Mark Beemer

L.S. Dunes: “A Brand New Adventure”

The Dunes dudes are five veteran rockers whose professional musicianship coexists with their personal friendship, shaping new and modern artistry that knows no rules and no bounds. We’re proud to live in their world, honored to experience DunesDay, and appreciative of their bond with both each other, and us.

Most supergroups are defined by the members and the former projects they’re in. Doing so with L.S. Dunes would be selling the project short and doing Past Lives a disservice. This is wholeheartedly its own entity. It sounds nothing like we’ve heard before and stands on its own by the music itself. 

The band consists of our friends, Anthony Green, best known as Circa Survive’s beloved vocalist, and Frank Iero, My Chemical Romance guitarist with side projects galore. Tucker Rule, drummer for the incomparable band Thursday, and Tim Payne, Thursday’s bassist, round out the quintet with guitarist Travis Stever, lead shredder for Coheed and Cambria. It’s an impressive lineup – one filled with talent and camaraderie – and despite any preconceived notions, listeners will soon realize that this project sounds nothing like they’d expect. L.S. Dunes is not an endeavor rooted in nostalgia, but rather helps push the scene of rock music forward with experimentation and the reminder that art is supposed to be fun and expressive at its core. The music we’ve heard so far feels like the five members are creatively at their best and together, as a band, are putting their best foot forward.

Past Lives dropped earlier this month on November 11. This LP is a complex musical journey that travels through many different soundscapes and lyrical themes. Grit and enthusiasm is laced into every song. A band with members as successful as these could have easily phoned in a quick, simple album to get a paycheck. L.S. Dunes defied that bland expectation and unfortunate trend to truly put their heart and soul into every track on Past Lives. It is an album that sounds like nothing else we’ve heard before – each track is original and exciting, yet somehow seamless as every song lends itself to the next, thus creating an experience that encourages full, cover-to-cover album listening. Keep in mind that right when you think you’ve heard the best song on the album, another one comes around the bend quickly, pummeling twice as hard.

The Aquarian had the incredible privilege to sit down via Zoom with Frank, Tucker, and Tim to catch up on the new album, the reception of their debut, and the formation of the band. Below is that delightfully raw conversation. 

Photo by Mark Beemer

First question right out the gate: Past Lives finally out, so how are you feeling?

Frank: It feels amazing, man. So far we had the record release show at Fingerprints and then last night we had our first proper show with the record out at the Garden Amphitheater. It was amazing to actually be able to play these songs and have kids know them. It’s a dream come true, you know? We’ve been holding onto this secret for so long now. To finally have it out in the world… fuck, man, that’s what it’s all about.

Tucker: It was such a big part of our lives that only we knew about. It’s kind of like we were lying to everybody in a weird way. Now it’s finally like we can tell the truth. 

Frank: Yeah, totally. 

How long were you guys holding onto this secret for? You had formed the band, you started writing these songs – how long did you have to sit on that?

Tim: Two years almost!

Frank: [Two years] from when we got the first demos back from Anthony. That was the thing – we were in the pandemic together sending some things back and forth. You know, life happens and everybody’s got kids, so it was a process of working on it but at the same time there was no stress, there was no time limit, there was no expectation of what this was going to turn into or when this was going to turn into anything. It was slow moving, but it kept us going collectively. I think the moment we got the first demo back from Anthony was when we knew it was going to be a real band. That’s when we had the secret, basically.

What was it like hearing the mastered music for the first time? You have so many different influences coming together from every band in your background. I imagine the first time you hear everything finished as L.S. Dunes that is has to be a cool feeling.

Frank: Oh, absolutely.

Tim: Yeah, yeah! That was the thing that was really cool. We basically recorded this album three times – we did the demos and then we went in for a full pre-production session. We get to hear it go from ideas and demos and piecing it together to full song structure where we can really add the nuances. Even after that, we bring it to Will [Yip] and have him have his hands on everything and see have it all take shape. Just looking back and seeing, “This was just a guitar riff,” or “This was just a drum beat,” at one point and seeing it come to fruition? It’s actually here in the world? It’s amazing to actually hear it and have people hearing it.

Frank: I feel like the sounds that Will got off this record are things I’ve been chasing for years. It’s crazy how energetic and live and fresh all the songs sound. I don’t think I ever heard a record that sounds like this. It’s maybe one of my favorite sounding records I’ve ever been part of.

Tucker: The most special thing I find about the record and the writing process was I feel like every part that every person put in was their initial gut reaction. I remember when we recorded Full Collapse (2001) back in the day. That excitement of being young came through on that record. Now as we’re in adulthood here, I think capturing that first gut reaction is just like capturing that excitement as a kid. It’s that same feeling over again, just 20 years later as an adult… which is insane.

Frank: I agree with that.

What is just so cool is you have all these masterminds of this post-hardcore/punk/emo world – whatever you want to call it, the scene – coming together. Thursday revolutionized it, My Chemical Romance is one of its biggest bands, Coheed and Cambria’s edge, Circa Survive’s melody… everybody brings their own little flair. I think that’s going back to what you were saying, Frank, about how it doesn’t sound like anything we’ve heard before from any of the bands. 

Frank: It’s true. What I think is so special about this record is that there are elements that feel familiar, but in a brand new way. It still feels like a fresh, brand new band and it’s exciting in that way. I don’t get a nostalgic [feeling] when I hear this record and I’ve never heard that from any of the interactions that I’ve had with anyone else who has heard [Past Lives]. There are these familiar melodies that give you a sense of feeling at home when you listen to it, but at the same time, it’s a brand new adventure. 

Absolutely! Now, Tim, I know you mentioned working with Will Yip as a producer. He is one of the most incredible producers in the scene currently. How did that relationship start? How did that unfold into what it is?

Tim: Anthony had recorded with Will a few times with Circa and his solo stuff. He had always been someone that I think everyone in the band, at some point, had always been like, “Oh, it would be really awesome to work with him.” He’s had such a big hand in so many records. I think we got on a call with him and just the initial reaction was that he was as excited as we were. I think that was kind of the mantra for the whole band: everyone is welcome to be involved as long as you bring the same amount of enthusiasm and excitement and not have any preconceived idea of what the process is going to be – or should be. Everyone just kind of let it happen and let their own creativity have a voice in the process. I mean… that was just awesome. It was so cool.

Tucker: Yeah, Will is an amazing dude and he’s also a ripping guitar player, a ripping drummer. I think a big thing about this band is that we don’t have any ego with this. You know what I mean? If he has a drum part that he thinks is cooler or an idea for something, I’m down to explore it. If he has a guitar part he thinks is cool or a sound in mind, we’re down to explore it. I think that’s the collaborative thing we’re looking for. We’re trying to incorporate as many friends as possible in this whole extravaganza. 

Frank: That’s the thing, man. I feel like the thing you learn over the years – and it’s very rare when bands learn it early on – is that it is always about servicing the art and servicing the song. It’s never, “Oh, but this part I wrote is so cool when I play it.” Yeah, no one gives a fuck if it ruins the song, man. You’re not a songwriter. You’re not a band. You want to be a solo artist and that’s cool. You want to be a virtuoso or whatever? Ok. But when they work together, that’s fucking perfect, and it doesn’t make any sense when it doesn’t service the song. I feel like all of us collectively have had enough experience and know the game enough to realize what’s truly important. I was scared about that but also so relieved to find there were no egos in the band when it came to that kind of shit. That’s why it works so well.

Yeah! That’s the thing: the fans, we can sense that. We know when a song is genuine, if a song has that emotional heart and soul to it. You can just tell by the reception. You have one record out and over 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. I feel like the fans really gravitated towards this because they knew this is for the art. This isn’t just trying to make a supergroup for the sake of making a supergroup. You guys have a real vision.

Frank: Yeah, man! Never in my life have I ever been like, “I’m going to start a band so it does this this and this,” checking these boxes. It’s always like, “Oh, that sounds really cool. I want to play with that person. I want to write music with that person. I want to create with that person.” That’s the reason you start a band. Everything else is bullshit. You can smell that from a mile away. There’s a lot of them out there – we all know what they are – and some of them have been on the cover of your magazine.

Tucker: And it’s crazy. I feel like this is meant to be. Everywhere we go we see something that is like the symbol of the band. We were at a vegan restaurant the other day and the server was awesome and she had a scorpion tattooed on her arm. I’m on a boat on an emo cruise and there’s like a triangle with a lightning bolt in it. There were these orange poppy flowers earlier today. They’re everywhere. This was supposed to happen. 

Exactly. The reception has been astounding. I even wanted to ask and you guys all mentioned it: how it’s just about getting together with friends you admire creatively and have known each other for years now. Years! At what point is it like, “Alright, let’s do it – let’s start a project together.”

Frank: You always say that! We’ve said that probably 30 times over the last two years but never have the time to do it. It’s something you just say, like, “Oh, that’d be great,” but nobody has the time to do it. If you do get the time to hang out, you just want to fucking hang out. The pandemic is really what happened, man. No one had anything going on, everyone’s life just slowed to a halt, and it was awful. People lost their lives, they lost their livelihoods. A lot of terrible terrible shit happened. I also feel like the few of us that were able to weather the storm were able to find a little bit of a silver lining.; just kind of taking a step back to start appreciating things that were taken from us. Having the time to just spend with family, to get to do the silly little things on a daily basis that you put off then it’s like, “Wow, now I’m too old to do that.” We took that time and we came together and made something beautiful out of it. Not to get fucking spiritual, but that’s what this shit’s all about. We live in a world that can be very beautiful if you want it to be. It can be very ugly, too. To find the beauty in that ugliness is kind of our job as artists, don’t you think? So that’s what we did.

Tucker: We’re all fortunate enough to work in music and to be in bands that allow us to tour across the world and have people sing along. I think when that happens early on you develop these friendships with people like we did in all of our early touring days. But then your bands all go in different directions – literally in different directions. Somebody’s on tour in San Francisco and somebody’s on tour in New Jersey. You go all over the place. You don’t see everyone for like 20 years. Maybe you see them at a festival here and there. Like Frank was saying about the pandemic, I think that’s the one thing where the world stopped, but we just didn’t want to. We’re not used to stopping and sitting still.

That makes sense. You mentioned about obviously being Jersey-based. I want to ask how that Jersey scene has influenced you guys. You talk about New Jersey in Thursday songs, of course, and in My Chem songs, of course, and in Coheed songs, of course. There’s so much in every band about that specific NJ culture. You guys have been writing music for 20-30 years now, I want to know how it’s still influencing you to this day.

Tucker: I’ll tell you right off the bat – the reason why Thursday became a band is because we wanted to play in our singer Geoff’s basement. He had a bunch of shows coming through there before we even thought about any band. Just growing up in New Jersey, being able to be around music and seeing shows constantly, was huge. That’s literally the reason why we started to be band: just to play in that fucking basement.

Frank: Honestly, the thing that carries through so much about that state or the tri-state area is work ethic. You know what I mean? There’s so many fucking bands. There are so many musicians. There are so many opportunities to get out there and prove yourself. When you get up there you better be good because there are 100 other motherfuckers trying to take your spot.

Tim: Yeah!

Frank: That’s the thing. It’s a competitive but also incestuous place where everyone plays with everybody. Everyone kind of cuts their teeth around the same time. You can’t not be serious because if you’re not then get the fuck out of the way. We’ve got a lot of people out here that are trying to make this shit work and are really serious about it. You could go to a local show and see 10 fucking amazing bands that will blow your mind on a fucking Wednesday! That was Jersey.

Tucker: Or on a Thursday [Laughs].

Frank: Or on a Thursday, this is true! I’ve got to tell you, half of those shows that I went to go see, that I snuck into see, had Thursday playing and they blew my goddamn mind. It made me want to be in a band. I wanted to do that. I loved being out there and watching it, but I needed to be up there doing that. That’s what keeps coming through. 

Absolutely. I love New Jersey. I’m originally from Rhode Island, actually, and I love that state with all my heart, but in Rhode Island a show will come through once a month if you’re lucky. Then moving to Jersey over the last four to five years, every night there is something! Even now in 2022 there’s a DIY basement show you can go to every night. There’s a venue show every night. Amphitheater shows every night. There’s always something. Something in the air in and around Jersey makes the culture so strong.

Frank: And what’s cool too about those shows is it’s not just one genre. You go see a show there’s a ska band playing with a folk artist or a hardcore band playing with this punk band. That’s my CD collection – it doesn’t make any sense, it’s just great music. You get exposed to so much. It just changes you and changes your whole world view.

As artists, that’s what it should be about. You want to listen to music that just makes you feel something. It doesn’t matter if its metal or hardcore… I see that a lot in the hardcore scene. It’s like, “Oh, that’s not heavy enough.” It doesn’t matter! It’s just got to be fun! Do you like it or do you not like it?

Frank: There’s going to be gatekeepers and assholes everywhere. I get it, too. When I was young I had a very strict set of rules of how punk rock should be. You know, the punk rock God sitting on the couch at home in his mom’s basement.

Tucker: If we followed the rules this record would have never been written, because we would have all quit music like everyone said to do and gotten real jobs. Starting a band is definitely not what you’re supposed to do in a global pandemic, especially when your industry is dying.

Frank: It’s true!

Tucker: I think by following the rules, this never would have happened. All of our bands never would have happened if we followed the fucking rules.

Even what you’re saying Tucker, every one of you guys already have a massively successful band. You don’t need to start this, you want to. It serves no logical purpose to start L.S.Dunes, but thank God you guys did it. Thank God it exists. 

Tucker: Every person in this band… it’s like having a loose tooth. You keep playing with it. That’s what we want to do. Staying sharp, writing songs is important to all of us. Staying sharp practicing our instruments is important. So when you can practice your craft but also write songs to challenge yourself, then this comes out of it, it’s ridiculous. How the fuck did this happen?

Frank: Yeah, I think that’s the thing: you have a collection of lifers and not just, ‘punk rockers’ or ‘scene guys.’ You have a collection of musicians that just love the craft. What goes into making a song, what goes into starting a band, what the aesthetic is going to be behind it? All of that is such an art form. It can be lost in a digital age where everything is immediate and you have a thousand discographies in your pocket that you never fucking listen to. It’s a lost art form. That lost art of creating from nothing… man, that’s what I grew up on. My dad was a drummer, my grandfather was a drummer. They were musicians, they talked about gigs and creating all the time. That’s how they connected. I needed to learn that secret language or be a part of that secret society in order to connect with them. That’s kind of where I cut my teeth.

Absolutely! You talk about that creativity and that art form. I also think that shows in the album, Past Lives. This doesn’t feel like 11 singles. This feels like a record. Listening to this album start to finish you hear every track fitting in where it belongs. That might just be the way I personally picked up on it, but was that an intentional choice on the band’s part?

Frank: Absolutely.

Tim: I think that we put a lot of thought into every song so as you go through it’s almost like sculpture. As things present themselves, there’s obvious places that they should fit. I think that as certain songs came about you kind of get a feel for which ones work together either musically, lyrically, or a combination of the two. At a certain point, once we realized we were able to write songs, they happened very easily – not to say it was easy. You want to put yourself in a position where you’re creating an album. The way that music is right now, you listen to one song from one band and then you make a playlist and you listen to just mixtapes all the time. I think that when we were getting into music initially, the thing that grabbed me wasn’t individual songs but fully fleshed out albums. I think that’s how we all approached it and that’s why it worked so well.

Tucker: At the same time I also feel like we never were saying, “This record needs this song.” You know what I mean? Because there was never really a record to begin with. We were just kind of writing songs together and at a point it was like, “Ok, these all work together.”

Tim: We realized early on that if we tried to force something, it wasn’t meant to be. If there was an idea that got put out and it didn’t grab everyone’s attention, we didn’t say, “Oh, fuck that song,” but we moved onto something where we could harness that creative spark. I think that translates in the songs.

It goes back to what we were saying earlier about how even if you make this really cool riff, but it doesn’t fit the song, it just doesn’t fit the song. As you guys said, it’s all about the greater purpose of the art.

Tim: Absolutely, yeah!

Another question I need to ask you guys is about your very first ever show at Riot Fest. Actually, Frank, that’s where I met you for the first time. What a crowd that was. That was insane.

Frank: I wasn’t expecting that.

For the first ever show as a band and with zero hype in terms of leading up to this, it was just the first show. Then droves of people were right in front of you. That’s got to be a crazy experience for the band.

Frank: It was. Nerve wracking? Absolutely. It’s also realizing that you feel good about that – good about what you’ve created. We had one song out! You know what I mean? I’ve played Riot Fest at 1:00pm before and there wasn’t that many people there. There’s something about this band and about what we’re doing right now that feels special. Something bigger than any one of us is going on. So, yeah, we got out there and I was like, “Oh my God – I was expecting 20 people,” and it’s more like 2,000. It was amazing… a great feeling. 

Tucker: We’ve never over-thought anything in this band, from the songs to the album to the album art to anything like that. Everything was kind of immediate. Riot Fest was symbolic of that in a way because we did play at one in the afternoon. We woke up and we didn’t have time to think about it. It was immediate, “Ok, let’s not overthink it. Let’s get up there and play the songs,” and that really worked into our favor. We didn’t have time to freak out. 

Frank: It’s true.

Tucker: Low stress!

Tim: Speak for yourself! [Laughs]

Tucker: But imagine having all day to think about it? Imagine that! Imagine playing at 10 at night and thinking about it all fucking day.

Frank: Yeah… I did that [Laughs].

It’s rewarding to see, as you said. We’ve talked about fan reception, but it’s true – seeing this in real time? The crowd right there in front of you? It validates everything you guys have worked the past two years for. That’s why the live shows are so important. That’s why we missed it in the pandemic. You can hear studio takes, but experiencing a song in that setting and seeing it the way it was meant to be? Seeing Anthony jump into the crowd and scream? Seeing all of you guys in tune? It’s another experience, it really is.

Frank: It totally is. Like we were saying before, at that point, I think only one song was out. The crowd went off like they knew every single one. That’s a really rare thing. I’ve been around this block quite a few times. That doesn’t happen. It just doesn’t happen. I’m very, very thankful and in awe of what we experienced… and continue to experience, really.

Of course! First off, I want to thank you guys so much for taking time out of your day to talk with The Aquarian for this cover story. We really appreciate all three of you sitting down with me to push this record and your shows. My final question for you today is about this record songwriting wise. It’s very unique because I feel like it switches between hardcore-style fast, very melodic parts, and extremely rythmic parts. It does it very seamlessly, too. When you’re writing a song, do you almost have two different ideas that you Frankenstein into one? Do you naturally slow it down?

Frank: It really depends on the song. Usually it starts with a riff, right? I think it’s usually either mostly bass riffs or guitar riffs. Then goes to Tucker and then Tucker usually will flip it on its head – it’s crazy. Sometimes the beat comes in and it’s like, “Oh, man! The one is here now. That’s not where I thought it was going to be. That’s fucking awesome!” It makes your brain think in a different way. You have five different guys that are all songwriters, and it is really difficult to be both a bass and a drum songwriter. I don’t know if you’ve been in a band, but I’ve never been in a band where the drummer or bassist kind of crafted songs in such a wild, rhythmic, and melodic way. Everyone is writing catchy melodies. That’s one of the things I love so much about Tucker’s playing: there’s these catchy melodies within the beats. It’s just another earworm that happens.

Tucker: Awww.

Frank: It is true! I’m not saying it because he’s holding the phone [Laughs]. That will happen and then it will come to Travis and me and it’s like a mad dash who gets there first. We’ll start to put riffs on top – now, at this point, we were writing and there’s no vocals. You’re just kind of writing and seeing how a melody feels and it if it could be something that could latch on. Then we’ll have a verse and somebody here is like, “I think it should go here.” We’ll copy and paste drum beats so that you can get to a chorus and we’ll write that chorus bit on top of it and then send it back to Tim. Tim’s really good about arranging chorus, verse, chorus, verse like that. Then we send it back again and play over it again. Finally we go to Anthony and say, like, “What the fuck? How did he find a melody in all this shit that we put on here?” That’s really how the first half of the record was written: just kitchen sink, everything goes in. Then we started to subtract from there and really fine tune what supports the melodies and what supports the song. I don’t know, we just happen to write really well together. It shouldn’t work but does.

Tim: Yeah, it was really crazy. There would be parts where we would say, “Hey, here’s drums, bass, and guitar. It’s just a verse.” Then you would send that out and be like, “I don’t know what’s going to come back!” For “Grey Veins” and other songs, Frank would just be like, “Oh, I don’t know, but how is this for a chorus?” It’s like obviously a yes, too! It’s awesome! Like we keep saying, we do our best to inspire each other. I don’t want Frank or Tucker or anyone in the band to feel like there’s a filter and they need to say, “Ok, well this is already happening, so let me dial it back.” We really try to foster everyone just being as absolutely creative as they possibly can. Somehow all of our voices kind of fit together which is very bizarre and rare and gratifying. [It’s] beautiful and it’s great.

Frank: We have no idea, basically! 

Tucker: All of that is completely accurate and I have nothing to add.

It goes back to how you guys have no expectations for or from this project. No one even knew it was existing. You don’t have to worry about the radio single. It’s just, “Ok, how can I add to Tim’s part? How can I add to that drum fill that Tucker just did?”

Tucker: That’s that youthful spirit we were talking about earlier. When we would add, we would try to do it as fast as possible. “Get this part done so somebody can do the next part!” That gave it that off-the-rails, kind of nervous energy of just trying to get your dudes psyched.

Incredible! I know a lot of side projects are a one-and-done kind of thing. With the reception that this record had, you all are going to keep pushing forward, right? I know the record just came out, so it’s still very fresh, but are there any future plans for L.S. Dunes?

Tim: We’re always writing. 

Frank: We have a lot of stuff.

Tim: We have so many ideas going.

Tucker: I’ll be honest, we all love this record so much, but it’s old news to us. We haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what we’re capable of.