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A Shoreline Dream frontman Ryan Policky lives in a modest two-story house near Barnum Park in west Denver. The do-it-yourself ethos gets plenty of lip service these days, but Policky and his bandmates — guitarist Erik Jeffries, bassist Enoc Torraca and drummer Sean Merrell — live it fully, and the house on Osceola Street is a testament to that: In addition to serving as Policky's home, a practice space and a studio, it has also been the band's primary source of funding. Policky, in fact, mortgaged the house so that his band wouldn't have to rely on a label.
In these post-bubble days, that sounds like an insane idea, but to hear the bandmembers talk about it, sitting around Policky's kitchen table on a cold, gray Sunday morning, it was the most pragmatic thing in the world.
"You send a check to a firm and they say, you know, 'This is the way we do it,' and you either go with the way they do it or just hit the road," Jeffries points out. "We'd rather control our destiny." With that in mind, Policky took out a loan, and the band set up a label called Latenight Weeknight Records and invested the same amount of money that a normal label would on promotion, marketing and design — all done in-house as well — for a new release. And the strategy worked: Shoreline's debut album, Avoiding the Consequences, soon began receiving favorable notices in publications like Filter and URB.
As savvy as the move was, the act's unique sound didn't hurt matters in terms of attracting attention. A moody blend of psych, shoegaze, goth and post-rock that swirls about the ears like a grayish-pink haze, it's a sound that Policky has been working to achieve ever since he and Jeffries began making music together in Pure Drama around the turn of the decade. After that group — which Policky describes as dark and electronic ("like Depeche Mode and shit") — broke up in 2003, Policky and drummer/keyboardist Gabe Ratliff formed Drop the Fear, and the sound became more rock-oriented. Jeffries rejoined the band just before it broke up, and the three decided to move on and form the first iteration of A Shoreline Dream, recruiting friend and fan Torraca to play bass. Ratliff eventually left, however, and after a brief stint with another drummer, they brought in Merrell, who had been a member of Tintin and continues to play with Ian Cooke.
With the lineup now firmly in place, the foursome began to work in earnest on recordings for its as-yet-untitled second album in early 2008, logging plenty of hours at Shoreline Studios, which is located on Policky's second floor. It was also around this time that the band first hooked up with German ambient techno/dream-pop producer Ulrich Schnauss. The members were already fans of his, and they had heard while on tour the previous year that Schnauss was very taken with their Coastal , which had been released in the summer of 2007. Recognizing an opportunity to work with an artist the group highly respected, Policky, in typically audacious fashion, contacted Schnauss and asked if he'd be interested in co-producing some of the new tracks the group was working on. To everyone's delight, Schnauss accepted, and they sent him a new song called "neverChanger."
What they got in return was a track that sounded as refined and intricate as anything they had ever recorded, if not more so, and they were happy enough with it to commit to releasing it as an EP. This led to working with yet another hero, Low/Galaxie 500 producer Kramer, whom Policky recruited to master the EP.
The neverChanger EP was released last July, and a subsequent tour with Schnauss — aided by a surprising amount of airplay on East Village Radio in New York and augmented by more smart marketing moves such as getting "neverChanger" included on an XLR8R magazine sampler — helped raise the band's profile even higher, still without ever having signed to a label.
"I think a lot of bands should just do it themselves," says Policky, referring to self-releasing and self-promotion. "If you believe in something so much, you should just do it yourself, 'cause then you don't have to worry about getting fucked later. When I was an interviewer, I would interview all these big bands, and the one thing they all said was that they hated their management and labels. All of them would say that...and I was like, 'Why are all these bands just bitching about this and not doing something about it?'"
And so now, with their second LP, Recollections of Memory, which dropped February 10, the guys have done it themselves yet again. Mastered by Kramer and featuring appearances by Ulrich Schnauss on three tracks, including a more muscular reworking of "neverChanger" that more closely approximates its live incarnation, the album is undoubtedly the band's strongest work yet. Shoreline's signature oceanic sound remains, the songwriting has improved, and the mood, while still dark, is leavened by more celebratory moments, such as the triumphant beginning of "Manhattan Beach," the opening track.
The record represents "a year and a half of life," says Policky, and it does so literally. The album's cover is a photograph Policky took on an "inspiring" trip to Amsterdam; while there, he made some field recordings of people talking, which are included on the song "Departure," written just before he left for the trip. The following track, "The Night Before," is a song Jeffries wrote the night before his second son was born. And in a development that Policky calls "almost psychic-induced," just as he and Kramer were finishing the album, and just as he had decided to call the album Recollections of Memory, for reasons he wasn't even sure of yet, he heard that his dear friend Michelle had died, and all of a sudden the album title took on a great deal more meaning. By chance, he had just rejected one mastering of the album, which gave him time to include a recording of Michelle's voice, which brings the album to a haunting, poignant close.
Indeed, the members themselves concede that the album seemed to come from somewhere beyond them. "It's bigger than we are," notes Merrell. "Things were just falling into place — sometimes they were falling into place before we realized they were falling into place." Torraca concurs, saying that while the shape and direction of Avoiding the Consequences seemed clear from the start, "this one was kind of blurry. Like, I would come in to record, and I didn't know what I was recording." Just the same, he's pleased with the result; of all the bands he's been in, whether here, in New York, or in his native Puerto Rico, this is the only time that he's listened to an album he's been on, he says.
And any band would have plenty of reason to be proud of a recording as accomplished as Recollections of Memory. But while the members of A Shoreline Dream are basking in the praise that will certainly come their way, they'll get the much rarer pleasure of knowing that they did all of it themselves.