There comes a point in every artist's life when music becomes more than just something to do to pass the time — when the urge to create overtakes the luxury of listening. For Dylan Von Wagner, frontman for New York indie rockers Linfinity, that point came when he was 17 years old and he heard Led Zeppelin for the first time.
"I listened to the whole thing and was completely stupefied," he says. "First, how someone could write that many good songs, and second, how it was all over the map. Older bands that had that big sound, they'd go from blues to folk to metal in three songs. It's something that had to have happened organically."
That outlook — let the creative process go where it wants — has stuck with Von Wagner, who sticks to it on Linfinity's debut album, Martian's Bloom, which came out earlier this year.
"We're always all over the map, stylistically," he says. "There's never, 'This song needs to sound like this, and this must sound like that.' Every song is different, and I don't think there was a master plan. We have country music, we have punk, we have Middle Eastern music, we have British pop and Krautrock."
The sounds found on Martian's Bloom are varied and complex. Von Wagner's voice — which moves from soothing to agitating without missing a beat — guides his band's songs, which range from raucous (the prison-break-inspired "MSG," one of Von Wagner's earliest compositions) to contemplative ("Morning Heights") to haunting ("Southern Belles").
Violinist Megan Berson adds texture to the tracks, effortlessly switching between gypsy-inspired fills to Middle Eastern runs. The band even sprinkles its distinctive style on recent covers of Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere" and Ben E. King's "Spanish Harlem."
Von Wagner says Linfinity has an open-environment policy — in other words, he's not just playing frontman, barking orders at a backing band. Still, it's his words and music the group needs to work into actual songs. "The ideas come to [my] head, kind of like massive brain farts," he says. "I tackle songwriting in a very militant way. A lot of this record seems to have something to do with the idea of war. The album has a rage and remorse to it."
Martian's Bloom was a long time coming. Rather than rush-release something they weren't totally feeling, the band focused on making its debut album as tight as possible before letting others hear it. "A lot of it is kind of like taking a piece of stone and hammering away at it until you get something that makes sense to you," says Von Wagner. "If you talk to any masters of the craft, they'll tell you when you have that great idea, you need to spend whatever time it takes to make it work. It could take a year or it could take a week. You really don't know."
Indie-rock tastemakers like Pitchfork and NPR's Morning Becomes Eclectic immediately got behind Linfinity. Von Wagner realizes how lucky they are that someone paid attention to them so quickly. "It takes a lot for people to notice you [these days]," he says. "There's so much stuff out there, it takes a lot for a song to jump out for someone."
He believes the band's decision to take its time recording the album — and not filling half of it with songs people would skip over — has a lot to do with its growing fan base. "If you've got six great songs, but [the record company] wants an album, put out an EP and reassess, because it's really not worth it to throw shit on there that you're not going to be into," he says. "At the end of the day, the only thing to me that must be solid is if I want to sing the song."
Still, despite Linfinity's reputation as studio perfectionists, Von Wagner says he and his band thrive onstage. It is, after all, where he and his group of music junkies can connect with fans. "People who come out to shows, in general, are just passionate about music," he says. "It's the great thing about going to shows: meeting other people just like you that are fanatics about music. A friend calls it real estate for your brain."
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