A few weeks ago, I sat down with Paul Alcott and Matt Dabrowiak, the duo behind our sixth place Best New Band, Dat'r for a long chat about their history in Portland staple Binary Dolls, and their progression into the much loved indie-crossover dance project they are now. Catch the short version of the Dat'r tale in this week's Willamette Week or at wweek.com. Here's the long version, in their own words.
How did Dat'r start?
Paul: It started on a Roland V station…like all mediocre bands. No. (laughs). It was Matt's concept.
Matt: Basically, my life changed when I heard [Talking Head's] Remain in Light
. I wanted to do something that was dancey and looped. Well, the original concept was dancey, loopy, mesmerizing, with intelligent words. And weird sounds and stuff like that. And just very much like loopy African rhythms of really just not knowing where the "1" is, and everything interlocking with each other. So, that was something I had in my head for a long time, starting back when I was in San Diego. Then I moved up here to basically do that and play with my brother, who's in Binary Dolls. We found Paul through a mutual friend, and he joined Binary Dolls, and then I told him about this idea.
Paul: I said I'm down for whatever, whenever.
How much of an overlap was there between when Binary Dolls was fairly active and Dat'r was becoming a primary project?
Paul: It always seemed that when Binary Dolls was happening, existing, it trumped Dat'r. It was the real thing. And, we did Dat'r when we had a chance. Then [Binary Dolls] stopped being Nick's [Jaina] main thing, and his folk project became his main thing, and he really didn't have time for it. We just had a lot more time on our hands to do Dat'r. Maybe a year ago: whenever you would date the rise of Nick Jaina, the folk band, that's when you would date the fall of Binary Dolls, the rock band.
Paul: We're not really sure what the future of Binary Dolls is at the moment. We never see Nick.
Matt: I live with him, and never see him.
What do you take from Binary Dolls into Dat'r?
Paul: I think there's definitely an emphasis on the song, with Binary Dolls and Dat'r both. Nick is just a fantastic songwriter. So, we build around that. The one thing I like to think of Dat'r as being unique in is a really song oriented approach to electronic music, and I know that's not really unique. But, it's maybe a little more unique than just kind of spinning some beats. For me, songwriting is the only thing that really holds my interest. I've been trying to become a better electronic music listener because I have a lot of people tell me that Dat'r sounds like mid-nineties music. People say ‘Man, you really like Meat Beat Manifesto.'
I've been trying a lot to really educate myself on what's happening in electronic music, so as to not make music that doesn't sound antiquated, even if it's fresh to my ears. Definitely, the approach of making things with rock instruments…I guess that's a lot of Dat'r's character. Guitar n' acoustic drum guys making electronic music.
Matt: It's pretty different for me because Binary Dolls is pretty much Nick led and very much he's the main songwriter and we just try to make it more interesting. And, this is more we're generating ideas at the start.
Paul: I also learned to play drums in Binary Dolls, so playing drums in Dat'r is definitely an outgrowth of that.
Matt, do you listen to a lot of electronic music?
Matt: I don't listen to a ton. I sort of have the same problem as Paul.
Paul: I'm getting more into it.
Matt: As he was saying. So, not as bad as Paul. I have trouble with when there's not words or songs not intelligent words.
Paul: Yeah, dance music with vocals is so much like ‘shake your ass,' it's hard to listen to as something that's really focused on songwriting. It's hard to have a songwriting element there and have it be dumb.
What's the best show you've done in Portland?
Paul: This house party on Dekum was the best show. Kids were just packed in there screaming. Our fog machine was working for a change.
Matt: We like [playing] parties, just being on the floor with people, and just have people packed in. It just feels a lot more immediate. Even if it's just like 20 people going crazy, it feels bigger than when you're on the stage and, it's 60 or 80 people going crazy, but a bit more away from you, and with the lights in your face.
Paul: If there isn't a bar, there's really nowhere else to hang out so you just kind of watch the band. People are forced into us a little more at house parties.
Matt: They're generally getting better.
Paul: Yeah, we've got a bubble machine now, so it's only going to get better and better.
Would you do bubbles and fog at the same time?
Paul: We did it and people kind of shouted us down. We've seen advertisements for a snow machine, which would create a trifecta of obnoxiousness. But, we haven't purchased that just yet.
WW Best New Band Feature
Dat'r on the space
Photos: (top) by Marcie Fickle; (bottom) Dat'r hangin in some green space, by Melanie Brown; (very bottom) Dat'r with LKN, by Tom Oliver