No Power/Raw Power:
Dasher’s Kylee Kimbrough Changes Towns, Bands, Album Titles… But Holds Onto Her Intensity
I somehow missed Dasher during their two-year run as Atlanta’s most incendiary live band. My first encounter with Kylee Kimbrough’s punk outfit came at last December’s Stomp and Stammer anniversary party, marking their first local performance in two years. It was exactly what I wanted to hear, a sustained blast of unfiltered aggression that plastered a smile on my face – all in a set that to my recollection lasted about 12 minutes.
“I think it was more like 20,” Kimbrough laughs over the phone from her current home in rural Indiana. “That’s the most we usually do. Our last set in London our tour manager was laughing because it was 18 minutes, but I completely destroyed everything, and threw up on the stage,” a result of overexerted drumming-shrieking multitasking rather than a staged spectacle, and one to which Kimbrough’s succumbed more times than she cares to recall.
“I can put on a really good show and it’s gonna be like 20 minutes before I’m completely exhausted, or I can play for 40 minutes and be really boring. I don’t feel a need to go any longer,” she says. I certainly didn’t feel cheated, and Kimbrough can’t recall any venue or promoter having taken issue with Dasher’s brevity.
It’s not for lack of material, either. Dasher’s debut full-length Sodium runs a solid 34 minutes, and according to Kimbrough she’s written another album’s worth since then. You see, Dasher’s debut has essentially been in the can for over two years, before Kimbrough and band took a bit of a detour.
Kylee Kimbrough abruptly left Atlanta in late 2014, days before a scheduled gig at that year’s Stomp and Stammer anniversary shindig. She drove to Atlanta explicitly to make amends at the 2016 show, her first return to town musically or personally.
“I needed to get out of Atlanta,” she explains about her departure, at a point when Dasher had already signed to prominent indie label Jagjaguwar and was prepping a national rollout of its debut. “I didn’t really know what was going on but I was overwhelmed all the time. And the older I got the worse it got – I needed to be closer to my family.”
That same month a certain local alt-weekly did a cover story on Kimbrough and Dasher – a piece she considers “hurtful” and for which she regrets sharing family details. It paints a harrowing personal backstory, one there’s no need to recount here. “I don’t mind you mentioning that I did a 28-day stay in a rehab facility in LA just after I left Atlanta,” she added by email following our phone conversation – one of several ongoing exchanges. What is important to Kimbrough is that people understand she hadn’t simply gone off the wagon on some recreational drug bender. “I had been sober for years leading up to that. I was looking for mental help in Atlanta and a psychiatrist thought I had ADD and OCD,” adding that she had “done the inpatient thing five times already” in 2014. “He prescribed me Adderall. I took the medication for only about three weeks, but I had a massive adverse reaction to it. I stopped eating and barely slept. It made my symptoms worse so I barricaded myself in the place I was staying and refused to leave.” Her producer, Jason Kingsland, intervened after discovering her state and worked with industry nonprofit MusiCares to secure the needed help.
A big part of her LA stay was devoted to working with a new psychiatrist, who diagnosed Kimbrough with schizoaffective disorder “and started me on an insane regimen of meds. It was really scary and hard to manage the medications and hard to believe that I even had schizoaffective disorder at all.” Which it now appears she doesn’t.
Back in 2014, Kimbrough planned to title Dasher’s album No Power. “I was doing a lot of recovery stuff, and it tied together a lot of things that mattered to me at the time.” Given the benefit of a do-over she changed course to Sodium, which also happens to be the name of one of the record’s best tracks – a downshift from its overall breakneck pace into something akin to Husker Du’s Zen Arcade psych face-melters. “I wrote that song about Aaron Smith and our friendship. He’s my best friend – and a really inspiring dude.” Smith is the vocalist for Atlanta hardcore band Nurse, which is also on the bill for Dasher’s August EARL date. The song’s chorus provides clues to the inner turmoil that fuels the album.
No one really adores me
If they do they don’t know me
I fake my way through most things…
You sit by me
You see right through me
You don’t hate me
Smith served as Kimbrough’s primary confidant as she sorted through her demons. “Each time I would talk to him and would bring up a new diagnosis a doctor had thrown at me, he would balk and argue that it can’t be true. But when I mentioned Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to him, he agreed it was accurate and a real possibility. He had already, for years, been joking around calling me an idiot savant, which is an old stereotype used for autistic people. Looking back, it all makes more sense that I was walking around with an undiagnosed neurological disorder.”
The Atlanta iteration of Dasher – the one that plays on Sodium – includes guitarist David Michaud and bassist Rob Sarabia and effectively came to an end when Kimbrough left town. Michaud has since joined Smith in Nurse, while Sarabia plays in Mutual Jerk. But they’ll always have one monster of an album to their resume.
In stores July 14th, Sodium is relentless in all the right ways. It charges forth with the energy of hardcore punk, although its audible influences are first-wave American miscreants like the Dead Boys. What sets it apart – aside from Kimbrough’s untethered abandon – are guitar sounds indebted to later, heavy shoegaze bands like Swervedriver. Like any good punk Kimbrough professes a love for Wire, but if she’s borrowed from their sound it’s from the caustic early aughts Read & Burn era.
You don’t see the Amphetamine Reptile label namechecked too often these days, but it’s also a pretty good reference point for Dasher’s assault. “That came from that New Bomb Turks guy (singer Eric Davidson), who asked to write our bio.” For those craving a local connection, Kimbrough’s screaming on “Eye See” recalls a particularly maniacal Vanessa Hay Briscoe.
This hardly sounds like a match for Atlanta producer Jason Kingsland, best known for his work with the likes of Band of Horses and Washed Out. “We’d been friends for a really long time – I knew he was a big fancy record producer, but I never saw him in that light,” says Kimbrough. “The whole thing with Jag started because of one of his ideas.” On an off day in his studio, Kingsland invited the band to record what would become the Suicide Squeeze single “Soviet.” “He just gave it to me,” she marvels, and unbeknownst to her at the same time he tipped it to Jagjaguwar label head Chris Swanson. “I got a Facebook message from Chris Swanson a while later. I had no idea who he was, sent him the track, and everything happened from that.”
As luck would have it Jagjaguwar is based in Bloomington, Indiana, not far from Kimbrough’s family roots. “We’re accustomed to albums taking longer than expected to finish,” Swanson shared via email regarding Sodium’s winding path. “Luckily Kylee makes timeless music so we felt no need to rush the process label-side. We were very lucky to be able watch her new band develop in Bloomington, so once the album was done being mixed we had the utmost confidence that it was time to release the album into the world.”
That reconstituted band featured Steve Garcia on guitar and Gary Magilla on bass. The version that passed through Atlanta in December was the coming out party for Dasher’s brief period as a four-piece, adding a second guitarist. “We’ve always been a trio, but I really wanted to play with this guy Derek (McCain) and I didn’t have time for another project so I figured I’d just throw him into Dasher, maybe it’d make us more dynamic or whatever.” Um, it worked.
This new edition of Dasher hit the road in earnest for the first time earlier this year opening for Japandroids on the duo’s European tour – not only the first time Kimbrough had played overseas but her first time outside the country, period. “I thought we’d be unknowns. But at a couple shows there were kids in the front row singing words to Dasher songs and I’m like, what the fuck? How do you know any of this? I have a couple of Atlanta friends who now live in London – at first I thought it was them, or someone with them. But later I found out they had gotten stuck in the balcony. Those kids singing our songs had no connection to us.” The better question is how anyone can recite Dasher lyrics at all. Although printed copies were included with Kimbrough’s early cassette (still available on Scavenger of Death) she shrieks with such deep-throated abandon that it can be hard to make out much beyond her raw emotion.
The Dasher that’ll hit Atlanta in August is back to a trio, however – Garcia served notice after the European leg. “He’s in school – he wants to be in the band but he can’t tour, so with the record release and heavy touring coming up it was fish-or-cut-bait time. Steve’s a bright kid. He’s really serious about his education – he’s studying business and wants to open a coffee shop – and I don’t want to mess that up for him and he doesn’t want to mess up the band. But it still sucks because he’s so fucking good.” Before he left, though, Garcia became the sole Bloomington member to contribute to Sodium, layering his guitar onto a handful of songs – including the revamped “Sodium,” pushing it over the top. “He had some ideas that were really fucking cool.”
To cut back on the commute to doctors’ offices and to save some money before spending the balance of 2017 on the road, Kimbrough recently moved from Bloomington back to her hometown of Cayuga, Indiana. “One stop light, I’ve got my whole family within a 10 mile range, and it’s cheaper! I’m seeing some specialists here for brain shit I’ve been having my whole life. I’m getting tested for autism – it’s pretty much confirmed, but for formalities you have to do all this testing and it takes days and weeks. It’s especially hard to get diagnosed as an adult if they missed you when you were a kid.”
An official diagnosis of autism opens the door to assistance like vocational rehab – something she’s very keen on, as holding a job has never been easy for her. “That’s the whole point of the formality, to access the services. I don’t think I’ll have to take medicine, it’s just a neurological thing.”
For the next several months, though, Kylee’s vocation will be touring musician – which poses a host of challenges given her condition. “The last time I played Atlanta is a good example of what doesn’t work. It was really overwhelming because I hadn’t been there in so long, and one of the things that sets me off is being around a lot of people talking at the same time. You know how the Star Bar gets backstage – I had such bad anxiety I hid in the bathroom stall most of the time. I wanted to visit with old friends and join (night’s headliners) The Coathangers for the after party but my brain went into shutdown mode. After our set I went straight back to the hotel and couldn’t breathe – I tried to take a shower to calm down but nothing was working. I wound up in the emergency room on a nebulizer (a breathing device often used to treat asthma attacks and cystic fibrosis patients) for several hours.”
According to Kylee, the formal term is a sensory meltdown – “I suppose a panic attack would be the closest thing. In the case of performing I guess I wind up using that stress to my advantage. It’s the space and time before and after actually being on stage that’s always the struggle.”
The larger venues of the Japandroids jaunt offered a more structured backstage environment – which begs the question of how she’ll fare in more haphazard settings like the EARL. “I’m learning more about my boundaries and how to keep things pretty chill and minimize anxiety at shows. “If my bandmates want to go out and explore a town they don’t get insulted if I just want to hang in the van or hotel.” She’s also learned to avoid the post-set merch table, where she can become overwhelmed and disoriented. “That’s one thing that kind of comically works out,” she laughs about what might be interpreted as “clichéd rockstar crap – people don’t really question it.”
Given all she’s been through, the natural question is why run the risk of a rock lifestyle? “It’s the only thing I’ve found so far that I can do without – I don’t want to say failing – but that I can get through with proper planning and learning what doesn’t work,” Kimbrough explains without a trace of self-pity.
“A lot of people with ASD have social problems. In my 20s I fell into crowds that drank heavily and used drugs recreationally. Many of those people had their own issues, so they were less critical of me. They were easier to hang out with – my social errors were forgiven more often and there was less pressure to know what to say all the time. Truth be told, I used to pour beers out in the bathroom when no one was looking so I could look like I was drinking and keeping up with everyone. I just wanted to fit in somewhere and be accepted.” At age 34, she again felt like an outsider in Bloomington’s college-centric scene. Cayuga’s lack of bustle can be a real salve, even with the complication of the rest of Dasher living an hour away.
“I am definitely not a drug addict,” she reiterates, unsurprised by the misperceptions that circulated following her 2014 departure. “I really want to stress that because getting that reputation made my life a lot harder. I’ve had struggles in my past where drugs and alcohol were involved – that’s very true. I think I convinced myself I had a problem with drugs and alcohol because it sounded legit at the time. No one questioned it and it bought me time to get people to believe I was normal but only acting insane because of this factor. The truth was I had problems way before I ever used a drug or drank a beer,” says Kimbrough, who adds that she was prescribed Ritalin for ADHD by age eight.
“I’ve never gone public until now with anything about my mental health. But I feel it’s important to be open and honest because a) there is a massive lack of awareness and education concerning adults and especially females with ASD and b) it’s the truth.” Another truth is that she’s channeled her energy into one hell of an album.
Dasher headlines The EARL on Sunday, August 6th. Hyena, Nurse and Nag will also play.
Photo by Eric Ayotte.