Remember Saturday evenings when you drive your parents’ old sedan across town? The Weekend, the province of golden, open houses that breathe in and out hordes of teenagers: trippers, overachieving Adderall addicts dreaming of college, drug-dealing lushes lighting up on the corner, the beautiful, sad girls and boys who convene for one night to fight, love, drink, and destroy in the absence of any authority but their own. Out among the sterile hospital glow of liquor store windows, streetlights, halogen burning the high school football field. Beyond, hawkeyed cop cars, waiting for kids to emerge from the woods and garages, moving in a feverish dance, lustful, starving, filled with hope and alcohol and medication.
If you are still living this, one day it will be over, and you will miss this, and it will all be gone. For now, there is the fading sun, the smell of the cut grass, and the promise of the night. This is where Dream Arcade steps in.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Dream Arcade’s Mikel McCavana to discuss the EP. This is what he said.
When did you begin writing the material for your most recent EP?
I started writing the songs that would eventually become the Dream Arcade EP in the summer of 2011, when I recorded the first demo version of the EP’s final track, “Summer Salt.” I went into my senior year of college that fall and essentially put the writing process on hold until after I had graduated. In the months after graduation, the songs began to come together with increasing frequency, especially following my move to Brooklyn that fall. Moving away from my hometown also had a big effect on the nostalgic feel of the album, as it pushed me to channel my remembrances of the place where I had grown up into the songs that would come to make up the EP.
What was the most difficult song to take from the initial writing stage through recording and mixing? Why was it so troublesome?
The album’s opening track, “Fast Towards Heaven,” was definitely the most troublesome cut to take through the writing, recording, and mixing process because I had such a specific idea of how I wanted it to sound: like a B-side Bruce Springsteen would have recorded if he’d grown up in the early 2000s New Jersey pop-punk scene and wrote songs in his parents’ basement using old ‘80s synths. Even after I thought I had a final mix of the song completed at least a dozen times, I was still putting finishing tweaks on it right down to the album’s release deadline.
Which of the songs on the record is most different from your original concept for the song?
“Summer Salt” is by far the most removed from its initial incarnation as an acoustic guitar-based demo. Throughout the recording process I struggled with which path I was going to take the song down, and at one point I even created two parallel Ableton projects with the exact same parts, just orchestrated in entirely different ways. The song was either going to have a calm meditative acoustic feel or a darker, churning electronic vibe. As you can hear on the album, the grinding machine-like sound won out in the eventual final version, and that choice actually led me down a totally new path songwriting-wise.
In creating the version of “Summer Salt” that appears on the EP, I focused for the first time in my writing process on a strong visual image to help guide and anchor my creative choices with regards to arrangement, timbre, and vibe. I won’t disclose the exact image I had in mind, but I will say that thinking of the kick drum in the song as a heartbeat might help in understanding the visual source of the inspiration.
Who produced the record? What input did that person have that changed the face of the record?
I produced the entire EP myself, but it was definitely not created in isolation. I’m really lucky to have an incredibly talented group of friends involved in a bunch of different musical endeavors that have always acted as a collective sounding board for my music. Throughout the whole process of writing and recording the Dream Arcade EP, I was able to bounce my ideas off of them, and they were always willing to listen to new demo versions of the tracks and give me their honest feedback. I’m so incredibly grateful for that. It’s very rare to have such a strong creative community among friends willing to give their time and thought to each other’s work. So, while the record wasn’t produced in the traditional one-on-one producer-to-artist sense, it was created with a type of “it takes a village” mentality that, I think, gives the record a real sense of deep collective meaning.
Did you have any guest musicians play or sing on the record?
There aren’t any guests on the album, but, like I mentioned before, the spirit of all of my friends really permeates all the tracks, even if they didn’t necessarily play on them. It’s their suggestions and critiques that really brought out the best in the songs that I had written.
Is there an overarching concept behind your new EP that ties the record together?
The Dream Arcade EP is my nostalgic re-imagining of the teenage years I spent growing up in a small town, and the alternatively mundane and magical feelings that the suburbs inspire during that very tumultuous time in one’s life. When you grow up in a small town, even the smallest and most provincial things are infused with great importance and meaning: the first place you smoked, made out, ran from the police. Before you leave and discover that the wider world is a far larger, stranger, and more awe-inspiring place than you could have imagined, the town itself has to take on all of those grand characteristics to fill the void of the greater world that you have yet to experience. There has to be small-scale action and drama – town legends of epic parties, drug busts, fights, and sex. Your town, in all its quotidian blandness, is forced to conjure that magical sensation of depth and meaning that you desire so sorely when you’re a teenager. The Dream Arcade EP is the soundtrack to the experience of that magic: all the house parties, late-night drives, first losses and last prom dances.
Have you begun playing these songs live and which songs have elicited the strongest reaction from your fans?
Dream Arcade, as a live act, is set to start playing New York-area shows this coming fall. I’ve got three of the most talented musicians I know working with me on preparing the EP tunes for the live show, and can’t wait to get it all up and running. Keep up with Dream Arcade on Facebook for all upcoming show listings!
(The free EP is available here:
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