The band My Dear Disco is no ordinary funk-rock band, pioneering their own genre of music they call “Dancethink.” Staff Writer Evan Johnson spoke with guitarist Robert Lester about the nature of “Dancethink,” the band members’ musical backgrounds and their vegetable oil-fueled bus. My Dear Disco will play at 9 p.m. April 27 at Castaways.
Evan Johnson: Can you explain the concept of “Dancethink” music?
Robert Lester: “Dancethink” is an idea that derived from a few places, one of which was an observation about the quality of the music we were writing. We came up with the term maybe three years ago when we were being presented with lots of questions about how we would describe our music. You can add endless genre names to what we do. “Dancethink” is an observation that the music we’re writing is made to make people move, but it’s made with consideration to how the music is written. Music can be as enjoyable on the dance floor as it is in headphones. It’s like having your cake and eating it too as a dance band. That’s also become a goal of ours. Giving it that label and developing that vocabulary for what we do also gave us something to strive for. It’s an easy way for us to categorize our efforts.
EJ: Your songs are intricately orchestrated. How do you write and create such a highly polished piece of music for a group like My Dear Disco?
RL: Most of our music is written fairly collaboratively. Our writing process is continuously undergoing evolution. One member will come to the band with a general sort of idea. It may be a chorus, set of changes or a bass line. And we’ll work together to flesh that out into individual parts for each member. One thing that we’re very fortunate to have is all the band members have a high degree of sensitivity and awareness of musical awareness in general. We’ve all had some kind of musical training, which helps you understand where you belong in an ensemble.
EJ: What was your musical education like before you became professional musicians?
RL: It’s actually pretty eclectic across the band members. In college, several of the members were jazz majors. I know our bassist and our synthesizer/bagpipe player have jazz degrees from a school of music. Michelle [Chamuel, vocalist] and I have electronic music degrees. Our drummer was a classical percussionist. It’s pretty eclectic, and there’s a really broad appreciation for all kinds of music.
EJ: You’ve been featured with artists like ZZ Top, Gnarls Barkley and The Roots. What’s that like?
RL: It’s been a really interesting and eye-opening experience to be put on bills with really established artists. There’s definitely an element of approaching that situation a little bit starstruck. And it’s been really cool to see how much these epic figures are just people, too. They’re doing the same thing we are — they’re just doing it at a much further point in their career. It’s had a huge influence on us, to be put in situations where we’re just eating at the same table.
EJ: You travel in a bus that runs on recycled vegetable oil. How does that affect your travel?
RL: It’s a little bit more work because you have to cover sourcing. We’re getting [used vegetable oil] from restaurants before or after gigs. It’s been very helpful financially because it’s helped us with fuel costs. It’s a pretty wild thing, and it’s true that not a lot of people are doing it. That’s probably because you have to get the system built into your vehicle. It’s a very liberating feeling to be traveling around the country and not have to worry about finding gas stations. We’ve had a lot of good luck with it. Last March we did a tour for about four weeks, and we did 5,000 miles, 4,800 of which we did on waste vegetable oil.
EJ: What was it like working with Mark Saunders, a Grammy-nominated-producer? What effect did that have on your music?
RL: It had a huge influence on our music. The side effects of working with Mark are still cropping up. Someone like that has such collaborative and creative involvement with great musical figures and has had a really crucial role in shaping the sound and impact of their music. He taught us a lot about how to create [and] have more of a pop focus and how to insert a higher degree of creativity alongside accessibility.
EJ: Is there anything in particular that audience members should expect when they walk into Castaways for your show April 27?
RL: They’re going to see My Dear Disco get onstage, amp it up and melt face. We’re a band that tries to provide high-energy and high-impact performances because we care about the music and connecting with people through it. There’s going to be a lot of dance music being made that will be supported by high-caliber musicianship.