EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Dysplay

Featured Photo Credit: Sofia Felino

Dysplay may be a modern band, but their newest single, “Dream” throws it back to another era. The duo comprised of music producer, Eric Scullin and Film and TV composer, Devin Hoffman incorporate synth and a catchy beat to produce a track fit for an epic 80s movie. 

The accompanying music video plays on the retro vibes with infared and layered video. 

ECHO had the chance to chat with Dysplay about how they became a band, their sound and where they draw inspiration.

How did Dysplay form? 

Devin:  We met in our first year at USC and just bonded over a mutual love of music.  At the time I was really focused on jazz and classical music while Eric had a kind of psychedelic punk band, but it was evident to each of us that we took music really seriously.  A few years later we kind of met in the middle of our musical interests and formed the band.

How would you describe your sound? 

Devin:  This is always a hard question largely because I don’t like the idea of putting what we do in any kind of box.  Some days we might feel like making some kind of aggressive synth punk and other days we might make something that’s somber and mellow.  I hope if there’s a link that exists through the works that we put out it’s that we care a lot about the craft of songwriting. We spend as much if not more time writing and rewriting our lyrics and melodies as we do on the production and mixing.  I think I speak for both of us in that many of our favorite artists across all kind of artistic mediums were hard to categorize and kept evolving throughout their careers, so I hope we do the same.

You have a very 80s sound. Who are some of your musical inspirations from that era?

Eric: I have a really mixed reaction to the “80’s sound” comment that we seem to get because I don’t want to be trying to relive a past era. I think we have elements from the 80s of course but in the same way that elements from other eras have affected us as well. I think maybe my singing style is kind of borne of some of the singers from the 80s, but that’s not really intentional. That said, Prince, George Michael, and Bowie are three of my all-time favorite artists because of the breadth of their talents and the longevity of their works. 

Devin:  As far as songwriting is concerned, I can’t seem to get away from my deep love for Don Henley, especially his solo career.  Sometimes it’s intensely cheesy but I still love it, probably because my dad played him for me in the car so much growing up.  Besides him we both love the Talking Heads, the Cars, the Cure, George Michael, Prince, Cocteau Twins, Tears for Fears, many of the projects that Todd Rundgren or Quincy Jones were involved with…  Ya know, the classics. I think one thing about the 80s that doesn’t get talked about enough is that it was the decade before music started getting recorded with more digital equipment, so you could make the argument that it was the pinnacle of sonic and recording quality (if you’re into analog sound).  I think that’s part of what attracts us to 80s sounds.

Devin, you’ve composed for TV and film. Do you find yourself infusing more cinematic vibes into Dysplay’s music?

Devin:  Definitely.  A lot of our songs actually start with sounds that come from tools and instruments that I’d usually use for scoring purposes, but then we try to contextualize them into something more like a song.  Because the scoring world requires that you be able to think pretty freely and flexibly about what direction the music you’re writing is going in (the picture is dictating what you do), it’s nice to apply that approach to more traditional song forms.  I think when we’re writing and producing there’s a kind of inherent “this can go anywhere it wants to go” approach because we both feel free and confident that we can do whatever we want. It may not always (or ever) be great but thanks in large part to my background in scoring, I don’t really feel like there’s Western musical territory that I can’t explore with some confidence.  It’d sure be cool to learn some of the Eastern traditions eventually though…

If you had to set someone up in the perfect listening environment for your music, what might it look like?

Devin:  Probably at one of our shows for a more visceral, unhinged experience, or maybe in a movie theater with some kind of animated visuals inspired by each song.  We always have a music video/movie idea in mind when we’re writing our songs so maybe if we had unlimited budgets to make those, we’d just put those up on the screen to accompany the music.

You’ve both written and produced with artists of all different genres. How has that experience influenced your own work?

Devin: Very similarly to the way that scoring does.  Whether we’re working on KPOP or with a punk band or a jazz trio, it’s all just music where there are 12 notes.  I think the thing that ties everything together is that you’re always looking for a feeling, no matter the genre or medium.  Everyone is just trying to convey a an emotion. So keeping that front and center in our work is something I think I’ve learned from working with all kinds of styles and artists.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

Devin: It’s often not from music, actually.  Eric and I definitely bond over all kinds of other art forms, especially movies and books.  The cadences and rhythm of stand up comedians like Mitch Hedburg and George Carlin actually inspire me in a lot of ways.  We’ve probably watched Mulholland Dr. together about 30 times, so we quote that movie all the time when we’re working. I like drawing inspiration from art forms that aren’t music because it adds another layer of depth to whatever we’re doing, and part of me hopes that it helps what we do seem less contrived.  

Walk us through the process behind creating your newest single, “Dream” and it’s accompanying video.

Eric: The initial call and response synth and xylophone/ marimba riffs from the intro were something I came up with at my home studio, but it was much much slower. We were reviewing ideas to try to turn into songs together and the riffs that became “Dream” stuck out to us. We sped them way up and started adding the fast drums, Devin’s kind of new wave bass riff, and had a foundation to write over. The lyrics and topline melody were inspired by a few memories that turned into one kind of dream-like story. We wanted a video that was a collage of experiences and surreal like a dream and Gordon Yould and Sayer Kanakriyeh made the video piece to go with the song perfectly. 

What is something that you’d like to ECHO out to the world and your audience?

Eric: We’d love to have you along for the ride with us as we continue making music and videos. See you on our Spotify, Instagram, and Youtube and at a venue near you hopefully very soon…

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