Prose by Kareem James
Photos by Thayne Jongeward
Marcy’s Bar and Lounge in the heart of historic downtown Walla Walla is a unique fusion of the city’s past and future. In the 1920’s Marcy’s was a lucrative lubrication business founded by J. Milo Marcy. Nearly 90 years later, a restaurateur and apparent history buff named Chad Waldher opened a bar and lounge there, reviving the namesake and the Art Deco aesthetic of the original, yet repurposing it as a place to meet, eat, drink, and be merry. On a Saturday evening, families and hipsters and tourists and vagabonds either try to speak over the blaring music inside, or take their beers and/or dinner to the conversation accommodating outside seating. Disparate souls commingle out there, find common motivations, and make connections. And then there’s Reveries, or at least the two founding members of the shoegaze quartet, unassuming but not hidden, sitting outside at a wooden picnic table, nursing microbrews, ready to commingle with anyone about the past, the present, and the future. One of the band’s two guitar players and chief songwriters Jonathan Avila suggested Marcy’s—he notes the place can be a bit touristy, but the atmosphere is welcoming and chill. Jesse Flores (also guitar and songwriter) and Jonathan grew up together, and it’s obvious. Their genuine respect and friendship are palpable—expressed with inside jokes and brotherly camaraderie.
In the beginning, Jonathan and Jesse just wanted to make good music. Walla Walla is known as a wine community, and the typical music audience consists of blues or country fans. Jonathan confessed that though he wasn’t exactly about to start a blues/country band, he did see himself attempting to make something like Interpol-lite—accessible post-punk music for wine tourists. Loftier ambitions have succeeded. It was reverb, delay, chorus pedals, and Big Muff that basically revolutionized the sound of Reveries. With that, they just wanted to be themselves—they were having too much fun creatively to be anything else. The idea switched from joining the community, to enticing the community to join them.
Considering the shoegaze genre, it’s easy to dismiss Reveries on sight as another dream-pop outfit; aping My Bloody Valentine, pining for lost love, and contemplating the meaning of existence. Though there is some fundamental truth to this (Jonathan admits that he often writes about the meaning of existence, and the vocals and instruments indeed blur a la Shields and company) there is a lot more to discover. There are the pop sensibilities of Husker Du. There’s the tension manipulation and sweet violence of Chino Moreno. There’s the urgency of Mission to Burma. And then there’s Johnny Marr. “When I was a kid, my dad had a KROQ compilation CD with all these great alt-rock bands, including The Smiths,” says Avila. “I love Johnny Marr! Every time I put on The Smiths I find something different. He creates so many different textures and layers. I’m definitely influenced by him.”
Flores and Avila share lyric writing duties. Both songwriters respectively, they note that lyrics are typically written last, and are written only to serve the instrumentation (a shoegaze trope, for sure). But both write and sing about emotions and experiences that seem much more fleshed out and realized then something penned just before recording. In that quiet vocal mix inextricable to the genre, yearning and fear and loss and confusion and remorseful acquiescence are confronted. “What is mine will soon be yours. What’s the point in luxuries?,” vocals in harmony lament on the group’s debut, self-titled EP from 2018. Taking a sip from his second beer, Flores discloses, “We write about personal experiences.” He later reveals that he’d like to turn the vocals up in the near future.
There’s something foreboding about Reveries’ sound. There’s this shoulder lurk, an ASMR thing, some ghost or zephyr gently teasing engorgement of the goosebumps, always like there’s a thing about to happen. And though purposed and determined to wait for it, even yearn for the jump-scare, there seems to be no payoff. No dynamic shift in the musicality to satisfy the agitation. The fear is irrational. The use of reverb keeps the suspense high and the tension engaged, and then the track ends and a new one begins. A new experience presents itself. But by this point, atmosphere and listener are in lock-step, and attention to detail emerges. The Marr flourishes are heard, and the buzz and fuzz of the near-cacophony of guitar sounds, harmonious but disparate, all held in some ethereal time and space by rhythm, captivate: This is the band and it has become the listener. And the vocals, as Flores and Avila described, are subtle in the mix, and definitely more part of the instruments than progenitors of the tone or mood of the song. Nothing exists in a vacuum, be it guitars, bass, drums, vocals, or even sequencing. When the EP is on, it needs to be spun as a whole with headphones, from start to finish.
DENIZEN: You guys listen to Hum at all?
AVILA: Yeah! Those heavy riffs mixed with the melodic is where it’s at. That space-rock sound is something I truly admire.
D: I definitely heard the influence there. There’s almost a contradiction between the instruments and the soft vocals. It was really unique.
A: “I Hate it Too” is an inspiration. He’s not the best singer but he wanted to do it because he had things to say. He may not have been satisfied with certain vocals, but he had this incredible riff library and he put it all together and it worked.
D: That said, how could we access your lyrics?
A: Northwest representing.
D: Begs the question, are there other Reveries?
A: A band out of Massachusetts that came out around the same time we did. They’re like a scream-o emo band. Their stuff is pretty awesome.
F: We appreciate each other.
D: You should go on tour together. Reverentially Yours Tour! I need to be a booking agent.
A: We will definitely get a hold of you.
D: So, this is a criticism of mine, particularly when it comes to shoegaze, and I’m just going to throw it out there to be a dick. First, I thought your music was great. But the soft vocals in the mix—I want to know what you’re saying.
A: The last part of the writing process is the lyrics and the singing.
F: The vocals are an instrument. There’s an overall ambient effect.
D: It’s part of the sound.
A: Right, but our focus wasn’t just on instrumentation. We did a lot of writing during the recording process. We didn’t have all of our melodies or lyrics figured out at the time. The ideas were fleshed out on the spot, organically.
D: Where do you feel your influence to write comes from?
F: A lot of the stuff I write, other than the stuff we write together, was basically just sitting there with a loop pedal, creating a riff, and then trying to riff on top of that riff. There’s “Still” on the EP. That’s strictly me thinking around the pedal. I mess around with amp simulators. Start working on a something and see what I can do with it.
A: As far as writing lyrics, it’s all from personal experiences, and the constant question of existence. And most of the music comes from things I’ve listened to.
D: What have you listened to?
A: From the beginning, it started with a KROQ CD my dad pirated (I guess). When I was a kid, my dad had this KROQ compilation CD with all these great alt-rock bands and post punk bands, including The Smiths. I loved Johnny Marr for his melodies and his layering. Then, later in life, there was the aggressiveness of the hardcore punk community. You can say what you have to say without being afraid. Speak your mind, regardless if it satisfies the mainstream. It helped me create and discover new music (like, a certain person from this band moved on to form this different band and so on). It opened up a world to me. I always hear new and different things and I use that as an influence. I’m happy with where our sound is because of it.
D: Was there a particular sound that you were going for when you first started?
A: We wanted to appeal to the wine community. Just play local gigs and have fun.
D: What does the wine community like?
Both A and F: Blues and country.
A: I wanted to create something like Interpol-lite.
F: Once we got into super saturated reverb and delay, we couldn’t go back.
A: We got it, and we knew where we wanted to go from then on out. And it wasn’t to cater to wine country. I am now married to the chorus pedal.
D: So outside of this, you guys have families. What does that look like? Has it been difficult to juggle the band ambitions with your home life?
F: It works well. I mean, our wives have always been really supportive. There haven’t been any complaints and they all seem proud of the direction this is going. I think it's kind of exciting for all of us. Our families included. Not that we're like taking headliner tours and stuff. But things are starting to happen.
A: For sure. I mean, my wife has been really supportive. There are times where I have to hold off on writing new songs, things like that. Because I have to focus on family. The writing process probably hasn't been as easy, but same time I really appreciate it because I don't feel like I'm rushing to write a song. Whenever I pick up the guitar, I feel like I’m playing with purpose.
F: And our bassist Jose has a kid as well. So, we're all kind of in the same boat.
D: You also work full time?
A: Yeah, I mean, we have real jobs. And we play music, loud music, and our support system is chill with it. We take care of our families.
D: What are you into besides music?
F: I'm a gamer, man.
A: I like to try to like hike, explore, and enjoy the outdoors. And I love swimming in rivers. I love hikes. It’s a Northwest thing.
D: Heard. We’ve discussed where your sound comes from. Where do you see it going? In other words, where do you see untapped potential or areas of opportunity? How do you improve or build upon the sound?
F: I want to get better at guitar. Explore new sounds.
A: Absolutely, man. Same here. And definitely lyrics. A temporary singer, Joe, was one of our main lyricists for our upcoming single. Joe Ochoa is his name. He’s a great lyricist and I want to give him credit. I’d like to improve my writing. I’d like to be able to best articulate how I feel about relevant issues.
F: I’d like to get better at playing guitar and singing and make it audible.
A: The focus, particularly live, has been on the music and the energy, but bringing vocals more into focus is a goal.
F: Also writing, perhaps, more accessible and catchy music while maintaining our signature sound.
F: More hooks, man!
A: But nothing too far from who we are. We’re not going to turn into Weezer or anything. As soon as we cover a Toto song and it just sounds exactly like the original, we’ll be in trouble.
D: Maybe do a Spike Jonze directed Happy Days parody where you just make an exact copy of the episode where they literally jump the shark.
F: I guess.
D: We’re nerds.
Check out Reveries s/t EP on Spotify. While you’re there, listen to their new single “Lost Words”.
Follow Reveries on their new label, Cardigan Records!