Thursday, June 25, 2015


The Switchboard Sessions ended in 2013, but returned at the end of 2014 for a special run of sessions that showcased bands from the Chicagoland area. This is the second session of that series. Read the first and second session here.

It seems to take only a taste of I Don’t Even Care Anymore, the band’s second proper LP, to understand what Chicago’s Dowsing is all about.

The first song, titled “If I Fall Asleep the Cats Will Find Me,” is simply strummed, tilting between two clean chords, while singer Erik Czaja murmurs “Will I make it through you?” with just enough sentiment to sound melodic. As other instruments enter—a calm line of organ and breath of bass, guitars that glimmer in time with the pattering snare drum—Czaja’s question sounds more doubtful with each recitation, more desperate for an answer. He receives it in the song’s last loop: “I need to and I will,” shouted too quietly in the background, present but easy to miss. Though the remainder of the record sounds upbeat—with guitars jangling like a set of keys in the drum beat’s bouncing pocket—Czaja’s deadpan melodies and dispirited lyrics keep the record somber, resentful, and, as a result, relatable.

There’s a reason that I Don’t Even Care Anymore seems like such a downer. Released by County Your Lucky Stars in the fall of 2013, the record was written during a tumultuous time in the band’s tenure. 

“Stuff started happening in a personal relationship between a female and myself,” Czaja remembers over the phone, speaking slowly and quietly. “It wasn’t all terrible, but it was pretty bad. [The record] started becoming focused on one person, and all the songs wrapped around a concept of our relationship—kind of like how there’s that Good Life record [Album of the Year] about every month of a relationship. It wasn’t supposed to be like that, but it ended up being similar.”

For him, writing songs about the relationship, confronting its worst incidents, helped him make sense of his sadness. Songs like “Get Weird” reveal the relationship’s first hints of tension; the ringing guitars and drums go silent during the chorus, leaving Czaja exposed, alone with his guitar, singing, “It gets weird sometimes when I say I love you.” Others, like “Ferret Feelings,” seem to reveal rock bottom; the beat trudges slower, the guitars rumble deeper, and Czaja repeats, “I’ve just become disgusted with how I’ve been” during the stormy choruses.

Even “Nothing to Give,” easily the most optimistic song on the record, casts shadows. It occurs throughout, but most subtly in the album’s last moments—the drums pounding a breezy beat, guitars gliding birdlike on them—he sings, “Yeah, it’s easy to replace, yeah, it’s easy / Yeah, you’re easy to replace, yeah, you’re easy / Yeah, I’m easy to replace, yeah, I’m easy / See, we’ve easily suppressed all our feelings.” Here, Czaja seems to accept the circumstances of his relationship—the finality, the reality—along with its cynical consequences. “But I kind of think the last song is my favorite even though we don’t play it often,” Czaja adds. “It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, it’s alright! Stuff happens. Whatever!’”

In a sense, each song on I Don’t Even Care Anymore is a snapshot of the most unfortunate moments and emotions from this relationship. “Those songs are about love when nothing’s working out, being bummed,” Czaja says. “They came from the awkwardness of really liking someone but not knowing how to show it, how to express it. Because maybe I could write a song about stuff, but maybe I wasn’t very good at expressing how I felt to that person.

“She loves the record, by the way,” he adds with an enormous laugh. Guitarist Michael Crotty joins him, his chuckle deeper and duller. And suddenly something becomes more apparent: The dudes that make up Dowsing aren’t bummers; they’re fun, funny, full of life—far different than what I Don’t Even Care Anymore seems to suggest.

Crotty joined Dowsing just as the band entered the studio to record I Don’t Even Care Anymore—and just as two other band members, who had been in a romantic relationship together, began pulling apart. The couple broke up and, by the time the LP was released, were asked to leave the band, which put Dowsing in an uncomfortable and unprecedented place. “Things kind of splintered off,” Czaja said. “We had to decline a really good tour because we didn’t know what to do. We had to find ourselves again.” Though Czaja and Crotty were able to piece a band together for Fest and a few other small tours, they suspected that it wasn’t permanent. 

On the heels of I Don’t Even Care Anymore—whose sad pop seemed to resonate with a wider and richer audience than the band ever reached—Dowsing’s continued existence seemed in question. Czaja put his attention toward other projects, including Kittyhawk and Pet Symmetry, as he and Crotty looked to round out the band’s lineup. That’s when they found Michael Politowicz. “His band Brave Bird had just broken up,” Czaja said, “and he’s one of our best friends. After I spent a week with him in Iceland, I asked him if he wanted to be in Dowsing, and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be in Dowsing!’ And I was like, ‘Cool! Now he have a bassist!’”

Crotty and Czaja’s laughter rises rapidly and often, flares with the sudden intensity of a grease fire as they recall the process rebuilding of their band. After adding Politowicz, they found Ratboys bassist Will Lange—or, rather, he found them. “We didn’t post anything saying we wanted a drummer,” Czaja said. “But he was just like, ‘Hey, I know you guys need a drummer. I’ll be your drummer.’ And he sent us weird drum demos to me, and I was like, ‘I think these are good.’” Czaja showed Politowicz, who was impressed by the unsolicited demos, and even asked his bandmates in Kittyhawk while on tour. “They were like, ‘Oh, we know him! He’s really cool! Once you get past the first impression, he’s great!’ And I was like, ‘That’s good enough!’”

With this new rhythm section, Czaja and Crotty took Dowsing back on tour with Donovan Wolfington in the spring of 2014. “The Donovan tour became a test of can we do it again,” Czaja laughs, “and then we were like, ‘We can do this!’ And then we got the Sidekicks tour, the Spraynard tour, and Free Throw just because they’re all our friends and we were lucky and we could do it all. Now we’re just doing smaller tours because it’s like, well, we really played enough of [I Don’t Even Care Anymore] and need to let this new band to have this moment that it deserves.”

It’s with this new band that Czaja and Crotty have been writing and recording new material for the next Dowsing record—a full length that they say will feel thematically familiar despite their desire to evolve. “It’s easier to write a sadder song than a happier song,” Czaja admits, “but the topics of the new record aren’t about girls. They’re about social issues and the scene we’re involved in, about my friends and other people.” The decision to write personal songs less centered on himself was a conscious one for Czaja. “It’s kind of nice to not sing about myself, but it’s also shitty to not sing about myself because I’m thinking about all these other things that are going on that are awful.”

Musically, Dowsing’s new songs possess a different mood as well, and Czaja says this is due in large part to Crotty’s contributions as a songwriter. “Mikey comes from a background that doesn’t involve emo at all,” he says.

“Half of these bands that everyone is taking about I’ve never even heard of,” Crotty admits. “Erik’s influences are completely different from my influences. That’s part of the dynamic I brought to the band, I guess.”

“Mikey likes the Bouncing Souls, I like the Promise Ring,” Czaja laughs. 

Both sets of influences are present on “Cutoff (Blades, Blades, Blades, & Even More Blades),” a b-side from the new LP set to be released on a four-way split alongside Cardboard Swords, Long Knives, and Sinai Vessel. Before the song even begins, Czaja’s wild count off and Politowicz’s brambly bass suggest a marked mood shift, and then the guitars lunge forward playfully—still jangling and ringing, still simply strummed, but more metallic and tense. Driven by the dusty crack Lange’s snare, adorned with “oohs” and shouts and distorted descants, “Cutoff” is a surprise party compared to I Don’t Even Care Anymore’s box of snapshots.

“It’s just kind of a wild song,” Czaja says. “It’s lyrical, and there’s harmonies, and there’s a guitar solo. It’s everything that’s in the [new] album in a single song. You listen to [the new record], and you go, ‘Oh, this is a Dowsing record,’ except it’s going to sound bigger and better. But this one song, you listen to it and you go, ‘What the hell is going on!?’ Which is kind of the point, because it’s a b-side. We were like, ‘This song cannot go on the record. It’s too nuts!’”

But, despite its b-side status, “Cutoff” represents something significant for the band—a new lineup and outlook, a refreshed melodic mentality, and a revised mood and mindset. Even the song’s lyrics speak to this shift. “It’s about people involved in the music world and where we live,” Czaja explains, “people butting heads and not getting along, but not listening to each other either. But it’s also about the band moving forward even though so much has happened.”

So much, in fact, that Dowsing could never continue being the band that they once were. And, though they will never sever themselves entirely from their previous output, Czaja and Crotty are excited to be a new band with a new energy and new music that better represents its members, its true spirit, and what Dowsing is really all about.

Czaja and Crotty tried to record these songs in the winter of 2015, but the landline’s sound quality was too low to salvage the tracks. Between tours and other commitments, they struggled to find time to record another session, but found an after in the summer to record together in Chicago’s Monadnock Building at which Czaja works; muzak can be heard swaying in the background.

“No Offense to the Fun" appears on Dowsing's 2013 record titled I Don’t Even Care Anymore, and “Cutoff (Blades, Blades, Blades, & Even More Blades)” appears on their 2015 split with Cardboard Swords, Long Knives, and Sinai Vessel. “Watermark” is a Weakerthans cover; the original appears on the band's 2000 full-length Left and Leaving.

To download these tracks, click on the song titles and download them from the player at

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