Dust Moth Flies in the Face of Doom Metal Convention with 'Scale'
Stream a new track, "Shelf Life," from this rising Northwestern quartet.
Photo by Whitney Thoren
The idea of a dust moth could be interpreted in countless ways. If taken literally, it could be nothing more than a moth covered in dust—an ugly butterfly swept up in a musky cloud. It could be a metaphor for lost innocence, a free spirit snatched by the wrinkled hands of time. But, if you were to ask guitarist Ryan Frederiksen what the name means to him, the answer wouldn’t be so hypothetical. “Honestly, nothing," he tells Noisey. "I wish I had a clever story or antidote to tell you what it meant to me. It was the least offensive of all the band names we came up with.” He pauses for a brief moment, before laughing, “I was in a band called These Arms Are Snakes, so you know I'm not too picky about band names."
Dust Moth is a Seattle-based doom quartet that occupies sludgy terrain, pivoting into synth-laden valleys laced with rocky speedbumps. All of that is packaged with Irene Barber’s confident vocals as a steady melodic center. After putting out their Dragon Mouth EP in 2014, they are readying for the release of their debut album Scale. (out 7/22 via the Mylene Sheath, with preorders live now). Much broader musical influences stretch beyond the forceful push of their first extended play, and give the songs on Scale the ability to stretch and take in the scenery, without rushing to the end.
The band started out as a six-piece before condensing down to the members that wrote the bulk of Scale: Irene Barber, Ryan Frederiksen, and bassist Steve Becker (who were joined by drummer Jim Acquavella post-recording). “With six of us involved, it's kind of hard to insert yourself in there before everyone else is done,” Frederiksen says. The three of them spent years demoing songs, working out the kinks and gearing them all towards enhancing each member’s particular skills to better the entire project. “It was three like-minded people that all think in similar ways and I think it was a whole lot easier to not step on anybody's toes. It's easier to move around in that space when it's only the three of you,” Frederiksen explains.
Barber wasn’t originally part of the band, coming in based on the recommendation of a former member. “We hadn't thought either way about what kind of vocals we wanted for it. As soon as we heard hers, it was, 'Yep, that's what we need. That's amazing,’” Frederiksen says. Though her vocals will get much of the press, she also contributes tasteful keyboard work employed throughout Scale, as well as the design and layout of the album’s booklet. She isn’t the only important figure in Dust Moth, but it’s hard to imagine another singer making lines like “You’ll find me out / Drifting off for the outskirts / Where the void is my fullness” sound so convincing.
With Frederiksen’s manic approach to guitar playing as a part of These Arms Are Snakes and Narrows, he had to keep himself from going off among the controlled volume the band fits themselves in. Restraint was a necessity in order to avoid putting all the attention strictly on him. “The whole process has been about doing what's best for the song, not what's working best for each of us as individual,” Frederiksen says. This also tied into how Scale was recorded. They didn’t quickly write songs, unlike the other groups he’s been involved with. He mentioned that with Narrows, “We get together for a weekend, write for like two to three days, and immediately go into the recording process.” These Arms Are Snakes had a similar manner of recording, but Dust Moth wasn’t as sudden with their output. “With Dust Moth's first LP, we have demoed so many songs throughout this process, just taking our time figuring out what works, what doesn't,” Frederiksen explains.
Before they went into the studio to record Scale, Dust Moth embarked on their first major tour last year, a West Coast stint in support of Kayo Dot. For ten days, they went on the road, splitting their set between songs from their Dragon Mouth EP and the upcoming Scale LP. Though they had done plenty of demoing up to that point, the songs still found a way to morph on-stage. “We demoed right before we left for that tour,” Frederiksen says. “The songs changed a lot during that tour and when we came home about a month later, we demoed again and they were totally different.”
Those changes included stripping “Corrections” down into the punchy final product it has become and giving “Lift” an extended conclusion that dwells into hypnotic territory with its repeating musical motifs. “We just don't want to overplay all the time for the sake of it. Sometimes, you really do need to let it breathe,” Frederiksen says.
“A song like 'Lift' is a perfect example. It's like, 'Oh, this part is cool. Let's play this for a while and let it calm down a little.' We consciously didn't want to end on that same opening riff.” That song is partnered on the album with “A Veil in Between,” another lengthier cut with room for the jam-like qualities to shine through.
What Frederiksen envisions for these nine tracks that comprise Scale goes far beyond the finished product. These songs have a chance to continue their evolution, transforming and shape shifting as they echo from club to club, speaker to speaker, ear to ear. “It's just figuring out new ways and fun ways to end songs or begin songs and trying to make perfect segue ways to make the whole set feel seamless. Coming up with new ways to do that each time and re-sequencing the sets. That's a huge part of what we do.” That only comes with the kind of performing that extended bouts of touring allow for.
Though Dust Moth is Frederiksen’s main focus, he’s still a member of Narrows, the caustic hardcore punk outfit that has put out a few great records on Deathwish Inc. Narrows had some serious momentum going until real life kicked in. The members splintered off all across the globe. The last record that Narrows put out was 2012’s Painted and, other than a few one-off shows this past April, they’ve been lying low. Frederiksen acknowledges the logistical challenge in getting together to write and polish new material; however, the digital age has helped cut into the waiting time, even if only a little bit. “We're all exchanging files now as well. We're working on stuff, for sure. It's just a matter of trying to figure out how to record everything,” Frederiksen says.
Until that happens, Frederiksen is looking ahead with Dust Moth. Once Scale is released in late July, the band intends to do major touring, both domestically and internationally, in support of the debut. They’re looking at dates for late 2016 and early 2017, when audiences can see the full potential of their satisfying, ambitious music—and increasingly, whenever the phrase “dust moth” is mentioned, this rising Pacific Northwest group flies to mind.
Dan Marsicano is flyin high on Twitter.