There was a time, oh, about two and a half years ago, right around the release of the band's debut album, Movements, when it was cool to like Black Tie Dynasty.
And why not? Frontman Cory Watson, drummer Eddie Thomas, bass player Black McWhorter and synth man Brian McCorquodale had a stylish new project on their hands: Their sound was sleek—somewhere between Duran Duran, Joy Division and the other dramatic synth pop-rock and new wave bands of the '80s—and the music stayed true to those influences, with big hooks and catchy beats.
And, as with any project of this nature, it was a little flashy too. But the band looked the part onstage, convincingly portraying an up-and-coming act worth its audience's eyes and ears. So Black Tie Dynasty seemed a project Dallas music fans could get behind and get excited about.
Then, of course, something happened—something you'd think would be a good thing. The band's simple but catchy single "I Like U" was adopted into KDGE-102.1 FM The Edge's on-air rotation, bringing the band a new group of listeners and a new group of fans. The airplay helped turn the record into something of a major local hit—to date Movements has sold 10,000 copies—and the band found itself being invited to play on a number of The Edge's concert bills.
But, of course, with the good comes the bad. Like the inevitable backlash.
"Something happened with the Movements record," frontman Watson explains. "When we got on the radio, it got crazy both ways, with people who already liked us either suddenly really liking us or suddenly hating us."
As a result, today, Black Tie Dynasty, even though it is just now releasing its first follow-up full-length since Movements with the new 10-track Down Like Anyone, just might be the most polarizing band in DFW.
"People either love us or they hate us," Watson says. "It goes both ways. It's kind of crazy that people get so worked up about our music, but I'm also kind of proud of that."
Right, because at least they know who Black Tie Dynasty is—which is kind of an important factor when you're trying to make a career as a professional musician. Although it does create some headaches from time to time.
"Deep Ellum is struggling, and there's not much of the pie to be had for local bands," Watson says. "If one band begins getting that attention, the others all seem to want to tear it down. But it's not like we're making any money off this. I don't know if people think we are because we're on the radio or whatever, but we're not. But add that to our look and our dramatic, big-sounding songs, and I guess that's the reason there's so much hate. I mean, we're nice people!"
They have regular day jobs too. For instance, by day, Watson works at Starbucks. Nothing against nonfat caramel macchiatos, but that's not exactly the kind of job a bona fide rock star holds on to. The profits from Movements were instead pumped into the production of the band's second record.
Like the debut, Down Like Anyone is produced by John Congleton of The Paper Chase. And even though all the same pieces are in place, it's clear from the first listen-through that this Black Tie Dynasty record isn't just more of the same.
"For one, the arrangements are a lot different on this album," Watson says. "They're not as straightforward, not just Point A to Point B. Our old songs didn't change form as much."
A large reason behind the difference is the lack of time constraints. Whereas Movements was recorded in five days, for Down Like Anyone, the band spread out its recording sessions over a month-long period, sometimes heading into the studio to work on and record unfinished songs.
"We learned a lot about ourselves creatively that way," Watson says. "Now I think we know that we work best under pressure, when our backs are against the wall and we need to figure stuff out."
The result is a disc that, even Watson admits, is a little all over the map; it's the disc of a band that's finally discovered its own sound, but can't quite decide where to aim it. The musical theater-ish opening lines of first track "Cruel Canopy" are a little too macabre and not in a good way. "Against the Wall," though, seems the prototypical BTD track. But then "Lay Low" finds the band embracing the piano setting on its synthesizer, which actually is quite refreshing, if unexpected. Meanwhile, "Pumpkin" finds the band delving into British post-punk realms to so-so results, and "You Got a Lover" finds the band testing—quite successfully—the jangly, psych rock waters.
"But you can tell it's a Black Tie record," Watson says.
And that's true enough. Partially because it's so dramatic.
But there's another change, and a pretty major one: "I kinda dropped the almost British accent I had on the first record," Watson admits.
Aha. A change for the better.
Black Tie Dynasty has always been—and probably will forever be—compared to acts like Interpol and Editors, who, around the same time as Black Tie Dynasty formed, also took a liking to the dramatic sounds of acts such as Joy Division and Duran Duran. That comparison doesn't die here, but, without the faux accent, at least it comes off as a slightly less manufactured mimic.
As such, Down Like Anyone is a vastly superior disc to Movements. Play any one of these tracks for a radio programmer in the right mood, and BTD could be en route to radio success with this album too. More than anything, Down Like Anyone comes off as a band still reaching for the total package—and coming closer and closer to grasping it. Perfect example: the closing track, "Sea Wall," which finds the band still embracing the bombastic, but doing so by channeling a new, fairly unique Angels & Airwaves-meets-Mute Math sound.
"That song's probably the most important on the record," Watson says. "It's an indication of where the third record will most likely go."
If Down Like Anyone has a lasting image, though, it's that of a band that still has its best work ahead of it. And for a band that puts as much time and effort into its stage show and image as does Black Tie Dynasty, which is maybe the most determined band in Dallas, that's a good thing. (Especially considering that there's still more to come: Within the next month, the band expects to release a free six-track remix EP for download, thanks to Watson's newfound working relationship with ex-PPT and current Cannabinoid member Picnic. Good things, indeed.)
But is it enough to make lovers out of those haters? Well, probably not, Watson acknowledges.
"It's not like the people that are hating on us are gonna say, 'You know, I'm gonna think twice about Black Tie Dynasty!'" he says. "They're not. They're not even gonna listen to us."
Those who do, though, are going to start to hear on this record less of a band trying to be Interpol or Editors or anyone else. And, instead, they'll find a band beginning to sound like itself.
"For any artist, the last thing they want to hear is, 'Oh, it sounds great! You sound just like this!'" Watson says. "I don't want to be compared to anyone else. I just want to sound like me."