By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
"Have some fun, clap, holler, get down!"
On some days, that's hard advice to handle. But Robert Cissell of Dear and the Headlights is handling it just fine.
"There are so many bands these days that are so consumed by the idea of coolness and image that they forget what it's all about," he says. "It's about art and community; it's about getting an entire room to work together on a moment rather than five dudes being a spectacle. When we get to let loose and have fun with our fans, it's a party, not a play. It's nice to be able to take our mind off the stresses of life and, together with a crowd of people, just let loose, even if its only for the 45 minutes or hour that we're playing."
Cissell himself, though, is one of the newer members of Dear and the Headlights, which is currently on tour in support of the band's second album, Drunk Like Bible Times. The multi-instrumentalist joined singer Ian Metzger's project to replace guitarist/keyboardist Joel Marquard, who left the band following a tour for the band's debut, Small Steps, Heavy Hooves. Both albums showcase a kind of indie-identified rock notable for its big, sonically upbeat approach.
That said, Cissell, for one, is wary of labels. Too many acts, he argue, seek only to pigeonhole themselves, while acknowledging that the group's own output—including support dates for Paramore and the Plain White T's—suggests a certain context.
"It's been strange with us because we have a hard time defining what we're doing," he explains. "Is it pop music? Is it rock music? Is it folk music? It really doesn't matter to us."
His own jack-of-all-trades role in the group certainly enforces this stance.
"I enjoy creating more than anything," he says. "To me, it makes no difference whether I've got flames shooting from my fingers in a tearing solo or I'm shaking a shaker. It makes it fun to have a handful of instruments to choose from within our reach too. Mixing it up puts a new light and new inspiration on the song. Sometimes a song needs a piano man, but sometimes a song just needs a tambourine man."
It's been a fortunate situation for Cissell, which could explain his good cheer more than anything else.
"Getting to know [the rest of the band members] so deeply—they really are the greatest four guys I've ever met and have brought so many fresh thoughts and new views on life to light. It's awesome," Cissell says. "It would really suck to spend this much time with a bunch of assholes. I lucked out."