Dmitri Giannopoulos said a newfound confidence is starting to shake up the Boston band's sound
Beginning with Horse Jumper of Love’s self-titled 2017 debut, the band has often been saddled with a not-unearned slowcore label, owing to a fondness for crawling tempos, hypnotic repetition and songs built around the oft-mumbled, typically impressionistic words of singer/guitarist Dmitri Giannopoulos.
But sophomore record So Divine, released earlier this year, is shot through with instances that suggest the trio isn’t content with sticking to any formula. On “Cops,” for one, Giannopoulos sings with atypical directness in addressing the climate surrounding the state of modern policing — “All the cops burst into tears of joy/When it’s announced we’re in a police state,” he sings — and throughout the songs surge and break off into rocky outcroppings before again receding into calm. There’s even a moment on “Volcano” where the frontman lives up to the promise of the song’s title, raising his usually timid voice into a full-throated scream, though the thought process behind the decision had little to do with skirting any preconceived genre labels.
“I think I mostly just thought it was funny,” said Giannopoulos, reached on the road with bassist John Margaris and drummer Jamie Vadala-Doran (the Boston-based trio performs at Donatos Basement on Wednesday, Dec. 11). “I was like, ‘Usually I sing so quiet, wouldn’t it be so funny if on one song I screamed as loud as I could?’”*Clears throat* AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Sign up for our daily newsletter
Since forming Horse Jumper, though, Giannopoulos said he has gained confidence as a singer, which has led him to adopt a louder, more pronounced presence on the songs the band has completed for an in-progress album. “There are even a couple of tracks on the new one where I’m actually trying to sing instead of just mumbling,” he said.
This newfound clarity has increasingly bled into the songwriting, as well, with Giannopoulos taking steps away from the collage-like construction he embraced on the band’s first two records. In the past, the singer would collect stray observations in his phone’s Notes app and in assorted notebooks, stitching these sometimes disparate fragments into impressionistic word clouds that evoked a feeling, but rarely offered a linear narrative. Witness the dreamy “Poison,” a surrealist drama that builds around fragments of conversation the musician overheard while working as a museum security guard (“I opened my legs so you can crawl through,” goes one line, lifted from a parent talking to a child).
“All of these songs, I wrote them at the end of the day after getting home from work, when I’m super stressed and the only thing that can stop my mind from racing … is to sit there droning on a chord or repeating a melody until [that stress] turns into something else,” Giannopoulos said. “I think [the collage effect] might also have to do with my attention span, in general. My mind is kind of all over the place, so my songs tend to be a little more all over the place.”
But in recent months, Giannopoulos has been writing more traditional storylines shaped by the classic country musicians whose albums have been on regular rotation in Horse Jumper’s tour van, including Johnny Cash, George Strait and Johnny Paycheck, along with contemporary artists like Sturgill Simpson.
“I think [the songs] are still coming from my own experiences, but I’m getting more into storytelling,” Giannopoulos said. “It’s definitely way more exposing, but the more shows we play, the more comfortable I am getting up in front of people and being myself. With the past two records, a lot of [the sound] comes from the lack of confidence I had, and obscuring the lyrics and singing really quiet is a product of that. But now I’ve been feeling more confident, I guess, and I’m happier to get up there and do my thing.”