The Dream Syndicate: Sleep No More

Paisley Underground legends the Dream Syndicate release their first album in three decades

Given that the first Dream Syndicate album in 30 years is called How Did I Find Myself Here?, it’s low-hanging fruit to turn the title into a question for Steve Wynn, who started the band in L.A. when he was 21.

“I like the title used as a prompt,” says Wynn. “It’s a pretty relevant title. I’ve already seen it being used and co-opted and played with and bent and twisted, and that makes me happy. Besides the fact that it obviously connects back to the record and what we’re doing, it seems like it fits a lot of people’s lives right now, micro and macro.”

Five years ago, Wynn offered to bring a band to a festival in Spain, and because neither of his current groups, the Miracle 3 and the Baseball Project (a supergroup of sorts with members of R.E.M.), would be available, on a whim he offered the Dream Syndicate, an outfit that hadn’t existed for 23 years.

His bluff called, he had to assemble a lineup. Part of the problem was that during its original eight-year tenure, the Dream Syndicate never had a stable membership. Bassist/vocalist Kendra Smith left after 1982’s The Days Of Wine And Roses, the band’s classic debut, and guitarist Karl Precoda left after 1984’s Medicine Show.

But Wynn called on original drummer Dennis Duck and bassist Mark Walton, who joined the group after Medicine Show, and drafted his Miracle 3 guitar foil Jason Victor (“I knew that neither Paul Cutler nor Karl Precoda would be into it, for various reasons,” says Wynn), and the new Dream Syndicate was born. That lineup has now been together longer than any other in the band’s storied history, and after five years of intermittent reunion tours, the quartet is releasing How Did I Find Myself Here? (Anti-), the fifth Dream Syndicate album.

“We figured the next step was to make a record,” says Wynn. “We would go in, finance it ourselves, not make a big deal about it, and if it’s no good, nobody would ever hear it. And like with the shows and tours we did before, it was good, it was exciting, it was true to the history, but it was new—all those things that we were enjoying came through in the studio. And that’s how we find ourselves here.”

The album is indeed good. It’s got compact rock songs such as “Glide,” noisy, punk-rock wall-of-sound such as “The Circle” and epic jams such as the 11-minute title track. Each has roots in what made the Dream Syndicate a leading light in the Los Angeles Paisley Underground scene during the ’80s.

“When the Dream Syndicate started, what we liked most of all was just stretching out, eliminating time and economy from what we were doing,” says Wynn. “When we had our first rehearsals, we would play ‘Susie Q’ for an hour and just think that was the most fun thing in the world. When we played shows, sure we had the pop songs, we had the ‘Tell Me When It’s Over’ kind of songs and ‘That’s What You Always Say,’ but then we’d go out on a limb. That’s when we had the most fun. Some of the people who’d come to see us would say they couldn’t deal with that, but the people who loved us really loved the long jams. It kind of stayed that way over the years. In some ways, it’s what we did best. It’s when we’d get out there and play a song over 10 minutes, like ‘Halloween’ or ‘John Coltrane Stereo Blues,’ that the band really came alive.”

With the help of Sonic Youth/Hold Steady producer John Agnello and Green On Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas, the band recorded 20 songs in a quick five days and chose eight for the album.

“If it slithers around and grooves around and makes you forget about space and time, then that gets on the record,” says Wynn. “I think of the eight songs on the record, two of them are one-chord songs, which I’d never done before, and then ‘How Did I Find Myself Here?’ is a whole lot of one chord. It was something I’d forgotten about: You can do something that grooves and feel good, and you don’t need anything else.”

Wynn will still juggle his myriad other projects, but for now, the Dream Syndicate is burning brightest. “You wait 30 years to make a record with a band, you want to give it everything you have, so that’s going to be my focus for a little while,” says Wynn. “But everything’s active. In a way, everything I’ve ever done—I did a Danny & Dusty record not long ago; we did a Gutterball show two years ago. My solo band is active. I’ve been working on a record with the leader of Serena-Maneesh, the Norwegian band, that’s really cool. There’s a lot of stuff out there. That’s what I like about doing this right now as opposed to 30 years ago: You can do a lot of different projects and they can exist side by side, and people can find the ones they want to find and ignore the ones they want to ignore. You can just work and be productive. It’s great.”

Steve Klinge