SHINY TOY GUNS
Jeremy Dawson – synthesizers, bass
Chad Petree – voices, guitars
Carah Faye – voices
Mikey Martin – drums
Embracing the best elements of pop, post-punk, alternative and dance music, Shiny Toy Guns create enveloping, inviting soundscapes best described as future-forward rock. While they manipulate the latest technology with ease, theirs is not a quest to be hipper, more modern or more post-ironic than other bands with the same gear. Shiny Toy Guns are far more driven by the need to open doors and create great songs that resonate through their listener’s minds long after the latest trends in music have faded away.
“Lots of popular bands today play rock music and put keyboards in the background,” explains keyboardist and bassist Jeremy Dawson. “We take a complete 50-50 approach, with lots of programming and loads of samples. Majority sections of songs are completely programmed, then suddenly we flop back to a drumset and guitar to create this synergy of technology and rock and roll. We want to utilize technology to make new sounds with the equipment that exists today and not try to ride the wave of history with our music.”
The band’s debut full-length We Are Pilots was created with new tools, then furnished with traditional elements of classic songwriting. Unforgettable vocal melodies abound, anchoring an emotional display that ranges from yearning sorrow to cool disdain. Touchpoints along the way include Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd and Depeche Mode, but Shiny Toy Guns transcend their influences, composing something impossible to describe and even harder to ignore.
“The album is called We Are Pilots,” Dawson says. “Well, we want to be like pilots going to uncharted places. Our goal is to be able to cut a path that will open doors for other people who are talented but need a road to travel We want to write the best songs we can, and go right down the pop highway as a new sound for 2006.”
With We Are Pilots, Shiny Toy Guns are off to a blazing start. The first single, “You Are the One,” starts with gothic organ, haunting samples and a steady drum machine before blossoming into a subdued rock riff and climaxing with synthetic strings and a glorious pop chorus. The lusty “Le Disko” contains a half-spoken, half sung vocal by Cara Faye, surging guitars and disorienting electronic noises. And “When they Came For Us” is dark and deep -- a lead-weighted swimmer sinking in a sea of rubbery basslines, melancholy guitars and regret-drenched vocals.
Shiny Toy Guns mapped out the topography of We Are Pilots for years before they started recording it, but their perfectionism and the advancement of technology made the album a huge challenge to create. And nearly every track went through numerous rewrites before the band tracked the final versions between January and July 2006. “It was a ridiculous amount of work,” says Dawson. “We wrote the songs, and we would make our own demo, print 1,000 CDs, then get a new piece of gear or learn to use our equipment the correct way and we’d be like, “Oh, my god. This is the shit.’ So we would re-record the whole album all over again. We did that four times.”
Exhaustive determination has always been a part of Shiny Toy Guns’ work ethic, and long before the formation of the group in 2003, Dawson and Petree spending endless hours working on music. Petree sang for a boy band called PC Quest when he was a pre-teen, then when he turned 12 he started questioning the musical path he was on. When his sister introduced him to her friend, Dawson, the two talked about music and became close friends. Dawson, who had been taking piano lessons for 12 years, was into punk, goth and rock and Petree was discovering grunge and alternative music. Between the two of them, they covered much of the rock spectrum and soon, they started writing songs.
“They were horrible, but we didn’t know any better,” says Dawson. “We lived in this tiny town Shawnee, Oklahoma, which only had 20,000 people in it. We had no bills or commitments except to go to school, so we’d sit in the bedroom, listen to Pink Floyd and write music all day and all night because there was pretty much nothing else to do.”
Their mission to create great songs became all-consuming. They read books about music, analyzed other people’s hits, studied the lyrics of the Beatles and the melodies of the Beach Boys and searched for perfect formula to become a success. “We knew from the start the things that draw people magnetically and keep them there for decades were the melody and the lyrics,” Dawson says. “It’s not about a beat or a show of emotion, like aggression, fear or sadness. So, we’d write and write, and we eventually we learned how to be intelligent songwriters.”
In the mid ‘90s, Dawson discovered electronica and began deejaying across Texas, Kansas and Arkansas. At the same time, Petree was in a punkish metal band back home and for a couple years the two went their separate ways. However, both were dissatisfied by what they were doing individually, so they decided to combine their strengths again, and in 1999 they left Oklahoma and moved to Los Angeles. Six months later, they formed the electronica group Slyder, which put out five records on various independent labels.
“We were head-on in the middle of dance culture and trance was god,” Dawson says. “But that didn’t work out because we weren’t happy at all. There were lots of drugs, lots of dancing and a lot of repetitive arrangements and samples, but there weren’t songs. This was about shaking your butt and having a good time, but we still liked to sit in a room together and write songs.”
Slyder evaporated, and Dawson took a year to clinically and academically evaluate what he had done in career, both right and wrong, and where he still wanted to go. Then, he wrote five songs based around his findings. In early 2003, Petree came back aboard and the two formed Shiny Toy Guns.
“The name comes from the lyrics for ‘When They Came for Us,’” Dawson explains. “It’s an analogy about how someone can have a weapon without even knowing it’s a weapon. And they’re using it to play or get someone’s attention or to have as an accessory for emotion or excitement. But the person isn’t actually trying to hurt anyone even though everyone looks at it and thinks it’s dangerous.”
With songs written and a gameplan in play, Shiny Toy Guns started looking for bandmates, and went through various singers and drummers before cementing the lineup. Dawson discovered Faye while working on dummy vocals for a French solo artist to whom he was submitting songs.
“She was born to sing,” Dawson says. “She sang in church choir and in clubs and she totally had the look I wanted. She’s crazy, she has 16 tattoos all over her and she weighs, like 90 pounds. She’s perfect.”
Drummer Mikey Martin also seemed to surface out of nowhere. Martin had played with various local hardcore bands and also played bass with Petree’s brother’s singer/songwriter group. Then, right before a Shiny Toy Guns gig in 2004, the band’s drummer at the time abruptly quit, so Dawson asked Martin if he would fill in. “He only had a few days to prepare, but he didn’t miss a beat,” Dawson says. “From then on, he was our drummer.”
Shiny Toy Guns began recording We Are Pilots in January 2006. They tracked digitally in Los Angeles and recorded the analog passages in New York. Then they mixed with Mark Saunders, who has worked with the Cure, David Byrne and others. With the album completed, the band shopped it around and in June, they signed a deal with Universal. “We had a great learning curve with lots of trial and error, passing points and bridges that were important in our development,” says Dawson. “Now, we have scars and bullet holes that have built up integrity and experience and vision.”
Part of the integrity of Shiny Toy Guns involves their desire to establish a community in which other musicians can learn from their accomplishments. In the future, the band’s Web site will include music tutorials, song arrangement workshops and an area where visitors can make their own songs using elements of Shiny Toy Guns’ songs.
“A lot of kids want to make music, but they’re in high school and they don’t have $4,000 to buy Pro-Tools,” begins Dawson. “So we’ve created this whole communal thing to help people become better songwriters and lyricists. You can take our songs and dissect them and rework them into your own versions and see how the lyrics came about and why a certain part works a certain way.”
Shiny Toy Guns believe in the communal aspects of great music. If it was the ‘60s, they’d no doubt be living in San Francisco. But today, instead of squatting in some dirty rundown building, they’re united with their like-minded peers and fans via the Internet. They started posting on Myspace.com in 2004 and were one of the first bands to build up a loyal Web following. “A friend of mine convinced me to get on Myspace,” says Dawson. “At first I was like, ‘Why?’ because there wasn’t even a music section yet, but pretty soon it was clear. It was like a nuclear weapon for a band. You could use it and no one could slow you down. Pretty soon, we had 500 friends, which, at that time, was unheard of.”
Since then, Shiny Toy Guns’ popularity has snowballed. On the band’s Myspace page, “Le Disko” is well on its way to 500,000 plays and the song is destined for strong radio play as well. And the rest of We are Pilots are equally strong. “Chemistry of a Car Crash” is a perfect blend of rock and electronics that incorporates desolate vocals, crafty guitars, churning riffs and warbling keyboards into a plea for romantic fulfillment. “Rainy Monday” is sparkling, splendorous pop drenched with melancholy vocals and “Shaken” starts in a soft, eerie haze, then bursts into a multi-textured rumination fueled with both desperation and contrition.
“There’s a lot of contrasts in what we do,” Dawson says. “But I think that’s an important part of expressing what it’s like to be human. We’re trying to force a sound down the throats of the business and the humans, the two things that exist in music. We want to find a new color to paint and use it to make amazing pictures because when history is written, I don’t want this band to be a footnote, I want to be a whole chapter.”