Dust City Opera is an eccentric rock band from the deserts of New Mexico, consisting of Paul Hunton (vocals, guitar, songwriter), Clara Byom (clarinet, accordion, keys), Travis Rourk (trombone), Scott Brewer (bass), and Dave Purcell (drums). They entwine strands of grunge, gothic country, punk, folk, and rock as the soundtrack to stories steeped in cosmic horror, transformation, and transcendence.
Dust City Opera released their sophomore album ‘Alien Summer’ in March this year which was backed by a successful crowdfunding campaign. I had the pleasure to interview the band to learn more about the new album and the necessity of crowdfunding.
How did the band get together and how did it get its name?
“Paul pulled Dust City Opera together in 2018. We’ve gone through a few changes in members over the years, but I feel like we’ve landed with a really solid group of people at this point. As for the name, it belonged to a short-lived, former band of Paul’s, and he thought there was more life in the name. So he asked the other members permission to use the name and luckily they agreed.”
You’ve released your sophomore album ‘Alien Summer’ in March, which is one of my favourite albums of 2022. Are you happy with the response to the album?
“Thank you! Yeah, people have been pretty excited about it, we had a good turn out to the release, and I’m still impressed that we made it.”
When did the songs for ‘Alien Summer’ really start coming together and feel like you had an album in the works?
“It was around August 2020 I think that the song ‘Alien Summer’ came together and it embodied some of the chaos I was feeling at the time. It seemed like a lens through which the rest of the album could be viewed.”
How long do you think you’ve been working on this album, from when you started songwriting to when it was completed?
“We started working on ‘Alien Summer’ in 2019, and planned on a release tour in March 2020, which was obviously canceled. Through the pandemic Paul wrote a few more songs that really added to the album. With the incredible support from our Kickstarter backers, we released the album in March of this year.”
The album was backed by a crowdfunding campaign. Did you expect such a successful crowdfunding campaign?
“It was a really intense and rewarding experience. We raised I think over $7,000 USD in the first few hours and I was in disbelief. It was validating to see that so many people wanted to contribute to the success of our record. We ended up raising over $20,000 USD.”
What inspired you to go the crowdfunding route?
“It was out of necessity. We are independent, we don’t have a label and making a good record is expensive. When I sat down and crunched the numbers and realized we needed $20,000 USD to complete what we had started, I saw it as an opportunity to invite the world into the project. With crowdfunding, we were able to allow our friends and fans to become a part of the project and sharing in that creation with others was really rewarding.”
A lot of bigger bands are participating in crowdfunding as well. What do you think this says about the music industry?
“It’s really tough to get out there and do this work. I don’t think the average person realizes the true cost of making a record. It’s very expensive. Independent artists don’t have funding from a record label and we have limited resources to make records that we want to be considered as good as and as valid as a record backed by a label.”
From a songwriting perspective, what does your process look like?
“Paul writes the songs. Once he has lyrics and chords and bones for a song, he brings that to the rest of the band and we stumble through different textures until we land on something that pops.”
What sort of life inspirations are you drawing from?
“Dreams, existential anxieties, insecure attachments, drunken holiday mishaps. But, some of it is just pure fantasy from growing up with horror writers like Stephen King and R.L. Stine.”
You released ‘The Unkind’ as a single in January. What can you tell me about this song?
“It is like a Halloween horror fantasy. It’s about a murderous plant race that awakes every generation, kills everyone, and goes back to sleep. It’s really different from anything we had put out before, and was a step away from the more traditional americana sounds where we started out. We wanted the single to be the introduction to our new sound before we released the full record.”
Are there any more releases coming up, like singles or videos? What releases can we expect and can you give us a hint of what it would be?
“There are a lot of ideas we’re sitting on, some drafts for video concepts, and Paul has some new material he’s been fleshing out but there’s nothing coming down the pike immediately. Right now we’re focusing on touring and bringing our music to other parts of the US. But we definitely look forward to getting back in the studio when the time is right!”
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
“Getting in front of people. We’re hitting the road and touring as much as we can and developing relationships with new fans, new venues and presenters, and laying the ground work for more touring in 2023 and beyond.”
If you could make a change in people’s state of mind through your music, what would it be?
“Maybe some catharsis? It seems like anguish is a common flavor in my songs so maybe to be soothed by the tension and release, the deaths of some of these harrowed characters. And also to just groove a little.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20 and why?
“Lee Ford’s ‘Push Bikes’ really caught my attention. Lots of nice riffs and the harmonies are great.”
“I also want to mention ‘Goodbye My Friend’ by Joe Adhemar. It stood out to me because it is so stripped down, just the sparse vocals and soft piano. It’s nearly the opposite of our current track on the playlist, ‘The Unkind’. It’s nice to have a playlist like Cool Top 20 that has this type of variety!”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“We’ve been listening to a lot of Yum Yuck around the house. I can’t recall how Paul stumbled on the artist but the album Orange Sunshine is really great and my favorite track is probably ‘Flesh & Bone’, though any song on the album is worthy of being included.
(Photos credits: Gracie Meier for posed/promo shots and Sydney Counce for live shots.)