Crazy Dreams Band barrels down a road to somewhere
"I don't even know where I'm going with this," says Lexie Macchi toward the end of a convoluted 100-odd minute interview about the fast-track career of one of Baltimore's more ephemeral outfits, the rock/not-rock Crazy Dreams Band. The Lexie Mountain Boys leader/vocalist and erstwhile City Paper contributor is joined by CDB drummer Nate Nelson and guitarist/organist/noisemaker Nick Becker on this mid-November evening, sitting on the front porch of Becker's Waverly home. And they're running through CDB's almost incidental formation, gestation, creative process, and the serendipitous recording of the band's self-titled debut, out late last year on that glossy third-eye label Holy Mountain. An ashtray full of butts (to which everybody has contributed) rests on the deck, near one--two?--empty bottles of red wine (ditto). And nobody minds this wandering down an idea alley without knowing why.
She started by recounting a conversation with a fellow local musician about being in a more conventional band--you know, one that writes songs, records, puts out an album, and then tours behind those same songs. That's a bit of a foreign concept for Crazy Dreams Band members. The Lexie Mountain Boys don't exactly follow that protocol; neither do Nelson's other bands, Mouthus and Religious Knives. And the two CDB'ers not present, bassist Jake Freeman and experimental artist/filmmaker/musician Chiara Giovando, are previous High Zero festival performers used to the more fortuitous side of underground music.
"We were talking about doing things as a 'rock' band," Macchi continues, the quotes around rock not fingered, but intonated. "But there's a lot of things about this band, which has been a ghost band that hasn't done things in the usual way, that are unanswered questions. The next step is sort of an x-factor, and that is really exciting."
Not knowing where you're going and getting there anyway is a perfectly casual encapsulation for this woozily groovy quintet. The band formed following an extemporaneous January 2008 collaboration at the Golden West Café involving Freeman, Macchi, and Nelson. "It was like an improv-comedy type of thing," Nelson says. "Somebody would shout out, 'punk rock,' and somebody would say a subject, like animal reproduction, and we would play a song around that."
Afterward, Giovando approached Macchi and stated, "'Me and Nick should be in your band,'" Macchi says. "And I was like, 'OK, we'll jam together.' And we did and it was really fun. And we did all sorts of weird stuff and just talked and we would all come up with weird little riffs and stuff and build them up to bigger things."
That you can hear that assemblage process during the group's live sets and on Crazy Dreams Band is the quintet's seductive strength, not a glaring weakness. Focus on any simultaneous single elements in any of Crazy's five tracks and nothing about the music makes sense. Macchi sounds to be singing completely removed from Nelson's meandering beat and Becker's ghostly organ in "Four Winds of the Owl." Giovando's ethereal vocals and Becker's crudely exotic organ line in "Asian Rollers" sound like they're watching two very different kung-fu movies. And Macchi's Janis Joplinesque throat moans piercing through the sing-song keyboard melody of "Separate Ways" might as well be outright superimpositions of two different tunes.
Strange, eccentric elements stitch these contrasting sounds together in the songs, though, whether it be Nelson's mod percussion in "Separate Ways," the background whistling and caveman bass in "Asian Rollers," or the darting electronic noises and peals shooting through "Four Winds" like a skiptracer after a mark. Crazy Dreams Band music is mellifluous yet clumsy, disarmingly melodic yet undeniably ADD, emitting this entropic impulse of desiring chaos while realizing some sense of order is what gives it an insistent groove.
Yes, there are danceable rhythms in them there drifting drones, just not in the usual form. Consider it funk for people who know the difference between Ecstatic Peace and Bernini's "The Ecstasy of St. Theresa." One is an intoxicating intertwining of carnal and sacred rapture. The other is made out of marble.
"We're basically a couple of pubes away from a jam band," Nelson deadpans. "We kind of made a conscious effort to create a little bit more structure in the songs."
"Yes, but there's kind of a looseness in terms of that," Becker adds. "We jammed and things just kind of appear and we'd look at the recordings and go, 'That's cool . . . what's that doing there?' I think almost all our songs have that dot-dot-dot holding them together."
It's a liberating casualness that runs through the unit's very existence. With all its members heavily involved in other pursuits, CDB started playing out early last spring and quickly established a reputation as both a formidable live band and a perhaps short-lived experiment. Baltimore's music community is wonderfully and incestuously full of side hustlers and one-offs, and it's sometimes heartbreaking to see a local band you like whose members also do about 400 other things, because it might not play out again for a good 10 months--if at all.
Crazy Dreams Band could've been just that sort of beast. People tour with their other units, Giovando was curating visual art shows and working on her Proud Flesh movie with Jenny Graf Sheppard, and Baltimore native Freeman headed out west to live/work/study at Big Sur. And then Holy Mountain contacted Macchi about putting out a rock record, not really knowing that she had this kinda, sorta "rock" band on the side. So over last summer the group found 24 available hours to head into Lord Baltimore Studios with Rob Girardi and lay down the record, in the process rediscovering ways to recreate some of the sounds from jam sessions and live performances.
"Because when you're recording you're in an entirely different configuration than when you're practicing, and because of our time constraints--if we had more time it would be a different record," Macchi says. "But I like that it's this sort of kiln-fired version of what has actually happened live. The whole experience with the band was, essentially, a weird rock 'n' roll boot camp. This album is like a document of a period that we were all in."
And now it's all up in the air again. Giovando currently attends graduate school in California. Freeman is considering moving to California. Jorge Martins now plays guitar with the group. And Becker, Macchi, and Nelson each have their individual pursuits in addition to this group.
Crazy Dreams Band, however, continues evolving--moving toward whatever may be next. "That's the best thing about the name of the band," Macchi says. "It can be whatever it needs to be."