Dog Trainer Return With 'Scrolling to feel better...part one' [Q&A]
Photo By: Elvira Broman
After months of releasing sincere and sonically striking singles, NYC duo Dog Trainer (aka Nick Broman and Lucas del Calvo) have dropped their latest record Scrolling to feel better… part one. The album, which was created entirely within the confines of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw the duo create in an unprecedented way with Broman working from his NYC apartment and del Calvo working from the basement laundry room of an Airbnb his parents had rented in Vermont. They sent beats back and forth before eventually quarantining together for three months to finish the record. On the resulting album, Dog Trainer leapt beyond their lo-fi origins to their most honest writing and refined self-production to date.
Broman and del Calvo - who first met as rival student jazz guitarists at the New School for Jazz - collect their disparate influences (everything from Bon Iver, Beach House, and Porches, to the emotive pop of Lauv, Taylor Swift, Charli XCX, and The 1975) and weave them into a contradictory but enthralling sonic world of their own: acoustic guitars colliding with EDM synths and vulnerable lyrics leading to massive beat drops. Ones To Watch had the opportunity to talk with Dog Trainer about how they found their voice and the highs and lows of creating an album during a pandemic.
How do you feel now that the release of the record is here?
Nick: I think we’re both pretty thrilled to be releasing the record. It’s been a few months since we finished working on it. It’s been fun putting out new singles leading up to the release. Yeah, it’s been fun to release the music and finally get people listening to it.
Lucas: I think it’s fun but also a bit nerve-wracking. As a kind of smaller artist, each album feels like this opportunity that we’ve invested so much into, and it could push things to another level, or it could flop and keep you in the same place. We make music because we love it, but the outcome could go in so many different ways that yeah, I am nervous to see what happens. I wish I could just fast forward to it being out a month. The lead-up is always interesting, and there’s a lot of ups and downs. You release the singles and see certain ones doing better and certain ones doing worse, and it’s like this emotional rollercoaster. So overall, I’m nervous but excited for sure.
What have been some things you have done to stay grounded and manage your nerves?
Lucas: It’s super hard, especially in quarantine. There’s not a lot to distract you, so it’s easy to get into these patterns for a week or two of becoming anxious about music career stuff. One thing that keeps me balanced is my partner Marissa. To this point though, Nick and I were just talking about how it’s kind of a struggle. We want to make some new music because releasing music can be challenging. You fall in love with making music as a kid and playing guitar and then all of a sudden instead of making music and playing music and songwriting, you’re making Instagram posts and making sure your press is good and making sure you’re doing all of these things that are so different from the initial thing that got you into it. For me, the antidote for my mental health is making music and getting together, and writing songs. I would say in terms of managing anxiety it’s super challenging. I want to meet up with Nick after quarantining with my family a little longer just so we can work on new stuff together and ease the nerves and get us back to what brought us here in the first place.
I can only imagine how analyzing the analytics to make sure a project is successful can be stress-inducing.
Lucas: There are A&Rs from labels who are very actively looking at those kinds of statistics. But you have to look at it like if someone says they like your song, that’s what you’re doing it for, and the rest you can’t control.
Scrolling to feel better...part one is your first release since your 2019 album Puppyhood. What have been some things, music, film, or otherwise, that have influenced the sound of your upcoming album?
Nick: When we made Puppyhood, we were really into artists like Tame Impala and MGMT. After we made this one song called “Only Be You,” we were like, “Oh, we made a pop song,” and it wasn’t really a pop song at all, but we felt like it was, and that was exciting. After that, we realized that we want to make pop music, and I think that inspired us to start listening to more pop music. I think the first pop artists we listened to were Coldplay and Taylor Swift. The track “Something Just Like This” by Coldplay and The Chainsmokers spoke to both of us. The deeper we got, we found artists like Lauv and LANY, who in the end were big influences for us. Ultimately, we wanted to embrace all of our influences and combine this world with our more indie-based influences and to incorporate all the music without being too judgmental.
Lucas: Yeah, I think it’s funny that we went from listening to “cool” music like Porches and New York indie bands to listening to The Chainsmokers and Coldplay, which is like the most eye-roll-inducing music for anyone to admit they listen to. But there are tons of great songs that make many people stoked, and we wanted to take that energy and mix it with more intimate music. As much as we’re talking about all of these influences, I think we put all that stuff to the side and just made exactly what we wanted. It just so happens to sound like a mix of those worlds.
You’ve mentioned that songwriting is a process the two of you do together. Over the years, has that process changed at all, or has it been relatively consistent?
Nick: It’s a constantly changing process from album to album and project to project. On the first album we made, I wrote all the songs to acoustic guitar, and then Lucas came in and helped produce it. Then the second album, I again wrote all the songs, and Lucas helped with the production. For this other project we started, we were always in the same room and always on top of each other.
Lucas: Metaphorically on top of each other.
Nick: *laughs* Yeah, metaphorically. For Scrolling to feel better…, we produced beats separately. I think we made 40 beats and kept sending them to each other before writing the songs for the album. We then met up and wrote all the melodies and lyrics together and recorded them over three months.
Lucas: Yeah, what’s crazy is these are the first Dog Trainer songs I’ve been a writer on, so that’s new. Like the process before was just me chiming and saying, “What if it sounded like this?” Instead, this process was three months quarantined together, writing songs every day and talking about our feelings. I think you can hear how different it is and strong it is. No offense to your previous writing Nick.
Nick: *laughs* Yeah, this is the best we’ve put out.
What did you learn about each other and yourselves while creating this two-part album during a global pandemic?
Nick: I think one thing that quarantine helped with was that it forced us not to be together, and by not being together, we both just went in on making beats. I think that helped us form a sound because we both had the time to dive in. With me in New York and Lucas in Vermont, we’d send over the files and continuously add our own thing. I think us contributing our own additions to every beat made the production sound more unique.
Lucas: There’s something about not being in the same room and working on it individually that allows you to take bigger risks. Even though Nick’s my friend, there’s still some amount of you being self-conscious and about doing something really weird on a song. I could be working on my own and want to add this strange synth and take the time to see if it works, and then maybe I’ll spend like four hours just tinkering with that. Whereas if Nick was next to me, I’m not going to waste four hours of his time with this weird synth that probably won’t make it anyways. So since I was allowed to take bigger risks, I think that made it sound more unique and less like our influences, and I also feel like it sounds more unique to us because we had so much time individually to shape it.
Nick: Songwriting-wise it was interesting because we had a lot of real and deep conversations with each other about our feelings, which was, you know, you don’t usually do that with your friends every day.
Lucas: I’m a completely open book. I will talk about everything to anyone. Nick is a little bit more closed off than me. It was a crazy time because the concept for the album was kind of that every lyric would be authentic to at least one of us. And so we got just really emotional. It was pretty beautiful at times. There’s a lot of lyrics that hit deep like, “do my parents think I’m lazy that I’m wasting my whole 20s?” or “Am I going to hate this tattoo when I’m forty-five applying for a job, I never wanted in the suburb where I grew up.” We talked a lot about our thoughts and feelings, and we definitely know each other better from that experience. It helped us find a common ground perspective for the album so there were a lot of benefits. The last thing I’ll say about the quarantine thing is that when you take out everything, like all the social interactions in your life, it really does leave this kind of space that allowed us to– I don’t think we would have made it a twenty-one song album ever if we weren’t quarantined. Before the pandemic, there were birthday parties, my parents being in town or whatever, that distracts you from being able to sit down and make twenty-one songs. So it was like, not that people haven’t made long albums, but for us, we have jobs, and we have friends and family and partners, so why would you make a twenty-one song album instead of a ten-song album, there’s no real use. But just artistically, it was incredible to just like, have that freedom of everyday spending that time together working on music, and that’s pretty much with our life. So it’s really special.
It’s exciting to see the band develop such a strong identity since your start in 2017.
Nick: I think you’re right. This album was probably the first time we found a band identity. And I think that's because we allowed ourselves to embrace all of our influences and then try not to think about our influences constantly. When we’re making music we can just be, and if we like it, and we like it.
Which song are you most proud of that has come out so far?
Lucas: I love “Dumb Paranoia.” The anxiety stuff we’re talking about earlier, it’s awkward in a way because it can be so in vague right now to talk about your anxiety, and that can weirdly make it feel fake in a way. I feel like every artist has so much pressure and weight to come off as human, whereas before, it used to be all about being perfect in a way that makes it just as cliche to talk about it. But with that being said, it felt like we got something off our chest, and it felt like instead of writing music from this perspective of the artist on the pedestal and look how great they are, it was from the perspective of look how regular our fears are and look at how this is who we actually are. I’m comfortable showing that, and I hope that people get value from that, and it just felt nice to make that. I think that the lyrics on that one I connect with, and I love that song.
Nick: I would say my proudest moment is probably “Really Not Close.” I just really really liked the production of that song. I think it’s cool and I like that the song is really fun. We did a lot to make sure that the different sections of the track had something happening. To me, it feels nostalgic, but also exciting, and those are two qualities I like in songs. I’ve always kind of liked nostalgic bands. When I was younger, The Strokes were my favorite band, and I kind of like that feeling. That song has a very early 2000s, Blink-182 kind of feeling about it that I love.
Which one are you most excited for people to hear when the album is released?
Lucas: I have a crazy answer to that. So, it’s arguably the worst song on the first half of the album. It’s this song called “Things That Matter.” Yeah, but it’s arguably the worst song, but I love it. It’s a five and a half minute song about procrastination, and there’s even a second part. It’s honestly a seven-minute song split into two parts, a five-minute song, and a two minutes song. I just love that song so much. The chorus lyric is, “Procrastinate the things that matter/ Watch YouTube when I should call my grandma.” It rhymes more when you’re singing it, but yeah, I like, I love that song. I think it’s really fun, and I also think one of the most painful parts of my life is procrastination by far. Being a musician, I’ve worked freelance my whole post-college life, and so you’re on your own time, and it’s easy to procrastinate. It’s a funny thing to talk about, and the song sounds so dramatic about it, but I think that procrastination is one of the things that causes the most amount of suffering in my life. But it’s a fun song about it and I like it.
Nick: This is the less fun answer. There’s a song on the album called “Fake Happy.” I think the production is just so good. It’s kind of got a Marshmello vibe, and I like the concept of the song. It’s basically like, I don’t want to be fake happy on Instagram. When we made that song, we thought it’d be cool to use all of these light-hearted beats, but the song itself ended up being a more serious banger. The chorus is really heavy and kind of droppy, so it was funny to put that concept in that song and contextualize it in a way that I think is kind of cool. We’re planning a music video for that one after the album drops.
Speaking of production and circling back a bit, you mentioned earlier that you liked the production on “Really Not Close,” and I know y'all worked on it with icareaboutu (aka Gabe Greenland). What was that collaborating experience like, and how did this work out over the pandemic? Were you able to meet up with them, or did you work on this track strictly over email?
Nick: icareaboutu is actually, one of our best friends, Gabe. We were constantly talking with him through text messages and would see him once in a while. For that track, we wrote the whole song and then realized we should get a feature. The first person that came to mind was Gabe because he has the perfect voice for that song. And like we said, he’s one of our best friends, and that song is about friendship, so it just made so much sense. We sent him the beat, and then he sent us back him singing over the bridge with that melody, and it was perfect. I don’t think we could have written a better bridge than that.
Lucas: Yeah, I thought he killed it. He and I went to high school together, and I’ve written some songs with him for his music. There were a couple of lyrics he sent us that were funny. One of them was, “All these years and I still remember your landline because those numbers got burned in my fingers,” and I still remember all these friends’ landlines from, this might be aging myself, sorry, kids, but from middle school. Like I know their parents’ landline number from their old house, and I can still say it right now. So I thought it was a sweet little verse.
This album is an extensive 2-part, 21 track record that, as you’ve mentioned now already, dives into themes of anxiety, friendship, and procrastination. What are some other things that you tried to explore in this record?
Nick: We have many songs about long-term, serious relationships because both of us have been with our respective partners for a long time. Like five years. We had this other band where we were writing breakup songs, and it was just totally not accurate to our own experiences and not what we wanted to talk about. We have a song called “Serious” on the album, which is kind of about that, and we have other songs like, “If All The Worst Moments.” That one is a more metaphysical, crazy song about when Lucas met his girlfriend and also all the things that could have happened or not happened that could’ve lead to them not meeting and being together.
Lucas: Yeah, that song is funny because Nick is singing, but it’s about my girlfriend and me. There are all these little things from that night that could’ve kept us from meeting each other. It was midnight already and I went up to meet with a friend, but I easily could have just been like, “Ah, it’s too out of the way. I’m just gonna go home,” or all these other little things. I guess it’s kind of philosophical in a way, even though it’s kind of about meeting a girl at a bar.
Nick: I will say that on the second half of the album, which is coming out later in 2021, we have even more fun concepts. I can’t wait for people to hear those too.
Despite 2020 being the hellish year that it was, what have you been most grateful for this last year that has led you to where you are now?
Nick: Probably that we had the opportunity to work on this and work as hard as we did and that we were lucky enough to like– sometimes you work on projects for months, and you end up not liking it at all, and that’s happened many times to us. We’ve made a lot of stuff we haven’t released, and this is not one of those projects. We spent a lot of time on it and then I think that the product that we came up with is something that I like. I liked it then, and I still really like it now. I think it also set a foundation for what Dog Trainer is musically in a way that we hadn’t established before. So yeah, I’m happy and grateful that that happened.
Lucas: Musically, I agree. It’s so special to make something and then still love it because it’s so easy, the more you listen to something to like it less and less and start overthinking it. But this is the first time that the more I’ve listened to it, the more I’ve liked it, and the more I’ve seen it as a reflection of myself. I don’t look at it as if it’s my old self and think how much I’ve grown since then. This feels super mature to me. So that’s something I’m grateful for. I guess, quarantine-wise, I’ve been living with my family, and it’s the first time I’ve moved in my parents in nine or ten years, so I’m grateful for my parents and just getting to spend all this time with them. That’s been very special. I would’ve never, ever have spent this much time with my parents and my brother, and overall, it’s just been incredibly special to spend all that time with them.
Be sure to check out Dog Trainer’s latest album Scrolling to feel better…part one today!