Sometimes it takes a second try to get it right. Seattle power-pop trio Dude York's new album, Sincerely (out February 24 on Hardly Art), is loaded with strident riffs and yell-along anthems. But the record's bold, polished sound didn't come easy.
Originally, Sincerely was a DIY effort home-recorded at a punk house called Magic Lanes. But after playing it for friends, they got a less-than-enthusiastic response from those who heard the first take. One person who tried to mix the album said that there was "drywall in every piece of [the record]," recalls drummer Andrew Hall.
After spending eight months on the whole project, the band decided to scrap the recording. "It felt awful," says guitarist and lead vocalist Peter Richards. "It left me really confused as to what songs were good, and it was a long process toward feeling confident again."
"For some bands, I think the DIY thing works really well," says bassist and vocalist Claire England. "But we learned that we needed to do it more the traditional way: in a studio and maybe with some help."
Dude York found the help they needed from Cody Votolato of late-1990s Seattle post-hardcore band the Blood Brothers and Head Wound City. The fruitful partnership that led to Sincerely's next pass was formed from a chance meeting at an otherwise disastrous show while Votolato was the bassist for blues rock trio My Goodness.
"It was one of those weird shows in Seattle where things should go a lot better than they actually go," says Hall. "It was supposed to be some sort of fundraiser benefit, but there was nobody there, the bar got ransacked, and everything just degenerated into total chaos."
But after the show, Votolato asked if the band wanted to record with him. Together they reworked the album, peeling back the initial recording's QChords, synths, and choral layers, exposing Richards's vocals and stripped-down guitars. They also zeroed in what makes Dude York's super-charged live performances so exciting and injected it into the album.
Votolato proved to be "a killer rock-music coach" according to Hall, drawing out emotional performances of the songs in ways that would be the most accessible to their audience. He also brought in John Goodmanson, producer and sound engineer for albums by Bikini Kill, Blonde Redhead, Los Campesinos!, and Sleater-Kinney.
"Everything lined up for a brief moment and gave us the push and the inspiration we needed to wade through the swamp of dread that we were feeling after the attempted record didn't turn out," Hall says.
The Dude York of 2017 is a lot different than the Dude York of 2010 when Richards and Hall met at Whitman College in Walla Walla. After England joined the band, Dude York became a more collaborative enterprise.
"The whole dynamic of Dude York changed," says Hall, "from being the 'Me and Peter Trying to Figure Out How to Do the Thing We Were Doing Show' to the 'Everybody Does Everything Together Show' and the 'Everything Feels a Million Times Fucking Better Because of It Show.'"
England has expanded her role since she joined for 2014's album Dehumanize, singing and writing two of the songs on Sincerely: "Tonight" and "Love Is."
"It felt good," she says. "Sometimes there are songs that are just given to you, like gifts. Whole songs that you just... find. You get one idea, then here's a verse, oh, and here's the chorus, the bridge, and all of sudden, there it is."
For England, "Love Is"—about the irresistible lure of longing for someone who's bad for you—was that kind of song. The entire album pushes and pulls with competing emotions—a sense of defeat lives alongside a sense of purpose, a longing to hide gives way to an urge to go out and get sweaty and dance.
Sincerely is described by England as a "musical note-to-self" for working through isolation, anxiety, and depression. "I heard life / can find a way / a hopeless case / hoping every day," belts Richards in the opening lines of "Black Jack," the first song on the album.
"A lot of this record for me was written as an attempt to create my own therapy," says Richards, whose cathartic vocals bring out the full force of these weighty feelings. He wants Sincerely to serve as a reminder that "no one can do it alone. The real strength is to build your own communities—and reach out and use them."