The average college band usually forms around a charismatic lead singer, experiments with some grungy garage sounds as a three-piece and then slowly vanishes over the period months after their first EP release. Every so often, however, a group of artists with mutual interests and equal investment manage to turn their talents into an actual following. This is precisely what’s happening with AU bands Dream Chief and The Wldlfe.
With an ear to the ground of the industry and some fresh, forward-moving additions to the sonic trends of independent music, both groups have begun to gain traction. Whether digitally on streaming platforms like Spotify or Soundcloud, or physically through concert bookings and CD sales, the men of Dream Chief and The Wldlfe are making their presence known in the Midwest indie music scene and don’t intend to slow down anytime soon.
Of the two, Dream Chief has been active as a group the longest. Cousins John and Luke Tuttle (though often mistaken as brothers) have been making music since their childhood. The two started by playing music for their grandmother at Christmastime and before either was five or six years old they each had picked up an instrument: John learned the guitar; and Luke, the piano.
Through high school they were each other’s only consistent band-mate, but according to John it wasn’t until they lost a drummer the summer before John’s freshman year at AU that the duo decided to formalize themselves as the two-piece Dream Chief.
They then made the shift from music made strictly with physical instruments to moving into the world of synthesizers and drum machines. Listeners familiar with indie electronic music won’t be able to help comparing Dream Chief to artists like Vinyl Thief and Sampha and the pair acknowledges how their influences manifest in their music. That said, John Tuttle feels the band has learned to add elements to their music that breathe some new life into their genre.
“We’re playing electronic music—that’s what we love—but it still remains organic with things like organic vocals and real guitar playing,” Tuttle said. “It’s not like your typical slick EDM music. It’s electronic music that feels real—or at least that’s the way I think about it—that people can find an emotional connection to, an outflow of real energy even when part of it is still synthetic….Part of it is coming from a computer but it still feels all real and I think that’s because of the “real” aspects.”
The Wldlfe, in contrast, seems like the reverse. They take the “real” aspects of a pop/rock band (guitar, drums, etc.) and add synth for a unique brand of indie dance pop reminiscent of Carousel, Magic Man, and Snø.
The Wldlfe came about when lead singer Jansen Hogan got tired of a solo career and also started moving in the direction of more electronic-based music.
“My solo stuff felt stale to me and I just wasn’t believing in that project,” Hogan said. “I had written the New EP before the wldlfe was even technically started, but I didn’t feel like the songs fit the solo sound. I just wanted something different and that I believed in. I met with Geoff [Jones] and Jason [Boucouras] and we talked about starting a band and the rest is history. We’ve added Jack [Crane] since then and for our first year as a band, I think we’ve been extremely surprised and excited by the things that are to come for our music.”
Like Dream Chief, The Wldlfe hopes to add an earnesty and honesty to the fun, danceable side of synth-pop, crafting something both meaningful and easy on the ears.
“I think we are really trying to just be accessible with our music,” Hogan said. “We want to give people something they can sing and dance to that doesn’t lie too far on one side of the spectrum of introspective and shallow.”
When two people work together for as long as John and Luke of Dream Chief have, they learn to create without having to use a formalized method. The writing process begins with one bandmate as often as the other, and the free and familiar give-and-take that he and Luke have is what John thinks helps them create a more organic sound to a largely computer-generated genre.
“My cousin and I both write separately and then we bring it together or we both just get in a room and start bouncing ideas off each other,” said John. “Sometimes I’ll make a beat and then we’ll write over it. Sometimes he’ll play something on keys and I’ll start writing over it. There’s no ‘right way’ to do it.”
Their mix of “real” and synthetic sounds has helped them make ground in the business. They’ve been seen alongside indie leaders like Zella Day and Panama Wedding. Their most recent single “Can’t Shake U” has passed 324,000 streams and was featured on Spotify’s Fresh Finds and Global Viral 50 playlists.
According to Tuttle, the band averages “three to four shows a month during the school year and more during the summer playing around the Midwest,” and with increasing exposure comes an increased following. John expressed how he and Luke are taking advantage of their increased presence in the Midwest scene but don’t want it to make them complacent and halt their growth.
“We haven’t plateaued yet and we’re just kind of riding that wave up,” John said. “My personal goal would be for this to just be our life, that we wouldn’t have to clock in nine-to-five from a cubicle but that all we do is make music. [Dream Chief] will definitely not just be a college project.”
With more singles and concerts on the way, it seems unlikely that Dream Chief will be finished when John and Luke graduate. Catch Dream Chief in Indianapolis Nov. 18 at the White Rabbit, Dec. 2 at the Joyful Noise, Feb. 3 at the HiFi, and more dates to be announced.
In the same vein, The Wldlfe is taking advantage of having secured a manager and a following online to generate new work. Hogan and the band are heading back to Varsity Records in the coming months to work on their second EP before getting back to touring in the spring semester.