Dana Jewell has to call me back. His band Pill Wonder is generating some serious noise. The band and their cluttered lo-fi pop sound are riding a wave of good publicity thanks to a handful of recent frenetic performances, like the one they just gave at this year’s College Music Journal showcase, and their well-received spot on the Underwater Peoples Records Showcase compilation.
When he does call me back, he’s on his break from his job at Trader Joe’s and only has five minutes. Apparently buzz doesn’t pay the bills — at least it hasn’t yet.
Pill Wonder is the brainchild of Will Murder, Jewell’s friend since middle school, who records all of the music on his own. However, Murder’s blend of noise-pop is so layered and chaotic that he needs six other people to help him properly perform it live. Playing the tunes comes easy; finding the cash to tour when you’re in an underground septet is a difficult proposition.
“Even though we’re in a band that’s getting press and that has an LP coming out soon, you know, when you’re splitting $30 [for playing a show] seven ways, you’re not really getting too much money there,” Jewell says.
To build up the financial backbone to tour and sustain the band, some of its members hold down fairly steady jobs. But they’re the lucky ones.
“Our drummer, Drew, washes dishes at a barbecue joint, like, four days a week,” Jewell says. “Our guitar player, Nick, works for his dad at a law — insurance? — firm… something like that.” Other members just scratch together cash doing whatever odds-and-ends jobs they can find.
Pill Wonder is currently trying to scrape together enough cash to get down to Austin for South by Southwest in March.
Beyond that, the only other clearly defined goal of Pill Wonder is for everyone to remain friends. Jewell admits that it’s hard for seven people to like each other when forced to be together the whole time.
The band will be swooping through town as part of local cassette-tape label Leftist Nautical Antiques’ Fake Escape Fest. Pill Wonder is a band built for the tape revival — in fact, they’ve released most of their work to date on cassette. It’s cheap, and the septet is permanently short on cash.
But Jewell, the proprietor of his own tape label, Wild Animal Kingdom, sees inherent personal value in the old medium beyond the bottom line.
“When you can see how much work someone actually put into it... that they dubbed the tape in real time, and then they split it, and then they spray painted it, and then inside they wrote you a personalized letter,” he says, “maybe it’s gonna make the people that are buying all the Coldplay CDs want to buy a tape. They’ll figure how much cooler it is that someone took the time to write their name on it or something.”
Jewell hopes that handmade quality helps the tape boom extend beyond its current hipster niche and eventually morph into something bigger.
But for now — if you’ll excuse him — he has to get back to work.
Pill Wonder plays Fake Escape Fest with Hari Kari, Space Age Fur, Secret Colors, Naomi Punk, pe-rad, the Terrible Buttons and others at Empyrean on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 5:30 pm. Tickets: $7. Call: 838- 9819.