Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #131. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Few of rock’s minds are as sharp, dramatic or whimsical as that of Dallon Weekes. With his newest project, I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (or iDKHow), the ex-Panic! At The Disco and Brobecks oddball turns his mind to the DIY dynamism and colourful quirkiness of the ‘80s. Words by Matt Doria.
Shockingly little is known about the mythology surrounding I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (colloquially iDKHow, because ain’t nobody got time for that), but we do know this much: they’re an aesthetic-heavy and esoteric two-piece doling slick, enigmatic new-wave indie-pop with a scorching post-rock edge.
Their name is a quote from the ’85 classic Back To The Future, which is fitting given the duo’s audacious affection for the era. In fact, part of the (semi-)official narrative declares that iDKHow are either the modern-day prophets for a “lost band” that circled the underground bar-band scene in the late ‘80s, or that very band themselves.
Spearheading this peculiar new project is vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dallon Weekes (ex‑Panic! At The Disco) and drummer Ryan Seaman (ex‑Falling In Reverse), taking the incandescent summeriness of Weekes’ former outlet, The Brobecks, and pumping it with equal measures of character and catastrophe.
And so far, it’s been a resounding success. Their first few shows are already cemented in modern alt history; they were performed in secret, before the band had even acknowledged, let alone announced their existence, and yet they’d all reached capacity before the band set foot onstage. Just a few errant singles in, their debut EP – the abysmally short, yet intensely dynamic 1981 Extended Play – launched to rapturous critical acclaim. Their mystery, their eccentricity and the fact that their music is just really, really good all fuse to secure iDKHow a long and fruitful future.
With a debut LP on the horizon and a world tour all but inevitable, we cornered Weekes to find out just what makes iDKHow so… Them.
What can you tell us about the lore behind I Don’t Know How But They Found Us?
Without giving too much away, there is a narrative that I’m trying to build – and that’s mostly because I wanted to recreate the feeling of discovery that I had when I was young. That doesn’t really exist anymore, because everywhere you turn, people are trying to sell you something: “Subscribe to this! Follow us here! Don’t forget to click the ‘like’ button!”
When I was a kid, you had to put in some footwork to find something new. And once you found that, it was more special to you. It was yours, y’know? I think when you discover something on your own, rather than when you’re sold something, it just means something more. So I wanted to recreate that if I could.
There’s a very pertinent element of DIY to it as well, isn’t there?
For sure. The reason it sounds the way that it does is because a lot of it was recorded at my kitchen table. I’ve been learning how to record on my own over the past two years or so, but it’s been a process. I don’t know everything about recording quite yet, but yeah, a good 70 percent of the EP was recorded at home.
And y’know, eventually I’d take those recordings to friends’ studios when they had a free hour here or a free 45 minutes there, and sort of piece it all together with people who know more about this stuff than I do. I think we’ll evolve in that realm as we get more opportunities to make music in more traditional ways. I’m looking forward to that, because I’ve only really gotten a chance to do it once before.
What are you excited to do with a full album’s worth of material to work with?
I’m just excited to get all of this stuff out of my head! That’s always my favourite thing when it comes to creating music, and creating the art that surrounds it – I’ve always got a vision, and I can’t really stop thinking about it until I’ve got it in some sort of physical form. That always allows me to sort of let the stuff go and empty my head out a little bit more.
I always look forward to creating stuff for that reason more than anything else – just so I can be more present when I’m with friends or family, having conversations at Thanksgiving dinner or something, where I can be actually in that moment instead of thinking about this tune that’s been stuck in my head for the past six months.
Is it all analog synths that you’re playing on 1981 Extended Play, or do you just have
some insanely authentic samples on deck?
It’s a little bit of both. I went in with a couple of rules for myself – rules that I knew I would break eventually – like no guitar, for one, or that any synthesisers we use would be strictly analogue and vintage. The foundation of everything in iDKHow is built on those certain things designed to restrict us, because with technology the way it is right now, it’s so easy to make these elaborate, perfect sounding recordings.
30 years ago, you were limited by the things you had in your studio – you were limited by the technology that was available to you in your neighbourhood or in your city – so limiting ourselves with our equipment was a good start. And y’know, we did end up breaking those rules for the sake of money or convenience or whatever; I can’t say I’m that die-hard about the art I’m making, because I am still a family man – I can’t go spending $1,000 on a vintage synth just to get this one quirky little sound.
Was that restriction for the authenticity or the challenge, or do you think it served the music better than if you were just using samples?
Well I think when you do things DIY – when you don’t have a budget, and when you don’t have a PR machine and a label and all of that stuff behind you – it forces you to be more creative with what you do have. And that was always my experience growing up – the equipment that we had was very limited and very cheap pawn shop stuff – eight-track tape recorders and things like that – so we had to get creative to make the kind of stuff that we wanted to make. I wanted to get back to that a little bit.
It’s very easy nowadays to make these perfect-sounding recordings where it’s so easy to go over the top with things like autotune; y’know, you can take every little mistake and flaw out of your song, and that takes some of the soul away from it too. Some of my favourite music has little clicks, or pops, or mistakes, or wrong notes that ended up putting something in the song that makes it special. Mistakes can make something feel more real, I think.
What are you jamming on in the way of stringed instruments?
Mostly Fender P-Basses. That’s always my go-to, bass-wise. I’ve got an Aguilar bass rig that I use as well, and a bunch of fuzz and delay pedals, and other toys that most bass purists would probably give me a hard time for. I don’t care though. I have too much fun to care about that sort of stuff!
So you’ve got a pretty sizeable toy box.
I do try to keep it pretty limited, just for the sake of space and storage. We don’t have the biggest touring budget yet, but as things grow and we’re able to add more toys to the equation, I’m looking forward to that.
Do you see the stage show expanding as the budget does?
That’s always been part of the goal for me; I’d like to start with someone on the guitar and keys, and maybe add a horn section. I’d like to be able to get to that point if things go well, and I really hope they do, because it would be a lot of fun to play with a full live band. Because with Ryan and I – just the two of us, playing with bass and drums and backing tracks – it is fun and it’s easy to do, but it limits us in a few ways creatively, because we’re not playing with other live musicians for the entirety of a song.
That’s why at some point in our set, we’ll turn the tracks off and we’ll just do bass and drums and improv a little bit. We do a few covers – usually a bit of Cheap Trick and “Love Cats” by The Cure or something – and we end up doing this ten, 15-minute little section that usually becomes my favourite part of the set.