There’s something kind of jarring about being in an arcade on an early weekday afternoon. A spectrum of bright colors, flash-on screens, light-up bulbs and signs, and an array of dissonant sounds—including but not limited to explosions and gunfire—converge on the same small space. But aside from the employees here and a couple of pairs and trios of patrons, the space is mostly void of humans. It feels crowded, it sounds crowded, but it’s still a little lonely.
Dude York front man Peter Richards and I are chatting about this unique form of sensory overload while drummer Andrew Hall frantically mashes buttons and stares at the screen in front of him. We’re gathered at Round One, the Southcenter arcade and bowling alley Hall considers one of his favorite secret spots, or, in his words, “the place I go when I don’t tell people where I’m going.” This is the first time all the members of Dude York have been here. When she comes to Southcenter, bassist Claire England prefers the Maxrider 4-D rollercoaster.
We wander around—play a few games. England defeats Hall in a very competitive game of Disney Tsum Tsum. We all chat about a variety of topics (including the ESPN SportsCenter soundboard, daytime TV, and Tumblr), but we finally broach the election and the general culture of disquietude surrounding it and its aftermath. When our conversation goes on the record, Hall makes the correlation between these troubling times and another video game. “Did all of you play [Legend of Zelda installment] Majora’s Mask? That’s the one where it’s like there are three days, and the moon is getting closer and closer to crashing into Hyrule, and at the end of the third day you have to play a song to go back to the first day, because otherwise you just die. I just feel like every day I’m watching the moon advance a little bit more, except there’s like no song to save us.”
A riptide of worry guides most of the songs on the Seattle band’s new album Sincerely (out Friday on Hardly Art) while retaining the underlying but ever-present empathy Dude York’s music is known for. “Paralyzed” is a thunderous rumination on social anxiety. “Giving Up” is partly about, well, giving up, and partly about the isolation that comes with feeling trapped in your own head. Caution tape and Coca-Cola are littered throughout the first verse of “The Way I Feel,” while the second verse features a therapist getting a friend request from a patient, garnished with the casual missive, “Hey, what’s up?” (“Legally he can’t respond, I know this,” Richards sings, “But legitimately, I need a reaction.”)
“I’ve been thinking about who my experience can advocate best for,” Richards says. “Thinking about the disenfranchisement that I feel on a social level and how it has a lot to do with cutting services for the mentally ill as well as the growing homeless population. And I think a lot of this music responds to the visual outcropping that that has had into my life, both on a personal level and as a witness of what’s going on in the city. I think other people’s stories have helped me figure out my own in a lot of ways.”
Thematically and musically, Sincerely sways as much as it careens, its characters as beleaguered by the heavy weight of failed romance as by their perspectives on mental health. “Looking for Love,” a souped-up version of the Holland-Dozier-Holland-inspired songwriting which coursed through Dude York’s debut effort Dehumanize, subverts standard love-song aphorisms—“I can tell by the glass in your eyes that something ain’t right”—while “Tonight,” one of the first songs England brought to the band, finds its protagonist hurrying through a stressful breakup in favor of a prior engagement.
England says about her efforts on the album, “[Peter’s] songs are taking outward experiences and turning them inward, and my songs are taking inward experiences and turning them outward. It’s very different, but it’s also very therapeutic for me, taking personal feelings and things that I haven’t been able to express outwardly. It’s a classic method of songwriting: ‘I feel bad about something so I’ll write a song about it, and it’s about me but I bet it’s about you too if you listen to it.’ ”
Sincerely began in a largely different iteration; the first mixes fell a little short of the band’s audio standards (though Hall is hopeful they’ll perhaps find a life as a cassette), and the songs were rendered in a new image and recorded in a studio along with John Goodmanson and Cody Votolato. Richards agrees with Hall, mentioning that he revisited the work recently and is exceedingly proud of what they recorded.
“It was a weird, weird record. It’s cool, I’m proud of it,” Hall says. “But it was definitely like this thing where I was super-excited about it and I shared it with everybody who I wanted to hear it, and they all were just like… nothing. Like, no one answered a single message I sent about it. It was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had trying to share music with somebody.”
Richards adds, “I think it’s an important lesson. Two things: You gotta just do it for yourself regardless of whether or not the establishment is going to dignify it with a response. The second thing is you’ve just gotta keep chugging, no matter what.” Through the barriers of mental and emotional roadblocks, the uncertain future of how we’re governed, and having your senses assailed by a variety of stimuli, sometimes the best form of self-care is to keep pushing through. Dude York album release,With Lisa Prank. Chop Suey, 1325 E. Madison St., chopsuey.com. $10 adv. All ages. 9 p.m. Thurs., Feb. 23. firstname.lastname@example.org