A Chat With: Dream Version
A few weeks ago, we kicked off the New Year with a post about Chicago's annual multi-venue winter festival, Tomorrow Never Knows. The post included Ezra Furman as one of five most anticipated acts at the festival, and while he delivered an outstanding performance, that night of the festival also stood out because of the excellent support acts. Kicking off that evening, Chicago's own Dream Version completely won over the crowd, setting the bar high for the rest of the night. Dream Version delivered a nonstop set full of positive vibes, sticky, sing-along choruses, and groovy bass lines. Naturally, we had to get to know more about the band behind a set so great that even Ezra Furman tweeted about them, so we asked them to be the next band in our Chicago feature. During our chat, lead singer Alec Jensen spilled all the dirt on the band's start, their influences, their plans for 2017, and of course- their Chicago favorites.
ANCHR Magazine: When did you start playing music, and how did you start playing with the rest of the band?
Alec Jensen: I've played in bands since high school. Ann Arbor, MI, had this great teen music scene based around a venue called The Neutral Zone. My friends are I were involved in launching the Neutral Zone's label, Youth-Owned Records. I kept writing music while I moved to Chicago and got my teaching degree. I got a job at an elementary school and met Eric, Michael, and our former bandmate Ned, all of whom were teachers there. But it never occurred to us to play music together until we went on strike in 2012. We started spending a lot of time together, and when we all realized we had the instruments for a band, I mentioned that I'd demoed an album worth of songs, but didn't know what to do with them. The songs were all ready to go. It was very casual, but turned into this beautiful thing.
AM: What's the story behind your name?
AJ: Initially, the idea was when you describe your dreams and say, "I was at school, but it was, like, a dream version of school." You know the one; it has an infinite number of hallways and doors and you can never find the room your exam is in. Eventually, I started thinking of it as an idealized version of something, like there's the real version of your boyfriend and the dream version that only exists in your head. Sometimes the real version comes over and you end up feeling disillusioned. I think that interpretation fits the band as it exists today a bit better.
AM: Who do you consider your music influences?
AJ: The Beatles and Pavement are so thoroughly ingrained in my DNA that I don't really notice their influence anymore. When Dream Version recorded our debut album, I was listening to lots of Prince, Fleetwood Mac, and of Montreal, but I doubt much of that comes across. Our new album's more rough and scrappy. I tried to avoid thinking about other people's music too much during the process. I think the Pavement influence will come through.
AM: Can you talk a little bit about the band's writing and recording process? How collaborative is the songwriting typically, and where do you record?
AJ: I usually write the songs and then record a demo to a drum machine. When I get together with Michael and Eric to play the songs, sometimes we play them just like the demo, but sometimes they go through extensive changes. "Firefighter", the first song on Beginners, went through months and months of revisions and now the demo would be unrecognizable. A couple of our newer songs are the same way. We recorded Beginners at Pieholden Suite Sound, but our latest we did at Foxhall Studios in Logan Square.
AM: How was the overall experience playing TNK Fest, and what was your reaction when Ezra Furman tweeted about your band?
AJ: TNK was a real joy for us. The privilege of just being heard by Ezra Furman's audience was great - they're the kind of people we'd love to discover our band. Ezra's set really inspired me that night. The songs never lost momentum, but somehow he found time in each of them to forge this personal connection with the audience. It was humbling to get attention from him. Our gut reaction is, "Oh, Ezra, you don't have to say that just to be nice." But it's definitely brought us some new listeners.
AM: You mentioned that you also teach and try to keep your rock n roll side separate from your teacher side, but do you ever incorporate music into your teaching style?
AJ: Eric is a music teacher for grades K-7. He gets the kids doing these beautiful choral performances and leads a few a cappella groups. A few times a year, I reluctantly pick up a guitar and sing with my 8th graders. It's flattering when the kids show interest in our music, but my response when they bring up the band is usually a deadpan "I don't know what you're talking about." The last thing I want on my mind when I'm writing a song is, "How would my students respond to this?" That's creative poison.
AM: What will 2017 bring for Dream Version as far as new tunes and tour?
AJ: Our new album, Fight Fair, is due out in early summer. We've got big plans for it. It's leaner, hungrier, and more angry in spirit, but it's still got the melodies and the background vocals people liked on Beginners. In the spring we'll announce a big summer tour and a release show. This is gonna be a really meaningful year for us.
AM: Who would be your dream band/artist to work with, either touring or collaborating?
AJ: I'm assuming this doesn't have to be realistic, so I'm gonna say duet with Kate Bush? More realistically, my high school band opened for of Montreal in 2004 and I'm pretty sure they went out for pizza during our set. So I'd love to get a second chance at that.
AM: What are some of your favorite fellow Chicago bands?
AJ: I'm in love with Emily Jane Powers, and highly recommend Jellies, Luno, and Richard Album. We're also big fans of Varsity, In Tall Buidlings, Pool Holograph, and of course, Ezra Furman.
AM: What about favorite Chicago venues?
AJ: It's been unreal playing Lincoln Hall, but we've also really enjoyed playing The Whistler, Subterranean, and Constellation. Can't forget Cole's, either. No matter the venue, anything Kickstand Productions puts on has been a great experience for us.
AM: Last question...what was the first concert you ever went to, and what was the last show you went to (that wasn’t your own)?
AJ: My dad took me to see the Beach Boys, minus Brian Wilson, in Detroit around 1995. Lots of Hawaiian shirts onstage. I think there was very little Pet Sounds, but plenty of "Kokomo" and that song that was on Full House. I recently saw In Tall Buildings do their TNK performance at Schuba's, and they're always awesome. They create dense textures, but within these really clean lines. I think there's a much bigger audience out there waiting for them.