PLS PLS Arrives With 'Jet Black,' Tour
“The idea of it being a real band seemed pretty farfetched,” says Dan Dixon of Atlanta’s PLS PLS (pronounced Please Please). The group has just issued a new full-length album, Jet Black and is undertaking its first major tour. Since its inception, circa 2012, PLS PLS has mostly gigged in the Atlanta area, focusing on writing, recording and the occasional video project.
In many ways, the group is the antithesis of its musical predecessor, Dropsonic. Dixon spent more than a decade performing in that band. The trio, rounded out by bassist David Chase and, for most of its life, drummer Brian Hunter, recorded six albums on a variety of small, independent labels and toured seemingly nonstop in that time. When the unit quietly folded in 2011, Dixon had little interest in forming another guitar-driven project.
“It got redundant,” he says. “Particularly the sound of myself playing guitar. It didn’t sound bad, but I felt stagnant. I felt stagnant as a writer and a singer and it wasn’t inspiring me to write what I thought were better songs. The trick,” he says, “was to get off of the guitar.”
He began writing songs on piano and keyboard. When he started, he recalls, his understanding of the instrument was less than basic. “I couldn’t even find Middle C,” he offers. “I would write a song with two or three chords, and it would sound amazing.”
There were more than musical changes going on. Having spent much of his twenties and his thirties living the life of a touring musician, taking jobs here and there when he’d come off the road, he opened his own studio in Atlanta. “I started focusing on the idea that I was getting older and needed to eat more regularly,” he says.
He’s tracked recordings for a number of acts in his RCRD studio, including singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur, Rock*a*Teens, Biters and Oklahoma City-based stalwarts, Traindodge. During the studio’s infancy, he would use downtime to work on his own material, emerging with EP EP in 2012. That recording featured Dixon on all instruments except drums and was a vast departure from what he’d released in the past.
“The hardest thing to do was put guitars on the songs,” he says. Writing EP EP he discovered that a number of the songs had no guitar on them. “On a lot of songs the guitar doesn’t come in for the first minute of the song, which is something a guitar player would probably never do.”
Featured on that initial recording was “60’s Love Song,” a track that highlighted Dixon’s voice and talent for arrangement. The song recalled the era for which it was named but also the hazy, retro-inspired work of Mark Lanegan and Isobell Campbell on songs such as “Come Undone” (from 2010’s Hawk).
It was, he says, one of many songs that came to life thanks to his iPhone’s Voice Recorder. “Before that, I would wake up with melody ideas and lose them,” he notes. “With that song, I had the tympani sound and the chord changes and the arrangement of the thing, I had all that worked out coming out of my mouth and into my iPhone. That’s been one of the songs that people really react to when we play shows.”
The track also landed on the soundtrack of the horror film V/H/S bringing the group to a wider audience than even incessant touring probably could have. In fact, PLS PLS only made its live debut when Dixon’s friends in The Life and Times played in Atlanta and asked him to open. He assembled a band for that gig and has continued to play live as there was desire and/or demand. “We don’t leave Atlanta that often,” he says.
Since its inception, PLS PLS has evolved from a studio-centered project with Dixon as the main focus into more of a traditional band. The current lineup includes André Griffin, Mike Boutte and Takashi Takemura. Chase continues with the group, an outgrowth of his longstanding friendship with Dixon.
The two met in middle school and have essentially played music together ever since. “I was best man at his wedding,” Dixon says. “We basically learned to play together.” Their continued relationship is important but there is another factor that accounts for Chase’s continued presence. “He’s also really good,” Dixon notes. For a time, Dixon thought of other bassists, mostly because he wanted to draw a clearer line in the sand between his new and old bands. In the end, he called Chase for the gig. “Nobody else could do the thing and make it sound good.”
In 2013 PLS PLS issued its full-length album LP LP with the odd live show sprinkled in between then and now. Dixon had intended on releasing a second EP between production jobs but as the material accumulated slowly then all at once. “I write in weird spurts,” he says, “I’ll have a month where I’m super productive and I’ll have three or four songs come out of me in a month. I’ll get them maybe 80 percent done. Then I’ll have three months where I’m bone dry. It’s all I can do to finish the songs I had in that one month.”
Jet Black offers a cohesive vision of PLS PLS, incorporating elements of the Kansas City-based indie rock of the 1990s via the opening “Animals,” touching on hook-ish but dark turns such as “We Don’t Scare” and “This Is War.” There’s also the striking starkness of “Broke” and the unapologetic pop of “Fools.” It’s an accessible and smart turn that accentuates thoughtful writing and the sincerity of the performances.
This group’s first run of dates behind the effort sees Dixon return to the familiar terrain of the Great Plains, where Dropsonic gained a sizeable following during its run. Cities such as Kansas City, Wichita, and Oklahoma City were welcoming places where the band members forged friendships that remain to this day.
Some of Dropsonic’s early success in the region can be credited to ties with regional acts such as Shiner. The members of that band, Dixon recalls, were especially complimentary. “When we went out, there were already people at the show,” he says. “That gave us something to build on. You can’t really do the word of mouth when there’s no mouth hear words from.”
The current run of PLS PLS shows ends on April 15, with the band returning to Atlanta. Its Wichita date at Barleycorn’s is another kind of return home and marks the first time in nearly a decade that Chase and Dixon will have played in the city.
“It’ll be fun,” Dixon says, “we’ll get to see people we haven’t seen forever.”
PLS PLS performs at Barleycorn’s this evening, Tuesday, April 11, with Vehicles.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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