California’s Dim Peaks released its debut album, Time of Joy, on Gold Robot Records in September. Led by guitarist/vocalist Niilo Smeds, the band’s current roster includes Tomas Galvan, Russell Higbee (Man Man), and Dylan Tidyman-Jones (The Mallard). Time of Joy, recorded at Sharkbite Studios is Oakland, has proven to be one of the most nuanced achievements in acoustic folk music to come out of The Golden State as of late.
The Bay Bridged: How did Dim Peaks get started? Were you involved in any other musical projects before?
Niilo Smeds: I have played in bands for years, but most of them fizzled out before we got much done. Dim Peaks was born after a couple years of doing shows and recordings under my own name. I don’t really like playing alone, and a lot of people have a hard time pronouncing my given name, so Dim Peaks felt like the right thing to do.
TBB: Do you do most of the songwriting yourself, or is it a collaborative effort?
NS: I do the basic chords-and-lyrics part on my own, then it becomes collaborative when the other band members join in.
TBB: How was working with Rob Jackson at Sharkbite Studios in Oakland?
NS: Rob is a master and Sharkbite is a beautiful facility. I feel really lucky to be able to work with him there. It helps that we share a lot of musical interests – we spend a lot of our studio time talking about the latest Bob Dylan reissues or King Crimson drum tones or whatever.
TBB: The up-front acoustic sound of your debut LP, Time of Joy, sounds like a breath of fresh air compared to most guitar-centric music coming out of the Bay Area right now. Would you say the unique style and tone of the album is more deliberate, or more incidental?
NS: The tone of the record is mostly a reflection of my musical tastes. A lot of my favorite records are 1970s albums by Willie Nelson, Bobby Charles, Bill Fay, etc. – not a lot of buried vocals on those records. The use of space and silence is so powerful on an album like “Phases and Stages,” and you can’t really achieve that when everything is echoing and feeding back. That said, I love Grouper, Fronds, Phil Spector and plenty of other reverb-drenched music.
TBB: The band name Dim Peaks reminds me of “Twin Peaks”, but perhaps there is no relation. What does it mean to you?
NS: No intentional relation to the TV show, though I love David Lynch. I like two-word band names, and this one references the Sierra and Sequoia mountains – usually hazy and half-visible from the Central Valley where I grew up – as well as distant goals, unknown destinations, etc.
TBB: Are there any specific Bay Area locales that inspired your vision for Time of Joy?
NS: Not sure of specifics, although I wrote a lot of the lyrics on Amtrak trips between SF and Fresno. Plenty of interesting scenery on that ride, and the train is a great place to zone out, though it’s easier to get distracted now that there’s wi-fi.
TBB: What are you looking forward to the most about playing with Dan Casey and Mutual Benefit at Rickshaw Stop on Saturday?
NS: We’re looking forward to seeing both of the bands and trying out a bunch of new songs.
TBB: What does Dim Peaks have in the works for 2014?
NS: We just started recording another album, and we’ll be touring a bit in March, to Texas for SXSW and then up through the Northwest.
Mutual Benefit, Dan Casey, Dim Peaks
January 25, 2014