Walk into Primitive Vintage, the Ann Arbor-based retro clothing and knickknack store owned by husband and wife bandmates Ryan and Casey Dawson. The first thing you’ll find amid the assortment of pinstriped pants and bull’s-eye T-shirts is that it feels as though you’ve just been transported back in time. Ryan sits behind the counter playing obscure Nuggets-style jams with his hair snipped into the perfect shag, and there are more polyester button-downs than at a home appliances convention in Iowa. But a closer look reveals that the jangly-rock is being generated by Winamp on a computer and that the fluffy-haired DJ is sporting a hefty pair of moonboots (popularized in the ’80s last time we checked). Then you’ll likely realize that you don’t have to be worried about getting run down by a Vespa gang anytime soon.
This time warp is the domain of Dawson’s band, the Riots, which includes drummer Paul Bancel and organist Sarah Biddle. All four members are 1960s music and culture enthusiasts who live in a world where Pro Tools rules and the day’s hits are littered with a sheen so glossy, you’d swear mindless robots were behind their creation. In fact, while recording their debut album, Love After, the Riots found themselves in the middle of a tug of war between the purity of recording styles from 40 years ago and the convenience of digital technology.
“We recorded the album in four different locations — two times digital, two times analog,” Dawson says. “I was being way too critical about something that ended up being very simple. I had all these ideas and expectations about what this record meant to me and how it should sound, and I was constantly disappointed. It wasn’t until I stopped taking it so seriously that things became really fun and started sounding good. I wanted it to sound old, and it does.”
When Dawson says he wanted it to sound old, he isn’t joking. The album bleeds with so much ’60s authenticity that it almost seems blasphemous to put Love After into your computer and cue it up on iTunes. And though the Riots have spent more than three years honing their sound by playing nonstop with everyone from the Hentchmen and the Dirtbombs to Broken Social Scene and Midwest Product, it wasn’t until they hooked up with local garage music troubadour Freddy Fortune (of Fortune & Maltese), that Love After took shape.
Dawson said that he and Fortune “have a parallel interest in just about everything. His input and knowledge on ’60s music was fantastic. Freddy put a lot of time, money and effort into it. It blew us all away how much he personally put into it.”
It can’t be denied, however, how much the Riots themselves put into the 11 songs heard on Love After. On songs like “Hold on Me” and “So Long” Dawson conjures Jaggeresque howls, while Biddle’s organ adds a necessary motion to tracks like “Wasting My Time” and “Move Me.” Bancel’s raw drumming and Casey Dawson’s bass runs and call-and-response harmonies are steeped with the stuff that gets the kids dancing. Love After is the perfect record for a band that wears its influences so unabashedly on its sleeve.
Ask Dawson, though, and he’ll tell you he doesn’t much care about all of that anymore. Remember, this is a guy who doesn’t mind sporting a pair of moonboots in the winter. “In all honesty, there was a time I cared about credibility. It’s hard not to care about what your peers think of you. I’ve learned, though, that whenever I start thinking about that, I stress out and sometimes make decisions that aren’t true to my vision. So I’ve stopped doing that. The fact is, I don’t have anything to prove except that I love music; especially ’60s music. I’m not trying to make a living at it, or meet chicks or be popular. I’m just having fun, and sometimes that’s when the best things happen … when all that other bullshit is forgotten about.”
Doors at 9 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 8, at the Lager House, 1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668. Also appearing: the Singles and Friends of Dennis Wilson. Ryan Allen is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]