“Just another mature, grownup hardcore kid” : A Conversation With Alone In The Woods’ Jon Dobyns

If you were lucky enough, you were able to grab a copy of Burning Witches Records’ Record Store Day release Communion a couple Saturdays ago. If not, maybe you snagged a copy online while the getting was good. Still no dice? Well shame on you. If I was a betting man(I’m not), I’d say Communion is one of the best RSD releases to come down the pike in some time. A compilation of some of the finest artists working in the heavy synth, electronic, and imagined soundtrack world today. There were plenty of cats that I’d heard before; guys like Timothy Fife, Graham Reznick, and Isvisible Isinvisible were in typical fashion incredible. There were also quite a few “new to me” artists that kind of blew my mind. Cory Kilduff, Ian Alex Mac, and Harglow were artists that made me take notice for sure. Another was Alone In The Woods. Their track “I Never Came Up For Air” is this shot of early 80s electronica. Imagine Martin Gore doing the score for a classic 80s horror film, but putting the emphasis more on groove than claustrophobic swaths of synth.

Alone In The Woods is Jon Dobyns and Lonn. These two friends started out playing hardcore/punk rock, but switched gears in 2009 when they formed Twitch The Ripper. Their brand of synth pop got them big gigs and fans in high places, but eventually they stopped TTR and took a hiatus. Dobyns started Tiger Lab Vinyl with Clint Carney in 2014, a record label dedicated to releasing anime scores on vinyl. But eventually the music beckoned and Jon Dobyns and Lonn came back together to form the synth and soundtrack-inspired project Alone In The Woods.

I recently got to talk with Jon about AITW, as well as his influences, inspirations, and the influence horror films had on him.

J. Hubner: So where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?

Jon Dobyns: I grew up in the suburbs of southern Connecticut—it was a normal, quiet childhood for the most part.   Luckily, my typical teenage angst found a home in the thriving underground scenes in the 90s. I engulfed myself in hardcore, metal and horror.

J. Hubner: I grew up in the 80s, so as a kid it was Star Wars, Transformers, and Steven Spielberg movies that molded my brain. What pop culture references did the same for you?

Jon Dobyns: I was born in the early 80s and He-Man was my favorite show as a kid, so it’s no surprise to me why I’m drawn to fantasy worlds of wizards and barbarians.

I roamed the video stores a lot when I was younger. I remember seeing images of Freddy Krueger when I was 6 or 7. I remember once when I spent a weekend at my grandparent’s house, we took a trip to the local video store. I picked out A Nightmare On Elm St. “Freddy’s Revenge” and tried to convince my grandmother that my mom would be ok with me watching it. We got back to the house and she called my mom who then made her return the movie. I got stuck watching Puff The Magic Dragon.

I’d say lots of 80s iconic horror helped shape my adolescence.

J. Hubner: Being signed to Burning Witches Records, there’s the assumption that horror and cinema in general are big inspirations for you. Were you a teenage horror fan? If so, who were some cinematic influences?

Jon Dobyns: I absolutely was. Horror was all I watched as a teenager, though I’m not sure how obvious this influence is on the record. But the rhythms and melodies that inspire moods of tension, sadness, loss, wonder, all come from a place where horror helped spawn my artistic interests.

Universal monster movies have always played a major part in my life. It’s what I was introduced to first, and I appreciate it for so much more thirty-some-odd years later. The atmosphere is something that I’m still impressed with.

I can’t speak of atmosphere without mentioning early giallo films. Bava and Martino are two directors that have films that blew my mind when I discovered them. Makes me wish I grew up in another time.

J. Hubner: At what age did you get interested in music? What was the first album you bought with your own money? And was it on vinyl, cassette, or CD?

Jon Dobyns: I got into music at such a young age, I was in elementary school but I don’t remember exactly how old. I have a feeling it was Alice In Chains “Facelift” on cassette.

J. Hubner: What was that first record that completely blew your mind? That one that was your gateway to where you are now?

Jon Dobyns: Depeche Mode “Violator”.

J. Hubner:  It seems like a lot of guys from the electronic/synth music scene started out playing in hardcore/grindcore bands. You have a similar narrative, going from hardcore to the synth world in Twitch The Ripper. What do you think that correlation is between punk to electronic? Strangely enough, it makes sense to me.

Jon Dobyns: You’re absolutely right about that! Lonn and I have both been putting records out and playing in hardcore bands since the late 90s/early 00s.

I think the DIY ethic and community have a lot to do with it. Both genres consist of musicians who are also fans of the scene they are a part of. People help each other out and are very supportive of one another. As we evolve and are no longer that angry teenager or rebellious 20 year old, electronic music was always a natural progression to me as far as creating music. I know the same goes for a lot of my peers and much larger household names. Nowadays, the electronic musician may very well be just another mature, grownup hardcore kid.

J. Hubner: So from Twitch The Ripper you go to your new project Alone In The Woods. What was the ultimate goal going from the former to the latter? How are you approaching the creative process differently in AITW?

Jon Dobyns: When I look back at the series of events that occurred over the last decade in my life, this progression made perfect sense. I was ready to dive back into music after being away for 5 years, and that time away was more therapeutic than I could have hoped for.

This time around there are no rules we have to abide by. The industry has drastically changed along with my outlook, and I wanted to write a record that was the most natural and honest piece of material we could produce. We are not writing the record with lengthy touring cycles and setlists in mind, nor tracks geared towards radio friendly play. It’s been the most refreshing and rewarding recording session I can remember. The only people we are aiming to please is ourselves. I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience like that before.

J. Hubner: As I said earlier, Alone In The Woods is signed with UK-based label Burning Witches Records. How did this partnership come about?

Jon Dobyns: Darren and I became friendly through our projects. I was a fan of Burning Tapes and he was a fan of my label, Tiger Lab Vinyl.

I became nostalgic and was going through instrumental demos from 6 years ago and the idea popped into my head to do a record, I messaged Darren with the idea and Alone In The Woods was born.

J. Hubner: You’ve got your debut coming later this year with Burning Witches. What were some of the musical foundations that helped mold the record? Who were some artists that influenced you?

Jon Dobyns: I’ve always been influenced by the UK synth groups of the 80s, Depeche Mode, New Order, Sisters Of Mercy, etc. There was such a heavy nod to those bands in my output in the past. It’s purely subconscious if any of that comes across in the new LP. It was just a large part of me and my style. You can hear it on the “I Never Came Up For Air” single.

I’ve made a conscious effort to not listen to anything during the writing and recording process of the new LP. I didn’t want any of the tracks to be a by-product of what I was into at the time. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the style change and what is naturally coming out of the sessions. Lots of big beats and classical instruments.

As a group we are largely influenced by Ninja Tune and Tri Angle artists, especially the production aspect of those records.

J. Hubner: Gear-wise, what does Alone In The Woods use to create their sound? Are you more hardware or software?

Jon Dobyns: We use a healthy mix of both. A nice blend of hardware synths, VSTs, and we’ll record live percussive elements if it fits in the track.

J. Hubner: We get a sneak preview of the AITW debut on Burning Witches RSD compilation ‘Communion’. “I Never Came Up For Air” is featured prominently, along with a who’s who of super-talented electronic and synth artists. How does that song compare with what else we’ll be hearing on the debut?

Jon Dobyns: “I Never Came Up For Air” is a transitional track of where we were and to where we are going. It was written years ago, and it’s what kick-started Alone In The Woods and our relationship with Burning Witches.

J. Hubner:  Is Alone In The Woods a studio-only project, or are there plans for live shows?

Jon Dobyns: As of now it’s a studio project. It’s nice to write music without thinking of how we are going to perform it live, but I won’t rule it out. We’ll see how the reception is over the new LP and we’ll do what feels right.

J. Hubner: What was the last great album you bought?

Jon Dobyns: Here are a few – Fever Ray – Plunge, Dialect – Loose Blooms, Witchboard – It’s Been Emotional.

J. Hubner: Where do you see Alone In The Woods in five years?

Jon Dobyns: I see AITW continuing to release records and evolving from this debut. I’d like to also release a few EPs and accompany tracks with visuals, whether it’s for live or video. Lastly, I’d love to collaborate with another group to create a one-off release, and write/produce a track for a vocalist.

Follow Alone In The Woods thru their album-making process over at the band’s Instagram page. You can also keep up with them on Twitter. Go download Communion here, which comes with the bonus remix of “I Never Came Up For Air” by Hunter Complex. 

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