all images courtesy of Dynamo Fuzz
There are so many musically related things that draw us together. Whether it be the camaraderie of a live show or singing along to your favorite song in the car, music has a special way of highlighting the bonds that hold us all together as humans. For Columbus trio Dynamo Fuzz, creating music, both before and during the global pandemic has been a way to ward off the darkness that might creep into their minds.
“Sometimes music is just a way for me to get those emotions out,” said singer and guitarist Harlan Hopkins. “We as a society have ignored mental health for too long, but there is a different stigma from when I was growing up.”
“I started going to therapy two years ago and it helped me resolve so many different things. But music helps us connect with others on that topic in a broader sense.”
The band originated in lighter terms, with Hopkins and drummer Patrick Locy playing in a Jay-Z homage act called Nerds in Paris. The project lasted a little over a year and had 7 members at one point, but the guys said that it wasn’t something that was ever going to last.
“It was fun, but Patrick and I realized that we wanted to create our own music,” explained Hopkins. “It’s more fun when people want to see your music.”
The band fiddled around as a two piece for a while but between them realized that there was something missing.
“We kept banging our heads against the wall about how we could do it as a two piece,” lamented Locy. “Surprise, the answer was to become a trio!”
“As a bassist, I do believe that bass makes everything better,” laughed Ryan Sherrock, the final addition to the group.
“We had Ryan play a couple songs for us and we were like, oh, that’s the way to do it!” exclaimed Locy. “And then it was a matter of whether he’d actually want to play with us.”
Sherrock agreed to join, and the group started fleshing out the material they had already written and started playing out as a three piece late in 2019. They got two shows into 2020 before everything came to an abrupt halt.
“We played a show in February, and it was our best show ever as Dynamo Fuzz,” said Hopkins. “We had a show scheduled for the Friday before everything else got put on hold…”
“…and we were like, should we even play? What do we do? Things were getting cancelled left and right, but we eventually decided to go ahead with our show,” interrupted Locy.
“Well, it ended up being horrible, in every possible way,” admitted Hopkins. “We started late, had technical difficulties, and we really just didn’t do a good job at playing our songs.”
“Someone came up to us after our set, after we announced we were going to do an Everclear cover and said ‘wow, you guys did great on that, you should really do Santa Monica!’”
“The song we had played was Santa Monica,” chuckled Sherrock “but that’s how bad we were that night.”
Like everyone else around town, the band was plunged into a dark period of not knowing what they should do or when they would play out again. Hopkins said the interruption put a serious kibosh on his creative juices.
“We literally did not practice for two months,” he admitted. “We even tried to do it over Zoom and it just did not work.”
“By July, we started getting back together in person. We got an air purified and we all wore masks for practice,” he continued. “We really needed it for our own sanity. It was to escape everything else in the world.”
“It became that one thing that we had to look forward to when there was nothing else,” added Locy. “Doing happy hour via Zoom was a sad approximation of a good time, but it’s nice to chat with two people you’re fond of.”
As the months wore on, the band began to put things together for their debut self-titled EP, which they released this past August. Initially the group said that their time in the studio brought major hiccups.
“Nothing makes you question yourself more than actually having to record,” grimaced Sherrock. “We were like… why are we here? Just sitting there banging our heads against the walls for the first three hours.”
“It got to the point where we were asking ourselves if we were good enough,” Locy admitted.
“We went to lunch on the first day, and we didn’t have a single good take that we could use. It was rough,” finished Hopkins.
The band credited producer Brandon MacLean from Oranjudio for helping them get all of their ducks in a row.
“Fortunately for us, Brandon was like ‘Listen, you’re not done but you’re a lot better than you think you are’. He was such a huge part of this record,” said Sherrock.
“We spent so much time in studio just trying to figure out how to be a band in a recording space,” added Locy. “We were so used to being a live band; being big and loud and even if you’re bad, people are likely to forget by the next song.”
“We can’t thank Brandon enough – he shared as much passion for our songs as we did,” finished Hopkins. “That was a huge help, having someone there who was doing more than just pressing the buttons.”
“He told us that he wouldn’t have signed on if he didn’t like what we had and didn’t think he could make it great.”
The EP starts off with the thumping bass tone of MD, short for My Depression. Hopkins says he was just fooling around at home when came up with the opening riff and the lyrics followed from there.
“The focus of the song lyrically is that depression can really fog your mind and make you think that things aren’t like what they are,” he explained. “I have OCD so depression really pushes me in the wrong direction.”
“It’s like… is this really what I’m thinking??”
“I had no idea that you could talk about things that are so sad and relatable, and still rock,” Locy added. “It’s really easy to write big rock songs about chicks and cars and stuff, but I give Harlan a lot of credit for writings songs where you hear them and think, this is me too!”
“Plus, one of the interns at Oranjudio walked in while we were recording and was like, hey, this would go really great in a car commercial,” chuckled Sherrock.
“The last show that we played at Spacebar, we opened with MD and everyone was just settling in, but the moment we hit that chorus riff the entire bar turned around and was focused on us,” nodded Hopkins. “So we know we have something with that one.”
The first time I heard the second track, Wait And See, I felt Weezer and Greenn Day influences, which the band confirmed almost immediately.
“That riff actually came from Patrick – he just started doing this bassline and it made me think of Only In Dreams by Weezer,” said Hopkins. “I already had the lyrics we used for the chorus written when we were a duo, but the original verses were garbage. Eventually we started playing out with Ryan and that’s when everything else came together.”
“There’s two people who really made this record extra great – the first is Ryan and the 2nd was Brandon. He really helped us get things right on this one. He gave me some great suggestions for how to sing and make it sound like it does.”
Say It To Me is heavier and greasier than the previous two, almost like a Melvins or Nirvana song, and feels like Hopkins’ guitar is given the most room to shine on the entire EP. He says that wasn’t the initial intention, but again points to MacLean’s influence to help capture the eventual sound of the song.
“Say It To Me was the only song that we didn’t double track the guitar,” he confirmed. “Brandon had the idea to do it that way so it didn’t sound the same as the other songs. It’s also the only song off the EP that was entirely written during the lockdown.”
“It wasn’t a period where we felt very creative either,” bemoaned Locy. “We weren’t exactly producing the next great Dylan record or writing the next great American novel.”
“The interesting thing on that song is that Ryan has a fairly quiet amp in practice compared to mine. When we played this one in studio, we were like WOW!” added Hopkins. “We really felt some grungey vibes on that one.”
The song also features a couple of screams from Hopkins that are atypical to the rest of their recordings. He says that was arguably one of the worst parts of the recording process.
“It took us like, 3 days of just doing vocals on that song. I thought it would be the quickest to record but it ended up taking the longest,” he described. “The screams really took it out of me. I just didn’t have it and I felt like they weren’t great. I was happy to be done after 2 days of trying, but we all agreed that they weren’t good enough so I went back for a third session the next day.”
“Unfortunately for Harlan, people really like the song too, and now they want to hear it at every show. We’ve had to start doing it as an encore, so he doesn’t burn himself out,” Locy smiled.
The last track is called Black Water, and you can imagine my surprise when I started playing it and didn’t find a Doobie Brothers cover. It’s another one where the lyrics really cut deep, and is one of the oldest songs that the band performs.
“Actually, my girlfriend makes fun of us for it not being a Doobie Brothers song,” smirked Hopkins. “Any time I mention it she starts singing that one instead.”
“I don’t fully remember what I was actually referring to when I wrote the lyrics, though. The basic premise is that you’re in a bad relationship, and the other person is tearing you down to a point where you feel like you’re drowning,” he continued.
“Those lyrics came out really quick too – it wasn’t even something I really thought about at the time.”
“We workshop a lot of different songs, and I’m a big counterbalance to Harlan in language and words,” explained Locy. “But with Black Water, he just brought it in and that was that. It came fully formed and we rolled with it.”
“When we initially wrote it, there was much more of a blues focus. It was like our Little Black Submarines (The Black Keys), and I really wanted to drive home how punchy it was when it came time to record. From a live standpoint, it’s the song everyone knows us for.”
“When we recorded it, I was suffering from a ‘solo’ syndrome, if you will,” Hopkins hashed. “I never really play the same solo twice. If you asked me to play the solo I recorded on the EP, I would actually have to sit down and listen to it and learn it. But in studio I just didn’t have the right energy for it. It’s just so different doing it when you’re not on stage.”
“We suggested he go out and run sprints!” Sherrock exclaimed.
“So then I literally went outside and ran sprints trying to get the adrenaline going. I was jumping up and down, just trying to get my heart to beat faster,” finished Hopkins. “I feel like it took 30 takes but I finally got that solo where I wanted it to be.”
Although MD is the only song that specifically references mental health, the more the four of us talked the more I realized that it was important to all four of them to speak about. I’ve written many times about using art as an avenue to expunge the darkness from inside of us, and Hopkins said that he felt something similar as well.
“In a lot of cases, writing is just a way for me to get things out on paper. Particularly, I feel like when I’m feeling troubled by something…” he trailed off “well, there are some songs where the melody comes first, and whatever comes to mind is what I write. But then there are other times where I sit down, and I really want to write about something specific.”
“Writing is my outlet for getting it out of there, not just for myself but for other people too. There’s a sense of relief when you can release like that.”
From a personal standpoint, I agree whole-heartedly. The more I work in the local scene, the more I find that musicians are just like you and me. We all fight similar battles and we’re all in this one together.
“We have another newer song titled Alone In My Head, and it’s all about depression,” Hopkins continued. “It’s really about what happens in your mind when you’re feeling down, and I kind of feel bad when I tell people that it’s about depression…”
“…and people all cheer and clap!” finished Locy. “Like they all understand and feel it too.”
“But it’s an important thing for me to talk about. We all need a way to get through these things,” added Hopkins.
While the band is glad to be done with the recording process and have their debut EP released, they all collectively agree that being able to play shows again is what brings them the most joy.
“We’ve gotten into this new thing, about learning how great it is to be the opener of a show. Then you get to watch your peers!” Locy smiled. “We did our album release show, and we played like 15 or 16 songs – it was awesome. But the next show we were the opening and got to hang in the crowd, have a beer and just enjoy the rest of the show.”
“That’s just as fun, if you ask me.”
If you want to kick back and have a beer with the guys, you can find them playing this Friday at Spacebar, opening for The Most Falcons, No Balance, and DOTS. We’ll be there to review the atmosphere and enjoy the local scene as well.