Dana Filloon: Pierce The Wail
Abrupt musical transitions are a part of Junius drummer Dana Filloon’s DNA. How else do you explain a Metallica-loving kid hashing d-beat in a high school ska punk band back in Florida only to embrace quasi-ecclesiastical majesty in New England a few years later?
“We don’t consider ourselves a metal band,” Filloon says on the phone from Jamaica Plain, the artsy neighborhood of Boston where he lives. “I have to say, though, any show, any tour we’ve played with metal bands, we’ve always done really well in, which is kind of weird.”
No-nonsense drummers put off by the idea of ethereal/metalgaze–type bands are in for a surprise with Junius’ luscious new Reports From The Threshold Of Death. The uncanny marriage of clarity and diffuseness is largely due to Filloon’s funky propulsion that falls somewhere between rock and metal. Avoiding the expected haphazard tom thuds associated with this style, he delivers crisply articulated beats over gauzy swells of synthesizer and guitar.
Filloon’s secret weapon is a strong, agile, and metronome-like right foot stomping out eighth- and sixteenth-notes. In the song “All Shall Float” he uses this staccato approach to create triplet effects in fills and transitions. On “Dance On Blood,” where the ride cymbal and kick’s sixteenths are in such perfect unison they threaten to cancel each other out, it’s easy to take for granted how much work he’s doing. “It’s from years of playing punk when I was younger,” he says. “I’m an avid single-kick guy.”
Threshold has all the signs of an album that was lovingly pieced together. Once the demos were complete, the band holed up at a solar-powered studio in rural Connecticut and tracked their individual parts, where it all went super-smooth thanks to a road map created in preproduction.
But Threshold’s genesis is more convoluted than Filloon is letting on. While touring Europe behind previous release, Martyrdom Of A Catastrophist, from 2009, a friend in Germany offered the use of a studio so the band could jam out new ideas. After the tour was finished and they were back in the States, the drummer and lead singer Joe Martinez, the band’s principal songwriters, began swapping sound files. “Once me and Joe were happy with it, then we passed it along to Mike [Repasch-Nieves, guitar] and Joel [Munguia, bass],” he says. “Then obviously it would just morph into whatever it was going to be.”
Due to Filloon’s many years as a professional sound designer, Threshold boasts stellar separation between the instruments. Aside from the discrete kick beater strokes, the cymbals are glassy, clean, and distinct. Whereas Martyrdom’s crashes bled into a mush of cymbal wash, the setup was addressed this time with a flower pot–type cover over the hi-hat. “I tend to be a hard hitter, too,” he adds, “so it was just a lot of fine tuning, fixing all the phasing issues with the mikes to make sure that everything cuts through instead of being drowned out by cymbals.”
Growing up in tiny Port Charlotte, Florida, Filloon did the whole high school jazz-band thing. But it was in his bedroom where the beat experimentation was taking place. “Of course my parents really regretted buying me that kit,” he adds with a laugh. Creating mixtapes from songs recorded off the radio, he would put on headphones and play along until he nailed the parts. “In high school they want you to read music, but I couldn’t latch onto that,” he says. “I just really liked listening and figuring out how somebody made that sound.”
Like so many things preoccupying young dudes, Filloon’s saga starts with a girl. Against the wishes of his parents, Filloon followed a high school sweetheart to Boston where she would be attending MIT. Once in the city, he enrolled at a sound-engineering school. “That’s kind of the go-to if you’re a musician and not going to go to school for an instrument,” he says. “Then I realized I didn’t want to record bands for the rest of my life.”
After the dalliance with vocational training, Filloon got the urge to play again. With the old kit back at his folks’ place in Florida, he whipped out a Guitar Center credit card and got a brand new one. Casually jamming with a local bassist and guitar player he hooked up with from school, the next step was finding a singer. While posting a flyer on a campus bulletin board, a “drummer wanted” sign leaped out at him because it named many of the bands he loved back in Florida, including Gainsville punkers Hot Water Music.
The chemistry between Filloon and the guy from the flyer, future Junius frontman Martinez, was instant. “Then I just ended up getting rid of the other two guys and just focusing on Joe because I could see that he was more in the direction I wanted to go.”
After adding Munguia and Repasch-Nieves, the band settled on the name Junius and started to put music out on its own label, Radar Recording. The timing was good too. When the drummer moved in with a new girlfriend, Repasch-Nieves set up office in Filloon’s old apartment, working the phones to book any venue that would have them. They also availed themselves of Book Your Own F**king Life, a DIY Web site that Filloon calls “a life saver.”
Once Junius was set up with gigs, it was months on end of traveling in a van and dining on minimart fare. “It was terrible, but it was awesome,” he says. “But from then on every tour after that got a lot easier. Not to say we didn’t have crappy tours, but we just kept everything super tight-knit because it was our own label.”
Speaking of tours, Filloon just learned that Junius has been added to Enslaved’s headlining jaunt of North America. Supporting a Scandinavian prog-death band wouldn’t fly for your average hipster-metaller, but Filloon sees the logic. “Their new one’s a little pop-ier,” he says of Enslaved. “And the other band, Alcest [from France], are sort of post-rock, so I think the three of us will all fit.”
In the early days of the band, Junius would marinate in new material before heading out on the road. Now scattered between Boston, New York, Dallas, and Austin, they don’t have that luxury. Multitasking among members is one way to offset this. Although soaring synthesizers that evoke the grandeur of medieval cathedrals are a major ingredient in Junius, the keyboard sounds are actually prerecorded samples triggered live by Martinez. “We thought about a keyboardist option,” he says, “but it’s hard enough getting us all in one place.”
The four members haven’t even seen each other since wrapping Threshold, let alone practiced the songs. Stressed? A little, but in that exciting, butterflies-in-the-stomach way. “It’s pretty much guerrilla style on this one,” he says. “We’re just going to fly out, rehearse a few days, and go!”