The cover art for Daddy Issues’ new record, Deep Dream, is a photo of Jenna Moynihan at a show. She’s the Nashville band’s singer and guitarist, and, flanked by navy-blue gig-dudes, she stands out in a shock-of-white jean jacket, adorned with a taxi-yellow smiley face. The image was a communal effort. The photo was taken by their friend, CJ Harvey. The iconic snow-white jacket? It’s Tony Esposito’s, from White Reaper. Moynihan grins recalling the impromptu shoot. “We were at a concert and I was like, ‘Tony, you have a cool jacket on! Can I wear it?’”
Then there’s the most important detail. The two hands reaching around, clutching the back of Moynihan’s jacket? They’re her own. It’s that trick you used to do in grade school to make your friends giggle: wrapping your arms around yourself, giving the appearance of making out with someone. “We had the idea of doing the ‘making out’ thing ‘cause I guess it’s like, self-love,” Moynihan says simply.
Deep Dream celebrates both of these narratives that are front and center on the cover: taking care of each other, and taking care of ourselves. Daddy Issues, the intense grungepop trio of Moynihan, bassist Jenna Mitchell and drummer Emily Maxwell, embody these maxims, on and off the literal record, which was recorded primarily at a friend’s home studio in Nashville. While they cut tracks at RCA Studio and Converse Rubber Tracks in Boston, the intimacy of the home setup was crucial. “It was a really cozy home studio,” Mitchell relates. “We were all really close, standing in a circle.”
Maxwell and Moynihan used to live together, an experience that prompted material like “High Street,” a mid-way cut on Deep Dream that finds Moynihan naming her roommate as a comfort when dealing with shit: “I would rather talk about things with Emily, watch a movie in Japanese,” she sings. It’s a passing detail that subtly conveys the value of community and support. “We’re best friends, so that’s how we would process something, by talking to each other about it,” explains Maxwell, who now calls Philadelphia home. Moynihan adds, “We both really enjoy watching anime when we’re upset. It helps a lot.”
The escapist mechanisms suggested in “High Street” are part of the message held in the album’s simple, effective title. (Although Moynihan will shrug, “I think I just liked the way it sounded, honestly.”) The band draws a parallel between the title and Westworld’s fictional ‘reveries,’ fragments of memory that characters brush with fleetingly; they get microscopic, acute tastes of their past, but never the full experience. “I like thinking of [the title] like that,” Maxwell asserts. “They had those reveries, and they were really painful, but they compared them to a dream.”
Opener “Mosquito Bite” hammers home the thesis that immediate pain will one day be just a shell: “Why did I cry, when it was just a mosquito bite?” Moynihan sings breezily on the chorus. “You get dumped and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, this is the absolutely worst thing to ever happen to me,’ and then you look back and you’re like, ‘Oh, that was actually not important at all,’” Maxwell relates.
“In Your Head” takes things a step further, as Moynihan kicks off the track in quietly charged fashion, singing simply and clearly: “Fuck you forever.” Moynihan explains the phrase’s utility: “After saying, ‘fuck you,’ you’re over it. That’s all you need to do.” Maxwell seconds that, adding, “It’s a really empowering moment when you realize that.” Mitchell chimes with a grin, “After a good cry!” The song is a product of an ex thinking they still have a hold over you, a call-out of men’s inexplicable willingness to believe women care more about them than about themselves, a bizarre behaviour indicted bluntly on the track in two words: “You’re delusional.” Moynihan rolls her eyes. “You’re like, ‘Oh my god, I wish you knew that I do not care about you at all.’”
The record is tied up in rummaging through and reconciling with all those experiences we need an escape from in the first place. In that way, Deep Dream is its’ own antithesis: rather than compartmentalizing, it meets pain and struggle and damage head on, and through cathartic, raging, honest recorded testament, lays those things to rest. The band have a smart, lacerating voice, as they distort benign platitudes to contextualize their expressions. On “Dog Years,” Moynihan spits, “In dog years, you’re dead,” repurposing a throw-away sentiment Maxwell saw on a card. Later, Maxwell saw a clip of a raccoon scrambling to recover cotton candy as it melted in water. That inspired another line, directed at an antagonist so miserable, they’d “dissolve cotton candy.” It’s this playful repositioning that colours their rage with character.
But the record also deals in hurts that are more insidious and unshakeable than a breakup. When the band released “I’m Not” as a single, they premiered it with NPR, along with a statement from Maxwell. “As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I spent a long time going through every reason why it had to have been my fault, until I finally started to come to grips with the fact that it wasn't, which wasn't until very recently," she said. The band added on their Facebook, “P.S. If you're struggling with trauma from sexual abuse or assault, RAINN offers a safe, confidential helpline here: 800.656.HOPE (4673).”
“It’s still a difficult thing to talk about,” Maxwell says steadily, measuring her words. “I was very nervous to make that statement when we put the song out, because I’ve been encouraged not to do that; your family or friends saying, ‘I realize you experienced this thing and I’m sorry, but can you not bring it up?’ Not only is that saddening because that feels like they have no faith in you, but it also can help to revictimize you a lot. You learn that you’re not worth saying something, or standing up for yourself.” Any kind of creative work bears an emotionally laborious and taxing quality, and Maxwell’s here is astronomical, but she asserts the value in speaking out, despite attempts to censor her. It was a practice of self-affirmation and validation as much as it was a declaration of solidarity to others; looking after herself, looking after others. “I did it anyway, and we’ve already gotten a lot of messages from people saying, ‘I needed this song.’ It’s scary to put yourself on the line that way, but it’s worth it if it helps someone else.”
Daddy Issues write those kinds of songs: songs that, via honesty and an unfiltered spectrum of emotion, confirm their experience, and by extension, the experience of anyone, anywhere, who struggles to receive that confirmation. The record, and the band itself, is a coat of armor: a hulking, snarling ‘fuck you forever’ to the silencing of victims, the erasure of violence, the systemic misogyny that women survive each day, like having emotional trauma and distress written off by dickhead dudes as ‘daddy issues.’ Indeed, their band name is an exercise in semantic reclamation, weaponizing a phrase used to diminish and mock pain.
In the end, those focused jabs of acerbic lyricism and ferocious instrumentals are vehicles for solidarity and catharsis. Empathy, community and empowerment are at the heart of their work, even amidst the thunderous, speaker-blowing thrum of Deep Dream. It’s a value set that runs to the source- all three members are self-taught musicians who just cut a record totally on their own terms. Mitchell smiles recalling tight-knit sessions for the record. “It was just like a big hug.”
Luke Ottenhof is a freelance writer and musician with eight toes. He likes pho, boutique tube amps and The Weakerthans.
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