Meet the Trump era Dream Machines. The once happy-go-lucky queer-fronted L.A. band have re-emerged a little angrier in 2019, infusing their still-euphoric dance-soul-pop with an anti-nationalist message.
"We wanted to write a political song," says frontman Harry May-Kline of "Sarajevo," the first single off Dream Machines' upcoming EP Trust/Desire, due later this fall.
The track may express Kline's anxiety about the current state of the world, but bandmate and producer Luke Burba insists it's still indicative of the high-energy sound the band does best. For proof, just check out this exclusive live video, filmed at L.A.'s iconic Troubadour recently.
Ahead of the new EP -- and on the heels of their first ever New York shows earlier this month -- Billboard chatted with May-Kline and Burba about their origin story, their new direction and their biggest hidden influence.
How did the two of you meet and form Dream Machines?
May-Kline: It was the end of 2011 when we first met through a friend of mine. Luke just showed up at my house with a keyboard and a bass with my friend. There was just a lot of chemistry. Ever since then we've played in a lot of projects and this is the first one that has really stuck.
Burba: In terms of the sound, when Harry and I met I was moving on from my college indie rock days and getting more and more interested in electronic music and analog synthesizers. And Harry came from a background of soul and '60s pop music, all this retro rock n' roll. Those things met in a way that we were really excited about. It's kind of developed into a sound that we feel like isn't really out there right now.
May-Kline: We always had an interest in '80s pop music and '70s pop music, but I think before we met each other we were interested in different things, and when he and I met, we really explored that world more together. Luke actually introduced me to probably the artist who has affected me and stayed with me for such a long time, Arthur Russell.
What was it about Arthur Russell that resonated with you?
May-Kline: It was at a time before I'd come out. I've always loved Americana music, and I also had this new explosion of interest in electronic dance music at that time. And here was this guy who had gone through that entire arch of a career, starting off as a singer-songwriter making almost folk music, to making these complex, sprawling dance numbers that were still so melancholy and heartfelt -- and this was a queer person! I really connected with his story and also his isolation and love of making weird music. I would say Arthur Russell is probably our biggest hidden influence. It doesn't really register at the forefront of our music, but when it comes to the undertone, Arthur Russell is in everything.
What's the song about? Why write about "Sarajevo" of all places?
May-Kline: "Sarajevo" is a song about combatting nationalism. I was listening to something about Sarajevo and its history [compared] with what's happening in the U.S. today. I got to the studio and just realized that "Sarajevo" was a really good word to sing. It just feels really good to sing, and that's where that lyric came from. We wanted to write a political song and it just seemed to work in that sense.
Why did you choose it as the first single off your new EP?
Burba: It's kind of our favorite song. It's a great, upbeat dance number, it has a cool message, and we feel like it represents what we are and the music that we make really well. There are some longer tracks on the EP that are classic Dream Machines songs that we've been playing for years. But "Sarajevo" just felt like a cool way to kick off the reintroduction of Dream Machines to the world.
May-Kline: "Sarajevo" has all the elements of the previous era of Dream Machines—the catchy hooks, the synths, the driving dance nature. But I kinda want to say it's Trump-era Dream Machines. [Laughs] We're fucking angry and ready to fight. A lot of the songs we released before were kinda happy-go-lucky, and now things are different. This is a new era for us.
How would you describe Dream Machines' sound?
May-Kline: Dream Machines has gone on a little bit of a journey. We've spent a while trying to figure it out. But now I would say that we've figured out the sound and it's definitely a queer dance-rock outfit. It's led by pop melodies, but we're a rock n' roll band at our heart. For a while we were trying to figure out whether we were a pop band or a rock band. When we first started this project, I was still in the closet, so the identity of everything wasn't there yet. When I came out, I was really able to explore the themes that I wanted to talk about and really explore my own identity. We work on everything lyrically together, but I think it's safe to say that usually I'll come up with a theme that I want to talk about and Luke and I will talk about it together.
Burba: Yeah, we kinda workshop the lyrics, but they come from your perspective. They tell your story.
Your songs have this energy that feels like they just coalesced out of a bunch of musicians jamming together. Is that how you guys write?
May-Kline: Yeah, there's some truth to that. Usually, Luke and I will start with the basics in our studio. Luke has built and incredible synth studio here in L.A. that is a collection of his and our friend's synth rig. We're able to start from scratch and then put something together, stream of consciousness. We write in a very stream of consciousness style.
The video for "Sarajevo" was shot live at the Troubadour, in L.A., which is kind of your home base, right?
Burba: I work as a front of house engineer for my day job and I've been mixing shows at the Troubadour for almost six years now. I'm kinda biased, but it's the best venue in Los Angeles. We love to play there.
May-Kline: They've really been extremely supportive of us. I don't know what other local band in L.A. has this sort of relationship with an iconic venue like this. They really support us and allow us to go up there and do our thing.
Performing live is a huge part of what you do.
Burba: The big thing with Dream Machines is that our live show is really effective. People come see the show and they leave fans. That's something we really tried to accomplish with this new EP, we really wanted it to sound like a band, a bunch of people playing instruments. We really wanted to capture that energy we have playing on stage together.
When do you think you'll take your show on the road?
May-Kline: That has been one of our biggest goals, for someone to take us on tour with them! If anyone out there is looking for an opening act….