Alastair is the name of a 10,000-year- old wizard from the Japanese island Yakushima. His parents were killed by gremlins, and these same gremlins have now taken over the music industry. So, to battle that evil industry and its gremlin-possessed bands, Alastair started his own group, Dankjewel.
That, at least, is the story as told by David Alastair, one of Dankjewel’s three singer-guitarist-synth players. He dreamed up that narrative during a trip to Amsterdam last year and an extended illness earlier this year. He had been living in Los Angeles, but moved back to Reno, where he grew up, after getting sick.
He recruited some of Northern Nevada’s top musicians, including fellow singer-guitarist-synth players Paul Curatolo and Danny Lennon, drummer Aaron Chiazza, and bassist Alex Korostinsky. These are all prolific local musicians involved with a number of high-profile projects, including the pop-soul group the Sextones, the funk band Whatitdo, and the Beatles tribute act Rain.
Members of the group, primarily Alastair and Lennon, wrote songs for the project that loosely connect, to one degree or another, to the band’s fictional narrative, which they say draws inspiration from science fiction, comic books, and cartoons, especially Japanese animation.
Musically, the band draws on what Alastair describes as “retro concepts for progressive psychedelic music, but with a modern production take on it.” Or, put more simply, psychedelic pop. Dankjewel sounds a bit like Tame Impala, to pick a contemporary band, or Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd, for a classic rock reference point. There’s also a distinct ’70s vibe to the songwriting, which has rich harmonies, power pop hooks and cheeky lyrics.
The song “Miranda,” for example, could fit in nicely between Steely Dan and Harry Nilsson tracks on a terrific playlist. But there are little touches of contemporary production that keep the band from being a straight-up throwback. “Miranda” has an acoustic guitar outro, but the echo and reverb slowly increase, turning the part into a wash of eerie sound.
Even with the tricky and trippy studio effects, the band’s sound is gentle, breezy and accessible—the smooth side of psychedelia.
“We’re not trying to freak anybody out,” said Alastair.
He and Curatolo both sing lead, often singing in unison or close harmony.
“The idea was to create one voice out of both of our voices,” said Curatolo. He compares it to the early Beatles, when John Lennon and Paul McCartney would often sing in unison. (He plays McCartney in Rain. Chiazza performs as Ringo Starr.)
They’ve recorded a debut self-titled EP, which will be released online and on cassette with accompanying digital download code. The band’s debut performance will also be its record release party, Nov. 18, at the Holland Project in Reno.
The group made a deliberate decision to have the record release show at the all-ages venue.
“I don’t want this band to become like a bar band or a casino gigging band,” said Alastair. “I want this band to be for younger listeners. It’s for everybody.”