Dumas is a sleepy town in the Texas panhandle that boasts just under 15,000 permanent residents and shares its Wikipedia disambiguation page with two other tiny hamlets. According to Hayden Pedigo, a 22-year-old experimental guitarist and resident of Amarillo (a bigger city located about 40 miles to the south), it's the stereotypical mid-America town that centers its identity around its high school sports. It only really fully sputters to life for a few hours each Friday night when their football stadium is bathed in fluorescent light. Dumas could be easy to ignore, but for Pedigo, there's more to it than meets the eye.
"Some small towns are boring and unremarkable," he says. "But Dumas isn't." There's a strange energy that orbits the city—hazy myths, and strange characters that Pedigo speaks about excitedly, but is nevertheless hesitant to relate in explicit detail because he'd rather not upset the small community of folks in the town where his wife was raised. But one of the town's more prominent legends is at the heart of Dumas Demons, his new drone project with Joe McMurray (who you may otherwise know as the drummer for the perennially grinning indie rocker Mac DeMarco). The Demons are the local football team, the pride and joy of the town, by Pedigo's accounts a local juggernaut in the 60s. But still, in the overtly religious northern reaches of Texas, locals took the name as a sort of curse, half-jokingly blaming any misfortune that befalls the town on its satanic mascot.
Pedigo and McMurray's collaborations aren't as dark as those maledictions, but their work is suggestive of a similar sort of mystery. The pair began working together after a chance Facebook friendship blossomed into something more. They quickly discovered they were into the same sort of experimental music, and started casually trading their own recordings back and forth. McMurray provided disorienting loops, Pedigo would add textured guitar works and synths, and eventually a dizzy collection of ambient pieces took shape—shimmering, bright, sunburned, but not too perfect, each loop and line carrying with it a little darkness. It's for this reason they borrowed the Demons name—there's beauty in the idea that something special and sinister hides behind a placid facade.
The pair still haven't met in person, or spoken on the phone for that matter, but their debut collection of collaborations is out now on Driftless Recordings. Over the last week, THUMP caught up with both Pedigo and McMurray separately (the former while he was on a break from his job at an Amarillo bank, the latter before a Philadelphia show with DeMarco) to talk about the roots of this strange project. Check out a condensed version of both calls below, along with a stream of the full release, out now on Driftless Recordings.
THUMP: Let's start at the beginning—how did you guys meet?
Joe McMurray: Because I'm associated with Mac DeMarco, I get tons of messages from kids all over the place. They'll send me music or they'll tell me their life story or they'll say some weird shit to me. When he reached out he was like, "Hey, I'm a guitar player." He mentioned he was working with Faust. I thought that was cool, that caught my interest. That opened the door, we stayed in communication.
Hayden Pedigo: I think we just had mutual friends on Facebook. I started talking to him not knowing much about what he did. I knew he played drums. We both had an obsession with experimental music, tape loops, ambient, anything like that. Months later, he was on the road, and when he was in the hotel at night he'd send me little ideas that he was making, just to show it to me. It got to the point where he'd say "Well add something to it." So we started messing around with electronics. I'd play guitar and synthesizers over his tape loops or synthesizer work. That was probably about a year and a half ago.
You both have main gigs that are very different than this ambient stuff, were these your first forays into working like this?
Pedigo: It's the first time I'd done something without using my own name and doing something just experimental—no acoustic guitars.
McMurray: I've been doing experimental electronic music since I was 21, so for about eight years. Just fucking around with whatever was available. It's all been mostly for my own enjoyment.
How did these recordings take shape then, was it similar to stuff you guys had done in the past?
Pedigo: Joe was coming up with the groundwork. He'd get the foundation of a track and then I'd take it and then once I added some guitar tracks or synthesizers it'd turn into a different thing.
McMurray: Some of it was definitely recorded on tour, some of it was older material I had that I thought would sound good with proficient guitar playing over the top. [Making music like this is] creative but it's sort of contemplative to me, a way to just zone out. It was very easy and very enthusiastic on both ends.
It's really interesting that you're working entirely through the internet, I know that's sort of a given, but you guys haven't ever met at all right?
McMurray: I was actually a little bit nervous—I thought this was going to be a conference call. Like, is this going to be weird?
Pedigo: No, we've never met in person, we've never talked over the phone. It's all been through email and Facebook. It goes back to like Alan Lomax, if they wanted to know where a blues musician was, they might listen to a song and see if they mention the name of a town. Then they might write the post office of a town, like "is there a person here by this name." Finding somebody could take months and you wouldn't even be sure if they were there. So obviously [the internet] has created so many possibilities. It's a scenario that at one point was completely impossible and almost unthinkable.
Can you tell me a little bit about the backstory of the band name?
Pedigo: My wife grew up in a town called Dumas, Texas. There's something weird about it. The high school football team is called the Dumas Demons. The name was chosen a long time ago, maybe in the 40s or 50s, but it was a super religious little town. I thought it was so bizarre that they were the Dumas Demons and they were referred to as the "Black Knights of the Panhandle." They were these champions in the 60s, just this unstoppable team. Me and Joe started talking about that story, I was like what if we played a show in their stadium—like ambient tape loops in a high school football stadium. It's a small town, it's quiet, but once Friday night rolls around the town comes alive. Then once the games over it goes silent again. It's kind of eerie.
How does the mystique of the town tie into the music?
Pedigo: We envision it as the unofficial soundtrack to those thoughts about the town. What if we made this album and it became the soundtrack to the football team? What if they accepted it as their own?
What do you picture a jock's actual reaction being?
Pedigo: Well, probably a little bit of confusion. But they'd have a reason to see what it has to do with them. Maybe they'd have a reason to create their own myth that goes with the sound. They're a part of it.
This interview has been edited and condensed from two separate calls for and clarity.
Colin Joyce is THUMP's Managing Editor and you can find him on Twitter.