The history of Dude York is amorphous and murky in the same way that you can't recall exactly how your own group of best friends solidified. All three members—guitarist and principal songwriter Peter Richards, drummer Andrew Hall, and bassist Alex Cassidy—met each other while attending Whitman College. They became fast friends, and various pairings of the three lived together for a year. Whitman gave them money to put on a zombie musical, then they spent a summer working as a set-construction crew for a community theater production. Eventually, Hall and Richards merged their independent musical efforts into Dude York and began playing house shows in Walla Walla. A now-departed member of the band pushed them into power-pop territory—originally Hall made noise rock and Richards had been composing electronic dance music. The current incarnation formed in April 2011, when Cassidy moved to Seattle, rejoining Hall and Richards, who'd left Walla Walla more than a year prior.
"When I started playing music with Peter initially, I thought we were making music for children," says Hall, who serves as Dude York's de facto manager. (He checks the band's e-mail address most regularly, had a heightened awareness of Google alerts during our conversation, and harbors "a relentless evil energy that consumes [the band] like a black hole" during some performances. Richards calls those Dude York's "heavy shows.") But Hall now sees Dude York as "a teen-pop act, in that we appeal to people who were children at one point in their lives."
Dude York's obliterated T. Rex guitar rock doesn't share sonic qualities with young artists on the Billboard Hot 100, nor do they sound like the multitude of Pitchfork denizens aping an early '60s wall of sound, but their exuberance calls to mind teenage feelings, "hitting your pleasure centers and taking you right back to middle school," as Richards puts it. When I asked the band which artists best embody teen pop, they spoke equally of early Britney Spears, Justin Bieber's "One Time," and Paul Anka. Clearly, teen pop doesn't have a unifying sound or set of signifiers, but it often shares a common hormonal excitement and sentiment that adult society just doesn't understand. "Assassination," a standout from their most recent EP, Dewark, is a snarling salvo of teenage emotions. Lyrics like "I don't want to be different/I just want to be chill/I was born to be noticed/I was born to kill" speak to the contradiction of wanting to fit in and stand out at the same time, of becoming something you can't truly appreciate until you have shed (at least some of) your younger angst.
Dude York admit they have fairly modest musical ambitions compared to other contemporary groups who may be trying to create a cutting-edge sound. "Really, every pop song is like every other pop song. And it's just an energy and exuberance that might set it apart. The notes don't change anything," says Richards. Owing to their theater background, Dude York put on buoyant and playful performances that match their frenetic recorded output and sound. "Embracing being dorks in front of people, I think that's endearing and fun," says Cassidy of their concerts. When he mentions he wants the band to play a prom, I ask them what Dude York's ideal slow-dance song would be. Richards says "Cathy's Clown" by the Everly Brothers, and Hall says Big Star's "Blue Moon." I, for one, would prefer a slowed-down version of "Heartaches," from their debut, Gangs of Dude York.
"Heartaches" shows the first inkling of a soulful and squealing guitar sound that Dude York have now fully embraced, like Ariel Pink time-traveling to play a sock hop. Meanwhile, the refrain subtly changes from pleading, "I can't keep on loving you" to understanding that "I can't help but love you/Every day until I'm blue," reflecting the all-too-common first heartbreak and its rapidly swinging pendulum of emotions. Playing within what is arguably the most long-standing archetypical form of rock music, Dude York still produce a modern and refreshing brand of teen pop—a scorched-earth policy on young rock 'n' roll music, blistering and reckless songs that rarely last beyond the three-minute mark—and manage to incorporate posterized idols as disparate as Neil Sedaka and Joey Ramone.