Art-pop trio blazes its own trail on its own terms

Soon after drummer Vicky Mahnke joined singer Andy Clager and guitarist Darren Latanick in Son of Dribble a couple of years ago, the trio played a show in Cincinnati, and in the middle of one song, Clager hopped off stage and walked out.

“I remember looking at Darren, like, ‘What the hell?’” Mahnke said in a recent interview alongside her bandmates. “It was my first tour out of town, and he went in the other room and started drinking water out of a cooler because he was so thirsty. It felt like forever, but it was probably like...”

“I think it was like 45 seconds,” Clager said. “They don't know what I'm going to do a lot of times, because I don't plan a lot out live, as far as what I'm going to do with the audience or if I'm going to go into a corner or leave or something like that. … Someone said to me recently — it was my wife, actually — ‘I know you're performing, but I can't tell if you're losing your mind.’”

“He turns into some kind of weird, whirling dervish,” Mahnke said. "But I'm very comfortable with Andy's stage antics now. I feel like we're all kind of seated as a band. I’ve had enough experiences doing shows and collaborating that I feel really comfortable if something goes weird.”

Son of Dribble never plays the same show twice, so expect the unexpected when the trio closes out Alive’s 2020 Bands to Watch show at Ace of Cups on Saturday, Jan. 25. That individualistic streak carries over to Son of Dribble’s recordings, too, with sounds ranging from doo-wop to punk-rock. On “Slur B.C.,” one of three songs on the just-released “Painting the Head” digital single, the band weaves together droning, atonal guitar and untethered synthesizers, then ups the creep factor with sinister-sounding laughter.

“We all just took turns laughing, and then Darren fooled around with panning it back and forth,” Mahnke said.

“It sounds insane,” Latanick said.

While “Slur B.C.” deals mostly in dissonance, unreleased track “Tutu,” which will likely show up on a Son of Dribble album sometime later this year, is a pop song through and through. The track features a simple chord progression, repeating "ooh/ahh" background vocals and a throwback spoken-word section to kick off the tune: “Yeah, I know it’s a tough world. I’m living in it, too. I sit, and I cry, staring at the moon,” Clager says.

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“What I pictured with that song was kind of an oldie — like a lullaby, a little bit dreamy,” Clager said. “An old friend of mine, he has Williams syndrome, which is a rare diagnosis, and before we started the band, I’d play him music that he'd never heard and see how he felt about it. He would describe it in different ways. He'd listen to the song and say, ‘That's highway-driving music,’ or he would say, ‘That's fist-fighting music,’ or, ‘That's midnight dancing music.’ And I always really enjoyed that. You're throwing a spirit out there. You're not really trying to make a song a specific thing. It’s more, ‘What do you picture in your head when you hear that song?’”

“I know what I picture in my head during ['Tutu'],” Mahnke said. “Every time we practice it, we're looking at each other and we're laughing because we make these backup noises. So that song, to me, is so cartoony, with cartoon rays of sunshine and birds.”

Clager, on the other hand, is struck more by the sadness and longing in the lyrics. “We want our songs to have a certain amount of pop,” he said, “but I like pulling the darkness in there.”

In the end, Clager and the band are fine with a certain level of inscrutability and confusion in the songs. Regardless of the original artistic intent or a listener’s interpretation, Son of Dribble should sound utterly different.

“People think you can be successful if you conform to the ideas of what people expect. I don't have any interest in that, because there's no end game [for this band]. That's how we keep it on our own terms — by not having expectations. … I don't want anybody to think they have to listen to us or care about us at all,” Clager said. “You see so many bands, and you're like, ‘Damn, that is really close to this other thing.’ I don't want to be that, ever. I think it's important to make your own trail — however small and insignificant it is. It's yours. And you get to stay on it for as long as you want.”