Kansas City band Dragon Inn 3 are responsible for one of the best synth pop albums you’ve probably never heard. Before Stranger Things made that 80s cinematic sound cool again, Dragon Inn 3’s 2018 debut, Double Line, gave us a road-trip down memory lane, lit up in fizzy pink and green neon.
Better known for leading cult Springfield indie-pop group Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Philip Dickey started Dragon Inn 3 as a side project in 2012 after being asked to write a theme song for the short teen horror flick, Ghoul School. Dickey brought in his sister Sharon Hamm, wife Grace Bentley, and David Hill to assist with vocals and writing a clutch of songs that, over the course of six years, would become an album. Released by American Laundromat Records, Double Line was a real DIY labour of love, recorded in bedrooms, garages, kitchens, and hotel rooms around their work lives, parenthood, school and moving across country.
It appears the band have picked up the pace a little and now, just five years later, Dragon Inn 3 are releasing their follow up, Trade Secrets. And, it’s a cracker.
The nostalgia and shimmy of the eighties is ever-present, but more importantly this is probably some of the most wholesome and uplifting songwriting we’ve heard since… well about 1988. Imagine Stars had written Brotherhood or Tango In The Night for a John Hughes teen coming-of-age film and you’re nearly there. Everyone involved in making these songs sounds like they’ve had a good time doing it. That kind of dedication oozes out of the speakers and is infectious and addictive, even if you never lived through the decade that gave us ridiculous shoulder pads, Atari 2600 and Reaganomics.
Below, Dragon Inn 3’s Phil and Sharon break down every song on Trade Secrets. So, pull on your Sony Walkman, pop in the tape, push the play button and dance like your dad.
I Can’t Stop
This is a classic case of us taking 3 years to finish a two-minute pop song. Our band name should be Dragon Inn 3 Years. I was about to give up on it until I sent it to guitarist Ben Collins from the band minihorse and Lightning Love (and Broncho’s sound guy!). His parts were so good that it went from an outtake to the album opener and first single.
Out of Control (Bad Boy 2)
In my old band – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – I used to run away and react against our previous album and singles. This time I tried to embrace what people liked about our most popular song from Double Line – ‘Bad Boy‘. The goal was to write a sequel with the same beat and instrumentation. The sax at the end is by Tim Gillespie from a band I used to play in called Miss Boating. Also, we’re already writing Bad Boy 3 (Return of the Bad Boy) for our next album. It smokes!
Back in 2012, my sister-in-law (Emma Bentley Ruzicka) wrote a joke song called “5 Mozzarella Sticks (It’s Not Enough)” and posted it on her WordPress blog. Even though it was a joke, Grace and I thought her melody and the lyrics “It’s not enough/ It’s not enough” were hauntingly beautiful. So we spent – I kid you not – over a decade occasionally trying to replace the “5 Mozzarella sticks” lyric with less jokey lyrics. We ultimately decided that we could just repeat “oh, it’s not enough” over and over again. But she was right – 5 mozzarella sticks are not enough when you’re trying to turn an appetizer into an entree.
See It Your Way
For the past 3 years I’ve been the volunteer/de facto manager for my neighbors’ Congolese rumba band called “The Salvation Choir.” We’ve also collaborated on occasion and one of our jam sessions was posted on Dust-To-Digital’s super popular Instagram page. It went viral and we got 14,000 likes in one hour. “See It Your Way” is another collaboration we did with a few of their singers. We wanted it to sound like a Tom Tom Club song, if they wrote the Beatles “We Can Work It Out.”
I Could Never
This one is inspired by Phoenix’s album “It’s Never Been Like That.” I’m still obsessed with the guitars, beats, and Julien Delfaud’s snare mix on that record. And the longing in Thomas Mars’ lyrics, even though I never know what he’s singing about. Thomas – if you’re reading this “Je ne me lasserai jamais de toi”
My attempt to write a Weezer Blue Album song – if the Blue Album was recorded by The Cure in 1985 with Thin Lizzy‘s Scott Gorham on guitar. The lyrics were inspired by my toddler. He was always asking for these rare and expensive Thomas the Tank Engine collectibles and I got in the bad habit of saying “Sure- when I get a lot of money.” But really I’m already haunted by the idea that he’ll grow up and move away someday and all I’ll wish for is a way to teleport back to his childhood.
I’ll Be Right Over
I’ll Be Right Over was written about everyday life and the changing of seasons in the Midwest. It drops into a party where we got a little too wasted. Then it looks forward to a trip of a lifetime but fearing that it will all go wrong.
This Party Sucks
Wrote the song about the devastating feeling of when neighbor friends move away and it completely changes the vibe of your street and neighborhood. It happened twice since Double Line came out and each time I couldn’t look at their old houses without bursting into tears. Maybe we’re an emo band? Anyway, the demo sounded like a 90s Breeders song because I wanted it to be in a movie that the DJ Marco Collins’ was music supervising- it took place in Seattle in the 90s. But had to make it sound like Kim and Kelly Deal were the singers of New Order for it to be on a Dragon Inn 3 record. We want to release the 90s version someday. Nick Wilkerson from White Reaper – the best rock drummer in America right now – recorded drums on it.
Trade Secrets Theme
The lyrics are about an unsolved missing persons crime in our old hometown called the Three Missing Women case- also known as The Springfield Three. I really thought I could solve the case for a long time, but then I realized I was losing my mind. My old band also had a song about them. Our old bandmate Brook Linder came up with the album name “Trade Secrets.” Unlike me, he’s good at naming things.
My favorite era of Depeche Mode was when Vince Clark was in the band – before they went goth-pop and did heroin. I’d take Yazoo‘s “Upstairs at Eric’s” over Depeche Mode’s “Violator” every time. Grace had a gruesome sinus infection and completely lost her voice last year. There was one day when it started coming back and she could briefly sing in a completely different tone. We ran upstairs and tracked this one fast. Wanted to record more when her voice sounded like this, but it came back the next day. She’s still my favorite singer, though.
Finally Going Down
Sharon and I collaborated on this one. I sent her the chords and she wrote the melody and some lyrics about the worst president ever (sorry Dad!). My friend and old band mate John Robert Cardwell came over and recorded guitar on it. First time we recorded together since 2012 and it was the very last thing we recorded for the album. So many songs on this record seemed like they were brewing for years – sometimes a decade.
‘Trade Secrets’ is released on 28th April on Vinyl and CD via American Laundromat Records, and on cassette exclusively through Dragon Inn 3’s Bandcamp