A discussion with Oxford duo dream phone, on making space for silliness and their new single ‘no’.

We had a brief catch-up with the understatedly genius, Buffy-loving dream phone, on the release of their latest single.

Interviewed by Lloyd Bolton

Oxford duo dream phone are that rare and charming type of act that make you want to be their number one fan. Their music is inventive and intelligent, without ever feeling the need to tell you so. It’s perverse pop, each track a sugar rush laced with flashes of illogical brilliance. Previous single ‘bad girls’ caught our ears, making a parable of a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ story arc. New track ‘No’, released today, is another gem, and anticipates the release of the band’s debut EP next month. We checked in with Jenny and Hannah, who make up dream phone, about silliness, Buffy villains and ‘No’.

How did dream phone start?

“We were already in Junk Whale together (Jenny on bass, Hannah on guitar) when Jenny started learning how to play drums. We thought it would be a good excuse to start a two-piece side project where we could write some simple and silly songs and Jenny could practice her new beats. It was a pretty basic guitar/drums pop-punk thing at first, but coming back after lockdown we thought it’d be fun to challenge ourselves and try something totally different. We scrapped the drum kit in favour of programming electronic beats, added synths and put hard, pitch-shifted autotune over all the vocals and fell in love with our new sound!”

Your outward image plays up slacking, Pepsi cans etc. Is laziness and wasted time an important part of your creative process? 

“We write and work on dream phone songs at home, which obviously has a very different energy to being in a rehearsal studio with a group. This gives us more space to make some of our sillier, more extreme ideas a reality – and it means there’s a lot more time for snacking and taking TV breaks!”

What is the motivation for your use of heavy voice processing?

“We both love to sing but neither of us really feel like we have the confidence in our vocal talent to be a ‘singer’. Having gotten into a bunch of glitch-pop bands like 100 gecs, Glitch Gum and food house over the lockdown, it seemed like this was a way we could add vocals to our songs and say what we want to say, without worrying too much about how our actual voices sound. It’s added a lot of confidence to our live performances too – we dance around a lot more now!”

Talk us through your next single ‘No’, blow by blow.

“’No’ opens with a kind of electronic blast beat (we were going for something attention grabbing!) before going into what is possibly our poppiest song. We opted for particularly digital sounding and arpeggiated synth sounds to make it sound big and spacey! Lyrically it deals with the struggle to say no and to prioritise your own needs – being a people pleaser. A lot of the best pop music takes ordinary human feelings and makes them feel grandiose and important and in dream phone, particularly on ‘no’, we’re trying to push this to its limits – casing the everyday feeling of taking on too much, wanting to say no to a new responsibility at work or to decline a party invitation, inside a danceable, deliberately artitificial-sounding pop song.”

What was the writing process on ‘No’, and would you describe it as typical of how the band puts songs together?

“Hannah wrote all of the music alone, while self-isolating with COVID, with some vocal melody ideas. She sent it over to Jenny, who came up with some words based on various notes in her phone, and recorded the vocals over the top. It came together pretty simply and easily (except for the part where Hannah had COVID!) We have written a few songs this way, and it is probably a more straightforward way of doing things – but the process varies, and sometimes after the initial idea, it’s both of us sat at the computer taking it in turns to add stuff in.” 

Who are your reference points for introducing what I’m going to call ‘silly’ elements in your work. [correct me if silly is an inappropriate term, I mean it in the best faith]. How are these strands important to what the band is trying to express?

“Silly is absolutely an appropriate term! Right from the start, even before we started messing around with the autotune, dream phone has always been about having fun and not worrying too much, and with that attitude, silliness tends to follow! There’s been countless occasions when we’ve been fiddling around with different autotune settings and synth sounds and ended up in hysterical laughter, which just makes the whole process of making the music really fun and makes us want to do it more! Hopefully that comes through in the music and people have fun listening to it too.”

Who is your favourite Buffy villain?

“You could ask either of this on any given day and you’d get a different answer; there are so many rich and nuanced villains and antiheroes in the Buffy universe! But if we have to go with one right now let’s say Glory; on the surface she’s not a million miles away from Buffy – perhaps she’s a version of what Buffy might have been if she’d never had to care for or protect anyone but herself. But ultimately Glory is selfish and Buffy defeats her with the help of her friends and a huge act of self-sacrifice. The other great thing about the Glory episodes are her minions who definitely should have listened to ‘No’ – they could do with prioritising themselves a bit and not living solely for someone else!”

What does the rest of the year have in store for Dream Phone?

“Our debut EP comes out on 19th May on Divine Schism and we’re currently booking gigs around the country throughout the rest of the year in support of that. We’re also in the process of writing EP 2, which we hope to have recorded by the end of the year!”