You know the kind of friendship where you love all of the same stuff, do everything together, and can’t help but finish each other’s sentences?
That’s Dang Clēts (pronounced “dang cleats”).
Even without meeting the indie pop-rock band in person, you’d sense that from the cover art of their breezy, self-titled debut EP—released in June 2017. In the cover photo, Connor Cunningham (vocals, guitar, keys), James Forward (bass), and Jake Mills (vocals, guitar) stand with their hands on each other’s shoulders, dressed identically in navy button-down shirts, white pants, and speck-free sneakers. They look like a present-day Beach Boys minus the surfboards and familial ties.
“Dang Clēts is just us. It’s our friendship,” Mills told me as Cunningham nodded in agreement. Forward was out of town and couldn’t make the interview, but Mills made sure to note that “James feels the same way about everything we’re saying right now.”
The trio’s companionship dates back to 2011. While standing in line on matriculation day at Tufts University, Cunningham turned around and introduced himself to Mills, who was rooming with Forward at the time. After graduation four years later, they decided to stay in Boston and move in together.
“When we were recording certain songs [on the EP], two of us would be in the basement and the other person would be cooking dinner for all three of us,” Cunningham said. “It was very domestic. We were like, ‘this is awesome.’ We should try to share this in our music and with the band image.”
But Dang Clēts isn’t the first musical endeavor for Cunningham, Forward, and Mills. The friends played in the rock band Waldo (with a drummer and another singer) at Tufts, earning Waldo a coveted slot at Tufts’ 2014 Spring Fling concert opening for the New Pornographers and Childish Gambino.
So where did Waldo go? In many ways, the trio’s transition from Waldo to Dang Clēts emblematizes the shift from college to post-grad life: a time of self-discovery and inevitable maturity.
“[With Waldo] we met each other, grabbed guitars, went down to the basement, and started playing. It was just loud,” Cunningham explained. “Once we got far enough down the road, we realized that we can control the way we sound… It doesn’t have to be rock guitar played really loudly with your friends. It can be anything.”
They created a private SoundCloud called Dang Clēts and started posting “these weird tunes that we would make on the keyboard, just for our own laughter and listening,” Mills said. It wasn’t long before friends caught wind of the new direction—at which point they set out to pursue Dang Clēts seriously.
Inspired by the music of bands like Beach House (particularly the song “Days of Candy,”), Tame Impala, The War on Drugs, and Frank Ocean, Dang Clēts began constructing the EP in their free time—music first, lyrics last—and learning how to take songs from conception to production. Together, they recorded Dang Clēts in a homemade studio—aka Cunningham’s bedroom—from January through March 2017.
The moods and themes on the EP, Cunningham said, “definitely came from this time of living together after school and thinking about where we want to be.” And it shows: although songs like “Lines” feature bright, psychedelic flourishes that feel like a summer daydream on a hammock, feelings of uncertainty and restlessness emanate from the EP’s blurred vocals and tipsy guitar lines. When asked how they would describe their music without genre names, they deliberated for several moments before settling on “cement before it hardens… you can put your hand in it.”
Indeed, Dang Clēts have a knack for molding and shaping songs in unexpected ways. Take the unconventional structure of “Whips & Wild Horses,” a standout track that begins like the slow ascent of a roller coaster, then surges forward and ends with what Mills called a “pixelated Mario video game” bit.
The conversation soon turned to the news that this August, the band will be moving to California to focus on Dang Clēts full time. Suddenly, the lyric “Crossing over to another life / Could be nice” from album closer “Could Be Nice” clicked into place. “The song is about being stuck in a daydream of thinking about what the future could hold, or what the next change could bring… and accepting it,” Cunningham shared.
It’s sad to have to bid farewell to Dang Clēts so soon, but here’s to hoping they’ll come visit Boston in their exciting next phase. Catch them out on the West Coast making new music and touring—maybe in matching outfits, maybe not.