DFW Music News

A Tale of Two Bands: Def Rain's Ashley Leer Talks New Work With Abbreviations

Abbreviations has been around for over three years now, but  didn't release its first single until this month.
Abbreviations has been around for over three years now, but didn't release its first single until this month. Justin Wilson
For about a decade, Ashley Leer led the experimental post-punk group Def Rain. For about three years, she's also led the indie-pop group Abbreviations — at times abbreviated as ABBV.

“I just wanted to have a band again; I missed playing in a band,” Leer says over the phone, distracted somewhat by her neighbor repositioning his sprinkler. “I used to be in this band called Record Hop, and that was probably the last band I was in. I just missed practicing with people and writing stuff together with other musicians.”

For Leer, Abbreviations is a band in the traditional sense of the word — one in which musicians play actual instruments together in a live setting.

“[Def Rain] is a very simple band,” Leer says, still watching her neighbor grapple with his sprinkler. “I write all this stuff at home. Everything is pretty much prerecorded, except for Matt, my husband, who plays live keyboards a little bit, but for the most part, it's pretty prerecorded. And then I just like do my thing on stage, singing or dancing around like a crazy person.”

Def Rain isn’t going anywhere. The group released its second album Exit in August 2020 and is already working on new material for an upcoming album.

Leer has been working in the background with Abbreviations since 2018 and has taken a different approach, not just to the creation of the music, but to its release as well. After three years, the band finally released its first single, “Turn on You,” on June 18.

“That song is pretty soft, and there's probably a couple other songs on the album that are kind of that soft, but the rest are different,” Leer says. “Some are kind of angular, some are a little faster, a little more like rock tunes. It's kind of interesting. I've never really played the whole singles game before.”

Following the current trend in music distribution, Abbreviations plans to release several singles over the coming months to build anticipation for their first full-length album.

“I'm kind of interested to hear what people think when each song comes out because the next one coming out, it’s going to be a little different,” Leer says with just a tinge of anxiety.

Abbreviations is also taking a different approach to how it markets and distributes its music. While Leer and Def Rain have always gone the do-it-yourself route, Abbreviations took its time to find a record label to help build its presence.

The band signed with Red Zeppelin Records at the end of May.

“Katie [Scott, owner of the label,] and I really got along and had similar interests,” Leer says. “It just ended up being a good fit. I've never been on a label, so she's like, 'OK, you need to do this, this and this.' We're not used to having someone else around. So, it's fun. I like it. We’re having a good time.”

While making the leap from DIY band to label band naturally comes with its pros and cons, Leer says signing with Red Zeppelin has allowed her band to stay focused on the creative aspects of being in a band while someone else handles the business side of it.

“We're not business people, you know?” Leer says, pausing to say she's still not understanding what the hell her neighbor is doing with that sprinkler. “We don't like to talk about ourselves. Like, writing a bio is the worst thing in the world. I'd rather dive into a pit of shit than write about ourselves. To me, that’s the worst part of it in this whole business — where you have to sell it or you have to go talk to people, put as many Instagram pictures of yourself out as you can. It was just not our cup of tea.”

"To me, that’s the worst part of it is this whole business — where you have to sell it or you have to go talk to people, put as many Instagram pictures of yourself out as you can. It was just not our cup of tea.” – Ashley Leer

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Abbreviations has played live sporadically, but the band members are especially looking forward to their record label showcase July 30 at Double Wide in Deep Ellum, which will be the band's first show back after what Leer can only describe as "a very long time."

“I feel like that's a really good way to write,” she says. “You can write a song as much as you want in practice, but what happens when you play it live? Sometimes you figure something out that sounds really cool. The energy is different. You have all this nervous energy or all this crazy, creative energy when you're playing live.”

In that sense, playing the “singles game” as Leer describes it is better for the creative process and for what actually ends up making it to the album.

“I always felt in Record Hop that we didn't like record until way after we'd played stuff live for a long time,” Leer says. “That was always great because you come up with just these random parts that sound so cool. If you record it before that, you just wish you would have put that on the record.”

Leer’s attention turns back to her neighbor who has been repositioning the sprinkler for over half an hour at this point.

“I don't know what the deal is,” Leer exclaims. “It's just a sprinkler. I don't get what's happening!”
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David Fletcher writes about music, arts and culture for the Dallas Observer. You can usually find him at a show in Deep Ellum whether he's writing about it or not. A punk scholar and local music enthusiast, David focuses his attention on the artists screaming in the margins of Dallas' music scene.
Contact: David Fletcher