“We’re a very loud band. The energy from that contributes to the way we play” How Dusk blend punk and Americana to create a three-guitar barnburner
One of the first things we hear as side two of Dusk’s Glass Pastures flares into life is a series of creaks. They’re in the background, just about cutting through a few disembodied voices and some noodling that rapidly becomes chooglin’ when everything kicks in, and are being made by drummer-producer Amos Pitsch as he climbs the stairs.
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He’s stepped out from behind the kit to make sure that the band’s latest bout of jam-kicking has been recorded properly. “That’s a pretty good moment for capturing what was happening,” guitarist Bill Grasley says. “We’re just farting around and then it’s like, ‘Wait, did we get the last two hours?’”
Normally, you wouldn’t need to worry about something like that. But line of sight wasn’t a thing for Dusk as they laid down fizzing country rock track after fizzing country rock track, largely live, at their Crutch of Memory base. Pitsch’s drums were downstairs, in a storefront. Grasley and the rest of the band – bassist Ridley Tankersley, Julia Blair at the Wurlitzer, pedal steel player Ryley Crowe, and guitarist Tyler Ditter – were dotted throughout the mid-century building, a sort of punk-house-meets-creative-hub operated by Pitsch and Blair in the band’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin.
“Amos wanted room mics to capture the sound of the house,” Ditter recalls. “There were some at the top of the stairs, and we had Bill, myself and Julia on the first floor. Ryley was down in the basement.”
Today, Grasley, Crowe and Ditter are in Washington DC, arranged around a phone screen for a mid-tour Zoom call. The songs on Glass Pastures are growing extra legs as they rack up the miles on a van that Blair and Grasley bought from a pumpkin farmer a few days before their run – including dates opening for comedian Joe Pera and their Don Giovanni labelmates Screaming Females in a national treasure twofer – began in Minneapolis.
“We’re a very loud live band,” Crowe says. “The energy from that contributes a lot to the way that we play. It’s more exciting to be in a room with an audience, cranking up the amps. I think we all dig in a little harder. We’ve been playing the songs for a while and are more comfortable with them.”
Dusk. Image: Billy Hintz
It’s easy to take his word at face-value because Glass Pastures is already a work of exciting, loose-limbed chemistry. It’s plainly been assembled by musicians who are happy in their surroundings and eager to express themselves.
“I think the biggest factor was just being in our space and being able to take our time,” Crowe says. “You can hear the house itself built into the record. That’s a big part of the sound – a lot of comments I get from people say that they feel like they’re in the room with us.”
If they were, it would be a bit of a squeeze. Dusk is a many-headed beast, with all six members being singer-songwriters in their own right, and when you’ve got that many moving pieces you have to find a balance between creative freedom and respect for the spaces occupied by your bandmates.
On Glass Pastures that balancing act is apparent in the way Crowe, Ditter, Grasley and Blair hand off solos to one another like they’re running a relay race, but they also keep coming back to the fact that Crutch of Memory plays such a prominent role in the record’s sound. Grasley thinks that the LP hangs together so well in part because of the quality of the air, the vibe, whatever you want to call it, in those rooms. “It helps for continuity between different songwriters, to have that blank space between the hits being the glue,” he says.
Dusk formed in 2014 as an amorphous studio project based around ex-drummer Colin Wilde and a bass-wielding Pitsch, who was fresh from completing Predatory Headlights, a massive double album by his pop-punk band Tenement that balanced concept excess with hooks, hooks, and more hooks.
Together, they intended to record some soul covers and see what happened. Ditter, who also served time in Tenement, Blair and Crowe soon became permanent members in an honest-to-goodness band that played shows, released tapes and, eventually, made records.
Dusk. Image: Billy Hintz
Skills To Pay The Bills
In 2018, Dusk’s self-titled debut introduced an outfit with chops to match a historically-literate approach to fusing country and soul with the sort of bristling rock ‘n’ roll that could level a midwestern barroom. The key update offered by Glass Pastures is a greater sense that this is a document of a band in a certain time and place, informed chiefly by the personalities of the players.
It’s about six-part vocal harmonies meeting open-ended jams held together by that willingness to cede the floor. “Maybe earlier on we had more thought out demos that we brought to the band,” Ditter says. “Now they’re more basic because we don’t really like to force parts on each other.”
“We’re trying to be really thoughtful about the shared frequency range that we have,” Grasley adds. “We take a part that’s functioning pretty well on its own and see how we can make that as lush as possible without seeming too overcomplicated. I think people really connect with that — a familiar melody that is sitting a bit differently.
“It forces us to find ways to make that work. I think everybody being so good in a production mindset helps. We can have those conversations pretty quick. We’re gonna be like, ‘Yeah, this is just not adding up, we got a lot of parts happening here.’”
Bringing that multifaceted sound to life are some vintage Fender amps – late 60s, early 70s Bassmen, Super-Reverbs and a Bandmaster for the Wurlitzer – along with a Vox copy produced by Wisconsin’s own Calder for Grasley’s overdubs.
“Tyler really got us all on, at least me, anyway, David Barber Electronics stuff,” he adds. “David Barber makes fantastic overdrive pedals,” Ditter agrees. Crowe, meanwhile, is a Peavey guy. “I played a Classic 50 and steel through a Nashville 112,” he says. “Just a nice clean solid-state sound.”
Grasley bounced between Teles and Gretsches, with the liberal number of SGs pictured in the video for Glass Pastures’ lead single Pissing in a Wishing Well – halfway through, Crowe ditches the stool and straps one on to make it a triple Gibson attack – reflected in Ditter’s in-studio preferences. “They’re lightweight, contoured, and comfortable to play,” he says. “I was standing through a lot of the sessions, and that’s pretty easy with that kind of guitar.”
The sense of warmth that seems to radiate out from Gold Blue & Grey’s twin harmonies and the florid stomp of Dusk – a Blair-fronted highlight that’s every inch the statement its title suggests – is another character in Glass Pastures’ tight confines. It’s not necessarily the result of tone-chasing or any sort of fussiness in the pre-production phase, more the combination of a canny mix and the wares that have accumulated at Crutch of Memory over the years.
“I think, to be fair, that relates to the board and the gear,” Ditter says. “Amos and Julia have collected a lot of old analogue equipment that probably has a lot to do with that particular tone. If you compared it to just running from an interface into ProTools, everything would be a lot cleaner, potentially brighter, or not as glued.”
Serving The Songs
The real ace up Glass Pastures’ worn sleeve, though, is the way all this work is carried off as though the effort is purely in service of having as much fun as possible. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the barn-burning At The Roadside. A riff on American rock ‘n’ roll’s love of posturing – Crowe’s opening line, “I’m a hard motherfucker and you know what I mean,” is followed by talk of Cadillacs, engines and letting the good times roll – the song ends with competing solos racing each other to the first dive off the highway.
It was supposed to fade out but as they traded notes it began to fall apart all on its own – something confected became something real, which is more their speed. “We left the drum loop going longer than we thought we needed, and after a few takes it organically crumbled,” Crowe says.
When you see a band who are in it like Dusk are here, there’s always the sense that they’re clinging on with all they have to a moment that’s going to get away from them eventually. Even with the wheels coming off in slow-motion, they chase At The Roadside’s snaking refrain, essentially so that we all get to come along for the last ride. “It’s not like we’re a crazy-improvising, freeform band,” Crowe says. “There is structure behind the solos and I think referencing the melody, or at least building off of that, creates a hook for people to grab onto, rather than just going to shred-town, you know?”
Dusk’s Glass Pastures is out now through Don Giovanni Records.
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