The phone only rang twice before Brian Logan Dales answered. It was only a few days before Christmas 2017, and though California may have been experiencing another warm December there was a suitcase nearby filled with winter clothes. “I’m spending Christmas back home in Michigan,” he says following a brief greeting. “My family splits time between Arizona and Michigan. I haven’t been there for Christmas in probably fifteen years. We never go in the snow.”
Dales hasn’t been in a position like this for quite some time. Not singing or doing interviews, those things are as familiar as breathing at this point, but in a position to be as vulnerable as he is right now. Without his longtime band The Summer Set at his side the 28-year-old singer has spent the better part of the last year preparing to launch his first solo project. Fittingly called DALES (stylized using capital letters), the pop-rock effort finds the beloved frontman blending the sonic aesthetics of his musical heroes with cultural observations pulled from modern day life. It’s high art you can dance to or something like that, and it’s exactly what Dales wants to be doing right now.
“Up until “Chateau,” he begins, “a lot this year of the DALES project was simple trial and error. I mean, I put out “Young For The Summer” and “Girls on Their Phones” really just to see how people would react, not even really with a plan. I don’t want to say ‘not taking it seriously’ but really I just wanted to get a feel for what people thought. As people started to hear these songs and as The Summer Set decided to make a proper hiatus announcement, the time came where I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna figure out going into the new year how to take this seriously and really figure out what I want to be doing with this.” And that leads to us putting out “Chateau”.
“Chateau,” which was released back in November as Dales’ third single, boasts a shimmering, radio-ready sound that utilizes just enough synth to makes its 80s influence seem hip rather than dated. The melody has a breathless urgency that mirrors the feeling of being meant for so much more than what you’ve got. This idea is further emphasized through the lyrics, which deal with the feeling of recognizing the work the must be done to become the best version of yourself and the resistance that arises any time we are asked to change. Even if it is ourselves that we are asking to change, the process of actually enacting change can be a difficult one to traverse. People of all ages, races, and sizes hate change, but as Dales has learned throughout his career change is the one thing we all must do in order to grow.
Dales certainly experienced many similar moments of growth during his time with The Summer Set. The pop-rock band released four full-length albums during their ten years together, including the massively successful Legendary in 2013. The Summer Set also toured the world several times over, performing in dozens of countries, but they never quite reached the level of recognition experienced by Dales’s musicals heroes. Their path, that of the rock and pop greats whose names bring to mind the most culturally important songs of the last fifty years, is the one Dales hopes to follow. He would never tell you he’s the next Springsteen because he knows that is not the case, but he does aspire to embody a similar musical spirit. He’s a storyteller at heart, writing what he knows in a manner both unabashed and poetic. Where Springsteen had the grit of blue-collar life in New Jersey, Dales has the perspective of a young man whose romantic entanglement with rock and roll has been the truest love he’s ever known. His songs are stories about heartache and the open road soundtracked by artists who wrote songs warning him of that very thing. In that way, his stories are our own, amounting largely to a series of reckless attempts at fleeting happiness in an overcomplicated world.
This new effort is not brought to life by Dales alone. His creative partner, producer, and songwriter Matt Beckley has worked with Dales from the very beginning. The two actually met in 2010 when The Summer Set was working on their album Everything’s Fine, but the plans to actually work together continually got shelved. “I would run into Matt like once a year after that and I always liked this guy and connected with him,” Dales says,” but [I] never spent a lot of time with him. One thing leads to another, it’s like the end of summer 2015, and The Summer Set, we were at sort of a halted point when making Stories For Monday, we had a long process trying to make that album. There were a lot of ups and downs, we sort of stopped in the middle of it. A lot of that was my fault, I was just starting to feel so much pressure as a songwriter and as a musician of not really knowing what I loved about music anymore, how to grow as a musician, and then I think coming off of some of the laurels of how well Legendary did, I sort of felt like I had a lot of pressure as a songwriter to want to “write a hit” or write something that would allow The Summer Set to go so much bigger and sit at the big kid’s table or this and that, and it was a bunch of pressure that was just really unnecessary and was really getting in my way of being able to figure out who I was as a songwriter. And it got to the point where I just had terrible writer’s block and wasn’t writing anything and so the making of Stories For Monday was essentially halted.”
Briefly stopping to ensure me he’s getting back to Matt’s role, Dales continues his story. “Eventually my manager, who has been my manager for 10 years, was asking “hey, what’s going on with this, what’s the deal, what do you want to do Dales? It doesn’t sound like you want to be doing what you’re doing.” And I sort of had mentioned to him “I don’t know! I’m just am feeling distracted.” And I was like maybe I’ll go and I was talking about renting a cabin in Big Bear, California for the weekend and turning off my phone and trying to write some songs, and he was like “you should totally do that, I just got back from Alaska, it was incredible.” And straight up, my manager was like “you should go to Alaska” and I was like “okay, I’ll go to Alaska!” And my manager was like “you should go to Alaska on Friday, I will buy your ticket right now.” And we’re just sitting there in a Mexican restaurant in LA and my manager bought me a plane ticket to Alaska with no plan. Anyway, to sort of get to the point of that, the day before I was leaving to go to Alaska, and I honestly thought maybe I was going to Alaska to figure out- there was a real thought in my head that maybe I was going to go to Alaska and come back and not even want to write songs anymore. Anyway, the day before I went to Alaska, I ran into Matt Beckley at a cafe in Los Angeles and I hadn’t seen him in a long time and we sort of talked for a little bit. I always like to think that maybe the thing I love about working with Matt is that his intuition is unbelievable because I think Matt could really tell in a short period of time, in a short conversation, that I was not really doing so well. I was not really in the best place I had ever been in, and after a brief run in I get a text from him and he mentioned to me that he just bought a house with a studio and he’s like “you should come by tomorrow or later today” and I at this point was like, I’m not writing any songs and I’ve got nothing to lose, maybe it’ll work working with this guy.
He thought they would get straight to work, but something more meaningful occurred. “I go over to Matt’s house thinking we’re gonna write a song and we end up opening a bottle of whiskey and just sitting there and just talking.” The pair didn’t write a single note all night, choosing instead to discuss their love of music, with Dales specifically recalling discussion around Tom Petty records, the music of Gin Blossoms, and Bruce Springsteen.
“We ended up going and getting dinner, got pretty drunk, and then the next morning I was supposed to go to Alaska at 6 AM in the morning. Right before I’m heading home, Matt looks at me and says “hey, go to Alaska, don’t take your guitar, don’t worry about writing anything, just figure out what you want. Figure out who you are. Stop worrying about all the people who are asking what you’re going to do if you fail, and just think about all the cool things you’re going to get to do when you win.” I went to Alaska, so on and so forth, came back from Alaska and Matt and I got together again, this time to see what it would be like to write.”
The first song the duo wrote after Dales’ return was “Young For The Summer,” a track that fans and critics alike quickly compared to the material Dales was released with The Summer Set. He is the first to admit the song sounds like it could have ended up on one of the band’s albums but explains that it feels different for him nonetheless. “When we wrote, “Young For The Summer”, something just felt like a different story to me, and I just sort of knew before I really realized it that I was making a record that was maybe not a Summer Set record and that became more apparent as Matt and I kept writing songs. We were just a couple of guys in Matt’s little studio in his backyard writing songs for fun which was something I felt like I had forgotten how to do and that was a really important turning point for me. The story was different now, and I knew that. I didn’t know what these new songs would become, but I knew they were meant to be something different.”
The melody of “Young For The Summer” brings to mind Bryan Adams’ classic song “Summer of ’69,” which Dales says is a way of paying homage to the singers and songs that have made a great impact on his life. “We were watching a video of him performing that song [“Summer Of 69”] while in the studio before recording a single note of material,” Dales tells me with a tone that says the thought alone take him back to that moment. “It was a live video from a show in Lisbon that took place years after the song’s release, but still there were 60,000 people in Portugal singing his song so loudly you couldn’t even hear Bryan. I was just sort of looking at everyone and I was like “man, that’s who I wanna be. That’s the moment I want to have.”
Fans of Dales would tell you the things that make “Summer Of ’69” or any classic American rock song like it great have been present in his songwriting from the very beginning. It’s the timeless narrative of a kid from nowhere who dreamed of going somewhere with inspiration from their parents’ record collection and several close friends who dared to dream with them. Those same kids eventually leave home, see the country, and move to that distant city they thought were built just for them. In doing so they learn countless lessons about life and who they are meant to be, often while haphazardly stumbling through a wide variety of romantic entanglements. It’s a crazy idea that only a fool would chase, but they do it all because they know as long as they have rock and roll they’re gonna be alright.
In total, Dales and Beckley have written at least twenty songs for the new project, many of which have yet to be properly recorded. “[We] are sort of doing everything ourselves in-house because I’m not technically with a record label at the moment,” Dales says. “I’m sort of just taking it one song at a time, which I really love. I’ve never been able to do that before.”
Further detailing his current creative process, Dales admits most of his new material remains in various states of incompletion. “Most of them are not even close to recorded,” he confesses. “We have a bunch of songs that are in a rough demo state with the philosophy sort of being that I don’t want to put a bunch of time into recording something that I might just go back and change later so most of them are left very raw for now so that we can go and do them one song at a time based purely upon releasing them. In a perfect world, if I end up doing this thing with a label, and there was a little bit of a budget to do a couple of things a little bit differently, I’d like to spend two weeks to maybe bring in one other person and also record all the drums in a bigger room instead of Matt and I’s tiny little studio in the back of his house. But I also wonder if that’s a major part of the charm and energy of the record we’re making, that we do all of it with a small little in the back behind Matt’s house. I call it kind of suspended animation, a lot of the songs are at the 60 to 70% recorded mark, only because I don’t want to fully finish the whole thing just to maybe go back and have the opportunity to re-cut some stuff. So they’re all in a state of listenable but not entirely finished and to do the last 20-30% is something that we can do on a trigger basically. If someone is like “oh, you should release that song” we can go and finish it and it won’t take very long.”
Having discussing writing and recording at length, Dales reveals he has been performing what describes as small pop-up shows around Los Angeles under his new moniker for over a year. “I’ve always thought it was funny that in today’s music world, a band makes a record and then they go on tour and have to learn all the songs for the live setting after they’ve gone on tour. To me, that seems so backward. At the end of that tour that band is going to be the best at those songs as they’ll ever be so, you probably should’ve made the record then! I realized that’s not really how it works but I’ve had this funny opportunity where I’ve been able to play the songs relentlessly all the time in LA as sort of a kind of pre-production. I’ve been able to learn from the songs in a live setting and go back into the studio and be like “eh, it didn’t feel that good live, can we reimagine this part?” That’s been one of favorite parts of this process so far, getting to really learn from the songs in a live setting.”
Dales claims he has taken his time piecing together the band that supports him live. “It took a long time and we’ve been privileged to have some incredible people play in some of the live shows but for a long time it was just a cast of whoever was in town and available and over time, especially because I hate inconsistency, it became apparent that I needed to find three other guys who really wanted to be a part of this thing and who would be around for the shows. And I have those guys now and I feel like we’re finally the dream band for me.” He adds, “I wanna play every single day now because of these guys, and I love that.”
Among the additional members of DALES is Nate Novarro, who used to play drums for Cobra Starship. “Nate has been the most unbelievable asset to this thing in a short period of time and it took a long time for us to find a drummer. I grew up with drummers so my DNA musically is very much driven by drums and I like having a connection with whoever’s playing drums for me and Nate feels like my musical brother.” Navarro also works in the studio with Dales and Beckley.
On bass is Nick Dlitz from the Los Angeles based metal band All Hail The Yeti. His presence in the pop-friendly group sounds foreign until you learn that he his is a childhood friend of Beckley and, according to Dales, ones of the best dudes you could hope to know.
The answer to who is playing guitar during live performances isn’t a simple, but it is rather intriguing. “Matt plays guitar live. I [also] play a little bit on a handful of songs. We’ve got one other guy who’s been playing guitar with us for a couple of months now that we just call the Wolf. He’s this kid for Berkeley who lived in New York and now lives in LA who’s just literally the best guitar player I’ve ever seen.”
Refusing to give more details about the mysterious Wolf, Dales instead looks at how far he’s come with his new group. “That’s been the line up in a live setting now and I finally feel like, after a year of live trial and error, I finally feel like we’re the live band I’ve wanted to be in my whole life. It’s fun and spontaneous and it feels like it’s crashing and burning while also being totally under control at the same time. So far the thing I’m the proudest of is the live show and I can’t wait to finally take that on the road or at least take it out of LA.”
Plans to, get out of Los Angeles are in the earliest stages at this point, but touring is a priority for DALES in 2018. “I’d like to get on the road in the summer. We submitted for something in the spring but it was sort of a last minute idea. I didn’t think we’d necessarily be ready but it could be possible, we’ll see. But I’m hoping by summer I can take DALES on the road. As much as I love this little LA mystery project, I don’t want to just be a bar band.”
Dales goes over his plans for the new year. The excitement in his voices raises with each new item as if his brain is reminding him of something great he’d already forgotten to do. It’s palpable, even over the phone, and you cannot help wanting to root for him.
“There’s a laundry list of things I’d like to do,” he says following a pause just long enough to catch his breath. “But for the first time in a long time, I’m really trying to just not have expectations. I think towards the last two years of The Summer Set I was starting to have so many expectations, and expectations were getting in the way of me as a songwriter and me as a performer. As much as I’d like to do literally everything from fucking play on late night to win a Grammy, I would really at the end of the day…All I want is to have no expectations. I’m trying to play — I wanna write songs, and I want people to enjoy them. I don’t really care — anything else that happens is just icing on the cake. But that cake doesn’t exist unless I build a foundation that I’m really proud of.”