock songs.
“It was a reaction to both of our bands,” adds guitarist Sandigo. “Worker Bee was really highly composed, with all these different parts and all these different polyrhythms going on. Doctor Nurse was complicated also, with the folk and the other styles mixed in. We just wanted to get back to basics.”
In the year-and-a-half they’ve been playing together, they have been very modest about promoting themselves. The four members just don’t seem to enjoy making a big production about themselves, even down to their name, “Dinners,” which doesn’t exactly sound like a typical band handle.
Yet they’ve worked on their debut album, Black Rabbits, which is being pressed on vinyl now. They write their songs quickly in order to capture a liveliness, yet they have been diligent at selecting only the songs that sound exactly right.
“We’re not meticulous, but we’re really picky,” Sandigo says. The pickiest of all is Brummett, who doesn’t like to spend too much time on a song that doesn’t feel right. “Jeff’s a big song dumper. That’s part of his M.O., and that’s been for all his bands,” Sandigo says.
They spent the better part of four months recording their album in Brummett’s living room with an eight-track tape deck rather than working in a studio, or even using modern computer recording software. The sound quality is reminiscent of the ’80s/’90s lo-fi indie bands, back before underground bands had access to Pro Tools.
“I like the ideas of weirdos hanging out in their houses recording jams at midnight on a Monday rather than a bunch of people in some big studio somewhere,” Brummett says. “When I listen to my favorite four-tracked records—Guided by Voices, Lou Barlow, Bill Fox, Beatnik Filmstars—there’s an intimacy and looseness that is very appealing to me.”
The production is deliberately squashed. The vocals are mixed right down into the guitars and drums, instead of high above as on most radio songs. The songs jump between fast and slow tempos with loose pop sensibilities. Yet people used to standard rock production qualities may not get it, which is OK with Dinners. They spent a lot of time making sure it was mixed just the way they liked. After several failed attempts to do it themselves, they enlisted their friend Yong Muller to give it a go, which worked out.
“I genuinely like stuff that sounds like it’s on a four-track. I generally really dislike the way big rock guitars sound digitally. There’s no grit whatsoever,” says Brummett.
Most of the 13 songs on Black Rabbits were written and demoed a few months before the album was recorded. A couple were written during the recording session itself. All of them were recorded while still fresh so that the band was very excited about them.
“We really should have the recording stuff set up constantly and during practice when a song is really peaking, just record the album version right then,” Brummett admits.
In September, Dinners started an Indiegogo campaign to pay for the vinyl pressing. Rather than offering a rewards for different levels of contribution, Dinners just treated the campaign as a way to pre-order the album, because really all they care about is being satisfied with what they’ve created.
“It’s fun to play songs with people, but absolutely it’s about the content to me. Just listening to a song and capturing what the song is supposed to be, that is incredibly fulfilling. That’s the whole thing really,” Brummett says.