iDKHOW: “Our Approach Has Always Been To Do The Opposite Of What You’re Supposed To Do”

Cult indie-popsters I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME (aka iDKHOW) began to generate buzz back in 2016, fictionalising themselves as a long-lost band with an artful concept and mysterious narrative. But the secret is now out that the American combo is frontman Dallon Weekes – former Panic! At The Disco bassist and backing vocalist – and drummer Ryan Seaman. Already big on streaming platforms, iDKHOW have emerged as unlikely TikTok favourites, with Aussies latching onto the power-pop banger ‘New Invention’ off last year’s debut album RAZZMATAZZ.

Weekes rose up in Salt Lake City, Utah, fronting The Brobecks. He joined Panic! as a live player in 2009, eventually becoming a full member. Weekes contributed extensively to the group’s US platinum LP Too Weird To Live, Too Rare To Die!, but departed altogether in 2017 – Panic! today Brendon Urie’s solo vehicle.

During his stint with Panic!, Weekes wrote music on the side, leading him to devise iDKHOW – its name inspired by a line in the ’80s sci-fi movie Back To The Future. He brought in Seaman, his old Brobecks bandmate (and a hired drummer in the post-hardcore Falling In Reverse), for sessions and they decided to work as a duo. Still, Weekes was anxious to not trade on any associations. As such, iDKHOW developed a backstory about how their songs were supposedly those of “a band that time forgot,” extant from the ’60s to ’80s. They even recreated retro video aesthetics as pretend found footage.

First gigging in Los Angeles in late 2016, iDKHOW obscured their identities, fuelling speculation. The following year, the sonic time travellers finally confirmed growing rumours of Weekes’ presence with their premiere single ‘Modern Day Cain’. In 2018, iDKHOW performed at the UK’s Reading and Leeds Festivals (as did Panic!) and, having signed to California’s Fearless Records, dropped 1981 Extended Play – their take on everything from garage rock to glam to New Wave. iDKHOW would prove surprisingly sincere, rather than ironic, with a meta-narrative about art, consumption and longevity.

In October, iDKHOW released RAZZMATAZZ, preceded by ‘Leave Me Alone’, but also encompassing the whimsical piano ballad ‘Nobody Likes The Opening Band’. They’ve continued to promote it, making TV appearances – most memorably on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. iDKHOW have just aired ‘Mx. Sinister’ from a Record Store Day vinyl issue, RAZZMATAZZ B-Sides EP.

Latterly, iDKHOW have returned to the live arena, headlining Fork Fest in Utah. Next, they’re billed for August’s sold-out Reading and Leeds again alongside Stormzy, Post Malone, Liam Gallagher and our own The Kid LAROI.

Music Feeds spoke to iDKHOW mastermind Weekes over Zoom – the fresh-faced rocker, dressed casually in a black T, bunkered down in his tidy home studio with guitars, synths and, on the wall, an image of The Beatles. He chats about his time in Panic!, RAZZMATAZZ, and the impact of COVID-19, as iDKHOW’s local label (optimistically), teases an Australian tour with Good Things 2021 should the vaccine program accelerate and borders re-open.

Music Feeds: How have you been in the pandemic – very industrious, it looks like?

Dallon Weekes: Well, I try to be. But we’re gearing up for shows starting to become a thing again, here in the States; sort of testing the water. I have a little bit of anxiety regarding that – ’cause I certainly don’t want anyone to get sick just so we can play a show. So we’re trying to take the proper precautions and make sure that we can do it safely.

MF: I saw you actually have a show at Fork Fest. Are you in rehearsals for that?

Dallon: I’ve just kind of been rehearsing on my own but, since Ryan lives in LA, he’s gonna come out a few days early and we’ll get together and run through things. It’s like riding a bike when he and I get together to play our set and our songs. We always seem to fall right back into it and it’s really easy.

MF: ‘New Invention’ is getting a little bit of traction here in Australia – well, quite a lot of traction – on TikTok. And you do have a really strong fanbase down here. How do you feel about this TikTok phenom because, while it looks very transitory, it’s giving artists and albums a long post-release life. Even older songs are having a whole new generational exposure – like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’. What are your thoughts on that?

Dallon: I think that there’s always going to be some new outlet that comes along for people to have [their music] be presented to the world and unfiltered between the artist and the audience. TikTok seems to be just this latest iteration of it and something else will come along a few years later and people will shift to that – that seems to be the trend, anyway. But I guess there’s no stopping innovation and ways to discover art and music. So it’s all valid, really.

MF: You very bravely released an album in the midst of the pandemic, where a lot of others delayed their projects. Why did you feel it was the right time to release RAZZMATAZZ?

Dallon: You know, that was the question at the time: “Is it right to do this?” But, since the beginning, our whole MO was to try to operate this band by doing the exact opposite of what you would normally do. Ryan and I have both been in this business long enough to see the formulas and the rules that people abide by in order to get their machine running and working properly. Those things work and I can’t knock that process. But the whole reason that we got into playing music in the first place is to have fun – this is supposed to be fun. I think a lot of the times those rules and those formulas and those things that you’re supposed to check off on your checklist sort of sucked the fun and sucked the life out of it. So our approach has always been to do the opposite of what you’re supposed to do. Since everyone else seemed to be delaying their records and waiting for that question to be answered regarding the pandemic, we couldn’t follow suit and do the same thing. We had to release it immediately and let the cards fall where they may.

MF: Going back, both you and Ryan have experience in other bands – you notably with Panic! At The Disco. I wondered what you were able to do creatively with this project that maybe you couldn’t in that previous band? What kind of freedom have you had to really just do whatever you want?

Dallon: “Freedom” is the key word there. I think when you’re writing for other artists, especially when they have a history, you have to take that history into account. Whatever ideas that you may produce for them, you hand them over and they run with it and filter them through the lens of their brand or whatever it is; their style of music. So it’s a challenge, in a way, writing for other artists, because I’m someone who’s very attached to my ideas.

I don’t really sit down with the intent of manufacturing a hit or something. Whatever I write has to mean something to me first in order for it to connect – because if you approach it that way, then chances are greater that it’ll also connect with someone else. But that was the challenge in writing for Panic!: letting go of your ideas and watching them get filtered through a dozen or more people and then it comes out on the other end as something else that maybe you don’t identify with as much or the meaning is changed or the idea just gets watered down. So that was kind of difficult.

But, with this band, we get to go from A to Z, with nothing in between what I hear in my head and the finished product. And that’s been incredible, to be able to experience that.

MF: Were you happy in Panic!? Because I read an NME interview and you were saying how this current project is “a healthier environment”. I assume you meant what you’re talking about now, just having the space to pursue your own ideas and not having to compromise with other band members. But what did you take away from the experience overall?

Dallon: Well, I can’t understate the fact that it was an incredible job that I was very lucky to have – and I will always feel that way. But I think the last several years of playing with Panic!, it started to become just that – a job and nothing much more, unfortunately. I think that, when that happens, you have a responsibility to change things. And, since that was an empire that got built long before I ever arrived, I didn’t have any say on how to change things. So my only real option was to create this project and start getting these ideas out of my head. I knew eventually that those roads would branch off and I’d have to pick one or the other and when I came to that point, I would choose the one where I could be the most creatively free and be the happiest – and that’s worked out.

MF: I’m intrigued because you and Ryan have very different musical backgrounds sonically. What dynamic do you share? Who brings what to iDKHOW? What makes it work so well?

Dallon: It works with Ryan so well because he’s incredibly versatile and easy to work with. We’ve both had jobs in bands where maybe we’re playing music that we don’t necessarily listen to in our free time, but it’s still a job playing music. So, if you’re a musician and you’re able to have a regular, steady paycheque come in just playing music you want, that’s a great, great blessing to have in your life.

When you do have a ‘job’, the genre doesn’t really matter as much. But, when you’re making a project that’s for yourself, you get to step outside of that and make the kind of music that you want to hear; the kind of music that you enjoy listening to and that you enjoy playing.

So, with this project, it’s something that we both finally get to do. We’re not just playing music for the sake of these other entities and when it’s music that we might not particularly enjoy in our free time; we get to do that with this. So that’s an incredible bonus we get to enjoy.

MF: You are defying genre, in many ways. I love how you embrace nostalgia, but you’re not locked into any particular era, so it transcends temporality. But what prompted that impulse to explore influences from the past and reformulate them for now – because The Weeknd does something similar. He almost sounds like a New Wave artist at times, but very contemporary. Tell me about the sound you’ve created and the aesthetic?

Dallon: At the beginning of your question, you said the word “impulse”. I think that that is the key to answering that question because influences can creep their way in from anywhere and everywhere – and not just the artists that you listen to, but it can be your environment or the media that you grew up with. That’s certainly been the case for me – you know, the impulse to maybe not recreate a particular sound, but recreate a feeling of what it was like to discover music and discover artists when I was growing up when there was no Internet.

If I happened to discover a new band like The Cure – a band that was new to me as a kid – it was just because I happened to be in a place that had cable TV, where MTV happened to be on and it was all happenstance. I remember that moment, the first time I saw The Cure. I was probably 10 or 11-years-old. After that, I just had to know everything about them. So you had to ask people, look for magazines, go to record stores, and do all this footwork… So we’re not really interested in being revivalists sonically, but we are influenced by the things that we grew up with.

But it’s not just bands that we love – like The Cure or David Bowie or Talking Heads or Oingo Boingo or any of that stuff that I really, really love. That certainly does influence me – bands like Sparks, too – but it can also be an old TV commercial from when I was a kid or any kinda book-on-tape that you’d get from the library when I was really, really small. It’s all just an impulse to try and recreate what it was like to discover art back then.

MF: You courted secrecy, especially early in your career, and came up with “a curated storyline”. But how did that mystique give you space to develop this project? Was it necessary? Do you think you could have launched iDKHOW without that blank space at the start?

Dallon: Yeah, we knew that we could have come out of the gate swinging a giant flag saying, “Hey Panic! At The Disco fans, come check out this new thing that I’m doing.” But there was something about that, that seemed really disingenuous to me – to have a built-in fanbase ready to go, it was almost like a head start; it just didn’t feel right. If we had done it that way, I feel like there would have always been this question mark hanging over what we were doing – like, “Is this response that we’re getting warranted, did we earn this?” Because that feeling is something that has always been instilled in me since I was young: you earn your keep.

For a band like us, where we had two people that are coming from bands who have already found success on their own, there’s a question of building credibility. So our solution to circumvent that whole problem was to play in secret for the first year or so and just completely deny that we were even a band at all. We would book shows at these random clubs and bars and play and see if the music that we were creating could command people’s attention on its own – playing for rooms full of strangers that had no idea or didn’t care what bands we were in. I think it was important for us to do that, to build credibility and to step around that whole formula of stigma – ’cause it’s important for us to keep those worlds as separate as possible. The secondary reason being just because the music is different.

So, yeah, it was important for us to do it that way. Plus mystique and having mystery and exclusivity is kind of rare these days, especially with the Internet. All the information you could want to know about a band is just a few minutes and a few clicks away. And, whenever a new band comes on the scene, they’re selling to you – you know, “Follow us here, subscribe to this, do this, do that.” We wanted to take the opposite approach, like I mentioned before, and invite people to come and find us if we struck a chord with you; if you found what we were doing interesting in some kind of way, then come along and find us. We’re never gonna chase you down and try to sell you what we’re doing.

MF: I love that – I like imagination over hype.

Dallon: I think one of those things outlasts the other continually. Hype goes away, but imagination is a tougher beast to slay, I guess.

MF: But you did involve a couple of others in this journey – one being Tim Pagnotta from Sugarcult. Why bring outsiders in to co-produce like that? Because you probably could have done it all totally in-house if you wanted to. What advantage was there in having those sounding-board guys?

Dallon: Admittedly, my technical knowledge and abilities are limited. I only started to learn how to record on my own two-and-a-half years ago; almost three years ago. So I’m still constantly learning. I don’t have all the answers, unfortunately, when it comes to the big boards and the machines. Eventually, I had to take my demos to somebody who knows what they’re doing so that we can polish them off. When it came time to pick a producer, I thought that Tim Pagnotta had a great body of work and a wonderful foundation of pop music – which is always what I try to build our songs on and have that foundation of pop and you build your house on there. But we try to find moments to sort of stick our foot in the door of what you’re supposed to do in a pop song. So you can have weird things that probably shouldn’t be there but, for better or for worse, I can’t really help myself.

MF: I’m really curious to know what’s next for you guys. There’s a rumour that you might be headed down to Australia for Good Things 2021. But how tangible is that? And what would you like to do next? Are you doing new music? Because I see you’re in a studio space there?

Dallon: Yeah, I’m always collecting new ideas. I’ve collected about an album and a half’s worth of stuff – and they’re not all complete. So it’s super-early stages. I don’t wanna get anyone’s hopes up for an album within the next couple of months or anything. But [I’m] collecting ideas and chipping away at them to see what’s worth pursuing and what’s not worth pursuing.

As far as rumours playing Australia, I haven’t heard any yet. This is the first rumour I’ve heard! I certainly hope that it’s true. I would love to come back to Australia. I really love it there. To be able to share this music and play with this band down there would be huge for us.

MF: We’ve had international DJs return to Australia. They’ve had to do the two-weeks quarantine and, where the tennis players whinged about being locked up in hotels, the DJs seem to like it. They just turn their rooms into little studios!

Dallon: You know what? Bring it on – I’ll take two weeks locked in a hotel. I can do that!

Listen to iDKHOW’s debut album ‘Razzmatazz’.

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