The men of Mr. Dream live in a dump. Technically, it’s an apartment, but it feels more like a cramped, grime-ridden hell—a hovel where rats roam freely, tap water always runs ice cold and a terrible, vomit-inducing stink hanging over the place never dissipates. The band’s only reprieve from this filth is writing acerbic songs that channel the grit and bitterness of ’80s post-punk (Big Black) and ’80s hardcore (Black Flag). Hints of melody bleed through their sound, but, by and large, it’s a platform for Mr. Dream to transfer their disgust for this space into something productive but still pissed-off.
Or at least that’s the scenario that’s suggested by their material. In reality, vocalist/bassist Matt Morello says that the band’s three players reside separately in “pretty standard Brooklyn apartments” that are “not too squalorous.” They must suffer in other ways then, as their work consistently projects images of decay and destitution. Check out two recent record covers for proof. The front of their Moneybags 7-inch is an eerie stock photo of a smashed piggy bank, and their full-length Trash Hit highlights a strangely sobering abstract trash sculpture, attributed to elusive outsider artist The Philadelphia Wireman. Morello explains that Trash Hit’s cover stems from “an idea of trash, of ruin, of some sort of thing falling apart but that’s also beautiful.” The music is about “having these terrible, harsh noises along with pretty melodies or catchy riffs or whatever.” Contradictions and juxtapositions like these are everywhere in Mr. Dream’s world.
Morello, bassist/vocalist Adam Moerder and drummer Nick Sylvester founded the group in April 2008, initially bonding over a show featuring the late fiery punk/garage rocker Jay Reatard. This origin handily speaks to their aesthetic tastes. “We were really feeling the need to play something that was that kind of satisfying rock music,” Morello says. “I don’t know that we were necessarily looking to be a punk band, but I think that gave us a framework for our sound and for writing songs and to have some sort of songwriting heroes.” In specific terms, the band has been inspired by the likes of The Wipers’ Greg Sage and Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard—musicians long dedicated to toiling away on their beloved projects while receiving relatively little attention—and post-punk/post-hardcore firebrands such as Big Black and The Jesus Lizard.
“We have our share of screaming or shouting or spoken songs, so I think that’s cool, but if there’s anything to avoid, it’s that pigeonholing of ‘Oh, we’re a noise band’ or ‘We’re the toughest motherfuckers around, and we’re going to play really hard all the time,’ ” Morello says. “No one’s looking to be too brutal. No one’s looking to be in a weird math-rock band. No one’s looking to be in a weird noise project. We want to make songs that are going to hopefully mean stuff to people.”
So far, Mr. Dream’s story seems uncomplicated: A few guys get together to rock, and that’s that. But it’s also been well-publicized that all the Mr. Dream members are Ivy League grads (Morello went to Yale; Sylvester and Moerder, Harvard), and Sylvester and Moerder have been professional rock critics before. These details have opened up the possibility that this primal, feverish band is actually made up of intellectuals who have meticulously thought their music through, which potentially adds another layer of contradiction.
“I don’t know what band doesn’t think a lot about their music,” Morello says. “If you’re spending that much time playing stuff and with people in a creative endeavor, let’s hope that you’re spending a lot of time thinking about your music and playing it.” At the same time, he discourages the notion of being a rock musician who overthinks things, and he champions rawness and purity. “This isn’t some weird pastiche project,” he says. “We’re just trying to make awesome rock albums.”
w/ Cloud Nothings, Laissez Bear
741 S. Kilby Court (330 West)
Friday, March 9, 7 p.m.
$8 in advance, $10 day of show