"Friends of Dennis Wilson to me…means…no boundaries."
-Tony Moran, FODW
(photos: Trever Long)
Tony asks me if I ever get tired of hearing the same ol’ stuff from musicians.
I slip and refer to him as a subject; I tell him I enjoy digging for the story and piecing it together. It’s almost, I tell him, like I’m prying you apart (I mimic metallic hands spreading his chest like open heart surgery as I say this). And I know this won’t creep him out - because scattered across the café table between our coffees are blood-splattered record covers, coagulated upon spray-painted images of Charles Manson. He transported said-cargo through the streets of Ferndale so that we could meet and talk about dark, super spacey music that conjures imagery of potentially murderous trips out to the desert.
Chiefly amongst our topics, is the release (finally) of the third proper full length recording of Tony’s band, The Friends of Dennis Wilson – with an unveiling concert scheduled for April 4th at Izzy’s Art Gallery in Detroit. FODW has been more of a collective than a band – or an institution, if you will. With a hook-filled rock sound soaked in 60’s psyche-reverb, it inevitably follows that the band’s more avant-garde philosophy and personnel functionality would conjure that secluded farmland commune vibe of come-and-go as-you-please. (FODW’s gone through 2 bass players in the last year and now sees two former members, Sam Santurro and Brandon Codeine form a band of their own, Qualia, with Patrick Elmore).
Not that FODW -in taste or sound- is entirely rooted in the 60’s, but the influence is unmistakable. The unique imprint of 60’s psychedelia seems imprinted on Tony’s soul: be it his home, (where each room is flooded with bright saturated colors, psychedelic memorabilia and glorification of both cars/crusing/motorcycle/surfing culture and beatnik art), or his shrugging admittance that, "I’ll probably be listening to Piper at the Gates of Dawn till the day I die…"
"All I’ve ever wanted to do was to play guitar in a band," said Tony. "Just being able to do that, put out 3 records, a 45, and now…success to me, is just all personal success."
Indeed. The FODW, spurred by Tony’s tireless work in the studio (lots of headphone-bound strung out, red-eyed nights) alongside "master-mixer" engineer/guitarist Robby Buxton (of The Rue Moor Counts), the band can finally say they have "3 records" completed…The thing is, it took nearly 20 months to complete the third...
It started to seem like the whole thing was cursed. Songwriting began in late 06-early 07, and soon after the band started recording at Carlot Sound, Buxton’s once-Pontiac-based studio. The first pillar to fall was the mixing board blew out…in fact, damn near all the rest of their equipment blew out as well. They took their amps, recording equipment and moved shop to guitarist Tim Doneisia’s joint, where they planned to finish recording and mix it. But then, the 16-track died and they needed to take all the busted shit in for maintenance, (which killed another couple months). Eventually, they restored the set up and finished recording – but when they went to mix it down to DAT,… "I swear to God, the DAT machine breaks," Tony scoffs. They found a new DAT from a source in Pontiac and Tony told Tim to drive out and get it, because damn it – they were going to stay there all night if they had to… Only, it was also a torrential thunderstorm that was causing the power to go on and off while the band waited for Tim to return from his DAT errand.
"These are a collection of songs over the past 3 years," says Tony, patting the stack of records, painted and decorated by artist Nai Sammon. "It’s been good, now I finally know where I wanna go with the music. I know what I’m capable of in a studio and where I want the band to go."
Tony is tall, broad shouldered, with long billowy hair – a striking figure and an even more animated performer, but still a sensitive dude with a heart of gold. I know it’s pained him to see this creation so impeded throughout 2008 – but now that it’s out he says he feels that it is the first true Friends of Dennis Wilson album – that the others were mere demos by comparison – and that’s why it’s self-titled.
I ask him if it was worth it – all the nerve-wracking run-around of this record "Fuck yeah it’s worth it," he squints through a grin. "I can’t find anything that can take my mind off music for two minutes. I’m always ready; when I wake up I’m thinking of a song title, chord progressions of a song, the name of an album…everything, that’s all I’m thinking about…"
Even if the road to get there is difficult? Even if the light at the end of the tunnel is faint?
"It puts more hair on your chest, man. I’m not just saying that to sound cool. Here’s the thing, what I’ve learned from all the obstacles is that I can maintain all my composure and still wanna do it. I really wanna do it."
We talk about the entering of late 20's for the singer/songwriter, all that assesing-your-life shit, and we return to his definitions of personal success – and what he wants to do, not just with the band, but with his time here on this frazzled spinning rock. "I want other people to like my music, but as far as underground…we’re totally underground."
Perhaps they’re still underground because they, whether explicitly or not, glorify a dark icon in their band name – often connected to the occult – the Manson family, a.k.a., the "friends" of the wayward Beach Boys drummer. Or maybe it’s because Tony seeks out avant-garde artists like Nai Sammon, who designed more than 20 original covers for the vinyl release of self-titled (some including wrung splotches of his own blood), or other allies like noisy experimental rock of Heroes & Villains.
Then, maybe it’s the style of music – this swirling shoegaze meets psychedelia, with a muffled Brit-pop whimsy and classic 50’s rock hooks radiating out in sunny surf tones. Or maybe it’s the out-there trajectory of their tastes, spaced out, dark, sometimes brooding grooves informed by a biker-gang disposition and a taste for the road; a taste for the transcendent – through music.
Or maybe it’s just psychedelic music, not specifically as a genre, but as a scene here in Detroit. Each year Tony does his part to keep the blood flowing through the sometimes perceivably inconspicuous psyche scene as curator for the Fiberglass Freakout. The yearly summer festival celebrates a conglomeration of fuzzy feedback pop and gritty experimental rock and punk, often featuring Heroes & Villains and Friends of Dennis Wilson – but, most recently hosting the up and coming Oblisk and soon, the bluesy psychedelia of Sik-Sik Nation.
Tony says there’s no questioning the strength of the scene – especially when you look at stalwart, aristocratic trailblazers like Windy & Carl, His Name Is Alive and Outrageous Cherry.
"For me," said Tony, "I want to do more to support that scene, and my music is growing in that way.
"All I can think about is the now," says Tony. He has slightly retreated from his once showy and confrontational front-man role to aligning with the band as a second guitarist – with Adam T on guitar, Tim Doneisa on organ, Charlie Monsoon on drums, Brian from the Bad Faces Clan joining on bass. Tony said all his focus is on the next recordings – the immediate future includes a 7"
"Dose Down" on he and Buxton’s label No Gold. FODW are also to record another full length and hopefully, at worst, get it out by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the No Gold label celebrates an unofficial showcase on April 4th(along with the release of self-titled). All of these bands on the bill (Oblisk, Rue Moor Counts, Qualia, FODW) are affiliated with the label. In a couple months, No Gold will put out the Birddogs (currently known as the Rue Moor Counts)’s second full length on vinyl – followed by a Birddogs split with Toronto psyche-rockers Speaking In Tongues. Then, Detroit’s shoegaze heavy atmospheric pop quartet Oblisk will put out a 45 on the label, followed by another FODW 45…and eventually something from Qualia. The show takes place down in the basement of the art space (Izzy's Art Gallery) where 100 or so of the album’s record covers will be on display. Each unique cover features an original design by a number of different artists, including Carl (owner of Izzy’s), Jeff (from Heroes & Villains) Robbie (who helped mix the album and performs with Rue Moor Counts) and Nai Sammon, among others.
And going back to growing scenes, and growing as a band – that’s the one word Tony uses to sum up what this album means to him: growth. "In the beginning of the record, there’s stuff that wants to be free…there’s songs about riding choppers and wanting to be free and then there’s a lot of drug influence too. Then, there’s a lot of real abstract ideas of being secluded, a lot of ideas about wanting things that you can’t have…seclusion, stuck in your own world, wanting to break through and then in the end not really caring about breaking through. And I don’t mean ‘breaking through’ in like, being popular. I mean, personal feelings. There’s songs about love, not caring about life, hating yourself, hating people and loving, it’s a weird combination of hating people and loving people and loving yourself and hating yourself."
"[Self-titled] leads into the next one which is just total darkness…"
Far away from those tripped out oscillating tones of 13th Floor Elevators-recalling psyche sludge and garage pop, eh?
"I wanna get as far away from that stuff as possible…" But really, "I just wanna play guitar in a band…" And that this line up, "it seems like this is gonna be the permanent line up for a long time…"
4 / 5 Izzy’s Art Gallery – with Qualia, Oblisk and Rue Moor Count