It’s a familiar tale: scrappy, small town band wows its scene, and after a couple years moves to “the big city” to take it to some mythical next level. Well leave it to this band — named after a blade in a blender — to mix up that tale.
After about two years of quickly making a name in Atlanta for their searing sounds, and landing a Jagjaguwar deal along the way, Dasher leader Kylee Kimbrough suddenly split town for reasons that went un-named, but jarringly apparent as your hear the sweltering violence in her volcano-wide screams and drum bashings. So it was off to couch surfing in Bloomington, Indiana, home to Dasher’s label, closer to family, and away from a scene Kimbrough still loves dearly. “It was really hard to leave Atlanta,” she admits. “It’s also a little hard to talk about because some of the reasons felt embarrassing to me. I have always struggled with basic life stuff, like holding down jobs, managing money, and getting stable housing. I lived in a friends laundry room in the back of an apartment for a while. I have sought therapy and psychiatric help for several years trying to figure out why my brain couldn’t grasp things that it seemed like everyone else was getting.” And isn’t music the perfect art for ephemerally evoking all the shit inside that you can’t explain in any “normal” fashion?
So Kimbrough’s sound stoppage wasn’t going to last long. Within six months, she’d settled into Bloomington’s burgeoning scene and scraped together a brand new lineup to enact an even more desperately vicious version of Kimbrough’s aims — that being a blistering, midnight drag race of dark metal fury, goth ghost wailing, and sticky-kick proto punk submerged in an ever present, spellbinding and psychedelic ambience. Dasher songs new and old have finally been smelted down into their debut album, Sodium, out on an inevitably steamy day this July, on Jagjaguwar.
“When I first got to Bloomington it was tough,” Kimbrough explains, “I kept trying to make friends with all the local punks around there, but the social playing field was different than the one I spent 13 years in Atlanta figuring out. I often felt confused and couldn’t tell if anyone liked me at all. I finally found a few buddies that took me in; and eventually some of the other kids that I thought didn’t like me, or Dasher, started hitting me up for local shows. I’m not trying to complain, it’s just something I noticed and had to adjust to. With that said, it made the few people that were doing cool stuff that much more important to me.”
Finding a whole new lineup in a whole new town would usually be a monumental task, but once you hear or see Kimbrough do her thing, you’ll quickly get that whatever her issues, massive amounts of artistic energy ain’t one of them. “I got the initial new lineup going with Steve Garcia (guitar) and Gary Magilla (bass) a little over a year ago,” Kimbrough explains. “Then I pulled in Derek McCain to play second guitar about six months ago. I just wanted to rebuild Dasher. I just like writing good songs. I try to listen, and it’s almost like a song will inform me of what it wants to do. I guess I say this is art we are talking about, and to me art has no rules.”
Not unlike the mythical Christmas reindeer this band is no doubt loathe to be attached to, Dasher flies straight up out of the inescapable rock’n’roll descriptors, mainly due to the sheer deft stabs of Kimbrough’s throat weapon. And for anyone who’s seen the band, one wonders what damage Kimbrough may wreak were she untethered to the kick pedal and sticks. “Well,” says Kimbrough, “I feel like the drums act as a weird force field between me and the crowd.” (This would seem a wise barrier, given Kimbrough’s propensity for flinging beer all over the place and demanding an attendant reaction from the sometimes youthful insecurity of the Bloomington crowds.) It would make me feel pretty vulnerable without that, and I don’t think my performance would be as good. Ultimately, I just want to play drums. The whole idea of Dasher was based on finding a way where I could play drums without someone telling me what to do or taking my song away. I’m still trying to learn how to sing. I like the delay [effect on my vocals] because it gives me confidence and brings a sort of psychedelic dynamic, which I’m really into.”
Other root musics from which Dasher knifes its way out are the chop-crunch guitar of latter day post-punk with the seething screech of the hardest horizons of early-90s grunge like the Amphetamine Reptile stable. Kimbrough credits Japanese hardcore for the delay-effect nightmarescape echo of her vocals, matched with a desire to remain as beats-basic as a Ramones party dream.
Interesting to note that those previously mentioned musical roots had their heydays when Atlanta wasn’t really considered a huge musical town anyway. Now, when everyone from Atlanta to Columbus to Boise complain about their “cool” part of town getting gentrified, with bands popping up like Starbucks, Kimbrough might have unwittingly backed herself into something like an organic scene in Bloomington. And then, of course, another move. “I must’ve gone through five jobs in a year and had to leave my rental house in Bloomington a couple months ago cause I couldn’t make the rent,” says Kimbrough. “I live back in Cayuga with my mom now. It’s about a two-hour drive from Bloomington. I’m over here seeing some specialists and finally found out I have high functioning autism. It’s a relief really, and explains a shit ton of my past.”
Kimbrough’s nomadic existence has involved cycles of floating around and landing, and she lands down into Dasher the way Dasher songs land in her. How that works its way into the screaming summations of her lyrics is still a mystery to her, as she explains. “It’s been funny to sift through lyrics I threw together on older songs and kind of see how they could mean different things, like dealing with autism and not knowing I had it. “Go Rambo,” “Sodium,” “Numbers,” and a few other songs on the album seem so obviously about my autism, but at the same time I was just venting frustrations over stuff I had no name for at the time.” It’s the glaring inspiration of frustration that makes Dasher’s music, no matter how abrasive, instantly relatable. Being fucking frustrated and confused is not only classically punk, but slots right into these fearfully aimless times.
“It really makes no difference to me where I live,” Kimbrough surmises, “because I am equally broke no matter where I am! But it probably does help me being in a smaller place because less chaos happens, and my meltdowns are fewer. But at the same time, there is less inspiration to thrive on, and that can feel frustrating. I really don’t know what is best, because one conjures more creativity while the other gives me more stability. It’s always been hard because I can’t keep the band going unless I have both. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to merge the two worlds without risking going insane.”