Max from Pardoner is Pickin’ Up What Gal from Dumb is Puttin’ Down

The two friends catch up about Pray 4 Tomorrow and much more.

Gal Av-Gay is the vocalist and guitarist of the Vancouver punk band Dumb; Max Freeland is a vocalist and guitarist for the San Francisco punk band Pardoner. The latest Dumb record, Pray 4 Tomorrow, just came out on Mint Records, so to celebrate, the two got together to catch up about it, and much more.
—Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Max Freeland: So, we’re talking about Gal’s new album with the band Dumb, also featuring Nick [Short] on guitar, Felipe [Morelli] on drums, and Shelby [Vredik] on the bass.

Gal Av-Gay: Yeah. The new album is called Pray 4 Tomorrow.

Max: Yeah, let’s talk that title. What’s going on there?

Gal: So, our group chat as a band — I believe on Facebook Chat—

Max: Oh.

Gal: Is titled “pray 4 tomorrow” because we were praying for Felipe’s safe passage into the United States before a tour. We were waiting on his PR to be approved, and we didn’t know if it was gonna be approved, so somebody changed the title of the chat to “pray 4 tomorrow.”

Max: That’s huge. And how does that correspond to the album? Any tie there, or is it just a good name? 

Gal: I mean, I think we’ve had a religious undertone in a previous album title, Beach Church. We kind of like playing with that trope, with desecularization. People are becoming more and more religious — in fact, one guy said that the world is more religious now than it has ever been.

Max: Who is the one guy?

Gal: Oh, you’re making me pull up Wikipedia… 

Max: When did he say it? Was it like in the 16th century?

Gal: So, if you look up the Wikipedia page for desecularization.

Max: I do google that pretty often.

Gal: It talks about this one guy who actually promoted the notion that the world was becoming secularized as some sociological frame of thought, and then he changed his mind.

Max: Michael Shermer. 

Gal: Yes!

Max: Cool name.

Gal: It’s one of these guys — either Michael Shermer or Peter Berger.

Max: Peter Ludwig Berger.

Gal: Yeah. He’s an Austrian-born American sociologist and Protestant theologian.

Max: He’s maybe akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger in some way.

Gal: Yeah, kind of. They’re both Austrian.

Max: Yeah, maybe they’re cousins or something.

Gal: You know, I can’t find the quote. It might not even be this guy.

Max: We’ll stick a pin in that. So, lyrical content. That’s what we were talking about.

Gal: Yeah. We’re both pretty into our lyrical content, I would say.

Max: Yeah, we definitely both have some wordy songs. When you write lyrics, do you do it apropos of no music? Or do you just wait till you have a song, and then you write lyrics specifically tailored to that song?

Gal: I mean, it kind of goes song by song, to be honest. But most of the time, I’ll either have lyrics and then I’ll have a song and I’ll kind of pair them up. Or if the rhythm of the song requires me to sing in a certain way, I’ll kind of change them to make it fit. But yeah, so there’s writing and then there’s songwriting ,and then I gotta reconcile that in my head. Because I feel like if I was an amazing songwriter, it would all just be one thing, it would just come out as one at the same time. Like, these chords were written for these words.

Max: So you do music first, and then you go to words most of the time?

Gal: Yeah, I would say most of the time.

Max: Some of the songs on this album have some pretty pretty dope lyrics. I’d say.

Gal: Thanks, Max.

Max: A couple really word-heavy songs here. “Out of Touch” is the first one. You want to talk about that?

Gal: Yeah. I think it starts off with like, “I can see you talking, but it sounds like simulation.”

Max: Yeah, that one.

Gal: A lot of the songs on the album are kind of about just having to tune shit out sometimes. And then that song also talks about the notion that — you know, kind of like the Guy Debord, everything gets turned into a spectacle. In the song, the guy is like, “if there’s any indication of the times in which we’re living/point it out, I can show you, maybe we can do a bit.” Which is kind of about how everything gets turned into a bit or a meme or a fucking tweet, you know? It gets reduced to nothing, I’m not even able to care anymore. It gets tuned out because it gets commodified so quickly. You know what I mean? 

Max: Yeah, I see what you’re saying. It’s kind of inevitable with everything nowadays.

Gal: Yeah. What else do I talk about in that song? Oh, yeah — the chorus is like, “I’ve been told you’ve seen a difference in my reasoning/Until you’re deemed proficient in the field, you’re out of touch.” Which is kind of what I would hear when I read most Twitter comments. You know, like, “Oh, you think I’m wrong? Well, you’re wrong.”

Max: “You’re actually stupid.”

Gal: And it’s just kind of further reducing the whole notion of other points of contention or controversy coming into the argument. 

Max: I’m picking up what you’re putting down.

Gal: [Laughs.] I’m trying to get pretty heady here, Max. 

Max: You’re going deep, and honestly, it’s good. I like it. 

OK, let’s see — I wrote down a couple of little things. Um, next up here, I just have “political motivations?,” with a question mark. Do you do your songs have much political ideation in them? 

Gal: I don’t know. I mean, I think most of the audience is probably likely aware of our political ideation. I don’t know, I feel like it’s…

Max: It’s a little echo chamber.

Gal: Yeah. We’re all in the same, like, Western liberal echo chamber.

Max: Oh, for sure.

Gal: You know, generally I think save for Republicans or conservative voters here in Canada — which in our social spheres, there probably aren’t that many.

Max: I mean, if they are, it’s covert.

Gal: Yeah, exactly. I think in terms of that, I don’t really bother with being like, “Hey, these are my beliefs,” necessarily. It’s more like commentary. Like, “Hey, what about this funny thing with how people communicate on the fucking internet?” I don’t know. That’s kind of reductive.

Max: But no, I agree. I like that approach better. I feel like at times in the past, I’ve definitely been guilty of writing pretty obvious, you know, like, “Guess what? Capitalism is bad!” 

Gal: [Laughs.] I’m sort of just talking out of my ass here.

Max: “You know who sucks? George Bush.”

Gal: Now that I’m thinking about it, we do actually do that.

Max: It’s a pitfall I fall in to pretty often.

Gal: But is it a pitfall? Or is it OK?

Max: I think it’s OK. But, I don’t know… You can’t say anything in a cool rock song that’s like, “Donald Trump sucks!” It’s like, I know. And so does everybody else. Who would be listening to this shit?

Gal: Yeah. But I guess, are we just being self-conscious about not wanting to virtue signal? Is that what it is? 

Max: It could be that. That could have a thing or two to do with it. But also, I feel like that’s a separate thing. Like, I feel like it just seems so obvious. It’s trite.

Gal: That’s how I feel.

Max: There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said already, or any other version of it either.

Gal: So Pardoner or Dumb are not going to release a “Fuck Donald Trump” song?

Max: Well, yeah, I do have the sessions for “Rock Against Trump,” but we’re still waiting on the Bladee feature. It’s kind of in production hell right now.

Gal: [Laughs.] Yeah, well, I got some thoughts about the guy, so…

Max: So, now that I know where you’re coming from politically, I am allowed to continue the conversation. I got a lot of incomplete thoughts on this list — Shelby singing now is the next one I got.

Gal: Oh, nice. Yeah, Shelby has a lot of songs, and hasn’t sung on a song until this album.

Max: Has a lot of songs for Dumb, or just in a general sense?

Gal: Yeah, she’s a good songwriter. She has another band, Sigh, and she was also in Birthday Bitch.

Max: Has she written many Dumb songs before this album? I mean, everybody writes the Dumb songs, but has she written the sketch work for a Dumb song that you sang on?

Gal: I think so. She basically wrote the backbone for “Civic Duty” for this album. 

Max: Great song. 

Gal: Yeah. So in addition to the two songs that she sings on… I don’t know, there’s a lot of Dumb songs that are so collaborative in the songwriting process that it’s hard to say for sure who wrote them. There are a lot of songs that I do bring to the band, like a song that I wrote, but I would say most of the songs are collaboratively written.

Max: I would say so too. I also feel like I bring a lot of songs to the band, but even if I have a demo with every part played out, it changes pretty epically in the process of everybody else playing it.

Gal: Yeah. I was watching that Strokes documentary, Meet Me in the Bathroom — it’s about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Strokes.

Max: It’s basically about the coolest bands ever in the coolest city in the world.

Gal: Basically, yeah. They talk a lot about how Julian Casablancas wrote all the Strokes songs himself, like all the parts, and was pretty strict about what people played, and how the other guy tried to bring some songs in. I watched that documentary and I kind of liked Julian Casablancas.

Max: Was he relatable? 

Gal: He was relatable, and he seemed like he, like, canceled Ryan Adams. [Laughs.]

Max: Oh, yeah, I remember that.

Gal: Then I thought about it, and I was like, What kind of position are you in that you’re able to just be like, “Yo, play these parts exactly how I say”?

Max: Would take some serious cojones, I think, but also kind of a serious ego.

Gal: You think?

Max: Yeah, I think so. I feel like for a long time, I was — or, I tried to be — more stringent about what people played. Like, “I’m writing the songs,” or whatever. And then I always, always end up regretting it. I feel like the more I try to control it, it just is way worse.

Gal: I agree. And if you ask the other members of Dumb, they would definitely say that I do try to control things.

Max: I try really hard not to nowadays. Or, I don’t have to try that hard. It’s just an easy trap to fall into as a young, egotistical male. Next, I want to talk about you and Nick’s guitar interplay. So, elaborate on that.

Gal: Nick sees himself as a Fripp kind of guy. He likes those tones. And my vibe is more of like a Randy Rhoads from Ozzy Osbourne. 

Max: That’s a pretty cool vibe. Both pretty good vibes.

Gal: Yeah. Nick’s got some of the coolest riffs — sounding well-paced, I would say. He knows when to wait. Patient guy. And I’m the opposite. I think it ends up sounding like what it does because of that. 

Max: That’s cool. Definitely a lot of cool riff parts on this album. I imagine that the central riff in “Civic Duty” must have been something you had written really early on into writing the song? 

Gal: No.

Max: Just because it seems so integral to the way the whole song functions, you know? It’s like a huge melodic part.

Gal: Yeah. I mean, that song, at some point in the songwriting process — so, we were like, “Let’s write an album. We have all these songs, but we want to add some more songs, and we want to collaborate.” And we hadn’t hung out in a while, because people were away after our Europe tour, and then COVID happened. We came in and we kind of just were like, “Let’s write a bunch of songs, everyone take turns.” Nick likes to do things where he, like, writes it out as a grid, and you throw a dice for what the chord change will be. 

Max: [Laughs.] What?

Gal: He likes to do that crazy technique. But that’s kind of hard to do, because you have to agree on where the chord changes will happen in the timing. We wrote a couple songs that way, but then we were like, “You know what? Fuck it. That’s too hard. Everyone just go write your song, then we’ll come back into the room and we’ll play each person’s song, OK?” “Civic Duty” was Shelby’s song that she wrote, and then everyone was like, “OK, I’m going to play this,” and Nick was just like, “I’m going to play this.” And then he just did it. And it was the sickest riff.

Max: It is. Yeah, it’s crazy.

Gal: Yeah. Well-paced is how I like to put it.

Max: I would agree with you, it is pretty well-paced. You guys have a pretty varied sound, but it’s all under a medium-sized umbrella, I would say, of general alternative rock styles. But you switch it up a bit — there’s some ska tracks on this record. 

Gal: Yeah. 

Max: What’s up with that? Was that supposed to be funny, or was it an earnest praise of ska?

Gal: We love ska. I think it’s definitely a bit funny as well. We break out into ska pretty often when we practice. It’s like a tradition.

Max: I think Pardoner also definitely does some ska versions of our own songs as jokes when we’re warming up.

Gal: Yeah. But, yeah, all the songs that I write are the same four chords, basically. And I mean, I didn’t even realize this, but even the ska songs — ‘cus I have to do this show in a week where all the band members are kind of away, so I’m gonna be playing piano — so I was learning all of our songs from Pray 4 Tomorrow on piano, and I realized they’re all in fucking G, and they all just have D sharp.

Max: I’m always going A, B sharp, D and C. These are the four chords that I just absolutely pass around. It’s pretty remarkable how well we can beat a dead horse, you know?

Gal: Yeah, it’s actually amazing.

Max: Then next up here: I wanted to ask you if there’s a band that Dumb wishes they could be?

Or when you make music, is it like, “I want to sound like this band?”

Gal: OK, ideologically, I think if we had to give an answer—

Max: Fugazi.

Gal: We’d probably say Fugazi or Meat Puppets. Or, I don’t know, if in 30 years we were regarded the way Wire is regarded now, egotistically that would make me pleased.

Max: Personally, I would like to be regarded in 30 years the way that Adele is.

Dumb is a rock band from Vancouver. Their latest record, Pray 4 Tomorrow, is out now on Mint Records.