The Boston trio’s shoegaze encompasses an inexplicable cursed energy that is somehow simultaneously comforting.
On a Saturday night, Brooklyn’s Alphaville is overflowing with sweaty DIY kids; cigarette smokers go back and forth between the sweltering venue and the freezing street. It’s a healthy mix of Massachusetts natives and New Yorkers, all here for the same reason: Boston’s beloved shoegaze rockers Horse Jumper of Love are playing, and everyone is ready to escape the winter cold and burrow themselves inside their darkly atmospheric world. Onstage, the band mostly plays tracks off of their third album, So Divine, which is full of morbid melodies, haunting sonics, and captivating images: spilling yogurt on plants, climbing through ceiling panels, and watching Jeopardy with a hairdryer on. It’s probably their best effort to date—and a perfect encapsulation of the group’s idiosyncrasy.
Ahead of the performance, AdHoc spoke with guitarist and vocalist Dmitri Giannopoulos, bassist John Margaris, and drummer Jamie Vadala-Doran about the DIY scene, the songwriting process, and the best moments on So Divine.
AdHoc: What was your writing process like for So Divine?
Dimitri Giannopoulos: We played the songs live before we actually went into the studio to record. So the process of writing really came from touring on the songs before we got into the studio. We toured on the songs for probably a year and a half before.
“Airport” and “Volcano” were two songs we played a lot live before we went in to record them. We started the process of recording, did those songs, did some more touring, and realized that we wanted the songs to sound a little different. We totally trashed them the first time, and then went back and re-recorded them.
Do you consider yourself a writer?
Dimitri: I don’t know if I consider myself a writer, because I’ve never written a poem or a short story or a novel or whatever, [although I do] make art that goes with a lot of words. All my writing is oriented around songwriting. Any time I think of something, it’s in the context of a song—or in the context of a drawing or painting.
Have there been any weird or inconvenient places where an image for a song has suddenly popped into your head?
Dimitri: Totally. The writing for this album was done up to five years ago, and I worked as a security guard in a museum. I had to stand around in rooms for several hours, and we weren’t allowed to have a pen or paper on us or anything. I’d think of a lot of stuff there, and I’d have to sneak-write it down so my boss wouldn’t see it. I was supposed to be like a statue.
The song “Stray Dog” has a lot of imagery: a dying grandma, Virgin Mary, a 666 phone call from a soldier. What was writing that song like?
Dimitri: I think that was the most stream-of-consciousness song I had ever written. That one is probably the oldest one on the record. It’s from 2014 maybe. I mostly wrote it as a solo song, and then we played it on and off for the next five years after that and decided to put it on the record.
John Margaris: It’s one of my favorite songs that you’ve written, and it is one of the oldest ones, and we’ve been playing it for a long time. I like that imagery—they’re all jarring images that somehow go together. It has a haunting feeling to it because it doesn’t feel like it should go together, but Dimitri puts it together.
Dimitri: I think that was one of the first songs I ever wrote that was like that. I still like it—it doesn’t feel forced, but it feels like I was trying something new at the time.
Do you feel like you’ve learned more about songwriting since then?
Dimitri: Yeah, totally. I’ve learned a lot about songwriting from listening to more basic music— “basic” as in more straightforward. When we first started playing music, I was listening to a lot more experimental or shoegaze. Now I stick to country or more storytelling stuff. I think that’s changed a lot with the songwriting process for me. I’ve also been writing less songs since then. It’s a lot harder [laughs].
Are there any current bands you feel inspired by that you’ve played with?
Dimitri: We actually just played in Philadelphia with this band Soul Glo. They were excellent. It’s like super heavy, and I was blown away by their set. Definitely a band I’ve been stoked about. Also, the band Poppies from New York—I’m a big fan of them and their songwriting and their song structures. We just played with them in Albany last month, and that was a really fun show. They’re really cool people.
John: We did get to play a show with a band called Duster. They’re something we’ve been listening to [since] we started playing together like four years or five years ago.
Dimitri: We played with Pink Navel in Boston. They’re an excellent rapper, hip-hop artist, and producer. They do a lot of really cool sampling and their songs are awesome.
Does being in DIY inform your music in any way?
Dimitri: Yeah. I definitely think we wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for our starting up in the DIY scene.
John: We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do any shows if we hadn’t been around people who were doing the same stuff as us.
Dimitri: I think it’s really inspiring being so close to our peers.
John: On a kind of different note about us being slightly influenced by DIY in general, I think about all of the bands that we see every day when we’re on the road. We’re exposed to three or four new artists all the time. After doing so many tours and different kinds of performances and spaces, you pick up notes from different people, whether that’s an idea for songwriting or a tip on performing.
Dimitri: Or a tip on the logistical side of it.
John: Like living in a car [laughs].
Dimitri: Like living in a car for two weeks. Especially bands who’ve been doing it for longer than us and bands who’ve brought us on tour—we definitely learn a lot from them on how to live this lifestyle. It’s easier the more we learn about it from friends and people in other bands.
I read in an interview that you’re all very open about your anxiety. Does that affect your relationship with music?
Dimitri: Yeah. It all kind of starts with that. I think people make stuff in general because they’re processing or they’re trying to escape. A lot of the stuff, especially from the first and second record, started from these negative points that I tried to put into something positive. By creating, by writing.
Lastly, do you have any favorite moments on So Divine?
Dimitri: My favorite song on the whole album is probably “John’s Song.” The whole recording process of that was really fun, and I really like the part where it opens up after the lyrics. That’s my favorite part on the album for sure.
John: I like the song called “Aliens.” And then there’s two ambient tracks, and because we don’t play those and I don’t hear them as often, it’s really awesome to hear them in the context of the album as a whole. It’s super refreshing for me to remind myself that all of the songs go together in a specific way other than just a set that we play every night.
Jamie Vadala-Doran: I like listening to “Cops” because I think it’s a banger. When I listen to it, in the beginning, I just start moving to it. I like it!