Podcast: Spencer Bible and Mike Pellino on Christian Dior's visceral songwriting

The Madison duo embrace tenderness and rage on a new EP.

  Mike Pellino (left) and Spencer Bible.

Mike Pellino (left) and Spencer Bible.

Madison duo Christian Dior works in a grimy blur of immediacy, swinging from shoegaze tenderness to snide punk outbursts on the new Patriot Glass/Dioria tape. Each side has only three tracks but functions as its own separate EP, one produced by guitarist/vocalist Spencer Bible and the other by drummer Mike Pellino. While the whole tape's an admittedly lo-fi, that doesn't mean production was an afterthought: “Iodine," on Pellino's more layered, digitally produced side, builds its melody through quiet, morose swells and a restrained vocal from Bible, whereas “Tarsands," on Bible's side, uses a stripped-down, one take approach to create a sense of nullifying claustrophobia.

Pellino, who also plays bass in garage-soul outfit Cowboy Winter, and Bible, who also collaborates with spoken-word artist Daiquiri Rene Jones in experimental outfit Autographite, have known each other since fourth grade but didn't begin writing songs and playing together until about a year ago. As new as Christian Dior is, the band already has a distinctive, if divided, persona, and plays fierce live sets. As the duo finished up its just-released single, “Terror," and prepared for a May 23 show at Mickey's Tavern, Bible and Pellino talked with me about their recording process and how the constraints of being a two-piece shape their songwriting.

Tone Madison: The new EP is basically two short EPs put together and you each produced one. Why did you do it that way? What's different about your production approaches?

Spencer Bible: Well, I guess my background is really kind of four-track tape machines, doing everything really as stripped-down as possible. And I think also that any recording style is really just a utilitarian thing, whatever you have available. I didn't have a good computer and interface, so I started doing that. So that's my side, the Patriot Glass side.

Mike Pellino: I've been doing digital… For the Patriot Glass side that Spencer did, we had four tracks going. On mine, it's like 13. We kind of scrapped it at first, and then I reopened the tracks when we decided we were going to use it again, and it was just like, oh my God, what's happening with this? I think there were 20 on one and I had to cut it down, because there was so much worthless stuff.

Spencer Bible: We didn't go into it being like, “Oh, we're going to do this intentionally," but Mike's interface lit on fire and went up in smoke. Rest in peace, MOTU. I think we both acknowledge that each has their own strengths. Most of the stuff on the Patriot Glass side was one take live. There's two songs on that side [“Kill Urself" and “Tarsands"] that are literally the first take we did. The mix, we set the levels and did the first song and then tweaked the levels a bit and did the next song, so it's more of a loose recording thing, whereas Mike's side we tracked everything—

Mike Pellino: To a click track also. We weren't playing together in the same room during that recording session.

Spencer Bible: We were just on the other side of the room giving each other thumbs-ups. Lots of thumbs-ups.

Tone Madison: And it's a really gritty and immediate and lo-fi, even though I kind of hate that term, but there is a lot of detail that you're messing with, as far as having a lot of different layers and effects on the vocals and so forth. What were some of the textures you were trying to create?  

Spencer Bible: Well, I think the nature of being in a two-piece and just having all the melodic texture coming from just my guitar—the thing about it too is, we did Dioria in July and then we did the other side in December, and my pedal chain at that point had gotten so much better. I had all these fuzz pedals and things that I didn't need when we did Mike's side. The textures of the thing was simultaneously trying to figure out how we can get as many layers of guitar sound and bring out the highs but also still have the really full lows, but at the same time we also just want a good solid rock tone, a good chunky distorted guitar. I think if you listen to the record, it's split between a bass amp and a guitar amp, so I can really glitch out the guitar amp but the bass amp will stay rooted in the song. By the time we were recording the Patriot Glass side, I had gotten a little more into that element of the sounds in the band. It's just kinda weird. There's a lot of differences between the two sides, but that makes it a more interesting tape, I feel.

Tone Madison: How'd you end up having these really starkly contrasting songs, where some are really aggressive and angry and others are way more restrained?

Spencer Bible: A lot of the songwriting comes out of a utilitarian necessity to have something that sounds good with our setup. If you have a bass and two guitars, you have a lot more sonic tools that you can do stuff with. A lot of this band was just us jamming and finding some sounds that work and figuring out how we can get the arc of the song going with just layering tones and changing distortions and changing EQs and stuff like that. That's partially the reason why the pedalboard has been in such development. There's songs that we started out playing that we don't play anymore, because the pedalboard changed and then those old songs fell by the wayside, and then we had new stuff that we could do. The songwriting thing, both of us are long-term songwriters, so I think both are just kind of always talking about how to structure stuff, but the actual sound of it is just like, “How can I get the sound of a bass and then simultaneously have enough of a thing to hook as a melody in there?"

When I bring a song in to Mike, it's usually something were I go, “OK, this is something that could work with the gear setup." That really governs what we can do with the band. Mike helps so much with structuring. We've had entire rewrites of songs that Mike has pretty much led.

Mike Pellino: It's always nice to have a fresh set of ears on something, and same with my other stuff, to have someone else go, “No that doesn't work," or “I could hear this going in here."

Spencer Bible: A lot of it's slashing and burning parts out of songs, because I think with what we're doing it's good to just get the core of the ideas out there and present them as best as possible, but not space out too much. Although actually the new stuff we're writing is getting more spacey and textured and having more, I don't know, searching parts, as opposed to being direct the whole time.

Tone Madison: And you're putting out a new song this week.

Spencer Bible: We were calling it the “Latin Dave Grohl" song, that was the working title for a long time. We renamed it “Terror."

Mike Pellino: It was “Peasants" for a while, and now it's “Terror."

Spencer Bible: A lot of it was about how much I hate people who identify with sodas, like people who get the Monster Energy Drink logo tattooed on them or people who really identify with Mountain Dew Code Red. I'm just like, why would you do that?

Tone Madison: And that's what the song is about? A diatribe against soda fanatics?

Spencer Bible: Sort of. I mean it's not—the lyrics are always like... The hook is “I've lost that living feeling," which is kind of a Righteous Brothers throwback for me. The lyrics are always way after the fact in this band. We've jammed songs for a long time and I just kind of make up lyrics to them. Some of the songs we play live I haven't actually written lyrics to, I just kind of make them up, but that's kind of cool. I like bands that do that.

Tone Madison: Where did “Latin Dave Grohl" come from?

Mike Pellino: There's just a type of snare roll and kind of rhythm to it, but it's kind of a grungier song.

Spencer Bible: Whenever we're taking a little too much influence from Nirvana, we reference Dave Grohl at some point in the songwriting process.

Tone Madison: What do you guys get out of this band that you don't in the other projects you're in?

Mike Pellino: For me, it's just that I get to play drums in this band and I don't in any other band I'm in. It's nice having different bands with different instruments so I don't start writing the same part for different bands. It'd be really annoying if I was in four bands where I was playing guitar.

Spencer Bible: It's been just always really fun. We don't really kill ourselves—ah, god. We don't really try super-hard writing the songs. It just kind of happens really naturally, and we strive for that really organic songwriting where it really feels visceral. And that just makes the shows super fun and we get to be really rowdy and play raw, and that's the best feeling, when you get to just drop into it really hard and go at it full force.