One might think that recording an album would get easier with practice. Not so for La Dispute, whose fourth studio album, Panorama, proved the biggest songwriting challenge of their career. The post-hardcore group had burned through most of the time they’d set aside to work when they decided to tear it all up and start afresh.
“It’s hard to come to that point,” says drummer and keyboardist Brad Vander Lugt. “You work so long on something and no one wants to be that person that says, ‘Hey, everyone – maybe this isn’t working.’ This time, that was me. But, in the end, I think it was for the best.”
La Dispute found that rigorously working out the kinks during songwriting paid off when they entered the studio. The band worked with Philadelphia-based producer Will Yip, whose previous credits include albums by the Balance And Composure, Quicksand and Circa Survive, as well as La Dispute’s 2014 release Rooms of the House. A painfully exacting songwriting process and reuniting with an old collaborator helped create an optimistic mood that lasted throughout the recording of Panorama.
“Will’s a very positive energy,” says Vander Lugt. “He had some awesome outside perspective on how we could accomplish what we wanted to accomplish this time, aesthetically and sonically. He’s a good friend of ours, so the combination of all that stuff made a lot of sense. He does have such an uplifting energy to him, and I think that’s something we needed after the writing.”
Though Vander Lugt is often credited simply as the group’s drummer, he also contributed to Panorama’s programming and sound design. ‘In Northern Michigan’, a track with sparse use of drums, is where Vander Lugt’s influence on the album can most clearly be seen, he says. Other tracks, such as ‘Anxiety Panorama’, showcase his signature percussive style directly.
Vander Lugt expects that Panorama will subvert fans’ expectations, but not so much as to alienate them.
“It’s different, but in an accessible way,” he says. “Panorama is different to Rooms as Rooms was different to Wildlife… We tried to create something that’s fluent throughout, from beginning to end. My hope is that people can get lost in it – not just to listen to one song, but to listen to the whole record and have it make sense. It’s pretty dense, but it’s worthwhile to dive in and experience the record as a whole.”
During the band’s early years, Vander Lugt drew heavy inspiration from jazz drummers. Recently, however, he’s been more absorbed by movie soundtracks than by jazz album. Vander Lugt singles out Ryuichi Sakamoto’s score for The Revenant and Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s score for Annihilation as particularly noteworthy.
“I know it’s debatable whether The Revenant is a good or bad film, but I thought the soundtrack was breathtaking,” says Vander Lugt. “I really latched onto that. It makes the movie, it really does. Without the score, the images wouldn’t be as powerful.”
These scores are notable not just for their expansive and melancholy mood, but as examples of a shift away from the triumphant, booming themes of pre-2010s Hollywood and toward a subtler, motif-based composition.
Throughout the 2000s, La Dispute operated together out of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Now scattered across the world, the band have mastered the art of remote collaboration. Vander Lugt settled in Brisbane with his wife, who is Australian, in 2012, and has become enmeshed in the Australian scene.
“I’ve really grown to appreciate it here,” says Vander Lugt. “Especially recently, there’s some cool stuff happening in the Australian music scene. Obviously, there’s some pretty terrible stuff, too. But, on the positive side, especially in the circle of friends that La Dispute has met over the last few years, there are a lot of younger bands who are doing well and pushing positive thinking – uniting people instead of tearing each other down."
Panorama is out Friday March 22 from Epitaph Records.