Hickster Hoedown: An interview with Dastardly

By Amanda Murphy

They’re a little bit country and little bit rock and a little bit insanity. With upright bass, banjo and vintage clothing, Dastardly members Gabe Liebowitz, August Sheehy, Sarah Morgan, Joe Rauen and Andy Taylor look like they could be from the ’70s Memphis music scene. But this modern band, which was mostly formed on Craigslist.org, is bringing its old country roots to the current-day indie rock scene of Chicago.

The Chronicle sat down with the band after a show at Reggie’s Rock Club to talk about their vibrant personalities, touring and a new, more raw-sounding album.

The Chronicle: How long have you been together?

Gabe Liebowitz: We started in January 2010, so it’s almost been two years, mathematically speaking.

The Chronicle: How did your group form?

GL: It started as a bedroom project. I had been in two bands that weren’t really going anywhere, so I created the “Dastardly” moniker, and it was more straightforward country songs. I threw them on Craigslist to see if any suckers would be interested, and it turned out some suckers were. So that’s how we came to be.

I met August and Joe through Craigslist—Joe was a later addition. Andy had been in the previous band with me. Sarah and I met at a Christmas party where I was the only Jew, and she took me under her wing [laughs].

The Chronicle: You guys came out with an album in December 2010, and you’re starting to record one now. What are you doing differently with this album compared to the last?

GL: We’re doing everything different. We recorded our first album when we had only been together seven to eight months. So we weren’t that well-rehearsed, but we’re happy with the way it sounds. It’s just very polished sounding, and now we’ve had the opportunity to tour three times, and we really know the songs. So this time, we wanted something that really embodies our vibe and how it sounds live.

So we literally just went into a room at the Rumble Arts Center in Humboldt Park—and it’s just a room, not a fancy recording studio—with a handle of alcohol and recorded some songs. And we liked it so much that we’re going to make it our next release.

The Chronicle: You guys somewhat recently wrapped up a cross-country tour. What did you take away from this one?

GL: We definitely met a lot of people, and we’re starting to build some nice bases with people in cities all around the country. We learned that as a touring band without management or a label, if you’re able to break even on the gas money, then you are extremely lucky [laughs]. It was an eye-opening view of the business we’re in, but also [it was good] for really refining the sound, getting tight and learning things about ourselves.

The Chronicle: How would you describe your music?

GL: People call us “hicksters,” which is sort of a hillbilly hipster. What we go for is a base of Americana, like earthy, root music filtered through modern indie rock. We have songs with percussion and vocal harmonies, songs about dying, truckers in Missouri and things like that.

The Chronicle: You guys and gal seem to have a lot of energy and pretty vibrant personalities. Does that work for you more than against you?

August Sheehy: We’ve reached a place where we all feel comfortable being inappropriate around each other. I think it works for us. It’s all inclusive and it’s all just who we are. Also, the boundaries of what’s right or wrong kind of collapse when you spend that much time in a van together [laughs].

See Dastardly perform at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., on Oct. 18. The show will be a variety of comedians and musicians from the city. Visit Dastardlytheband.tumblr.com for audio, video and information on upcoming shows.