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Spotlights

Night Dreamer Conjures an Otherworldly Collaboration

Veteran musicians Jeff Schroeder and Mindy Song fulfill a longtime goal and strike out on their own

January 7, 2020

Meet Night Dreamer: the nocturnal duo that’s a brand-new collaboration between guitarist Jeff Schroeder of ‘90s alt-rock heroes Smashing Pumpkins fame, and Mindy Song, vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who got her start playing the electronic keys with Wam Dingis, a Los Angeles-based experimental art-rock band with a penchant for grand multimedia performances.

Night Dreamer’s sound invites the listener into a world of churning layers of guitars and cascading pop-laden vocals, all carefully arranged on their debut dream pop EP Treasure, released late last fall. The band debuted the five-song EP at a listening party at the Museum of Dream Space in Beverly Hills, complete with sonic and light projections.

Through whip-smart production and the help of Josiah Mazzaschi (who’s worked with acts ranging from The Jesus and Mary Chain to Built To Spill), the band’s commitment to dialing in organic guitar sounds and soaring vocals results in a pleasant sense of urgency — Night Dreamer’s first recording effort was made alongside its members’ other projects and while Schroeder and Song were in different countries.

Dark overtures, heavy hooks, and apocalyptic dreamscapes comprise much of the work, calling to mind Blonde Redhead, Cocteau Twins, and Portishead. Treasure offers moments of lightness that beam through Schroeder and Song’s transcendent songwriting and determination to transform their musical visions from fantasy to hyperreality.

Live, the band is no different. The two mirror the sonic dichotomies of the music visually with trappings of gorgeous lightscape backdrops, a stark contrast to a stage aesthetic marked by goth makeup, dark silhouettes, and layers of black chiffon. This look is carried through in their video for the single “Taste” that debuted last month.

Los Angeles noise-pop musician Taleen Kali spoke with Song and Schroder over the phone about the making of Treasure. Their conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Taleen Kali: How did you two meet?

Jeff Schroeder: L.A. musician communities intersecting. When I was looking to start putting something together, Mindy’s name kept popping up. I hit her up and she was up for it, so we worked on one song, which became “Treasure.”

Taleen: It sounds like maybe, Mindy, you represent the lighter side of things and, Jeff, you’re the darker side of the sound. That’s the idea I’m getting.

Mindy Song: I don’t know. I have a feeling it’s the reverse.

Taleen: It could easily swap — your lyrics are so dark and beautiful.

Jeff: Well, it is weird because people comment all the time, “Oh, the music and the vibe is so dark.” To me, it’s dark but beautiful. At times, very pretty but it’s not bright and cheery. So I get that switch.

Taleen: I remember you guys speaking to the demo process at your listening party. Were you sending digital demos or writing together as well?

Mindy: We worked together in the same space initially. The first time, I literally brought out my violin when we wrote “Treasure,” which is the first song on our EP.

Jeff: When we really started to get into it at the beginning of this year, it would start with some type of demo on my computer of basic drum beats, some type of guitars, any kind of stems and then send that over to Mindy and then she would write vocals and lyrics over the top.

Taleen: Would you consider those skeletons for future recordings? Would you keep those stems or consider that demo mix and then scratch it and then start fresh?

Jeff: For guitar, there are parts on the EP that are from the original demos. All the main rhythm guitars of the song were from three- or four-hour periods of inspiration where I wrote and recorded. Many of those parts were never re-recorded, and I put the solos and stuff on top, but the main guitar part is exactly those tracks.

Jeff Schroeder_credit_Adam ReiverCredit: Adam Reiver

Taleen: I feel like that’s becoming more and more common in alternative rock music now, this shift to electronic.

Jeff: Yeah! Being in an electronic rock band, you’re always on the grid [of the recording]. Even if the tempo of the song changes, you’re not locked in, and you don’t have to re-record it like if you’re using real drums where the tempo shifts or something. We’ll create a song and have three different versions maybe. The demo for “Another Life” we recorded one with drums and then one with electronic drums, but the solo stayed the same in every single version.

“Being in an electronic rock band, you’re always on the grid [of the recording]. Even if the tempo of the song changes, you’re not locked in, and you don’t have to re-record it”

 

Taleen: Other than the control that electronic music gives you during the recording process, is there another reason you kept the original parts? It gives it such an organic feel that it’s still hard for me to believe it’s all electronic.

Jeff: Yes, the sound, the articulation. I’d never be able to really play it the same way again, and I love the sonics of it too. A lot of it has to do with how technology is so good right now that I can record the guitar part in my apartment or hotel room. The sonic quality is extremely high so there’s no reason to have to redo it if it’s good.

Mindy: The bass part that Jack Bates did on “Higher Than the Sky” — where did you guys record that? Somewhere in Europe?

Jeff: Yeah, I just sent it to you guys before a show. There’s not a regular bass on the EP, but I thought it would be cool to have that kind of New Order / Joy Division bass on it. We couldn’t get Peter Hook, but we could get the next best thing, which was his son Jack Bates since he plays bass in Smashing Pumpkins. So we just set up a bass in the dressing room in Europe when we were eight or nine hours ahead of L.A. and sent it to Mindy and Josiah, who ended up co-producing and mixing the record. They literally added it to a session that morning and worked on the song.

Mindy: He would get off of the stage after playing to 50,000 people and then would come straight to his hotel and FaceTime the beginning of the session with Josiah. And then we would coordinate what we were going to do. At the end, he would wake up to the new version.

Taleen: That is time-travel song writing!

Jeff: It was really cool. I could go check in, “Hey, this is where I think the song is,” and they would work on the track, and I could wake up three or four hours later and have an MP3 in my inbox. And then they’d still be there. Then I could get back up and be like, “Oh, okay. That’s cool. What about this?” It’s pretty amazing.

Taleen: At the same time, you have amazing projects you play with outside of Night Dreamer that you’re very committed to. How have you balanced the projects?

Jeff: Honestly, I probably haven’t taken a day off where I haven’t done at least one or two things in four months, five months. It’s been pretty nuts. To get a new band up, Taleen, as you know, it’s so much work. I mean, you got to do everything. If you don’t do it, no one’s going to do it for you. You know what I mean?

Taleen: Absolutely and especially at the start of the project. It feels like a special honor to be talking to you guys right after your first handful of shows. How are you finding balance, Mindy?

Mindy: The beginning of Night Dreamer is an amazing experience because Jeff and I both have fifty-fifty in our voice as far as the direction of the music and how everything runs. So it’s been really neat because we both have a say in the art direction and every aspect of how our band is presented.

As far as juggling everything, it’s chaotic. It’s just my life. Got to make things work and all I can do is work as hard as I can right now. And like Jeff said, we just haven’t had days off. Working overtime and overtime and overtime, but what can you do when you’re trying to get a band off the ground? There’s all these forces almost working against us.

Jeff: It’s pretty crazy to think about because it’s almost like it’s not real until you play a live show. Everybody records because recording’s so easy now; you can record on your laptop. When I first started playing in bands, which was a long time ago now, you could maybe afford to get into a studio for one or two days. Make a demo. But that was after months of playing, rehearsing, writing, playing shows. Then you’d go in and record. Now I think a lot of bands start off as a recording project. They record the right song, then go play, which is essentially what we did too. It makes sense. It’s almost like you can’t even get shows if you don’t have recordings.

I think it’s a reverse situation now so it really doesn’t feel like a real band until you play. So you go out and play in front of crowds for the first time . . . and I haven’t had that experience because, for the last thirteen years, I’ve been playing with Smashing Pumpkins. People are fans, so they are excited to see you. It’s different to play in front of an audience [that doesn’t know your band], especially opening for someone like Peter Hook. He’s such a legend. And no one knows one note of our music. They don’t give a shit who I am, for the most part. That’s also exciting too because you get to see people’s real reaction to the music. It was so encouraging to be, like, “Wow, I wrote that riff in my bedroom, and now people are clapping afterwards.”

Taleen: Did you play any secret shows to test the material before the studio?

Mindy: We really wanted to have some secret shows, but then the timing didn’t work out until our first show with Peter Hook. I mean, it was incredible. It was beautiful playing our first show at Brooklyn Steel. It was an amazing facility, but it was scary hitting the stage for the first time in that kind of space, with that amount of people.

Jeff: Oh, it was good. It felt encouraging. Like this hard work is worth it and I want to continue to work hard because you could feel people responding.

Taleen: Your EP is so beautiful and dense in terms of the sonic layers, and it sounds so dialed into the lyrical subject matter. Did you guys have a concept and a firm idea of how you wanted the songs to sound before you started?

Mindy: That’s a really good question because we did not have a specific direction. It was a process of trial and error, of creating sounds and building and trying things out until we felt comfortable. I think it took at least a month and a half. Two months of really hard work going back to the studio, trying out drummers, two different drummers. And then you’re doing various renditions of the same music and new music and new songs. I have a bunch of music that Jeff had sent me too, and there’s at least five to ten more ideas of different songs before we picked out the specific ones that we wanted for the EP.

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Taleen: Was there a moment where you guys noticed the sound shifting? Was there a time when you were, like, “This is the moment we discovered our sound”?

Jeff: I guess the biggest paradigm shift is when we just decided to stop using acoustic drums and regular rock bass. We used electric bass for the most part. Originally, we had recorded a couple different songs with drums and bass like a normal, typical rock-and-roll rhythm section. It sounded good, but Mindy wasn’t vibing with it that much and so I had to respect that. She was the one that said, “Do you mind if I take the tracks and go into the studio and start messing around with drum machines and programs to see what it sounds like?” And I was, like, “Sure. Go for it.” I was back in Chicago working with the Pumpkins, so she went in the studio at Northern and was working with Andy Toy. They worked all day just trying some stuff out. It was the end of the day there. I said, “Okay, we’re going to send you something,” and I think she was really nervous —

Mindy: Oh, my God. So nervous.

Jeff: — as if I was never going to talk to her again after what she did to the song. She was, like, “I hope you know it’s almost a hip-hopish sound.” I was, like, “Just send it,” and it was really raw and something that sounded much more exciting, and so we said, “All right, let’s go down this rabbit hole.” Once we found a drum-beat sound and a heavy-set bass, and I found guitar textures and sounds that worked against that, and they were, like, “Wow. This is really exciting.”

It’s so funny because we listened to one of the versions of “Another Life” with drums, bass . . . like a drummer and stuff. At the time, I said, “Man, this is really good.” You know what I mean? And then when you listen to it, you’re like, “Aww, it’s not that good.”

Mindy: Well, I don’t know where we could have gone with that sound. Being a new band, we asked: “What kind of sonic territory are you going to take over? Are you going to re-create something that’s been done, or are you going to create something new?” And I think, for Jeff and I, as artists, we wanted to create a sound that was unique to us. It took a lot of work — Jeff’s been working with various artists over the years, and I’ve been working with a bunch of different artists over the years, too. It’s taken a long time for us to get to this point, a bunch of trial and error and hard work, and eventually, I feel like we landed on a sound that is unique to us. That’s important to the both of us.

Taleen: That’s so cool. You mentioned Josiah co-produced the record, right?

Jeff: Yeah, his other band Light FM toured with the Smashing Pumpkins six or seven years ago, and that’s how I first met him. Nicole, who used to play in the Pumpkins, was also in that band before she was in Smashing Pumpkins, and now she’s in Josiah’s new band Bizou.

Taleen: That’s awesome! I just saw Bizou play. I’m very interested to hear more about the Treasure sessions because your record was recorded all over the world. Were there any sessions where all of you guys — Mindy, Jeff, Josiah — were in one studio, in one place at the same time?

Mindy: Definitely. I remember in particular when we worked on “Higher Than the Sky.” I think Jeff had literally a day and a half in L.A. So we jammed in our first photo shoot and then we worked on the beat for “Higher Than the Sky,” and then in 30 minutes, we wrote pretty much all the lyrics to that song. We were just racing for it.

Mindy Song_Ester SegrettoCredit: Ester Segretto

This is how we started, but it was actually the photo shoot for the cover of our EP and then also a bunch of looks for our first photos for the band, so whenever we got to be all together, we had to really, really make use of our time. Jeff would literally come out for a day or two days, and we’d have to finish up as much as we could. Meanwhile, we were still searching for our sound for a big chunk of the time. I want to call it a stressful process, but there’s a lot of pressure that I think we put on ourselves, which, in the end, I’m thankful for because we’ve come this far with it. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far.

Jeff: That first day that we worked with Josiah was the turning point because we were working on different places where we could get a day there. My friend said he could use his studio for a day, so we’d just try to find places we could work at. But I wanted to get it done, and I was, like, “I really want to get this done quicker,” and so I was, like, “You know what, I always see Josiah recording these cool bands in L.A. I’m just going to hit him up.” So the first day we went and worked with him, we worked on “Higher Than the Sky.”

What the process would be like is: I import the tracks from my demo. Then we would start playing around with drum beats and stuff, and Josiah came up with this really great beat for that song that just transformed it. Like, “Aw, that sounds so cool. What if he did this or that? Okay, now I want to play another guitar part over that.” And we did. Then we rewrote the whole thing, the lyrics — and we left that day going, “This is it.” Then I suggested to Mindy, “Hey, I think Josiah’s the person that we can use to finish this project up.” So we gave him all the tracks. We said, “Hey, we got it finished. We’re going to give you all the sessions and let you start working through and finishing everything.”

This is a good suggestion to other people that are trying to keep costs down and working on a budget: Instead of paying a day at a time, I wrote Josiah a long email and said, “Okay, these are all the songs. This is where all the songs are in terms of completion and what they need and this is what we want to do. This is a price I could give you. How about, basically, an all-in type of price?” And so it was much cheaper for us to do it that way than paying by the day. And he was stuck because he’s got money in his pocket. He knows that’s going to cover me for a certain amount of time, and I’d suggest for bands that are working that way, if you could do that, I think that works better for you. Because it wasn’t, like, “Aw shit, we only have two hours left.” He was, like, “I’m not even counting hours.” You know what I mean? Let’s just get it done. Everybody’s happy, so it was great. He’s been the best supporter and facilitator. It really was a good situation.

Taleen: What kind of equipment do you find yourself bringing in? Anything unusual and exciting that you discovered in the studio in the process?

Jeff: For the most part, we’re just using the latest plug-in technology as far as drums and synth programming. Because there’s so much great stuff, but the sound that we pull from our very classic — 808, 909 — sounding drum machines. Using the latest plug-in technologies for amps, reverbs, and delays that, in distortion, they’re able to make it sound more contemporary. For guitar, I didn’t use any traditional amps starting it. Everything is digital modeling. So I used Line 6 for everything. Every single note — a guitar, a regular amp, no pedal on anything at all. It’s all Line 6.

“I used Line 6 for everything. Every single note — a guitar, a regular amp, no pedal on anything at all. It’s all Line 6.”

 

Taleen: How did you do that on the road?

Jeff: The fact that we made this turn toward a fully electronic band economically allowed us to play all over the country in a way that we wouldn’t be able to do if we had to have a bass player and a drummer. This allows us so much more flexibility to literally go play anywhere in the world. We were able to play New York, Chicago, L.A. with Peter Hook, and we wouldn’t be able to do that if we had a traditional type of band. We just couldn’t afford it. We’d have to use different players in each city. It would be tough. At the end of [November 2019], we actually got invited to play in Korea for two shows, and we can do it because it’s just the two of us. So it allows us to have our show, and it’s a whole different set of aesthetics and a different challenge, and no one’s really complained about it. It’s weird. We’re kind of getting away with it so far.

Taleen: I keep thinking about the name Treasure. I DM’ed you about this, Jeff, but could you tell us: Is it a reference to the Cocteau Twins?

Jeff: Oh, it’s definitely referenced to Cocteau Twins. It’s kind of an homage to them. I like the symbolism. It was very symbolic and metaphoric of the music. I struggled to put out my own music for so long. I was always in a band, but I never did, and then Mindy was also struggling to put out her music, and so I just felt like, wow, we finally found our buried treasure in this band. You know what I mean? We’re able to finally create and have a voice and share it with the world.

Taleen Kali is a writer, artist, and musician native to Los Angeles. Her work appears in SPIN, The Onion's A.V. Club, Los Angeleno, Razorcake, L.A. Record,<\i> and DUM DUM Zine.<\i>
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