Syracuse, NY eccentric punk-grind trio Dialysis are soon set to release their debut LP, titled Pretty Men, through the band’s own Ryan Canavan’s label Hex Records (Bleak, Ed Gein, Godstopper, etc.). Following two seven-inch releases and a split with Bleak, the new album comprises 20 powerful and dynamic tracks that feature elements of noise and thrash. Various samples are also included in their quirky punk- and hardcore-filled grindcore approach, which Dialysis have now expanded with the introduction of saxophone on this record.
Pretty Men also incorporates humour into their unorthodox sound, with bizarre and colourful artwork by Ryan Besch, as well as tongue-in-cheek lyrics that bring a light-hearted aspect to the album while tackling some serious subject matter. In this recent interview with Svbterranean, Canavan (vocals, saxophone) discusses Pretty Men, how the release compares to their previous material and the decision to bring saxophone into the mix. He also talks about Dialysis’ diverse sound and the album’s lyrical themes, as well as the Syracuse music scene and much more.
Can you give me a bit of the band’s background? How did Dialysis come to be?
Ryan Canavan: I’ve known John [Bukowski, guitar] for a solid 20 years at this point and we had a sort of joke band/terror-destruction thing around that time. A few years later he and Matt [Calabrese, drums] were doing Ebony Sorrow, a pretty ripping black metal band that they still do. So about five years ago Ebony Sorrow was taking a little break and John and Matt started messing around, just writing really short, really fast punk/grind songs and they asked if I wanted to join up, just for laughs. It was definitely not a serious project by any means for the first year or so, but it was a lot of fun and it definitely got more serious as we played and recorded.
Pretty Men is your debut LP. How are you feeling about how it turned out?
Despite some of the circumstances involved I think we’re all really happy with it. We had set a deadline for ourselves to finish it before recording and had a date set and everything. Then John got seriously ill with the flu and we had to cancel our recording dates. However, since we were sort of in a pinch with a deadline we were able to record here in Syracuse as a back up with some really great friends and it actually worked out really good. We had a pretty short window of time to record it all, but that’s kind of our style anyway – just go in there and blast through it. I definitely would have liked an extra day to maybe give my throat a rest, but overall, I think the recording came out pretty excellent.
The album follows a split with Bleak and two seven-inch releases. How do you feel Pretty Men compares to your previous material?
Everything we have done has progressively gotten a bit more planned out. Our first seven-inch was just a bunch of songs we had written after our demo and we just decided to throw them all on a record. Abastab had a bit more planning, especially in the layout and artwork of the record, as well as how we wanted to arrange the tracks. There’s a hint of actually thinking out our songs a little bit more – ya know, things that bands do I guess. The Bleak split we had talked about for a long time because we played a bunch of shows together, shared a practice room, hung out together. Some idiot put out both bands’ records regularly. It seemed like a good idea and we had a pretty tight plan for how that record came out. The LP was definitely focused. We definitely set out with a plan to write a full-length and worked on it for quite a long time.
What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
We wrote a bunch of stuff that didn’t stick, so we threw it out. And we re-wrote a bunch of stuff that we were okay with in terms of some parts, but needed some work. I started playing saxophone somewhere in the middle of the writing process and figured out some ways to add it to a few of the songs without it being dominant. We don’t have a bass player so adding some other shit in there makes things a bit more interesting. We also tried to incorporate a story of some sort to the LP. Matt had the record title in mind for a while as a joke of sorts, but I tried to work that into some of the songs. We were really into trying to tie the record together with interludes and skits and samples, kind of like you used to hear on a lot of late ’80s/early ’90s hip-hop records, especially stuff like 3 Feet High and Rising and …Is Dead by De La Soul, as well as some of the insane, over-the-top sample stuff that Spazz would do. So we figured on using the weird answering machine messages between songs that featured Matt on a couple doing these fucked up voices he comes up with, our friend Andrew on one (that he didn’t know was being used, it was an actual message he left for John), my wife on another, and some samples that we messed around with. It was a lot of fun to do. We also wrote some music.
You introduced the use of saxophone on this album. How did that idea come about?
I used to play a bit when I was really young. And I’ve always intended to go back to it at some point because I think it’s a really cool-sounding instrument. So I basically had to just stop fucking around with thinking about it and just go ahead and do it, even though I know very little about actually playing it. And I still don’t. It’s primarily used as background, or for making people think I can solo or something. And I just want to go on record, so there is no misunderstanding, there is no ska influence whatsoever. I hope people who have never heard us don’t jump to that conclusion when they read that there’s a saxophone in this band. My only thoughts on using saxophone stem exclusively from Rocket From the Crypt, Sweep the Leg Johnny, Morphine, and some of the crazy shit Bruce Lamont pulls off. Of course, I have like five percent of the skill that any of the aforementioned possess.
You also included some samples on Pretty Men. How did you go about choosing those?
We always have crazy samples on our records. Between Matt, John, and myself we like a ton of random, weird shit and we usually think it would be pretty funny to add some of that stuff to our records. We kind of went overboard on this record with all the samples and I probably would have found a way to add more if time allowed. I know it’s not as common anymore for bands to do stuff like that, but I guess back when we were a lot younger, bands would do it all the time and it left an impression on all of us. So we’re just rolling with that.
Dialysis’ sound combines many different styles (punk, hardcore, grind, noise, thrash, etc.), but it also has an overall quirky vibe, which can make it difficult to describe. How do you describe the band’s sound?
I can’t really pin it down because all of us in the band listen to a really wide variety of stuff and it often makes its way into the music somehow. I like a lot of noise-rock and heavier indie stuff so sometimes I’m thinking of that when a song comes together, but Matt might be thinking of playing a total Mayhem part and somehow a song gets shat out from that. Overall though, we all like classic punk, metal in its various forms, playing really fast, grind, and hardcore. So it just becomes a stew, usually compressed into about 60 seconds.
How do you feel the band’s sound has progressed over the years?
I’m not sure what the other guys would say, but in my eyes it has changed in two ways. First, we all contribute more to songwriting than in the past. Secondly, we actually put a little more time and effort into putting together a song than before. In the past John might have come in with a single riff and Matt played a blast beat over it for 30 seconds, and boom, there as a song. I mean, we sometimes still do that. But usually something like that aforementioned scenario would happen and now we say, “Okay, now what comes after it?”
What are your influences, musical or otherwise?
Again, I can’t speak for the other guys because their musical tastes are so wide and varied. But for me, I am typically not looking to other grind/thrash/metal bands for inspiration. If I think of a band that plays really fast, I am pretty much always thinking Bad Brains. They are the blueprint for playing energetic, fast, aggressive hardcore punk. I want to always exude that sort of energy in our music. But as far as arrangements that I have had a hand in writing for the band, I’ve drawn from stuff as disparate as Iron Lung, National Acrobat, D.C. Dischord stuff, Sonic Youth, Milhouse, and all the stuff I mentioned before. I know Matt is really influenced by bands like NOFX and Black Flag in terms of the more punk-leaning material, and various black metal and death metal bands whose names I’m not going to pretend to be able to pronounce for the heavier/grind-y songs. John thinks about the Dead Milkmen, Aus Rotten, and lots of chuggy mid-’90s mosh hardcore. And Genesis. I don’t know, we’re a pretty varied group of subhumans.
The lyrics are quite tongue-in-cheek, yet they seem to tackle some serious subject matter. Is there a specific theme behind Pretty Men? What’s the meaning behind the title?
Like I said, Matt came up with the title and it was while he was probably fucking around. But we thought it was good and ran with it and I attempted to build a song out of that title. So yeah, there’s some humor, like no one says, “Hey, check out all those pretty men!”, like as a catcall or whatever. Plus, if you’ve ever seen pictures of us we’re not the most handsome people in town. Well, save for Matt; he’s got that smooth, gym-going Paisan thing going. I’m a little envious. But on the serious side, the lyrics are kind of attacking that notion of men being at the top, like we’ve done such great things for society. But there are no pretty men, no great heroes or anything because look at all the destruction and chaos we’ve wrought. That’s pretty much the fault of men. So… um… sorry?
Where does lyrical inspiration come from for you?
It depends. Some of our older stuff was a little more light-hearted, like writing songs about comic books, or vague attacks on typical bullshit. For the album there were some songs that still attack typical bullshit because that’s always low-hanging fruit. And clearly, some of the stuff happening in our own country brought a pretty immediate reaction that I felt was worth writing stuff about. There’s a few personal songs about keeping it together. There’s definitely some songs where I cribbed some lyrics and titles from very not heavy bands, which I love doing completely out of context from the originals. If anyone can tell where we borrowed from Mission Of Burma, Sonic Youth, The VSS, and Drive Like Jehu I’ll give you a t-shirt. There are a couple songs that I used lyrics that I wrote probably over ten years ago from one of my previous bands that we never had the chance to record. I liked the lyrics and still felt they were relevant so I took them out of retirement. The music’s completely different though.
The cover art is also quite loud and in your face. How does it tie in with the music and/or themes?
I had randomly come across the art of Ryan Besch (AKA Your Cinema) and was really excited to see how he blended styles from guys like Charles Burns and Dan Clowes into really bizarre and kitschy designs, and I thought, “This guy has to do the next record.” He was really approachable, and actually lived not too far away and we had probably met in the past at some point, so it was easy working with him. We had a lot in common with art influences and he pretty much nailed exactly what I was looking for. The idea was to have this record “Pretty Men,” but it was a cover full of ugly things. And you can’t exactly place why they’re ugly, there’s just something not right about all these things. Plus, the random and jam-packed-full-of-stuff nature of our records lent itself to once again having a pretty busy cover with a lot going on.
You’re releasing this album through your own label, Hex Records. Is taking a DIY approach something that’s important to you?
In some ways it makes things really easy and in others it’s a total headache. On the plus, we have total control. If we have a plan for things it goes just as we planned and any fuckup is on me and no one else. There’s no third party or communication barriers. On the negative, we do have to do all the work. It can be difficult, or awkward, when trying to write a press release for your own band without coming off like a blowhard.
We’ve featured a few other Syracuse acts on this blog, and to me there just seems to be a lot of talented people from that city. What are your thoughts on the scene there?
Yeah, there certainly are a lot of good bands that have emerged from, and continue to emerge from, this town for whatever reason. And, thankfully, I’ve had the good fortune of attempting to expose some of these bands to the world at large, for better or worse. I’m always thinking things could be better here when not many people come out to a show I think is really good, or support for local bands gets a tepid response. Still, I look to what some of these people and bands have done both musically, and with other endeavors, and it makes me really happy to share in that just a bit. Also, I need to remind myself that I am not a young man anymore. In hardcore years I am an ancient relic shouting at kids in State Champs T-shirts to get off my lawn. There is a scene of people from here who are doing their own thing, and completely neglecting a lot of the stuff I love because I’m old. I have different tastes and as much as I might say, “Yeah, but the stuff I like is better! Why don’t you understand that?!” it doesn’t make it fact. I have to simply be content that I enjoy a lot of bands and music that appeals to a shrinking group of people, and a lot of stuff that people who are 19 enjoy just doesn’t relate to me. So, is Syracuse good or bad? Maybe ask a 20-year-old. As much as I attempt to stay current with what’s happening in town, and be a part of it, someone much younger is probably more tapped in and can answer that more accurately.
What’s coming up next for Dialysis and your other endeavours, including Hex?
Well, the LP just came out so I’m pushing that. Dialysis will play around all summer. We can’t really take off from work and do long tours by any means. Nor do I think any of us want to. However, we’re doing a bunch of out-of-town shows and weekends, and a couple local shows. Basically, our interest in playing out of town is to come up with bad jokes on long car rides, find a good place to eat, and a good record store, and then play the show. If you have that going on let us know, we might want to come play. So hopefully people listen in and check out the record because we’re all quite excited about it. As far as the label, I’ll have an LP from Grizzlor out later in the summer and maybe a little something else in the fall that I’m not 100 percent certain will happen yet. We shall see.
Thanks for the interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks a bunch for taking an interest, not only in this band but in many other bands in the area, as well as bands that I have had the pleasure of working with. It’s a nice feeling when someone else shares an interest in a band you think no one else enjoys! Also, blarf nuggets.