By Sabrina Cofer – Contact Contributor
It’s almost 90 degrees in late July, but Dan Poppa and Jarett Denner of Waveform* are dressed in true diy fashion: long pants (cuffed or cut at the bottom), high socks, and t-shirts (BlueClaws and Life is Good). We meet at a park in Monroe, Connecticut, surrounded by families grilling, people playing basketball, and kids squealing at the blistering heat of metal slides at midday. Settling in a shaded, grassy area near the playground, Dan and Jarett sit beside each other, passing a half-finished water bottle between them.
“I DM’d him and asked if he wanted to start a band,” Dan says, pulling up grass until a pile of brown roots surround his feet. “I think I saw him on his sister’s Snapchat story playing guitar and singing, and that’s how I figured it out.”
They both had experience playing music—both on guitar and drums—but even after meeting up several times, it took awhile for them to learn how to write songs. “We were trying to make, I don’t know, Citizen-type heavy rock music, which you can’t really make by yourself in your bedroom,” Jarett explains. Once they heard the music of (Sandy) Alex G and other “bedroom-pop” artists, they learned what was possible from the comfort of your own home.
They put their music on Bandcamp, their earliest stuff now gone from the internet, except for two eps that remain, fishing songs and drawing, released in August and October of 2017. Their first full-length, library, came out in February 2018, and gained a devoted following, with plenty of downloads on Bandcamp and thousands of plays on Spotify.
Part of what drew fans to their sound on library was their blend of acoustic guitars, vocal effects, and trippy, fuzzy lyrics. Jarett wrote all the lyrics for the project until Dan joined him for their split with Melaina Kol, Sckrpnch, in 2018, and their most recent album, Shooting Star, in 2019.
“It just feels unfulfilling to make music and not be singing over it,” Dan explains. “There’s ideas and stuff that I want to get out; there’s no other way to do it. I started sending demos of me singing to people and they would say that it’s good, whether they were lying or not I don’t know. But I started doing it and now making music is a lot more fun and meaningful.”
You can hear Dan’s influence on Shooting Star—his lyrics are more specific and counter well to Jarett’s ambiguity. When asked about their differing styles, Jarett says, “I think Dan’s lyrics are more literal and more personal.” Dan responds, “I think yours are more poetic.” There’s balance.
That might be the best way to describe this band: balanced. Teetering between punk and folk, acoustic and electric, distorted and polished, they manage to make a two-person effort sound whole.
Dan and Jarett claim that because it is just the two of them, they can let their differences coexist. “It is two people doing it fifty-fifty, so there can’t be any imbalance,” Dan explains. Jarett nods, adding: “There’s juxtapositions that come into play because of us writing songs in different rooms. I’ll make something and think it should sound a certain way and then I’ll send it to you and you’ll add parts to it that I wouldn’t have expected. A lot of stuff comes from that.”
It’s true; almost all the songs they make are written separately in different spaces. “It used to be that Dan wouldn’t sing, so he would write an instrumental and send it to me and I would write vocals. Or he would have a melody for it, but he wouldn’t sing. Or I would just write the whole thing myself. Now we both write and sing, but we almost never write a song in the same room,” Jarett says. “We never collaborate,” Dan adds, laughing. “If we’re recording we email them to each other even though we live like five minutes from each other’s houses.”
It even goes so far as their set lists, which they split equally, playing three songs each that are their own. When choosing which songs, they admit that it can be tough since Jarett has a backlist of almost 30 songs while Dan has around five or six to choose from. Even so, they enjoy the shows, usually playing as a three-piece with a drummer and switching mid-set between guitar and bass.
While they usually have a few songs they always try to play, their intent is to do something different each time. Even the way they perform their songs deviates from the recorded versions. Songs like “easy” or “Hazel” that have added layers or effects on the albums are treated to much more straightforward renditions. “When there’s a song with a ton happening at once, we figure out what guitar parts to play and we know it will sound different, which is the goal,” Dan says. “We want it to be like you’ll see us live, and if you’ll listen to the record it’s gonna sound entirely different.” He looks to Jarett and shrugs, “Or louder, with more distortion.”
While now seen as a staple in the Connecticut scene, it wasn’t always that way. It took months of sending out their music to finally book their first show, gradually playing more and more from there. “I feel grateful that we get to play a lot of shows ‘cause I know there are a lot of people that wish that they could,” Jarett explains.
While some still see Connecticut as a pit stop between Boston and New York, they’re grateful for the scene. “I feel like it could be taken for granted because when you play shows it’s not like there’s always a ton of people there, but compared to other areas in the US this is probably considered to be pretty big. And we’re really lucky to be able to play as many shows as we do,” Dan says.
Sitting in this sprawling, grassy haven of a park, they reflect on how Connecticut hasn’t just given them a platform, but also an influence on their writing. “It’s funny to talk about because Connecticut seems like such a not-inspiring place. I didn’t realize that could have an influence on us until I talked to people in other states. I have a friend who moved out to California and they think it’s so sick that we live in this woodsy town,” Jarett says.
Dan agrees, citing nature and changing seasons as a draw for writing and recording. “It’s a small town, and when people listen to our music it has this kind of isolated thing to it. When I listen to library it sounds wintery and cold, while Shooting Star is more summery to me.”
While on library they had a focused acoustic sound, the titling was somewhat random. “We called it library because we like libraries. We don’t read books a lot or anything, we just like libraries aesthetically. For one of the songs we went into our local library and recorded us flipping through pages of books,” Dan says.
Their next effort, Shooting Star had a more molded and particular goal. It has a mystical, fairytale vibe—song titles like “Hazel,” “Crystal,” and “Spell”; woods and animal imagery; and of course, the album title and cover art, spooky and mysterious (made by Rebbeca Wnuk). Song titles were important to them and were something they texted about during the writing process. “I had a note in my phone of names that I would think of that had a similar theme,” Dan explains. “For songs that I was singing on I would take that, title the song, and write lyrics not based off of that, but include it purposefully into the lyrics somehow.”
But it wasn’t exactly based off of folklore. “Those are fairytale type things, but I feel like they’re also really inspired by Minecraft,” Jarett says. Besides spending time building block-y castles and hiding from zombie villagers, they had been listening to a bunch of Animal Collective, Vashti Bunyan, and Spencer Radcliffe at the time of recording last summer. When I mention (Sandy) Alex G’s song “Gretel,” they laugh.
“I feel like the way that song sounds is something we were trying to implement, even though we hadn’t heard it yet, obviously,” Dan says. “We had the leak of it,” Jarett shrugs.
What they like about Alex G, his blend between catchy and experimental, is what they try to incorporate into their songs. While they have been described as anything from shoegaze to slowcore to simply indie, their main influence will always be pop. “People ask me this and I don’t really know how to answer. I just say for a genre, it’s indie pop,” Dan says. “Because half the time it’s pop songs, verse-chorus-verse-chorus, but it’s indie music. It has guitar and shit on it.”
They look at each other, shrugging. Jarett tries to help out: “Realistically our effort with it is to make it pop music, but we want it to have interesting elements, and we’re obviously inspired by indie music.” Dan nods and adds: “We try to make these crazy songs that are also still pop songs, that are catchy.”
When looking to what’s next for the band, they say they’re taking a break before recording their next album. First off, they have to get jobs—something they keep putting off until after touring—plus recording takes a lot of time, money, and effort, and they want to do it right. Shooting Star was the first time they had someone else mix and master the album (Corey Coffman), which they thought made the songs sound a lot bigger and fuller, and they only want their sound to get better from there.
While they remain open to better mixing, fresh sounds, and different themes, they’re both hesitant to ever bring someone else into actually writing their music with them. “I don’t think I would ever want to do that, at least with this project,” Dan says. “It would add way too much. We’ve had people add little parts, like on one of our songs on Shooting Star our friend has a guitar solo, but as far as adding someone onto write, I don’t think that would ever happen.” Jarett agrees: “I would never want that.”
While this may appear close-minded, they seem to know what they’re doing. They already bring enough opposing elements to the recording process—Jarett listens to more pop, “I’m always really influenced by super pop stuff; The Beatles, and me and my girlfriend listen to a lot of One Direction and Five Seconds of Summer.” His lyrics are more figurative, and even the way he carries himself differs from Dan; his posture is relaxed, his walk slow and loping.
Dan’s lyrics are more literal; he listens to “Wicca Phase a lot, Lil Peep, Goth Boy Clique, and 90s guitar shit”; and he looks to the ground as he speaks, doubling back on his words before he finds what he wants to say. Basically, they complement each other.
At the end of the interview, I ask if this is something they want to do for a long time. They seem to be in agreement about that. “Just writing songs is something I’m probably gonna do forever,” Dan says. “Because that’s the only thing I do in general. Even if I had a full time job I’d still do that.” Jarett nods, looking past me to the fence guarding the community pool. “My goal would be to make it something I could do exclusively, rather than have to work on the side. I’ll always do it, I just don’t know how exclusively.”
Dan glances at him, nodding, his arms circling his knees. “I think that it’s possible in a certain extent, if we keep doing things a certain way it could happen. Or something could happen.” He pauses as some kid knocks the swinging metal hand-holds together on the jungle gym. We all wait for the loud pings to end. “It’s constantly going to be more beneficial than it was yesterday,” Dan continues. “But who’s to say how, to what extent that’s gonna be yet? Just the way we make music is the thing we like to do.”
Listen to Shooting Star by Waveform* on Bandcamp and Spotify below: