The Cover Story

L.S. Dunes: “We didn’t realise how much we needed this band until we started writing for it”

After two decades of interlinking friendship, L.S. Dunes saw five of emo and post-hardcore’s most respected figureheads finally get together. Rather than trading on old glories, however, debut LP Past Lives is about parrying their shared experience – from firebrand beginnings to fatherhood – into some of the coolest ‘dad rock’ the world has ever seen…

L.S. Dunes: “We didn’t realise how much we needed this band until we started writing for it”
Sam Law
Nick Karp

Of the thousands of fans queued nearly a mile around Chicago’s Douglas Park on September 16, 2022, none were sure quite what to expect. From the Misfits to Jawbreaker, the Windy City’s annual Riot Fest has become world-renowned for facilitating the reunions of some of alternative music’s biggest names. This year, though, the gathered masses were jostling to see a band they’d only just heard of play their first-ever gig. Thrillingly, L.S. Dunes’ live debut did not disappoint.

“I’d already had the show in my head 100 times,” grins vocalist Anthony Green, with a relish that suggests he’s re-run it another 100 since. “Sure, we were a little nervous, but it was the same nervousness you feel before you kiss somebody for the first time. It was that excited anticipation. There was tension in the air, but it was a beautiful tension. The levee was about to break!”

Despite only one of the six songs performed on a dusty Rise Stage that blistering Friday afternoon having previously been released, there was an electricity in the air. Part of that was down to Anthony’s impossibly charismatic performance: exorcising demons, crowdsurfing headlong, daring us to keep up. Part of it was down to his bandmates – drummer Tucker Rule, bassist Tim Payne, guitarists Frank Iero and Travis Stever – keeping pedal firmly to the metal. Mostly, though, it was about five masters of their craft unlocking something untapped in each other.

“It was my favourite first show with any band that I’ve ever been in,” smiles Frank. “To be 40 and still be having these firsts is fantastic. We’d maybe played together only five or six times before that, and it’s not easy to have a first show outdoors at a festival, but I was like, ‘Hey, I trust these guys. I trust in the songs. It’s gonna be an experience!’ And it was fantastic. It went off like a riot.”

Catching up with three of L.S. Dunes six weeks down the line and just a couple before the arrival of feverishly anticipated debut LP Past Lives, the enthusiasm is undiminished. Frank fizzles during a flying visit home to New Jersey between My Chemical Romance’s two mega-headlines at Las Vegas emo gathering When We Were Young. Anthony and Tucker bounce off each other on break from Thursday’s autumn tour at Angels & Airwaves guitarist David Kennedy’s coffee shop in San Diego, sporadically interrupted by planes roaring into the nearby airport. “That was a big daddy…” the drummer delivers a running commentary. “That one had a little front propeller!”

On paper, no-one in L.S. Dunes needs this band. As well as his legacy with Pennsylvanian rockers Circa Survive, Anthony just started psychedelic side-project Fuckin Whatever with members of Grouplove and Taking Back Sunday, and is gathering momentum as a solo artist. Even aside from renewed commitments with MCR, Frank has a slew of ‘solo’ projects, with latest EP Heaven Is A Place, This Is A Place dropping just last year. Travis remains a mainstay of Coheed And Cambria. Tim and Tucker have plenty on their plates with Thursday, with the latter also featuring on a slew of other releases including Frank’s EP. Collectively, they have over 100 years tenure in other outfits.

So why why start another?

According to its members, L.S. Dunes’ “addictive” qualities are threefold: connection, creation, camaraderie. As we pick at that mysterious band name, there’s a reluctance amongst the group to give too much away – a desire to keep some secrets for themselves – but Anthony reveals how the imagery of shifting sands resonated, and notes the serendipity of how their chosen title became an “accidental monogram” for LSD: a drug taken for those trying to achieve more dazzling inspiration and deeper connectedness, “with people, with nature”.

They liked the rhythm of the name, too, which reminded them of the literary initials used by esteemed authors. Like J.D. Salinger or W.B. Yeats? “Like R.L. Stine,” the frontman grins, with just a touch of mischief. Perhaps most telling is Frank’s observation that they often joked about how the L.S. stands for “low stress”.

“At the heart of it is the love of creating”

Hear Frank on how the band formed through a shared creative connection

Where most professional bands resemble multilateral marriage, built on a shared spark but inevitably burdened by expectation, responsibility and the need for compromise that comes with such personal and financial union, L.S. Dunes is an attempt to set those things aside in the name of breaking new ground. The project started with the working title ‘Dad Bods’ as an acknowledgement not just of the members’ cumulative wisdom and encroaching middle-age, but also that their growing real families come first. Their group chat was labelled ‘Father Dads’.

“No-one’s a ‘slacker’ or anything,” Frank elaborates. “Those conversations always happen in other bands. There’s none of that shit when it’s like, ‘Hey, guys, I gotta go take my kid to soccer.’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, I do too!’” With all their outside commitments laid on the table, it boils down to the well-informed faith that when one player needs to go and handle something else, there’s enough enjoyment and investment in the music that they will get back to it. And they always do.

“Not to say our other bands aren’t fun,” Anthony nods, “but there’s a sense that we can do things with this project – and get things from it, personally – that we can’t with our others.”

“We didn’t realise how much we needed this band until we started writing for it,” Tucker expands, offering a vivid metaphor. “When someone first drives through Denver, they stare out of their window, like, ‘Oh my God, look at those mountains!’ But someone who’s lived there a while can begin to take it for granted. That’s what music was to us. We are all in love with it – writing it, playing it, performing it – but this project made us fall back in love with it. Sometimes, you need that reminder. Sometimes, you need to fall back in love with things.”

When he first began work on L.S. Dunes’ vocals, Anthony had no idea who else was in the band.

“We didn’t know if or when touring was going to come back,” he shrugs, reliving early 2021’s darkest days of lockdown. “And, if it did, we didn’t know how it was going to feel, or what it was going to look like. I was just stuck at home losing my mind, trying to get people in my life to send me music, trying to have new stuff to work on all the time. Then when this came up, it was exactly what I needed. Tucker sent me the music across and I thought it was just him and some of his dad-friends from the neighbourhood he lives in. I was like, ‘Damn! Tucker’s friends are really good!’”

In reality, the shared history between the five members of what would become L.S. Dunes is almost too stubbornly complex to untangle. Frank, for instance, remembers looking up to Thursday as a kid starting out with Pencey Prep when they were his labelmates on Eyeball Records, and how MCR were asked to play their first “really big” show when Coheed had to pull out of a support slot for Jimmy Eat World at the Allentown Fairgrounds in August 2002. Anthony, meanwhile, cherishes memories of driving out to New Brunswick, Jersey City and Philadelphia as a fan to catch early Thursday house shows, before supporting My Chem extensively in Circa Survive throughout the mid-2000s. Talk of deeper collaboration had kicked around for the best part of those two decades. All it needed to come to fruition was the world grinding to a halt.

“It was one of those things you talk about,” Frank reflects. “But it doesn’t happen because you’re on tour, doing other things. We all have like 85 bands, and sometimes you just wanna hang out and not play. But the pandemic was the time when everyone stopped. Everyone was at home. Nobody knew what the fuck to do or how long we were going to be here. So we became each other’s lifeline and were like, ‘Hey, let’s start that band we’ve been talking about for 20 years.’”

“New music became that life-preserver,” agrees Anthony. “It put a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The pieces began to come together at some point in the autumn of 2020. Broadly, writing was as simple as a musical version of Pass The Story, with one person laying down the beginning of a song, then passing the instrumental along to be built upon. “It was very much an organic thing,” explains Frank, “like when you start a band in high school and call your friends. ‘Oh, I know this guy who plays this.’ Then you just get together in a room – well, a virtual room – and start swappin’ spit!”

Of the almost-complete compositions passed over to Anthony, his soon-to-be-bandmates presumed he would initially have a crack at the couple of sparser pieces, seeking space in which he could detonate his explosive vocals. Instead, he gravitated towards the busy three-and-a-half-minutes that would become Antibodies – the first track on which they had also completed work. That piece of symbolic serendipity, coupled with the sheer effort the vocalist put in, without knowledge of who else was involved, galvanised resolve.

“The ‘blind date’ kinda thing made it even cooler,” grins Frank. “As soon as we got the tracks back from Anthony, I knew that this was a band rather than just a fun project for during the pandemic.”

The next few months went by in a blur. Although there weren’t originally plans for an album, the bangers continued to mount up. The full quintet were forced to flesh-out their self-recording expertise, with Tim stepping up as a de facto in-house engineer. They convened in person for the first time at Frank’s place in mid-2021, confirming their chemistry beyond the digital realm. Time was booked with red hot hardcore heavyweight Will Yip to record at the end of that year. Even as they went into a Jersey City studio to complete preproduction, the songs were still pouring from them, with eventual debut single Permanent Rebellion being written in the last half-hour of that trip.

At a time when scheduling shitshows had become the norm, L.S. Dunes had found calm by going with the chaotic flow. A fall just before the finish line came perilously close to derailing things, though, when on August 1, with studio time just over a month away, Frank suffered a six-stringer’s nightmare after slipping from a ladder, breaking his right wrist and severely spraining his left.

“To be totally frank...” the guitarist pauses with a wry smirk, before correcting himself to match the weight of his story. “To be serious, I didn’t know if I’d be able to play again. Everything exploded in that fuckin’ wrist. It was a real serious break. It was nerve-wracking. But it was something that I wouldn’t let myself say out loud because it was also super-scary. Not to get too serious, but I said to the doctor, ‘If you think that I’m not going to be able to play again, just leave me on the table, because there’s no point in waking me up. I can’t not play. I have to. And if you’re not the guy who can fix this, we need to find someone who can.’ I was meant to record in September, but my session moved to December, three weeks after my last surgery, with the stitches still in my arm. It was like my Through The Wire. Anthony had to wait for me. That’s why this record took so long!”

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play again”

Frank talks about the potentially life-changing impact of breaking his wrist

From its lunging intro to the dreamy curtain drop, the record was 100 per cent worth the wait. More than just a set of songs, though, Past Lives is a glimpse into how L.S. Dunes see themselves.

I’m not all my mistakes, no matter what they say about it…’ howls Anthony on the outstanding title-track, admitting today that although “we came to this project to do something new, in the process of doing that, we were sort of shaking off the dust, baggage and resentments from some of our other projects.”

L.S. Dunes is no ‘supergroup’. There is no album-padding filler here. The striking simplicity of Gordon Douglas Ball’s album art – five equal elements in perfect harmony – is very much on purpose. But it is the result of all those miles on the road leading to this point.

“I think it’s a moment in time,” reckons Frank. “It’s about the people involved in that room at that moment. And it’s a fine line. We’ve all been in touring bands, running the gamut of the successes and failures. We’ve lost friends. We’ve gone through it. All that shit that we’ve done has gotten us to this point. I’m proud of it. I wouldn’t change anything. But it also doesn’t mean that what comes next has anything to do with those experiences. Those were our past lives. This is the new thing.”

Indeed, hammering through the album’s 11 tracks, there are flickers of familiarity, but they’re in service of breaking new ground. The ‘lonely shadows’ and ‘lost souls’ of Grey Veins are wrapped around a masterful emo composition and massive chorus, destined to tug at heartstrings for years to come. Blender packs a little of the brooding post-hardcore of Thursday, but feels more texturally mature, with guitars set to stun. Grifter starts with the angularity of Circa Survive, but builds into a shadowy epic capable of holding up against the most grandiose compositions of Coheed or MCR have to offer. Then superb closer Sleep Cult does something totally unexpected: delivering Anthony’s treatise on “self-hatred and dealing with self-obsession” via 225 seconds of music that simultaneously pays homage to and woozily updates 1950s doo-wop.

There’s a willingness to speak harsh truths, too, most notably in garotte-sharp political observations of Bombsquad. “This band became a platform for me to really speak on a lot of those things,” the singer explains. “It’s about everything that was going on in our lives, from dealing with the depression and anxiety of the pandemic, to having to deal with a corrupt political system – the most corrupt empire that the world has ever seen – taking over, isolating and dividing us all.”

Perhaps most illustrative of the lot is searing album opener 2022. Back at Riot Fest, it was a number Anthony described as, “the most fucked-up song I ever wrote… about learning to get through shit, so that you don’t want to kill yourself every day.” Having started life as an acoustic confessional intended for a solo record (‘If I can't make it ’til 2022 / Least we'll see how much I can take’), the song was a designed to process the personal suffering and isolation he’d been dealing with over the last few years, but it took the input of his bandmates to properly realise its potential.

“On the original version, it felt like I was stuck in the hole of it,” Anthony explains. “Rather than make me feel better about the things I was writing, it made me relive a lot of stuff. So I sent it to Tucker and was like, ‘Yo, this is too sad, make it heavy!’ He alchemised what I’d written into something that felt much more triumphant: less like I’m digging myself into a hole and more like I’m digging myself out. Listening to it as the year is almost over, the emotion’s still there, but we did it: we made it through.”

“This band was built around making songs that feel good to play in every atmosphere”

Hear Anthony on the importance of taking L.S. Dunes on the road

So where do L.S. Dunes go from here? Throughout our chat, it’s reiterated that this shouldn’t be a one-off. The logistical effort to plan not just East and West Coast tours of the United States, but also a four-date UK run beginning at the Glasgow Garage on January 27, 2023 is evidence of their will to see this through. Festival dates for the following summer have begun to leak through. Anthony and Tucker make the tantalising observation that, if this record was what they were able to write with Zoom links and Dropboxes, who knows what they’ll deliver in the flesh.

Still, with the world accelerating into the post-COVID era, and other projects getting back up to speed (MCR, Coheed, Thursday and Anthony all have live dates booked within days of our chat) are there concerns about continuing to fit L.S. Dunes in alongside so many competing interests?

“Always,” shrugs Frank, with an easy grin. “But that’s with anything. Everyone has commitments, but everyone has commitments to everything: we all have families, other bands, we’re just doing our best to have the calendar to do it all in. And, so far, there hasn’t been a lot of push-back. I don’t mind the work at all – I live for it. But I don’t like planning shit. I’ll say yes to everything, then leave someone else to arrange it. But we all have great teams behind us – many of whom [overlap]. Everyone knows that we want to do this, and we’re doing it as a real band.”

“I would love for L.S. Dunes to become my main band,” Anthony stresses his enthusiasm. With Circa Survive recently confirming their ‘indefinite hiatus’, it feels like that might be a real possibility, though the timing of one band stopping as another starts, he insists, is purely coincidental. “It’s rare to find people that you connect with so well. Everything they send makes me want to keep writing. That’s a special thing. When you find it, you want to keep a hold of it and nurture it. We’re in a dance, right now, where the music has taken the lead. We’re just seeing where it goes.”

Tucker cracks another gleeful grin, even more buzzed as we end our chat than when we started.

“The stupidest thing to do when the music industry seemed to be dying during a global pandemic was to start another project. It’s all against the grain. We’re taking a risk, but we’re here for it. Everyone is always in search of that sick leather jacket that fits them just right. For us, this is it.”

Past Lives is released on November 11 via Fantasy Records

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