The Dunes’ sophomore album, Subject to Change, is about asking, discovering, deciding and moving forward. From the personal to the political, on small and grand scales, that’s what this Toronto-based rock band has done since releasing its 2006 debut, Socializing With Life.
“This album is kind of a story. It’s an actual album,” says lead singer/songwriter Kevin Pullen, referring to the well thought out sequence of the 12 songs. “It’s meant to be listened to in its entirety. It is titled ‘Subject to Change’ because it made sense on so many levels. Change, for one, within the band, as in the line-up; and lot of changes in my personal life — I lost a love; and I was involved in a kind of reckless lifestyle which came along with some deep depression and finally some light again. It’s a cycle.”
Emerging with a new outlook and happier mind-set, Subject to Change was produced by Siegfried Meier (Machete Avenue, Thine Eyes Bleed) at Beach Studios situated on his farm in Goderich, Ontario, in the dead of winter. The band — now comprising Alistair Heath (lead guitar, vocals), John Dolinar (bass, vocals) and Paul Barry (drums, vocals) — all slept in a trailer, steps away from the studio, and away from any distraction that Toronto might have provided.
With these new batch of songs, there was also a change in sound from the first Dunes recordings. Piano and organ are all over the album; more than half feature strings; one has trumpet (“Los Angeles”) and another clavonette (“Same Inside”). “That’s what I missed out on the first record. The budget didn’t allow it,” says Kevin. The band has since recruited multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Panda to the lineup in order to handle those parts onstage.
“It was good that this happened, that I now have a whole new band, and I don’t think that it’s unusual,” says Kevin. “I was green at the beginning. I didn’t know what was going on. Now, we have a solid foundation. We all want the same thing. We want to take this to the world stage.”
Kevin, who has been writing songs since the age of 13, but didn’t join or form a band until The Dunes (“I had no balls back then so I just did it for myself,” he laughs), cut the first album in 2004 with producer Matt Wagner of the band Alpha Galates. With the original line-up, the Dunes made significant inroads, landing a record deal with Toronto indie label Curve Music, which released Socializing With Life. The band subsequently had a top 40 rock radio hit with the single, “Do It All The Time,” whose video was placed in heavy rotation for months on MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic and MuchLoud. The album was also released in the U.K., Germany, Holland and Switzerland, and the band promoted it in England and Scotland with a two-week tour in 2007.
“To be honest, the first record, we wanted good things to happen with it, but I didn’t know anything would. I made it for me with the hope that something good would happen with it and something good did happen,” says Kevin.
He estimates he’s written between 60 and 100 songs since then, and feels Subject to Change is a far better album than Socializing With Life. “I think there’s maybe three or four great songs on the first one. I’m pretty honest with myself,” Kevin says. “At the time I was writing it, I was nowhere near the songwriter I am now. It was kind of rushed too. It was my first time in the studio and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. It’s less cohesive. It sounds pretty good because the production style keeps it together, but I didn’t know if I wanted to shoe-gaze more or be more rock. Through time, I knew what I wanted with this new record and there’s not a lyric that’s out of place. Things were clear this time. The music just told us what to do.”
He calls Subject to Change “a movement in time,” explaining that it leads with “The Cacophonic Lullaby” and ends with “iChange.” “Half the record is going through all these things, and realizing that, asking for change and seeking change and getting change. The middle of the album is ‘Let It Go.’ It’s whatever is holding you back from going forward. And the second last song is ‘The World Won’t Wait.’ It’s a reprise from the record. It’s a sad song, but at the end it has hopeful connotations.
“The whole album basically deals with the idea of change and the unpredictability of life and the idea that it changes so rapidly. You don’t know what’s gonna happen next. It’s not anything new, but I started to look at this phenomenon and with songs like ‘The Same Inside,’ whose lyrics start off with ‘what do I know / I’m just a man,’ it’s evident that all that I know I don’t understand”