The block in the east Lawrence neighborhood where the Dactyls practice might just be the nexus of the town's music scene.
Across the street, the Get Up Kids are prepping for an upcoming reunion tour. The Dead Girls and the Spook Lights also are within earshot.
All of these bands are capable of rattling the fixtures, but the Dactyls especially would be up shit creek without sympathetic neighbors. They've rightfully earned a reputation as Lawrence's loudest band, cranking their amps to levels that would make J. Mascis blush.
"We all have tube amps, and we like 'em loud because they sound better," bassist John Bergwell says.
The dual guitars of Nick Bergwell and Brendan Costello fit the archetype of '90s indie rockers like Pavement and Sonic Youth. Their interweaving lead riffs incorporate alternate tunings and sludgy harmonies to create a distinct Dactyls sound.
"That's what a lot of people respond to — the guitars," drummer John Momberg says. "When people ask me what the band sounds like, I just say 'guitar rock.'"
Nick Bergwell's pedal board could be mistaken for a shelf in an adult novelty store — the Big Muff and the Wiggler are two of his favorite toys.
The effects are integral to the Dactyls' awesome stage sound, but they would be useless without the catalog of memorable tunes that the group has penned in the last couple of years. The Dactyls have written at such a fast clip that they've become impossibly backlogged. The EP that they'll release this week features five tunes that were tracked in the spring of 2008 with their buddy Steve Squire. When Squire dragged his heels on mixing the project, engineer Jim Vollentine stepped in.
"The way [Squire] talks about it now, it was a strategic maneuver to get Jim to do it," Nick Bergwell says with a laugh. "It's all good now. Jim did a great job on it."
Vollentine — an Austinite known for his work with And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and Lawrence bands Dri and Fourth of July — has become a big booster for the Dactyls. He'll release the group's EP on his new record label, Yeti Party.
"Jim wants to have a little more control over stuff he's involved in," Nick Bergwell says. "He's been so involved with Lawrence bands anyway."
The Dactyls are hoping that Vollentine's personal investment pays dividends in areas where bigger labels fall short. Momberg, who is also the current drummer for the Appleseed Cast, cites a recent tour with that band as an example of the sort of pitfall he hopes to avoid. Midtour, the Appleseed Cast ran out of CDs and had trouble obtaining more from its label, Vagrant.
"We couldn't get CDs the whole [rest of the] tour, but the Appleseed Cast's vinyl label [Graveface] is run by one guy, and he would overnight us hundreds of LPs in a heartbeat," Momberg says. "The only way shit gets done these days is if you're a fan of the stuff you're championing."
The Dactyls will drive to Austin next week to play two shows at South By Southwest and then spend six days recording an album with Vollentine. They hope to knock out 12 songs the old-fashioned way — recording to analog tape — and get a record out by the end of the year.
"We demoed all the songs and sent them to Jim," John Bergwell says. "Especially if we're going to be recording to tape, we don't want to take the ProTools approach to writing and recording."
That's an approach the group has taken throughout its various incarnations: the Legendary Terrordactyls and, before that, the Terrordactyls.
"We really could have started four new bands in the time that we've had this band," Nick Bergwell says. "But we couldn't think of any good names, so the name just changed with the band."
The switch to Dactyls, however, was precipitated by the success of a band from the vicinity of Seattle called Terrordactyls, which rode the wave of hype surrounding the Juno soundtrack by recording a song with Kimya Dawson for its debut album. Though the Terrordactyls' song wasn't on the film's soundtrack, to the Dactyls, it might as well have been.
"Juno came out and eclipsed us — it was a horrible feeling," John Bergwell says. "I like to think of it as a really shitty version of Ghost World."
"And they rip on Sonic Youth," Costello adds. "I remember that pissing me off."
Much of the music that Nick Bergwell has been rocking lately would probably make the Juno bands shit their shorts.
"We listen to a lot of metal, a lot of ambient doom," he says, citing faves like Nadja, Earth and Sunn O))).
The influence is evident in some of the 10-ton riffs that grace the EP, which, as of this writing, has yet to be named. But the songs have crafty melodies and sizable hooks to complement the barrage, setting the stage for what could be a breakout year for the band.
Let's just hope the neighbors have earplugs.