'Raw imagination' gives way to new scuzz-pop album from Son of Dribble

Before releasing 'Son of Drib Against the Wind' on cassette at Wednesday's Spacebar show, singer Andy Clager discusses the Columbus art-rock band's music and the vacant house it calls home

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Son of Dribble, from left: Vicky Mahnke, Darren Latanick, Mike Nosan and Andy Clager

Somewhere off of the 270 outerbelt sits an empty house, sequestered on a large lot. There’s no heat or running water, but Son of Dribble discovered the vacant house still has electricity.

Eventually the house will be destroyed, but there’s no demolition date yet. So, in the meantime, Son of Dribble have turned the structure into a playhouse and band HQ, nicknamed “Heartbroke Rij,” where singer Andy Clager, guitarist Darren Latanick, drummer Vicky Mahnke and recently added guitarist “Miracle” Mike Nosan rehearse, record and shoot music videos. The spot came in handy, in particular, over the pandemic. “It’s been kind of a lifesaver,” Clager said. 

Heartbroke Rij even made it onto the big screen recently. Director Noah Dixon of Loose Films heard about Son of Dribble and wanted to include the band in the movie “Poser,” which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last summer. “Noah said, ‘We want to come to your practice space.’ And I was like, ‘Well, get a load of this,’” said Clager, who invited the filmmakers out to Heartbroke Rij, where the crew spent the afternoon capturing footage of the band at the house. 

While Son of Dribble didn’t get together for a while following the 2020 coronavirus shutdowns, eventually the former Band to Watch began working on new songs and recording videos to accompany a series of one-off digital releases, most recently the four-song EP Candy Boy & Natalie Swords. But last year, prior to Nosan joining the band, Son of Dribble also recorded a new album, Son of Drib Against the Wind, which will be available on cassette at the band’s upcoming shows: March 16 at Spacebar with the Wind-Ups, April 15 at Double Happiness with Juan Wauters and May 14 at Secret Studio with Long Odds and Vacation.

The pop-minded art-rock band hunkered down to record with Zac Szymusiak at Heartbroke Rij and emerged with 12 songs clocking in around 47 minutes — a contrast to the first Son of Dribble album, Dabbling in Hell, which also featured around a dozen songs but wrapped up in just 25 minutes. Over the years, the band has added new members and new sounds, all while retaining Son of Dribble's core components.

“We’ve always wanted to be nice and scuzzy and rough around the edges. And I think we can only sound a certain way,” Clager said. “But we never want to make one song over and over again.”

On Son of Drib Against the Wind, the band expands its sonic arsenal to include synthesizer, backwards guitar, slide guitar and lots more percussion, including the handle on an old storage chest in a new version of “Painting the Head.” Szymusiak’s recordings also add more low end to Son of Dribble’s sound.

But there’s still a raw, visceral quality to the band’s music. "Our music isn’t for everybody. And by everybody, I mean most people. … But however unpleasant it is, it’s ours," Clager said. "A lot of what we’re doing is trying to set the mood and create a spirit." 

While Son of Dribble isn’t referential in its sound, that spirit is influenced by some of Clager’s favorite recordings, such as Joy Division’s late 1970s RCA sessions. “That’s peak sound for a rock ’n’ roll band. The voice is kind of awkward and sounds like he’s shouting in a hallway,” Clager said. “Has music gotten better than the Velvet Underground demos? I don’t know.” 

Still, just like most of the Joy Division and Velvet Underground material, Son of Dribble doesn’t shy away from a good hook. “They’re scuzzy around the edges, but there’s a juicy core to them,” Clager said. A song like “Suddenly,” for instance, draws on Clager’s love of doo-wop, while “Be Cruel” comes across as a tender love song.

That balance of soft and harsh, ballads and rippers, shows up in Son of Dribble’s lyrics, as well, with Clager thanking a “kind world for all you’ve given me” on disco-synth tune “Candy Boy” and then describing a cold world where “heads are hanging” on “Be Cruel.”

“When I was a little younger, I used to want to be a poet, so I have always been writing things down constantly — phrases or terms or scenery that comes to mind,” Clager said. “A lot of the new songs stem from that.”

At its best, Son of Dribble is difficult to pin down. There’s no specific genre, no clarifying artist statement. But there's still electricity. “It comes from a place,” Clager said, “of raw imagination.”