Kismet brought both myself and Justin R. Cruz Gallego to be in Austin, Texas at the same time. Me, to visit my dad, and Gallego on tour behind his solo project J.R.C.G. After two years of phone and Zoom interviews, it’s a real treat to be able to occasionally chat with artists in person these days. Even better when it’s a somewhat chance encounter in another city.
Crisp Lonestars in hand, we spoke in a busy hotel bar roughly 2,000 miles from our Seattle and Tacoma homes before his set at the Mohawk. He’s touring behind his debut record under his abbreviated government name J.R.C.G., 2021’s Ajo Sunshine. A cacophony of experimental sounds, the album was appropriately released by the king of chaos, John Dwyer’s, label Castle Face.
Nearly six months after Ajo Sunshine’s release, Gallego has been taking the songs on the road with some help from the Dreamdecay Music Group. A collective of sorts, the Music Group features a large lineup of musicians including the members of Gallego’s other band Dreamdecay, an innovative art-punk band who rose up in the Seattle music scene over the 2010s to become Sub Pop-signees.
In our conversation, Gallego discusses the significance of the Dreamdecay Music Group, translating Ajo Sunshine into a live show, and his new single “Drummy.”
KEXP: So, you're on the road right now. It's been something like six months since Ajo Sunshine came out. What does it feel like to finally be able to play these songs live for everyone?
Justin Gallego: Yeah, I think it came out in November of last year and we had a short tour right after it came out. I think it was like ten days. And now this is the second kind of installation of shows that we have supporting it. And it's been incredible. The backing band is basically the other band I play in, Dreamdecay, along with some other confidants. And, yeah, it's been pretty amazing just to kind of hear something that was made in a very different setting than a normal band would be constructing songs and finally hearing it as a live band has been really rewarding and it's just been really fun. I'm really grateful to my friends that I collaborate with, to lend their skill set to do it justice.
Did it take you a while to figure out how to transform the recorded material into a live show?
Yeah, you know, it did take a while to take a lot of organizing the layers into separate samples and figuring out what synthesizers would be used that were on the record and figuring out things like if it's necessary to have two drummers or not. And, you know, there was a lot of things like that kind of took extra planning and I think we prepared probably for 3 to 4 months prior. But yeah, it was really fun. It was like nothing we'd ever really done kind of approaching building a live performance that way. You know, when you're in a band, you're just making songs and they're coming out like as they are a live performance most times. And with this, it was really fun in that it was like a deconstruction of a recording and you're figuring out what needs to be done to make it represent it in the best way. So it was a really unique challenge that I am appreciative of.
So you're doing the double drummer thing.
Hell yeah. Did John Dwyer to give you any tips for how to do that?
Yeah, no, we didn't really talk about it, but it's just one of those things like I was saying, like digging into the music and how I recorded it. There's a lot of double drums and a lot of...there's the way that certain things are recorded, you know, the drums specifically it's like there'll be certain situations where you kind of need both textures and you know, having like only one might not work, but it won't really give it the same feeling that we felt making it, or I felt making it.
Yeah, it's like having like a, like a rhythm guitar and a lead guitar for layers.
That makes me really excited because it's so fun to watch two drummers. Like, that's the best thing about Osees in a lot of ways, for me, watching them when they, like, sync up.
Yeah, absolutely. Obviously, they were a huge inspiration in that setting. And you know, them as a band have been super supportive to Dreamdecay and to myself as a musician. So it's been great to kind of incorporate that in our own way and figuring it out. And yeah, it's unique in that, you know, there's two drummers, there's two saxophone players, there's two basses and there's seven people on stage. There are a lot of different things to kind of watch as a viewer. And I think that's something that we've taken away from these shows that it's really fun to watch and that's something that's new for us and it's exciting.
That's a lot of people! Have there been any stages so far where you're like, "Oh, we're not going to fit"?
Yeah, you know, there's been some tight situations. We played in St Louis on this tour and it was a very small space and you know, we made it work. If anything, it just made it seem that much more fun and crazy. For us, it's really stressful because there's so much to account for. But for the viewer, for the people at the shows, it's just wild to watch, you know, because it's kind of hard to tell, like, where it ends, you know? And just everyone kind of sort of bleeds into the next person. The setup and then it's kind of fun in that way.
What has the crowd reaction been to your live show?
Oh, it's been really, really positive. Yeah, I'm super grateful. It's been quite a trip. People have been really excited and really supportive. And yeah, I'm just glad that the live representation of this music has been able to like resonate with people if they've heard the record or if they haven't. It's been amazing in that way.
You recently released a single "Drummy" and it's a little bit of a departure. It's...I want to say more melodic? Just feels more like something you could sing along to, unlike a lot of the material on Ajo Sunshine. Is that a way you're going towards or is it kind of a one off thing that you're trying out.
It's hard to tell. You know, I think that like the JRCG sector of the music I work on has always kind of been a way of like kind of testing new boundaries personally, as a musician, and trying to figure out what my habits are and how far I can really test myself and push it. And so it's hard to say if that's a signifier of where things are going or if it's just like a one off thing.
But yeah, no, it definitely does feel like its own sort of departure. But you know, I like to think that it still has like some sort of significant characteristics that kind of make it my own. But, I'm really excited about that song. I think that if anything, you know, I'm obsessed with, like, Latin percussion and including that into more experimental forms of music or rock and I think "Drummy" is definitely like a first step in exploring that more like.
Yeah. Was John Dwyer involved with this one?
In the release of it? No, it's self-released by our collective Dreamdecay Music Group. So it's kind of just marks a new territory in that way. We're trying to figure out new ways to kind of build up community around our creative umbrella.
That's something I'm very curious about. Like what is Dreamdecay Music Group? Obviously, members of Dreamdecay are playing with you but it seems like it's something bigger than that.
Yeah, you know we're trying to figure it out, but to me, it's definitely taking a collective approach to how we make art and how we support each other and kind of building it outward towards other creatives, like the other people who are involved in the live version of JRCG and their bands and their creative endeavors. And, you know, we've grown up within the DIY punk and music scene, and we're just trying to navigate new ways to support each other and to kind of figure out new methods to basically build everyone up, you know, and Dreamdecay Music Group is just another avenue that we're exploring.
And it could be releasing music, releasing art, events, you know, it's just something that we're in the process of sorting out. But as far as a live band right now, yeah, the tour has been billed as J.R.C.G. performed by Dreamdecay Music Group because it's definitely a collaborative effort and it's important that like everyone is kind of like billed and represented to me.
Yeah, I thought that was interesting that you could have just gone with J.R.C.G. and they show up, but you've made a point to put them on the bill and on the poster alongside you.
Yeah. In my mind, J.R.C.G. and Dreamdecay are just like two entities among many that live underneath the Music Group umbrella. And, yeah, we're just figuring out what that could be.
But what about Dreamdecay, the actual band? You haven't released anything in a while, are you still planning on releasing more music?
Yeah, definitely. We're actually in the process of finishing a record for Dreamdecay. You know, it's funny because, in comparison to JRCG, which is a very personal project that I recorded on my own, with the addition of parts here and there that are contributions by people, Dreamdecay is very much four creative minds or creative entities, you know, collaborating and working together to figure out the music. So it takes a lot longer. And I think that we've kind of come to terms with that and it just is what it is. But with that said, yeah, we've been working on a record for a very long time and nearing kind of the end of it. Definitely still doing stuff for just that and working hard.
Is there anything you can tell me about the direction or the sound of this new record?
Yeah, to me -- and this is like totally from a personal perspective, I think that the rest of the members might have different takes on it -- but, to me, it's the most interesting guitar-centric music that we have personally made. And I think that John and Alex, who play guitar in the band, have worked really, really hard to like perfect their ideas and figure out exactly what needs to be done to make it realized. And when I listen to that stuff, that's what resonates with me is the hard work they put in on that. And so I'm really excited about it on that front.
That is exciting. It's just been a long time. I think that's cool. You took your time, you're perfecting your sound, you're not rushing it. I mean, your side projects probably help make the wait not feel so long. Are other members of the band doing side projects as well?
You know Alex, who plays guitar, he's in a band called Degraved that is a death metal band that's in Seattle and he's really busy with that. John plays guitar. He's been playing with Casual Hex who is Erica Miller's band who also plays guitar in J.R.C.G. And Jason, who plays bass, he does his own project called the Exquisites that he's been really busy with. So everyone definitely has their own sort of creative outputs that they're passionate about. And you know, going back to what we were saying about the Music Group is it's a prime example of figuring out ways to lift up everyone's stuff and figuring out how we can assist each other. But, yeah, no, definitely everyone's busy.
Dreamdecay's Justin R. Cruz Gallego shares the John Dwyer-featured single off his forthcoming album as J.R.C.G. Ajo Sunshine
Leading up until the Upstream Music Fest + Summit, a Northwest regionally focused festival with over 300 acts, KEXP will be featuring a new local artist from the lineup with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. Today’s post features Seattle post-punk outfit Dreamdecay, performing S…