“We had been touring nonstop for the past few years and [were] pretty out of touch with reality,” guitarist Joe Memmel tells American Songwriter of the story behind the title. “We would come home for short periods of time to find that friends were married and having children, or people had moved away and started new lives. Obviously, all of this inspired a journal of songs—feeling all of this uncertainty and asking so many questions about what actually matters. One short spurt home, [vocalist] Chase [Lawrence] was talking to some friends, baffled by how much had changed. An older man overheard him talking about and chimed in, ‘Son, you must be living in Dreamland!’ The rest was history. The title Dreamland just explains the collection/journal of songs so perfectly. While we were slightly out of touch with reality, we were learning and growing all along with each other. It has been a beautiful journey.”
Dreamland captures that journey over 14 tracks that range from propulsive, guitar-driven indie rock numbers to atmospheric synth-pop tunes. But what unites these songs isn’t their sound—it’s the roving, open-hearted mode in which they were made. The band—currently rounded out by drummer Ryan Winnen—wrote the record across several years and continents.
“Every song is a day and a place,” Lawrence explains in an email interview featured below. “It sounds dumb and cliché, but I listen to this album with a heart, not ears. ‘Babe Ruth’ (guitar solo on the bus), ‘Valentine’ (drums in my childhood bedroom), and ‘Let It All Out’ (written on a stage in Manila) most clearly show the DNA of the album.”
“Babe Ruth” feels like an especially revealing cut. “Every now and then / Swinging for the fences, swinging for the fences / You got me swinging for the fences, swinging for the fences,” Lawrence sings over vibrant synths. “Just running on out and sleeping on the couch / If walls could really talk, they’d still be talking now / No one lets me down quite like I do.” The track calls to mind the electro-pop that producer Rostam Batmanglij has crafted for himself—as Rostam—and for his short-lived Discovery project with Welsey Miles. (Other parts of Dreamland, such as the first half of “Let It All Out,” call to mind another early Rostam project: Vampire Weekend.)
We recently caught up with COIN about the album, their elusive Committee for Sound and Mind label, and a wild music video they shot with the help of 70 screaming fans. Check out the full interview and listen to Dreamland below.
American Songwriter: You released your third album in February. Musically, how does Dreamland compare to your first two records—2015’s COIN and 2017’s How Will You Know If You Never Try?
Ryan Winnen: We’ve said this so many times, but it stands true: Dreamland seems to mirror the energy of many of the primitive musical moments and songwriting tendencies we explored during the first 6 months of our band more so than some of what was made in between. No expression has been better or worse since then, just different! It’s cathartic to trust-fall and create from a fearless and intentionally uninformed state, like a child would, as opposed to expending energy on preserving something because you’re convinced you know what you are. We often have no idea what we’re doing and we like that. Dreamland was a vehicle for us to get back to what we loved about creating together in the first place.
Why’d you land on the name Dreamland?
Joe Memmel: We had been touring nonstop for the past few years and [were] pretty out of touch with reality. We would come home for short periods of time to find that friends were married and having children, or people had moved away and started new lives. Obviously, all of this inspired a journal of songs — feeling all of this uncertainty and asking so many questions about what actually matters. One short spurt home, Chase was talking to some friends, baffled by how much had changed. An older man overheard him talking about and chimed in, “Son, you must be living in Dreamland!” The rest was history. The title Dreamland just explains the collection/journal of songs so perfectly. While we were slightly out of touch with reality, we were learning and growing all along with each other. It has been a beautiful journey.
I’ve been thinking about this quote from an interview you did last summer: “When you write a song, you make a demo of it, and it’s a worse sounding [version] of the real thing. Working backwards, we noticed that our demos sounded more energetic and more emotional than our final recordings. So we set out to make an album of demos.” You also said–of Dreamland–that “It’s basically a diary — honestly a journal — of what we did for the past two years from green rooms, to the bus, from a van.” Do you think you achieved that demo / diary feel? What tracks do you think best tap into that energy?
Chase Lawrence: Because the process was so spread out, through time and geography, I know we are all nostalgically moved by these recordings. Every song is a day and a place. It sounds dumb and cliché, but I listen to this album with a heart, not ears. “Babe Ruth” (guitar solo on the bus), “Valentine” (drums in my childhood bedroom), and “Let It All Out” (written on a stage in Manila) most clearly show the DNA of the album. If you acutely listen, maybe you can hear my niece and nephew screaming or a metronome bleeding into the microphone. We kept so much with the intention of not overthinking. I think Dreamland is alive, and my memories and connection to it continue to grow. To say we achieved our goal might be contrary to the spirit of what we set out to do.
In the same interview, you called The Committee for Sound and Mind “a collective of our friends who are designers, photographers, and we’re all building this record label.” If you could sign any acts–other than COIN–to your label, who would you bring on first?
Chase: I love this question. We have such an appreciation for great songwriters. Right now, I believe that “something to say” can take you further than talent ever could. We do intend on signing artists who need to say something.
Your new music video for “Crash My Car” captures a wild studio session with over 70 fans. How did you make that happen? What was that experience like?
Joe: We reached out to over 100 fans via email and told them we wanted to experience an intimate “sing-along” together. Fortunately, almost all of them responded and turned up. Sometimes, the stage can be an unfortunate divider. Often, the audience knows our songs better than we do, and we wanted to highlight their voice. It was a really special experience. I love our people. We couldn’t be more thankful to have the support that we do.
I know you had to postpone your Dreamland Tour due to coronavirus. Your website says “See you when it makes sense – it’ll be the most perfect homecoming. Until then, we’ll keep writing, recording, & releasing music for you.” How are you holding up during this strange time? Are you working on any new music right now?
Chase: Some days, it’s hard to see our way out of the muck and confusion. But most days, we’ve been able to channel our energy (whether uncertain or annoyingly optimistic) into the best songs we’ve ever written. The pandemic has illuminated commonality like we’ve never seen before. Globally, we’ve never faced such a collective, tangible enemy. Our music hasn’t changed, but we can’t help for these new songs & their messages to host what it means to be human.
Lastly, when you picture that “most perfect homecoming,” what’s it look like?
Chase: Turn the sound off at the venue, and the audience doesn’t even notice. That’s how loud we’re singing together.
Dreamland is out now.