Catchin' Up With the Pacemaker

Interview by Joseph Kim, 8/27/2006
Photos by David Yang, 3/16/2006

For the past few years, tucked away up in Fredonia, New York, a band called the Pacemaker has been honing a refreshingly original sound- the first impression of which is anarchistic, yet incredibly catchy. Repeated listening to their songs reveal intricate arrangements and complex structures, all with some very amusing storytelling going on in the lyrics. Their live shows will someday be legendary- not necessarily for the band's stageshow which is great, but for the borderline psychotic reactions it causes in audience members. Soon set to relocate itself to Philadelphia, the Pacemaker are definitely one new band you don't want to overlook!

How did the Pacemaker come together?

It’s a long story. Halfway through fourth grade, Tristan Dahn moved to Cazenovia, NY, and joined Zach Webber in Mrs. Higgin’s homeroom. Chris Tyler was on Zach Webber’s CYAA-Green Basketball team when Zach was in sixth grade and Chris was in fifth, and by junior high, Chris Tyler’s skateboarding and acting like an idiot served as the basis for his friendshiop with Tristan. Brandon Schmitt met Tristan in gym class in junior high. The four of them would go on to be members of thirty or so high school bands including Euro Dance 5000, Salad Chop, Mad Bears, Acetylated Monoglycerides, Unc’ Billy’s Possum Squad, The Last Thing on Earth, and Re-Occuring Theme before settling down and forming a real rock band together after they’d entered college. In short: Years passed, friendships blossomed, and HARK! The Pacemaker was born.

What did the band sound like when you started out?

Pretty much the same—a little quieter, a little crappier. There was more screaming back then because the microphone volume was always very low. Also, we got a delay pedal.

My impression of Fredonia, and something that I really envy, was that it has a very close-knit, supportive and fertile music scene, and your fans are probably among the most intense crowds I've ever seen. What was it like coming up in the scene?

We were but a temporary fixture in the Fredonia music scene, so we can’t really speak on the scene—we can just say we felt really welcomed there. We do have some really supportive fans/friends living in Fredonia that are really amazing, but a good number of the most frenzied ones came with us to Fredonia from our hometown of Cazenovia, NY. We lived in a house of nine people in Fredonia last year, and eight of us had grown up together in Cazenovia supporting each other’s musical endeavor. So we go pretty wild for one another when we perform these days, and there’s a lot of loyalty there, to such an extent that we’ll follow each other to different cities.


You guys sort of live a band fantasy Ive had of having a house all to yourselves and being able to practice at any time. Whats it like? How do you deal with the day to day stuff? Do you guys fight about who has to do the dishes or who drank the last of the o.j.?

Yeah, well it was good although we could have been a lot more productive, in retrospect. We went to Martin’s grocery store an awful lot. Also in retrospect, Carl never did the dishes.

How do you guys write the music? Do you think about the process and structure as you go, or is it all very intuitive?

It’s definitely very intuitive in terms of the individual parts—we write them together by improvising. During the writing process, we’ll pause to talk together about the structure and we’ll let the songs take shape that way. The nuance and the microstructure or whatever comes from playing the songs over and over and letting them evolve.

I have to say that on the cd of yours that I have, my favorite song is the Time Machine. Is that a sample in the background? It sounds like some kind of traditional Southeast Asian music.

Hmm, well there’s a couple parts of that song that you might be referencing—we’re not sure which. We haven’t used any samples, so the sound you heard must be something we were playing. There’s a keyboard part in the beginning and an acoustic guitar part in the second, slower part of the song that might sound like the sort of sample you’ve described.


Another thing Id love to hear about are your lyrics. I think its awesome how each song is like a self-contained story, and the words dont repeat themselves in any way, and yet youre able to make that fit into a song with catchy melodies. I would guess that the lyricist reads a lot. What would you say are your main literary or lyrical, influences?

Well, thanks. Zach does like to read books—though he’d like to read more than he actually does, to be honest. He says: “The lyrics usually come after the music for the song is more or less set, and so usually a big part of writing the lyrics is the frustrating experience of trying to fit as many elements of a story as I can into the allotted measures—that’s part of the reason why there’s so little repetition of phrases in the songs. It’s hard to pin-point the biggest influences for the words, but a variety of old fashioned ballad-type songs and musicals have probably have had an impact. I can also imagine lyricists such as Kimya Dawson, Julian Koster of The Music Tapes, and David Byrne of Talking Heads as having been influencial in their own ways, along with writers such as George Saunders, Suzan Lori-Parks, and Isabelle Allende.”

Who came up with your t-shirt design? And how did you get the idea?

Brandon came up with the design based on a tattoo that he and Chris were thinking about getting. The zipper on the front is a pacemaker scar.


Are you still planning on moving to Philadelphia? What drew your interest to that city?

It’s a centrally located, relatively cheap Eastern City. Also, we’ve visited it and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We’ll be there very soon.

What’s going on with the Pacemaker right now? When can we expect to hear your next album?

Right now, not much. We’re in Vermont for a couple days, staying with our friends Dee and Duncan and eating lots of potatoes and hanging out. We’ve been in different places for a while, in a sort of a hibernation. We’ll get a few practices in and then we’ll continue being in different places until we all arrive in Philly. We aren’t likely to play any more shows until December or so.

We recorded our album in Fredonia this past year, and it’s in the mixing stage right now. This mixing stage taken longer than we expected due to some software issues, but it’ll hopefully be ready for everybody by the time we start playing shows again this winter. It’ll feature up-to-date studio recordings of previously home-recorded material.

Listen at:

K.O.A. Zine