Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about Los Angeles-based psych rock act The Dream Syndicate, and as you may recall the act, which is currently comprised of founding members Steve Wynn, an accomplished and critically applauded singer/songwriter, guitarist and solo artist and drummer Dennis Duck, along with bassist Mark Walton and guitarist Jason Victor, can trace its origins back to the early 80s when Wynn along with fellow Dream Syndicate founding member Kendra Smith and future True West members Russ Tolman and Gavin Blair founded and played in one of the area’s first new wave bands in the Davis, CA music scene, The Suspects. Wynn also recorded a single with another band, 15 Minutes, which included members of Alternate Learning.
After returning to his hometown, Wynn spent a brief stint of time rehearsing in another local band, Goat Deity with future Wednesday Week members, Kelly and Kristi Callan — and while with Goat Deity, Wynn met Karl Precoda, who had an answered an ad seeking a bassist. The two started a new band with Precoda switching to guitar. Wynn’s college pal and former bandmate Smith and Duck (Mehaffey), who was a member of Pasadena-based act Human Hands joined the band to complete The Dream Syndicate’s initial lineup. (Interestingly, as the story goes, Duck suggested the band’s name as a reference to Tony Conrad’s early 1960s New York-based experimental ensemble, best known as the Theatre of Eternal Music, which featured John Cale.)
With the release of their Paul B. Cutler-produced debut EP, The Dream Syndicate received attention locally for a sound influenced by The Velvet Underground, Neil Young and Television, complete with aggressively long, feedback-filled improvisations. The members of the band signed to Slash Records subsidiary Ruby Records, who released the band’s 1982 full-length debut, the attention-grabbing and influential Days of Wine and Roses. Rough Trade Records released their debut’s lead single “Tell Me When It’s Over” as the A-side of a UK EP, which included a live cover of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” that was released in early 1983. Smith left the band and joined David Roback in Opal — and she was replaced by David Provost.
Their Sandy Pearlman-produced sophomore effort Medicine Show was recorded and released through A&M Records in 1984 — and as a result of being on a major label, the band opened for R.E.M. and U2. Attempting to build on a growing profile, the members of the band released a five song EP This Is Not The New Dream Syndicate Album . . . Live!, which was noteworthy as it was the last recorded effort to feature Precoda, who left soon after to pursue a career in screenwriting — and it was the first to feature Mark Walton on bass. The EP’s commercial failure led to the band’s first breakup — although a temporary one. The band was then dropped by A&M Records after the label rejected the band’s demo for “Slide Away.”
During the band’s break up, Wynn along with Green on Red’s Dan Stuart wrote and recorded 10 songs with Duck and a number of other musicians, which was released by A&M Records in 1985 as Danny and Dusty’s The Lost Weekend. After the release of Lost Weekend, Wynn, Duck and Walton teamed up with Paul B. Cutler to form a then-newly reunited iteration of The Dream Syndicate that recorded two full-length studio albums — 1986’s Cutler-produced Out of the Grey and 1988’s Elliot Mazer-produced Ghost Stories. The band recorded a live album Live at Raji‘s which was recorded in 1988 before the release of Ghost Stories but released afterward.
The band broke up in 1989 — and a batch of previously unreleased material was released that included 3½ (The Lost Tapes: 1985-1988), a compilation of studio sessions and The Day Before Wine and Roses, a live KPFK radio session, recorded just before the release of the band’s applauded debut album were released. After the breakup, Walton went on to play bass in the Continental Drifters while Wynn went on to become an acclaimed singer/songwriter and solo artist with a reputation or restlessly exploring a variety of different styles while leading a number of different projects including Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3, The Baseball Project and others.
Wynn led a reunited Dream Syndicate to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their full-length debut that featured Walton, Duck and Jason Victor, Wynn’s longtime Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3 guitarist at an appearance at 2012’s Festival BAM in Barcelona Spain. The reunited band went on to play a handful of other live sets, including two 2013 Paisley Underground reunion shows that included The Bangles, The Three O’Clock and Rain Parade. September 2014 saw the band playing a handful of shows in which they played their first two albums in their complete entirety — and those shows marked the band’s first shows in the Southeast in almost 30 years. Between their first reunion show and 2017, the band played more than 50 shows together.
Anti-Records released the band’s fifth full-length album How Did I Find Myself Here in 2017, which featured a lineup of Wynn, Walton, Duck and Victor with keyboardist Chris Cacavas. Recorded at Montrose Studios, the album’s notable final track “Kendra’s Dream” featured vocals and lyrics from Kendra Smith. Building upon the growing attention around the reunited band, the members of The Dream Syndicate recorded three songs, which were included on the compilation 3 x 4, a collection of tracks that featured new material from their Paisley Underground counterparts, The Bangles, The Three O’Clock and Rain Parade with each of the four bands covering songs by the other bands.
Slated for a May 3, 2019 release through Anti-Records, the John Agnello and The Dream Syndicate co-produced These Times will be the second full-length studio album since the band reunited, and the album’s material is reportedly a subtle yet noticeable departure for the band sonically. “When I was writing the songs for the new album I was pretty obsessed with Donuts by J-Dilla,” lead singer and songwriter Steve Wynn explained. “I loved the way that he approached record making as a DJ, a crate-digger, a music fan wanting to lay out all of his favorite music, twist and turn the results until he made them into his own. I was messing around with step sequencers, drum machines, loops—anything to take me out of my usual way of writing and try to feel as though I was working on a compilation rather than ‘more of the same.’ You might not automatically put The Dream Syndicate and J-Dilla in the same sentence, but I hear that album when I hear our new one.” Additionally, Wynn also changed up his lyric writing process for the album — instead of the song’s sound being dictated by previously written lyrics, he wrote all the material’s lyrics after the band finished instrumental tracking, so that the lyrics were influenced by the sounds.
The album’s first single was the atmospheric and surrealist dream, “Black Light,” a track built around a looped arpeggiated key and congo sequence, shimmering bursts of guitar, and a motorik groove comprised of a propulsive and sinuous bass line and a backing vocal section that sings “aaah” while Wynn’s vocals sing surrealistic and symbolic lyrics about how the night exposes our darkest and deepest inhibitions and fears. “Put Some Miles On,” the album’s second single continued in a similar vein as its immediate predecessor with the track featuring a chugging, motorik groove, blasts of feedback driven guitar, twinkling synths and Wynn’s languid, speak-singing vocals delivering surrealistic lyrics with a profound double meaning — with the song making references to getting older while being on the road and actually playing the influential work of Miles Davis.
“The Way In,” These Times‘ third and latest single is the album’s lysergic, Starfish-era The Church-like opening track. Centered around a chugging, motorik-groove, looping, feedback and distortion pedaled guitars, the song as the band’s Steve Wynn says in press notes is “the leadoff track, kind of a Rosetta Stone, decoder ring, instruction manual to light the way,” the band’s Steve Wynn says of the album’s new single. “It’s all about clearing the decks, dusting off, fastening the spacesuit and bracing yourself for what might come next. It sounds like something we might have heard on the radio in 1981 when we were forming the band thinking, ‘Maybe we ought to sound like that.’”
Filmed on the vibrant streets of Madiera, Portugal, the recently released lyric video for “The Way In” is an aptly hallucinogenic visual that feels like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole.