[INTERVIEW] Brad Vander Lugt of La Dispute

For the past 15 years, La Dispute have been building a legacy in the post-hardcore scene. The Michigan natives cut their teeth playing house shows and basements all around the country, becoming a staple in the DIY scene. They have a passionate and dedicated supporter base, and every live show becomes a cacophony of voices, with the crowd screaming the lyrics back to the band. Off the back of an appearance at the inaugural Good Things Festival last year, La Dispute have announced a huge Australian tour, playing 15 shows in 17 days. We caught up with drummer Brad Vander Lugt to talk about their latest album, Panorama, and what to expect from their upcoming tour.


With you living in Australia now, how did you go about recording your latest album?
Well it was a little bit tricky but what we do now even for rehearsing for tours and stuff you just gotta be smart about the planning. So what we did this time, I grew up in Michigan, some of the other guys did too, so we still have family back there. So we rented a spot in Michigan and just wrote for three months straight. I visited family, wrote some music, and then we just planned recording sessions accordingly and broke it up into a few different chunks, so I would fly over for that and fly back. Obviously it’s a bit of a mission but it’s what we have to do now so deliberate planning is the key


When did you move to Australia?
I’ve been living here full time for about 5 years, my partner is Australian, so it was either here or in the states. We decided that Australia was the best place. I love it here, living in Queensland with my partner.


Were you worried distance would affect your connection and chemistry as a band?
I think it’s just kind of in our DNA. We’ve been playing together that long. Wasn’t so much worried about writing music or any of that, it’s more like – writing a record is a pretty daunting task and I think when you’ve got that huge pressure, distance only adds to the pressure. It just made an already pretty daunting task even more so. But it also presented us with good buffer time between, so we would have breaks between writing and recording and it gives you time to digest and maybe reflect on different things and ideas and fine tune them. So that’s the other side of the coin, that it’s helpful in different ways.


We read that you turned to an RPG called ‘Tales From The Loop’ during recording. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I think it’s maybe been made out to be a bigger thing than it was. Because it was three months of writing together we tried to break it up a little bit – we got together five days a week for three months. It’s a lot of sitting there and not forcing… but you’re there for a reason, and we wanted to break it up and sort of refresh our brains in a different way. Adam’s really into games and RPGs and he just kind of suggested ‘why don’t we forget about this for a day and have fun and play something?’ He chose the game and it was really fun. He’s the one thats really into games but we all kind of enjoy it when it’s happening. It was fun, I think the main thing is when you take a break or change your approach a tiny bit to take your mind off the task at hand, it can be really helpful for refreshing relationships. It’s just something different. It was fun. We did all this stuff like that, different activities, just to break up the monotony. Three months is a long time to write, so we tried to do some other things together


For people who may not have listened yet, can you give us a bit of a lowdown on the latest album?
We try to never make the same record twice so I think this time around it did take us a while to find a direction we were happy with. We actually had written a bunch of pieces of songs and we scrapped everything – we decided communally that we weren’t happy with the direction, or it was something we weren’t all thrilled about so we did a hard reset. It was the right decision because the new approach we took was a little more natural and organic. It wasn’t so heavily thought out, we kind of let the songs develop on their own, just jamming, which was really nice. I think that shows in the record. It’s kind of got two sides to it because we also introduced a lot of different sounds, there’s a bunch of synthesisers on there, we tried different things. I think it’s one of our most delicate records but that there’s other parts that maybe are some of the heaviest stuff we’ve done. Its very diverse.


We caught you at Good Things Festival last year and your performance was definitely the most intense one of the day. How would you describe your live sets?
It’s hard to say because I’ve been doing it for so long now, but we definitely put everything we can into the live show, usually I’m exhausted by the time the set is finished. For Good Things, we hadn’t done any festivals in Australia so we wanted to do something a little bit different. Bearing in mind we wanted to do a long headlining tour in the next year, it was a good set up for that. [At our shows] I think there’s some good dialogue, Jordan does a good job of communicating to the crowd, and we really feed off of the energy of the people there too. It’s hard to gauge at a festival but in a venue setting its a very back and forth kind of relationship as the shows going and that’s what I’ve really come to love being in this band all these years, we get so much out of it as well. It’s pretty special.


You’re playing 15 shows in 17 nights while you are here – and in Wollongong you are playing an old Irish pub called Dicey Rileys. Do you like playing in these intimate venues?
Yes very much so. We love it – that’s how we came up, we played a lot of house basements and halls and that’s really where we started this band. They were the only shows we played, really small venues. And Australia was the first international tour we did as a band. Back then – when good friends of ours took us over – the tour was longer, we played smaller shows and there was even one show we played outside in an abandoned house. So it’s pretty nostalgic for us, that whole aesthetic, and again, the community it fosters and the people that came. I think it’s pretty special so we wanted to do that again. Obviously it’s never gonna be like that again but we wanted to give an opportunity for people who maybe can’t get to a Sydney show to come out. Just to do something a little different. We haven’t done a lengthy Australian tour in a number of years so it seems like it made sense.


How important is the DIY scene to you, and what Australian bands have you been listening to lately?
It’s massively important to our band. Obviously now its a different game, we aren’t playing all DIY shows but like I said before, that’s how we came up. We played really small house shows and halls, that’s how we started, and that’s in the DNA of our band. Its hugely important to us, we also have a great opportunity to showcase bands we love when we tour. We pick bands we feel really passionate about and Sports Bra is one of those bands. A really good friend of mine suggested them last time we toured Australia, they played the Sydney show and we just really got along, such wonderful people, the band’s awesome, their message is so important. We just really wanted to get them for this round and we’re very lucky to have them along. There’s a lot of really great bands in Australia at the moment and it’s pretty cool to see the scene thriving.


Your music is a bit of a marriage between music and spoken word. Is slam poetry something you are personally interested in?
To be honest it just sort of just happened. It wasn’t something planned, if you ask Jordan he will just say that’s what came out when we started this band a long time ago and it’s evolved over time. I personally don’t have any interest in it [slam poetry] but I think it is interesting. Jordan did a lot of theatre in school so I think that translates a bit in the way he performs.


Do you think it’s your raw and blunt lyrics that attracts people to your music? Do you feel like an outlet for the disenfranchised?
I know Jordan has answered this question a few times so i’ll just roughly give you my version of what he would say. I think what most people connect to first because its a common thread for all people is the lyrics or communication. I think that first and foremost. With Jordan, I’m lucky because he’s one of the most talented people I know and I get to be in a band with him. He’s actually my cousin so I’ve known him my whole life. Yeah I think that people do connect to what Jordan has to say, he says it well and he’s very creative about it. And I think the marriage between what he does and what the rest of us do as a band kind of works in tandem. So we can set a good backdrop for what he’s trying to portray and I think without one the other wouldn’t be as impactful. So it sort of goes back and forth


You seem to have a pretty engaged and dedicated young fan base too. While you are here you are doing five all ages shows. Do you try to do all ages shows where you can?
We do, yup! I think it goes back to when we started, we always played all ages shows. When we were kids too that’s sort of where we found our community and our sense of identity – going to shows – and we met a lot of our friends there. It is important for us to foster that sort of community where everyone can feel safe and welcome, especially younger kids who might need it – it might be the only place where they feel safe or connected to other people. So yeah absolutely where possible we try to do all ages shows.

Interview – Britt Andrews