Washed Out keyboardist escapes chillwave with Dog Bite
Once bitten, Phil Jones bites back with a new band
Phil Jones doesn't remember who befriended whom first, but it was on MySpace, around the summer of 2009, where he started trading songs with Ernest Greene, the bedroom-pop producer best known as the man behind the electro music phenomenon Washed Out. At the time, Greene was quickly becoming the poster boy for the microgenre bearing such insufferably clichéd labels as "chillwave," or worse yet, "glo-fi." But hearing such banal terms slapped on the sound Washed Out had helped spearhead was unsettling for anyone remotely close to the music, Jones notwithstanding. "I never wanted to feel like I was part of a certain scene, I just like doing what I do," says Jones, the recent Alpharetta expat, who was recording under the name Dog Bite before joining the ranks of Washed Out's live band as a keyboardist and percussionist.
Ironically, it was while touring with Washed Out, in support of his 2011 Sub Pop debut, Within and Without — an album that pushed so-called chillwave to new limits in terms of production and accessibility — that inspiration struck.
Most of Jones' recordings to that point were largely the construct of sampled records loaded into GarageBand and reconstructed into beat-driven, atmospheric experiments. But on tour, Jones' songwriting efforts veered toward a strikingly organic approach. Change came partially from artistic motivation, but also out of necessity. "I was looking to do something fresh; something musically that I hadn't done before," Jones says.
Left to his own devices on the road, Jones picked up an acoustic guitar and started honing his chops. The more he strummed, the more song ideas began to take shape. "I had no other way to make music. I didn't have a computer at the time, and no way to record anything, so I just started playing these melodies on the guitar."
When the tour came to an end, he bought a new computer, a preamp, and a guitar, and started putting the pieces together for a new album. The first glimpse at what he's been up to is heard in the song "Prettiest Pills," which he uploaded to SoundCloud in January. It shows off a marked change in approach from the more experimental plod he'd developed early on. With older Dog Bite songs, such as "Brand New," "Gnar Bar," and "Indian Houses," or anything else that appeared on his self-released 2008 Owls and Eyes EP, a rash of influences ranging from Panda Bear to Depeche Mode defined his sound. Those sensibilities have consciously been stripped away on his latest effort. But there's still a stylistic likeness that he hasn't quite shaken. Despite "Prettiest Pills'" more rock-oriented arrangements, a lush and laid-back atmosphere prevails, with Jones' dedication to lo-fi textures and melody giving rise to breezy, summer-day melancholy. Other unreleased demos, with titles such as "Stay Seated," "No Sharing," and "Supersoaker," reveal an even more robust sound in the works for his upcoming LP, Velvet Changes.
Although Jones is playing all of the instruments for these new recordings, he's put together a live band made up of former Balkans' bassist Woody Shortridge, Red Sea's guitarist Stephen Luscre, Mood Rings' guitarist William Fussell, and drummer Cameron Gardner, also from Washed Out's live band. The group played its first show at the Star Bar Feb. 23, unveiling yet another side of Dog Bite: a late '80s/early '90s three-guitar assault, driven by riffs, leads, and distortion. On stage, Jones led the group headfirst into a wall of texture over substance. All four members of the group took on a shoegazer pose, with the smoke machine in overdrive. Despite being the band's first time together in front of a live audience, the sound was solid, even if the chemistry was still percolating. Still, it has the marks of a solid group in the making.
Jones, however, hasn't abandoned his pop origins entirely. While the songs he's working on for Velvet Changes are tailored for Dog Bite, it's only one aspect of his work as a musician. "I want there to be two sides of music making for me, the electronic side and the more psychedelic-nod kind of stuff," he says. "Ever since I started making music, the urge to keep moving forward with it has never gone away. I just found another way to keep doing it."