‘I’ll just keep on getting louder:’ Slingshot Dakota’s Carly Comando is writing punk anthems and making a scene for everyone

Carly Comando
Photo courtesy of Slingshot Dakota.

Slingshot Dakota are a band that has always done things their own way. When lineup changes in their early years left the group as a duo, Carly Comando and Tom Patterson learned to create dynamic soundscapes with just keyboards and drums. Comando has curated a combination of pedals and effects to transform her keyboard from the soft plunks of a baby grand piano to the distorted crunch of an electric guitar. Comando and Patterson don’t shy away from the issues that matter to them; they fight to make music more inclusive, and demand the same from those they work with.

On May 24, the Bethlehem, PA-based husband-and-wife duo are releasing the album Heavy Banding, their first release since 2017’s Break. The album’s first single, “Louder,” is a powerful anthem inspired by Comando’s frustration with gatekeeping and monopolizing of resources in the music industry. “I’ll just keep on getting louder / I’ll always be a sound you can’t ignore,” Comando sings on the song’s chorus, backed up by members of Petal, Dikembe, and Expert Timing. “Louder” is just one example of Slingshot Dakota’s tenacity — despite the roadblocks they might face, the band continues to use their platform to enact positive change.

I caught up with Carly Comando over the phone to talk about writing the songs on Heavy Banding, finding strength in close relationships, and booking Slingshot Dakota’s tours. You can read excerpts from our conversation below, or listen to it in full using the player above.

Heavy Banding is coming out in about a month; how does it feel to be preparing for this new release?

It is, I would say, mostly exciting — and then the part that isn’t exciting is that I hate the waiting part. I am beyond stoked to get this record out there because it is so good, and it is such a progression for the band, but also I feel like it’s us making our mark with this record more-so than all of the other ones. I feel like Golden Ghost, Dark Hearts, and Break have all been so instrumental to our band and who we are, and they have been a huge process to the formation of our musicianship, and I feel like Heavy Banding is the culmination of our songwriting, the stories we’re telling, and how it’s coming across musically.

So I feel like this is our record that is totally putting us on the map. I’m so excited about this whole process and talking to everyone about it and posting all of my teasers and little clips, and whatever I’m allowed to give away, but that’s also the part that drives me nuts, because I just want it out. I’m so impatient, I’m like, “I want everyone to hear how good it is, I want to hear everyone’s takes on it.”

It’s the same thing as a tree getting ready to blossom into leaves; it’s happening, you just don’t see it. So I’m like, “Where are the damn leaves?” I’m ready for that part.

Were these songs written a long time ago, did they all happen at once? What was the timeframe?

The way that I generally write songs is very much diary entry-style. There are some songs that might have older material that I might have updated to keep it relevant to my current mood, but for the most part, we started writing this record after Break, so I’d say 2016, 2017, we really just started jamming out songs, even just musically, maybe not lyrically. I would come up with storylines narrating what I’m going through, essentially.

I feel like a lot of the songs like “Louder,” “Premeditated,” and “Moon,” those songs are definitely born out of my frustrations with 2017, where I felt like I was constantly shouting into the void about inclusivity in music, and just trying to get everyone on the same page to question things, and not necessarily be this giant baby complaining. That’s step one, is to be pissed off about things, and step two is, how do we problem solve this and make things better and get everyone aware of these situations without having everyone get really defensive and embarrassed and angry as a result.

Those songs are true to how I was feeling at the time, where I was just feeling super angsty and super frustrated and super small at times, where I just felt like my existence was nothing in comparison to other people, who were ruining it for everyone.

“Louder” is the opposite of that, where I’m feeling confident and angsty, and I’m going to scream until I can’t scream anymore just to be heard. It’s kind of like embracing that feeling of being empowered and being loud, and that thought of, I’m not going to back down, ever. No matter how tired I feel, no matter how small I feel — the song “Moon,” where I feel like this tiny little particle of dust — at my best, I’m going to be screaming my head off and making things better for everyone if I can, and hopefully with everyone’s help trying to make things better.

Those songs are definitely the narrative of my 2017 experience, where people were starting to latch onto the fact that tours and shows were being curated with mostly white straight men in mind, and that needed to change. It’s just that natural mindset that people weren’t thinking about these things, it’s just this engrained, institutionalized racism and misogyny and all of that stuff, that people weren’t thinking about, because they were part of the cycle. Those songs are very much written with that time period, with what I was going through and how I was feeling.

The other songs on the record are predominately, weirdly enough, very much about family, and how I’m processing getting older and not seeing my family as often. I feel like singing about your family isn’t even necessarily cool; a lot of times in music, people’s families might not support their kids having an artistic career, or people just differ with their families, especially going back to the topic of politics, where you’re fighting with your family all of the time, and you’re like, “Shit, I don’t want to hang out with them, I can’t believe this is what they think.”

For me, I experience stuff like that, I experience political discussions with my family, but I also love them so much, and I’m coming to terms with as they’re getting older and I’m getting older, and my parents have totally gained their autonomy back now that we’re all grown up, they’re living their lives, and that’s a weird thing to transition to and see — like, “Oh, my parents are people too, they get to go out to concerts all the time” — it’s kind of like this new vision of what everyone is going through.

So there are a lot of songs about that too. “Blood Villain” has to do with getting into an argument with my family about politics, and how I became the jerk in that situation. No matter what my point was, and no matter what their point was, we weren’t hearing each other anymore, and it just got really ugly, and I let myself sink down super low, and just say things that were completely inappropriate, and completely out of character for me. The hardest part for me to come to terms with was how I was the villain. I was the one that was wrong in that in trying to prove my point of how positivity and love always wins, I wasn’t leading by example and being loving and being positive. I was really angry and I was stooping really low.

That was a huge learning experience for me; in having conversations with people, your first thing is going to be anger, and that’s okay because you have to let that out, but in order to be heard and say the things you want to say, there has to be respect involved. I kind of jumped off of that respect train and just stooped low. That was really hard to realize, like, “Oh shit, I’m not perfect either.” I’m trying to have this conversation with my family, but I’m not being respectful either because I’m so angry. I’m not coming at them from a place of love either, and that’s just not the way to have this dialogue. I had to own up to it; I really had to sit with it. I was filled with so much shame and embarrassment and guilt that I was wrong, because I’m like, “At the end of the day I feel like my point was right.” But the point is moot when I’m acting like a jerk.

“Weird like Me” is about my niece Lexy, who I love very much, kind of just a little love song to her; a “be yourself” kind of vibe. We’re living in such a crazy world, and she’s such an incredible kid. My other niece — her sister — is wonderful and beautiful. They are these little human rainbows running around, and I just wanted to let them know how much I love them and how much Tom loves them, and give them a little glimmer of love in their lives.

There are a whole myriad of emotions on this record. But it’s all coming from my heart; it’s all coming from my experience and things that I was going through in these three years time since the album was written.

I wanted to return to “Louder;” I think that’s such a powerful anthem, and I think one of the things that makes it so powerful is that the song literally gets louder as it keeps going. You had some backing vocals from some of your friends from Petal, Dikembe, and Expert Timing — could you talk about why you chose to include them on that song?

When I was freaking out in 2016/2017, and kind of yelling at the internet about these tours and stuff, these are the people that had my back. Being someone that’s criticizing the industry is really hard, because I’m basically putting my career on the line to ask a question, and to question the way things are done. It sucks, but my band has enough of a following, that I can ask these questions and maybe get a response, and hopefully get these people to start asking questions and start thinking about the way things are going.

You do stuff like that, and you either get trolled from people, or you get support from people who are onboard. Other artists, it’s hard for them to want to defend you, because like I’ve said, the music industry, everyone is connected and networked, and there are the gatekeepers, and the agencies that have monopolies on things. For me to say something, I’m taking accountability for that. If I piss off the wrong person — even though I’m not saying, “Fuck them, they’re the worst”; I’m literally just asking them to do better — they can easily get defensive and write me off. And I accept that, because I’m putting myself out there, and I know how the industry works, and I know someone is always answering to someone. And I know that if there is a loud mouth in the scene, it’s going to be easier for these people to shut me up than to acknowledge it.

For my artist friends and my musician friends to publicly defend me, that’s a huge thing because then in a way, they’re aligning themselves with me, and banding together against these norms that no one was into. The people who might have been part of this cycle of perpetuation these white male tours and shows, I don’t think it was them being total turds, I think it was them not being aware of the situation. But it’s really easy for those people, because there’s money involved to get really defensive and shut people down.

Petal — I talk to Kiley [Lotz] all the time. We would talk on the phone forever, I would cry, I would totally vent my frustrations with everything. Part of that was me being totally scared that I’m like, “I’m doing all this stuff not because I want to get these tours, but because I just want to make it better for everyone.” Honestly, sure, if I get show offers and tours because our record is good, that’s fine. But I’m not making a scene for my own gain, I’m making a scene for everyone. I want everyone to do better.

It was so terrifying because I knew that I was potentially jeopardizing me and Tom’s music career, and Kiley was always super supportive, and such a good listener. I love her so much. We’ve backed her band and toured a bunch together, so Kiley is one of my best friends on earth.

Expert Timing, Katrina [Snyder] I met from playing music. We played their first show as a band, which was really cool. We’ve always been on board with talking about this stuff, and I feel like the more I started to point this stuff out, Katrina really jumped on board and saw this stuff too, and has always been really supportive as well, retweeting everything and posting, and just continuing the conversation on their band page or on their personal pages, about “How can we do better,” and “What’s the solution to this? We’re not just going to complain about it, but what’s the end goal here?” Expert Timing has always been really good about that.

Dikembe, those are some of our best friends as well. They are people who we’ve had this conversation with, who are actually practicing what they preach. They’re a band of guys, and it’s really easy for them to just play shows and just go on with booking tours and stuff like that and not ask questions. But as someone who says that they’re an ally to inclusivity, they’re a band who is like, “We want to play these shows and book these tours; give us bands to play with. Who are your bands? Who are your bands who aren’t just dudes?”

I feel like that is so important, as a white male, to be aware of your ingrained privilege, and to not be immediately angry and defensive about it, and instead just be like, “Cool, our band is successful, and people are going to come see us. Because people are going to come see us, we want to expose other cool bands on our shows, so who should we play with?” They are a band that is very much in alignment of this whole goal of making things better with everyone.

In order to make things better for someone else, you have to practice what you preach. You have to ask promoters, “Who are the bands in your city?” Like, “Cool you gave me a list of bands, but I noticed that they’re all guys.” Some of them might be really good, and one of them might be a really good fit, but where are the other bands? We want to have visibility for everybody. Everyone has a voice.

There was a whole spectrum of emotions going on at that time, but Expert Timing, Dikembe, and Kiley from Petal, those people were all super supportive, and super vocal about wanting to join me and make things better through positivity and through trying our best, and not letting anger be the forefront of this change. Because that’s not the point of it, to be angry. The point is to be having fun with everyone and to have more voices heard across the board, and to stand out as a bubble of inclusion, instead of completely replicating mainstream culture and being predominantly male and serving that one narrative. That’s not what we are. If we’re supposed to be this magical punk indie rock place that’s safe for all, then why are our shows telling a different story?

You’re going on tour in about a month; do you want to talk about some of the bands you’re going to be playing with on tour?

Our first show of this tour is in Birmingham, AL and we’re playing with Insignificant Other, who are amazing, I love them so much and I’m so excited that they’re playing. Our label is Community Records, and they’re having an 11th year anniversary party. They have a band called All People that I’m really excited to play with. There’s a band called Hikes from Austin, TX who are killer, and we’re playing with them in June as well, when we’re playing in Austin.

Obviously Dikembe is playing together, they’re at Death Protector Fest in Gainesville [FL]. They booked a free festival with all of these incredible bands, so it’s Expert Timing, Pool Kids, Woolbright, Dikembe is playing, we’re playing, Little League is playing. It’s just so many awesome bands that my mind is blown.

Then we do the rest of the tour with Expert Timing, and we’re playing with a band called All Right in North Carolina, they’re our good friends and they’re awesome. Then in Richmond we’re playing with our friend Sawyer’s band, Padfoot.

The cool thing about being very in control of your shows and being very vocal about this stuff is that I’m always going to be part of the curation of shows. Because the whole point of this is having a good time and playing with people I’m excited to play with, whether I’m friends with them or not. I think that’s so important to building up everyone’s scene.

A lot of times bands go on tour and it’s a packaged tour, and they’re like, “Every day is going to be the same three bands and that’s it.” I can’t even keep track of how many bands we’re playing with; there are some days where we might play with the same band twice, but for the most part it’s just us coming through and trying to curate a good show with the bands who are living there. We want to see who there’s there, we want to learn good bands.

Me and Tom care so much about these shows, and we want it to be good, and we want to make sure that the promoters and our friends booking our tours are very much aware of what we want. Communication is so important in life, in every single way, and especially in this, because this is something that we talk about all of the time — making sure that our shows include cool ass people. And they are. And I’m really exciting about how it’s all coming together.

I know that you’re a big fan of The Office, and also Parks and Rec. If you had to describe yourself as a TV show character, which one would you be and why?

Our van is Michael Scott, so I will give The Office to our van, because we needed to give this vehicle a boss name, and we’re like, “Michael Schott is the world’s best boss, so obviously that’s our vehicle.”

I would say we are the Leslie Knopes of the music industry, because Leslie has always been an underdog, and she’s annoying and she’s persistent, and she’s incredible. And that’s why she gets shit done — you have to be on top of things, and you can’t just say one thing and then not do it. That character is someone who, no matter how irritating she can be in her ideas and her goals and her dreams, the people who are close to her know that. They might roll their eyes at her, but they support her a million percent.

I feel like that’s Slingshot Dakota’s deal. We’ve always been different, we’ve never gone the trendy route or been your “cool” band because we’ve always been keyboards and drums. To me, it’s crazy how we’ve never been deemed cool, because to me being different is the sickest thing you can do. I think we’re definitely entering into a time when being different is being embraced, and it’s being applauded.

But I feel like when we started we were always fighting the punk scene; we were always trying to win over these punk and hardcore kids that would see a keyboard come out of a case and about-face and leave the room. We had to have these defense mechanisms in order to succeed, like covering Fugazi and Title Fight just to let people know that, we might look like this, but this is where we come from, and these are the bands we listen to. It’s crazy that we’ve gone those routes just to get people to watch us, but it worked.

So we are always finding a way to keep people in front of us, and for us to succeed in what we’re doing. There are times where, like I said in 2017, where I was yelling into the void, like “Why is this scene that preaches inclusivity and safeness not doing that, not providing that to everybody?” I would tell Tom and I would tell other people, “I just want to Leslie Knope this situation, and step out of the scene and almost become mainstream and just kill it.” Because I was getting so frustrated with these small bands in our smaller indie bubble not doing these things and being resistant to change.

It’s kind of like Leslie Knope with Pawnee, where she wanted to get all of this shit done, and she was on city counsel, and she got voted out for the stupid reasons, because it was just a white male club. She didn’t do anything wrong, but still she kept on going, she persisted, and even wanted to run again. No matter what you do to Leslie Knope, she might have a point where she has a breakdown and has a giant Sweetums beverage, or has her little meltdown where she’s drinking a Paunch Burger 54oz soda. We all have that moment, but then you get back up again. Because it’s who you are as a persistent, annoying little person; you’re going to keep doing what you do.

Me and Tom are those persistent little people who are going to keep doing what we do no matter what. We are Leslie Knope, we will become president one day, in our own version of the story, we will totally get our foot out of this bubble that has sometimes been unapproachable to us and has sometimes been mean to us, and we’re just going to succeed in what we do no matter what. We’re just going to keep pushing forward and we’re going to keep surrounding ourselves with the people who understand what we do.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s