rom the outset, The Werks have been content to be impressive contributors to the Jam scene, earning adoration from their loyal fan base and respect from the community’s critical arbiters.
Since their official 2007 formation, through a handful of personnel changes and a quintet of studio/live releases, the Dayton, Ohio quartet — now comprised of founding guitarist Chris Houser and drummer Rob Chafin with bassist Dino Dimitrouleas (a 2011 addition) and keyboardist Dan Shaw (who joined last year) — has been well-received within and beyond Jam circles. Their latest album, the just-released Inside a Dream, adds a new wrinkle to the band’s Jamtronic/Funk/Space Rock repertoire by incorporating a conceptual element.
Salvador Dali once famously noted that nothing is more boring than listening to someone describing their dreams, presumably because language inadequately interprets the brain’s subconscious logic. The Werks got around this particular stumbling block by largely using a similarly subconscious approach to writing Inside a Dream.
“We really didn’t think about the concept beforehand,” Houser says from his Dayton home. “We wrote all the songs for the album not necessarily at the same time; they just kind of trickled out of our minds. When it was time to go in for the album, there was a little debate over if we should name it after a tune or something completely different. Once we decided to go with Inside a Dream, everything really fell into place. It wasn’t until we started laying down tracks that it was really thought that we could do a concept.”
Dreams have been an important part of The Werks’ creative process for some time, often steering the band’s songs. Houser in particular has had a fascinating dream-life since the passing of his father.
“My dad has visited me a few times over the years and he’s never spoken in the dreams,” the guitarist says. “Most recently, he actually gave me a hug and spoke and it was much more significant and very real. To tie that in with the album, this is all very much a dream becoming real. Being at this point in our lives with music is a dream come true. We envisioned it, worked our asses off and made it happen.”
Inside a Dream is not just the concept album alluded to in its title. Houser also sees it as a vehicle for The Werks’ newfound message of positivity. After navigating through a relatively dark period, Houser found a well of inspiration in that darkness and translated it into an optimistic message of hope, which resonates in the lyrics as well as the anthemic swell of the music.
“The majority of the album itself is very positive — find your way, be what you want to be, the future is yours to see,” Houser says. “It’s a homage to my wife and also to the fans. I’m past the dark time in my life now I’ve realized the power that music has. As we’ve grown more mature, we’re happier where our lives are at. We’re trying to get some inspiring lyrics and feelings out there. We often play in minor keys, but there’s still a positive message, with a little more dramatic feel.”
Part of the challenge for The Werks in developing the songs for Inside a Dream was adapting the songs from their expansive stage identities to a more concise studio presentation. Some, like the poppy “Give or Take” and the humorous “Transformational,” had never been played live and evolved during the recording experience, but much of the material had been shaped live and required some restraint.
“We had to pull in the reins of most of them,” Houser says with a laugh. “In the studio, we weren’t trying to have 20-minute songs. Some members wanted all the tunes within a four-and-a-half to five-minute time limit for radio. Some members said, ‘You know damn well we’re not going to be played on Pop radio, let’s not worry about that.’ It’s a happy medium, in my eyes.”
One of the exceptions was the Jazz/Funk/Prog excursion “Find Your Way,” an eight-minute jam that is both propulsive and contemplative. Rather than pare it down to a manageable radio length, the band allowed it to be the album’s lengthy yet pivotal centerpiece.
“It was nothing like we play it live, but it’s still an interesting jam,” Houser says. “We added some psychedelic voices in the middle and there’s a screaming goat at the end. That jam started as a drum beat, then I went in and layered some guitar noises and came up with the harmony patterns, then Dan came in and did what he did. It took like a half hour to write the base of that jam.”
The fascinating dichotomy in all of this is that the songs The Werks endeavored to whittle down to appeal to a program director’s sense of brevity are now expanding more or less back to their original forms in concert.
“Now that we’ve recorded these songs, we’ll play some of them with the album versions of the solos,” Houser says. “Dan mimics the piano solo in ‘For You,’ and we’ve been mimicking those solos but stretching them out longer than the album versions. It’s both ways. We had to alter them a little from our live setting for the album, and now since we’ve done the album and listened to it literally three million times, we’re a little more likely to use those exact riffs as a jumping off point in the live show.”
While Inside a Dream is clearly a Werks album and will satisfy the band’s legions of fans — for years, The Werks were among the most-searched bands on jambase.com, the primary online Jam resource second only to Phish and, in 2012, The Werks took the top slot — there are departures from their standard operating procedures. It seems like the album could stand as an evolutionary step for the band.
“We’ve all got our own vision, and it’s important to let that vision get out,” Houser says. “We had some interesting disagreements over stuff like that in the studio. There are definitely parts that are not typically what you’d expect to hear from us. It’s nice to have (a lot of diversity) on the album and still have the album flow. Diversity has always been a big deal for The Werks in the past, between Bluegrass, Dance, Rock and Funk, but now we’re exploring different genres and really trying to embrace them and become comfortable with doing whatever.”
THE WERKS play Wednesday and Thursday at Covington’s Madison Theater. Tickets/more info: madisontheateronline.com.