Although sometimes truncated to iDKHOW, the full name of former Panic! At the Disco bassist Dallon Weekes’s new project is I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME. Yes, it is quite the mouthful, but those familiar with the eighties classic Back to the Future will recognize it as the iconic phrase uttered by Doc Brown to Marty McFly as Libyan Nationalists strike. Back to the future also happens to be the perfect description of Weekes’s catchy retro-futuristic music.
Weekes is a rarity in today’s various genres of popular music: he’s a character with talent to spare and a desire to color outside of the lines. He is more concerned with creative integrity than being entranced by the dark, ruthless side of the music business, even if it means sacrificing a quick buck and quicker success. “Born late,” in 1981 to be exact, he would have been a superstar during the golden age of music television. Not to be undone, however, he has taken to YouTube to share his unique brand of music, vision, and style in a series of hysterically memorable music videos, most of which promote songs from his debut EP, 1981.
1981 was a transitional year for pop culture. Hard rock and heavy metal were making a comeback thanks to then-recent releases by AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath. The first wave of British punk had faded, making way for new wave, which itself would spawn sub genres such as synth pop. And in August, a new cable channel would debut, eventually shaping music, fashion, film, and television: MTV.
Conceived as a solo project, it has morphed into a duo with the addition of former Falling in Reverse drummer, Ryan Seaman. During live shows recently, the duo currently perform with backing tapes, though that will probably change in the future.
On the road to a show in Lincoln, Nebraska, Weekes is a bit under the weather. Although he has been forced to postpone interviews to preserve his voice, he’s gracious enough to speak with The Aquarian.
Moving from the bassist in a band, Panic! At the Disco, to being the focal point of iDKHOW, are you feeling overwhelmed? Has your health suffered as a result?
It feels a little bit like that. My body is telling me ‘No,’ so we are having a little disagreement at the moment.
When asked why he would give up a solo career to join the Eagles, Joe Walsh said life was much easier being a member of a band.
[iDKHOW] has been pretty nonstop; much more work than what I was used to during the last decade. The hope is that ultimately it will be worth it.
Is iDKHOW a solo project, a duo, or an eventual band?
It began as a solo project. I wrote and recorded these songs by myself, but then brought in my friend Ryan to bring all of this to life on stage. It has been working out great that way.
Was iDKHOW born out of a need to be creative?
Yes, 100 percent. If I was not being creative, I would go into some sort of psychosis. From when I was a kid, even before I picked up a guitar, I was drawing. I wanted to be a comic book artist, but then I fell in love with making music.
Does drawing still provide a creative outlet?
I don’t have a lot of free time these days, but I would love to revisit that.
Do you consider yourself an old soul?
I certainly feel that way. Everything I was into when I was a teenager was from decades ago.
Is the band’s name a hint that you want to make what was once considered old new again?
I like for people seeing us live to imagine they are seeing something from 30 years ago.
I am middle-aged and to me your music is like a warm, comforting embrace of memories.
We are not revivalists, but those influences are definitely there—Bowie, Marc Bolan, and The Sparks are some of my favorites.
You have been referred to as a 10-year-old overnight success.
A lot of overnight success stories take about 10 years to happen.
Were these songs written before you left Panic! At the Disco?
I wrote songs for Panic! At The Disco for a number of years. Then they started hiring professional hit makers and didn’t have much use for me anymore. That is when I started writing the songs for iDKHOW.
You left to have a creative outlet?
It was a difficult transition to make, but Panic! At the Disco was never my band. I was sort of a guest in their house for 10 years. Whatever decisions that were made were done without my input and I had to be okay with that. That was just the nature of the job. So, when they transitioned to not needing me [as a songwriter] anymore, I started creating this music with no real goal in mind other than to just get it out of my head.
Your music is very visual.
While creating this music, I was also watching old episodes of [the British music shows] Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test on YouTube. I discovered and fell in love with classic artists like The Sparks. I wanted to recreate that experience and present those aesthetics [to a new audience].
In 1981, there was an indescribable feeling that music was going to dramatically change. No one, however, was prepared for MTV’s impact on pop culture. Was that why you titled the EP 1981?
I was born in 1981, so I don’t qualify to be a part of the MTV generation. I did, however, grow up seeing all of that stuff. A lot of my musical influences come from the late seventies and early eighties—the tail end of British glam and garage rock and the beginning of new wave. Seeing how it happened was part of my childhood. That is why I decided on the title 1981. It was that point in time when things were pivoting. Anything and everything could happen, and everything did happen.
Are you a student of the eighties?
As much as I am a student of any decade. I just try to find the best of whichever decade, because I don’t think that “new” necessarily means “good.” Some people believe it does, but I completely disagree. No matter the decade, there is good music and I try to find it. If it was good then, it should still be good today.
I was determined not to become my parents, who said music was better in the fifties and sixties. Yet, more and more, I find myself believing that music was better the last five decades than it has been during the last nine years.
Most people forget that there was just as much garbage on the airwaves during each of those decades as there is now. As time progresses, that garbage fades away and is forgotten about, while the good stuff sticks around in people’s memories.
It’s frustrating that lip-synching boy bands are selling out stadiums, while real musicians are struggling.
I decided long ago that there are certain lines I am not willing to cross, and it has certainly made life a little more difficult as far as trying to find success in the music business. It is a business and it’s not one where nice guys finish first. If you do draw that line in the sand, it certainly creates more challenges for you, but I can’t do this if it cannot be done honestly.
Your art is too important to you.
I have to be able to sleep at night.
The music industry can chew you up and then spit you out.
I poured my heart and soul into my music only to have those songs taken and turned into something else. It was a tough thing to see happen. And then witness people taking credit for your work. It is the name of the game, however, so you have to be okay with that stuff and let it roll off of your back. You have to keep moving forward.
Is that why you choose to sign with Fearless Records?
They offered 100 percent creative control and to me, that was more important than anything else.
Is there a full length in the immediate future?
That is the plan. The songs are demoed and we’re just waiting to go. It will not take long to record.
How will the full-length record compare to the EP?
There are a couple of tracks that were written at the same time as the EP. Genre-wise, the album will wander around a bit. There is one song, which I am really fond of, that was inspired by (nineteen-forties vocal group) The Ink Spots. I love them so much and I have for years. So, I wrote a song using their formula. We are not concerned with sticking to genres. I just want to write and record music I want to listen to. The music is all over the place and yet cohesive.
Will all of your music videos feature mannequins?
If we can find more to set on fire, then bring them on.
What do the mannequins symbolize?
I’d rather not say. There is a lot of symbolism contained in the videos. I think explaining it will just set people off and create useless drama. I am not interested in that.
Let people speculate.
I just want to say what I want to say and let the art speak for itself.
Has the name iDKHOW presented any problems or obstacles?
Having a band name that is challenging or confrontational gets rid of the wrong elements. If you cannot get passed a band name that is a little longer than you are used to, then don’t come see us play. If you don’t want to be challenged, stay away.
The name perfectly describes the music.
When we first got started, we would book shows anonymously and not tell people what we were doing. We just wanted the music to speak for itself. So we booked shows with this ridiculously long band name.
How about the club owners?
There have been people at clubs waiting to tell us that we have to change our band name. My answer is always Fuck you.
Catch iDKHOW on July 19 at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, PA and on July 20 at the Starland Ballroom!!