Music Features

Interview: Post Animal's "Forward Motion Godyssey" Powers Through the Storm

Bassist Dalton Allison talks to Popdust about the Chicago band's second album.

Marie Renaud

Just before recording their new album Forward Motion Godyssey, the members of Post Animal feared for their lives.

The Chicago psych rockers got caught in a snowstorm on their way to Big Sky, Montana, where they holed up for eight days to record in a mountainside ski lodge. "We just had a tour where we did a 360 spin on the highway out in Wyoming," bassist Dalton Allison tells me over the phone, adding that their time was cut short due to weather concerns. "It was getting scary. We'd just come to terms with how frail our tour van was."

Still, Post Animal braved the treacherous conditions and emerged with Forward Motion Godyssey, a sophomore album that feels fittingly triumphant (out now via Polyvinyl). Where the quintet's 2018 debut, When I Think of You in a Castle, bears the closeness of compact rock clubs, Godyssey sounds as vast as the mountain range it was recorded in, with a grandiose quality that could fill open-air stadiums. Much of that can actually be attributed to Allison, who co-produced the album this time around. "We felt a little more pressure to make a more professional, polished product," he explains.

Fresh off a U.K. tour with Cage the Elephant, Allison further discusses his love for production with Popdust, and he shares what influenced the creation of Forward Motion Godyssey.

Popdust: I live in New York, but I hear so much about Chicago's underground scene and the bands it breeds. How did being based in Chicago affect the way you make music?

I think in a lot of ways, it's encouraged us to be more experimental than if we were somewhere else, just trying to sound like the biggest local band in our area. Here, the biggest band in our friend group was probably Twin Peaks while we were coming up, and we definitely didn't sound like them, but we kind of tried to apply their same energy to what we were doing. The shared vocals—I feel like that's kind of a Chicago thing, where there's no real frontman [in Post Animal or Twin Peaks]. It's just like, a group of average people joining together to create something bigger than themselves, hopefully better than anything they could do on their own.

Tell me about your experience of co-producing the album with Adam Thein.

I love producing. It's kind of the thing I love most about music. I love thinking of these cinematic ideas for the song. Like, "Oh, I want this to sound like it's being played from the top of a mountain," or "I want the vocals to sound like they're inside your head"—crazy stuff like that. That's the part that I love. I can make it sound crazy and then Adam can clean it up and make it so it doesn't sound unintelligible. But production is one of my favorite parts about music. It's what I appreciate a lot about Electric Light Orchestra and Black Sabbath, those kinds of bands, because someone in the band is also producing the record and no other record sounds like it. My main attraction to Tame Impala is the production. I think that Kevin Parker is an amazing, amazing producer, and I think it's so cool because nothing else sounds like that. A lot of pop records are all done by the same person and it just makes it not as special because you can hear two artists that sound super similar.

As a listener, I like to think about where the artist might've envisioned their music being played. It's funny that you mention being on top of a mountain—did you have a setting in mind when making the album?

Yeah. We recorded it at this house that was in between two mountains, basically, so as we were recording, we'd look out the window and see this huge mountain peak. Everything was grandiose because we're just envisioning this album being the soundtrack to this landscape. It's just a huge, wide area, and you can kind of feel the air—I don't really know how to describe it. Just thinking about the elements and the meeting of the earth and the sky. Not to get too trippy! But as far as a physical space, I feel like these songs are a little bigger. During our last record, we were playing a lot of small clubs and venues like that, so it was very classic rock with slapback delay, really quick and tight. But for this album, I think we were envisioning ourselves playing in bigger spaces. I think it's a record that would sound really good in an outdoor area. I was thinking less about the individual parts, and wanted to make it more spacious—a little bit ambient.

You name dropped Sabbath and ELO earlier, but were there any other artists you were listening to that inspired this album?

I try not to listen to other music at all, or at least not contemporary music. We get compared to other psych rock bands all the time, and I'm so scared that I'll hear something and subconsciously make songs too close to that. It kind of kills the originality of what we're doing. But, I was listening to this band called Flower Travellin' Band that has this cool, big production. A lot of Black Sabbath, a lot of '70s progressive bands like King Crimson...a lot of rock, but we also listen to a lot of pop music for melodies.


You guys described "Schedule" as "a song so pop that it's not pop." What does that mean to you?

We were trying to be funny. But also, to be a pop band takes an incredible amount of talent. Not to say we aren't talented, but we don't really excel in having this pure talent kind of thing. We're a little weirder. So for a band like ours to go from psychedelic songs to a straight-up pop song, even when we try, it's still in a weird Toto kind of realm. It's almost a commentary on pop. The production on "Schedule" is less natural, too; the vocals have tuning on them and the drums are kind of quantized. We were just kind of fooling around and thought it would be fun to have that one song. It's hard for us to take ourselves seriously.

Lyrically, "Schedule" is the most straightforward song on the album. You guys like a lot of abstract metaphors.

I went through [a long-distance relationship]. Instead of being so metaphysical about everything, I wanted to try straight-up saying how I felt at a specific time. There are lines in that song where I can remember the time and the place that I felt that feeling. Since it was a pop song with the melodies, I think we wanted to put it with lyrics that were very heartfelt and realistic.

Is that easier for you?

Yeah, I find it easier to write something straightforward like "Schedule." And songs usually start out that way for me, but sometimes it's cooler if you have to kind of work for the meaning behind it. There are other songs on the album where I'm saying a lot of things that have double meanings on purpose to try making it more vague. Someone can figure out whatever it means to them. But on "Schedule," there's like a line that's like, "Now I'm back all alone in the van / I'm crying 'cause I know I'm doing all that I can." That's literally exactly what was happening. Writing the songs that way is easier, but from a perspective of being vulnerable, it's a lot harder. Yeah. But it's somewhat rewarding because I think it's for the best to let it out there. It feels much better to have said something about it than cover it in this like mysterious lyricism.

Another song that stuck out to me was "Fitness." Is the line "Run with me, fitness is all I know" meant to be taken literally?

I think Jake [Hirschland, guitarist/keyboardist] wrote that one. I'm pretty sure it's referring to how people use fitness to benefit their physical health, but also their mental health, too. Sometimes, it's the only thing that gets you through tough times.

Post Animal rose to prominence in a kind of unconventional way. How do you reckon with that?

There was definitely a time where it would make me feel really guilty, and like I didn't deserve to be getting all the opportunities that we were getting. We kind of got some flak around the local scene in Chicago, feeling like we had a target on our backs. It was a weird feeling, but obviously at a certain point, you have to come to terms with the fact that you're given this opportunity and you can't waste it. You can't be worried about what other people think, because at the end of the day, if the music was terrible, you wouldn't have achieved anything. People aren't going to listen to a band just because they like a show on TV, especially if the guy's no longer in the band! [Guitarist Joe Keery left Post Animal to focus on his role in Netflix's Stranger Things.] It's extremely weird to watch a friend and roommate of yours become someone that people are obsessed with. It's all cool now, and I don't even really think about it, but I'm a very self-conscious person, so it took me a while to come to terms with it. I think this album was cathartic for all of us because we just like made music that we wanted to make instead of worrying about what people wanted to hear. We were prepared for people to not like it. Obviously now, I realize how extremely lucky we are for all that's happened to us. At this point, it's about making the most of the opportunity, and I try to use it in a way to do some good. The most rewarding thing is when a person you don't know says their music has helped them in some way.

What do you hope listeners take away from this album?

I think a main sentiment is taking time to be understanding and be purposeful in life. And hopefully people will realize that everyone goes through good times and everyone goes through bad times. The world is becoming such a crazy place. Everyone is on different sides of every issue, and it can be hard to keep your mind afloat. We just want people to take a deep breath and be able to think for themselves and know that they have the power to get themselves through any problem that they are facing.

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Millie Bobby Brown SAG Awards red carpet

The world has watched Millie Bobby Brown, star of the hit Netflix show Stranger Things, transition from a prepubescent child with a shaved head to a young woman with 30.1 million followers on Instagram.

There's no denying Brown's talent as an actress or her ability to remain composed and seemingly content despite being so squarely in the public eye. She's become a fashion icon and late night TV mainstay, delighting fans with her evervescence and relatable, wholesome youthfulness, all while managing to avoid the kinds of scandals that so often invade the lives of adolescent stars. She has always come across as just a normal young teenager, posting pouty selfies and silly dancing videos to her social media, crushing on boys, and delighting over cute new clothes. In an age of hyper sexuality and teenagers getting plastic surgery, Millie Bobby Brown feels like a reminder of America's lost innocence.

Perhaps this is why so many found Brown's recent red carpet look at the 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards problematic. Brown wore a trouser and coat-dress outfit by Louis Vuitton, and many felt it was too revealing for a 15-year-old.

People took to social media to criticize the star and her team.

And this isn't the first time Brown has come under fire for looking mature. In recent months, a change has begun to make itself known on the actress' Instagram account. Her posts have taken on a more sultry, even adult, nature. For example, the post Brown shared on October 29th shows the actress in a satin, leopard-print mini dress, looking defiantly at the camera with her mouth slightly open. The second photo in the post is a mirror selfie, in which Brown pouts at the camera as the light falls flatteringly on her torso.

To be clear, Brown looks lovely in both photos, and there is nothing wrong with 15-year-olds posting photos of themselves that boost their self-confidence. But controversy soon arose when Paris Hilton commented with her iconic catch-phrase, "That's hot." Evan Rachel Woods, one of the stars of HBO's Westworld, replied to Hilton's comment with, "She's 15."

More debate arose in the comments, with some Instagram users agreeing with Wood and praising her for defending children against premature sexualization, while others defended Hilton, saying her comment was harmless. But others take a turn to shame Brown for the revealing nature of her outfit and praise Wood for "saying something." One commenter said: "My daughter is 15 and doesn't dress like this. Nor does she have friends who do. She tells me all the time that she doesn't want to grow up too fast and I think that is few and far between sometimes in today's kids. Let them be kids first :)" Others expressed that if Brown didn't want to sexualized, she should dress differently.

Ultimately, it's a tricky conversation full of pitfalls. To shame Millie Bobby Brown for dressing how she wants to dress (how many teenagers dress) is definitely the wrong route. Women, even 15-year-olds, should be allowed to wear whatever they want without fear of backlash, sl*t-shaming, or unwanted sexualization. That said, was Paris Hilton's comment really unwanted sexualization? She didn't comment on Brown's body or say anything sexual in nature, and she used a common word that's often used interchangeably with words like "pretty" and "beautiful," a word made all the more innocuous by Hilton's famous frequent use of the phrase. Additionally, Hilton's identity as a heterosexual woman further invalidates the reading of the comment as predatory (not that heterosexual women can't be predators, but women complimenting each other's appearances has always been a much less fraught practice than the often leering, double-edged compliments of men).

Additionally—and hear me out here—isn't Millie Bobby Brown allowed to be, well, hot? Think about yourself at 15. Like most teenagers, you probably wanted to be considered attractive. Millie Bobby Brown is well into puberty and already likely in the process of understanding her own sexual nature, and that process comes with experimenting with her expression of sexuality, which, in 2020, can take the shape of social media posts or a little bit of cleavage on the red carpet. That, of course, does not give permission for adults or anyone to treat Brown as a sexual being, and adults should not sexually look at adolescents under any circumstances, as a teen's sexual awakening by way of an adult's behavior or sexualizing gaze can have traumatic effects. Young people should be protected from premature sexualization until they're old enough and mature enough to have autonomy and control over their own sexuality.

But it's interesting to consider whether, if Kylie Jenner had posted an identical picture at the age of 15 and Paris Hilton had commented "Thats hot," anyone would have raised an eyebrow. Was Evan Rachel Wood so defensive of Brown because of legitimate altruism, or because, like the rest of us, she wants our precious Eleven to stay a sexless, innocent child in order to keep with our uncomplicated cultural view of her? Did people criticize her SAG Awards look for her sake, or because it made them uncomfortable? In the same way that it is absolutely inappropriate to sexualize Brown, is it not also inappropriate and unfair to forcefully ignore her sexuality completely?

It's also important to consider that in a world where Justin Bieber was drooled over when he was merely 14, would anyone have such a problem with Brown's post or SAG Awards outfit if Brown were male? Perhaps a part of all of this is that, as a culture (even in 2020), we still see female sexuality as a dirty and taboo thing that we want to keep our children from embodying for as long as possible. As much as premature sexual awakening can have damaging effects, isn't telling a teenager that it's "inappropriate" for them to be considered an attractive being until the day they turn 18 almost as damaging? Should we further reinforce the idea that breasts are inherently sexual? Are we not furthering a culture of shame surrounding sexuality by not allowing teenagers to grow up at their own pace?

The truth of the matter is that Brown is famous, and she is on social media, and she is 15, which means she's going to post pictures of herself when she thinks she looks hot. She's going to wear amazing designer clothes and not all of them are going to be completely modest. And frankly, it's none of our business to judge that, one way or another.