Hero, possibly the kindest pit bull on the planet, shyly welcomes me to a large, old house in Bloomington that, for the purposes of this story, we'll call the Dreamers of the Ghetto manse. Hero sticks by Dreamers bassist Luke Jones's side like a curious child. He even shares a chair with Luke when we sit and chat over cold drinks. Guitarist Jonathan Jones sits close by, even quieter than Luke and Hero. Keyboardist Lauren Jones ushered me in with the most genuine hug a person can imagine.
Luke Jones and his wife, Lauren, live with Luke's brother, Jonathan, (and Jonathan's wife, Holly) at the manse. Luke, Lauren, Jonathan, and the fourth member of Dreamers of the Ghetto, drummer Marty Sprowles, make up a family band, of sorts. Hero (the dog) is a pretty good metaphor for this family and this band. They're all tough — they can rock — but in the end, they're humble, happy to be where they are, doing what they're doing.
It feels rare to be in such a house and around people living out what they love. It smells good here, like incense and food. The lighting soothes. According to Luke, "We all decided to move in together so we could work out this dream." He and Lauren lived in Nashville, Tenn., for ten years before joining Jonathan in Bloomington — that'll give anyone armor. The couple loved Nashville, and still do — Lauren grew up in southern Tennessee — but it was time to get out. Jonathan had started school at IU in 2004, with a focus on creative writing.
There had always been collaborations — between the Jones brothers, then Luke and Lauren, etc. But when they brought their friend Marty into the mix, they had their magic. Maybe you've already seen this band — they've played Radio Radio, The White Rabbit, Locals Only and The Bishop — but you're about to see a whole lot more of them.
Dreamers of the Ghetto recently signed a two-album deal with Temporary Residence Limited out of Brooklyn; their debut full-length, Enemy/Lover, is due from the label Oct. 4. Local label Roaring Colonel Records is also on board; the My Old Kentucky Blog-affiliated outfit is issuing a 7-inch containing two exclusive tracks: on the A-side, a radio edit of "Tether," a different version of which appears as the closing track on the full-length; and "Heavy Love" on the B-side.
See: "Heavy Love," recorded during Dreamers of the Ghetto's Shaking Through session
Even labels that aren't releasing work by Dreamers of the Ghetto have helped out the band. Ben Swanson, co-founder of Bloomington-based label Secretly Canadian selected Dreamers of the Ghetto to take part in Shaking Through, a Philadelphia-based web series that gives up-and-coming bands the chance to record new work in high-end facilities and with expert assistance. Swanson, a guest curator for the series, discovered Dreamers of the Ghetto at a Bloomington basement show and knew right away that the band was onto something.
"A lot of new bands are doing really interesting things, but they're still fairly scrappy — still working things out," Swanson says. "I was really impressed with just how evolved their sound was. They're a band that's weird to compare to others. My brother [Chris Swanson] says they're a marriage between xx and early U2."
Swanson considered some East coast bands for the series, but after thinking it over for a week, he decided that it would be great to get a local Indiana band in there. The series, which has featured Sharon van Etten, Ben+Vesper, Springs and Family Band, is produced by Philadelphia station WXPN and the non-profit music incubator Weathervane Music.
Marty Sprowles plays drums for Dreamers of the Ghetto; he also plays for EDM (formerly, Early Day Miners) and works at a group home for the mentally ill. Even though he's the only member of the band not literally in the Jones family, he might as well be a brother. He carries the same attitude as the entire band — they all make it look easy, because they're genuinely in love with it.
Luke, Lauren and Jonathan also have jobs around town: at cafes, bars, and restaurants. They don't mind — if, eventually, they're not working other jobs, that would also be great. If, eventually, they're touring with The National or Explosions In the Sky, well, that might be something of a dream come true; when you hear them, jamming in a basement lit with orange Christmas lights, it doesn't seem so far off.
The band sees Bloomington and Indianapolis as places to play around a bit, safe zones to try out new work. When they're away from home, they stick to their standards, playing more traditional shows. Regardless, everything they do seems to be organic: sometimes they write songs starting with a beat, sometimes a chord or a lyric; almost they end up somewhere interesting.
Members of Dreamers of the Ghetto all seem able to explain what they love about other musicians — but that's the job of any artist: to mimic others until they know enough, and are inspired enough to do their own thing. For instance, some band members recently attended the Twilight Singers' show at the Metro in Chicago. Luke says "the energy at that show is what we're trying to achieve — the show really mimicked everything that's great about the Twilight Singers' new album." Plus, at the Chicago show, the Twilight Singers played a unique remix version of Prince's "When Doves Cry"; that automatically endeared them to the band.
Everyone in the band agrees it's an exciting time to be in Indiana, with so many bands being signed and doing interesting things. They seem earnestly proud to be in on that. And so, they're sticking around, at least for a while. They like Bloomington as a central location to tour from. Lauren mentions that "it's close to so many great music cities: Chicago, Louisville, Cincinnati, even Nashville."
Hear: "Tether," the closing track from Enemy/Lover (via Temporary Residence)