There’s The Magic: Philly’s Dulls begins with shoegaze and branches beyond on their new Moon Violet

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Dulls | photo by Emilia Randler | courtesy of the artist
Dulls | photo by Emilia Randler | courtesy of the artist

Last year, Fishtown four-piece Dulls played a couple shows with like-minded shoegazers, the Stargazer Lilies. However, neither band realized at the time of those summer and early fall gigs that the connection they’d made would bode so well, for Dulls specifically.

Dulls’ guitarist Evan Raab says the two bands just hit it off right away. He and drummer Jack Pfeifer had particularly liked the way the Stargazer Lilies’ albums sounded, and it just so happened that they were recorded by the band’s guitarist John Ceperano.

“I just like their sound,” Pfeifer says in earnest over a glass of water in a loud and crowded Fishtown Tavern. “So, I asked [drummer Tammy Hirata], ‘Who recorded this? Because it sounds really good.’ And she’s just like, ‘John recorded us, you should totally record with him.’ That was it. It just worked out like that.”

A couple months later, Dulls spent the first weekend of Novemeber taking in all Ceperano had to offer in his home studio in the Poconos. Raab, Pfeifer, singer and guitarist Erica Carter and bassist Kirk Bray, all agree that the experience left the band feeling positive. Even though it was just a weekend, Raab was looking forward to getting to the mountains. And as far as recording their first tape compared to this one upcoming, Raab says the setting couldn’t have been any more different.

“The first recording was more of a traditional studio experience,” he adds. “This was literally a bedroom studio. The main room was essentially their living room. Then the drums were in their guest bedroom with the mics snaking through to get in there. I was excited to go up and be there in that nice environment. We also wanted to see his perspective. We feel like he does identify with our style of music, too.”

Recording in that environment may have informed Dulls’ process, too. Their upcoming self-released tape, Moon Violet, is more ethereal than their 2016 self-titled four-track EP. “View” introduces the band’s pop sensibilities by way of thick guitar distortion and catchy melody at the song’s start, while Raab’s laser-like lead guides through the bridge.

Raab, Pfeifer and Bray had been playing together for a while before Carter joined the band. Bray says she made Dulls much more melodic and that songwriting changed for the better when she came along. Pfeifer recalls noticing that shift after Carter joined Dulls; it was a revealing discovery for him.

“It was kind of like it was a bit heavier before,” Pfeifer says. “And when Erica joined it was like, ‘Oh, there’s the magic.’ It was like when we played that one Kung Fu Necktie show. As soon as she stepped up to the mic and sang it was crazy.”

Carter and Raab split lyric-writing duty, never overthinking what one is trying to convey. They both try to use lyrics and vocal as another instrument adding a layer to a song, rather than telling some sort story or express particular feelings.

But “New Dream” comes off as introspective. It’s dirgelike, and Carter tugs on your heart strings when she sings the mournful line, “and if this really is the end.” The lyrics, which are relatively sparse, linger on your mind. Pfeifer has a penchant for R&B and jazz, and it comes across in his playing; he stays behind the beat without letting the rhythm feel like it’s dragging.

They’ve found themselves on opening slots from California’s garage rockers Terry Malts, to Fishtown’s alt-rock Evening River Band and dark electro pop of Remote Control. Bray and Raab agree that Dulls’ wide range of musical tastes affects their sound in the right ways in that they get asked to play on a wide range of shows.

“I think it helps that we’re shoegaze but we all have different interests,” Bray says. “It doesn’t let anything pigeonhole it.”

Releasing a tape instead of vinyl or CD is was also a conscious decision for Dulls. Of course, the cost of doing a vinyl release was a major road block for them. However, they will be shopping around in hopes a record label picks them up for any future releases. The other issue was that Moon Violet is in between vinyl formats in terms of length.

“We had too much for a seven-inch and not quite enough for a 12-inch,” Raab says. “So, right now the goal is to get a label that’d be interested because it’s just so expensive to put out a 12-inch. It just seemed to make more sense to put out a tape.”

Not to mention, Dulls is also aware tapes are coming back in popularity right now. And Pfeifer sees the advantage to that.

“Plus, there’s also a little bit of a culture to it with people trading tapes and stuff,” he says. “I don’t think people trade vinyl.”

Dulls release Moon Violet on February 24 and play Kung Fu Necktie with No Joy and Sad Actor, 7 p.m., $10. More info here.

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