Chill or be Chilled

Indie rock group Duster returns after 18 years

For a long time, Duster was a relic. The indie rock group made silent waves in the late '90s with their spacey and lo-fi melancholy, released two albums only fully appreciated in retrospect, and slipped away. Their enigmatic nature fit well with their hazy music. Like great swells in a foggy sea, there was power in Duster's sound, but it was hidden behind layers of static and droning keyboards, and occasionally brightened with dreamy vocals.

Then on April 13, 2018, came an Instagram post as simple and subtle as their music itself: "hi. it's been a long time but we are recording a little bit." With this announcement, a string of concert dates arrived as well. The band was back.

As for their disappearance, Duster's vocalist/guitarist Clay Parton says it, well, just sort of happened.

"When we took a break almost two decades ago, we didn't think it was going to all completely stop," Parton says. "We thought we could keep it drifting at least, maybe at a slower pace and with a different process. But everything just went dark. We were always in touch and sometimes we'd talk about doing Duster things, but days just piled up... In recent years we've talked more seriously about at least doing another record. Now everything is sort of working out, and we are making new things together, but we're taking it slow and still doing most things wrong, so it does feel like right where we left off."

Often grouped into the depressive "slowcore" genre, Duster separated themselves from their contemporaries by fusing space rock into the mellow scene, making some truly beautiful lethargy. This exploratory nature went beyond instrumentation, particularly influencing the song titles of their debut album, Stratosphere, such as: "Constellations," "Docking the Pod," and "Earth Moon Transit," among others.

Their warm, hypnotic rock songs engulf you in a cozy distortion, masterfully capturing the feeling of floating away into space—a style perfect to be viewed through the aperture of mysterious-90s-band worship.

"I think that might be closer to where we are comfortable, sort of unknown and not promoting anything." Parton said. "So this return has been interesting to navigate. We are losing some anonymity with every show, or every video that someone posts, or even anything we post ourselves. That's just the world now, it's eroding our obscurity."

The band is also somewhat reinventing their sound, due in no small part to the members being nearly two decades older.

"I don't think we want to be the same thing we were before. But at the same time the only reason we can play shows right now is because of what we did before, so it's this weird space to exist in." Parton said. "We'll lose some people with new material, but that's an intrinsic thing anyway. That's OK."

While the "Duster" name has been inactive for nearly two decades, the band members themselves haven't stayed completely silent. Parton releases solo material under the name Eiafuawn and Duster multi-instrumentalist Canaan Dove Amber performs in the band Helvetia. Still, these performances are often relegated to small shows.

"Maybe we're kind of saboteurs in that sense." Parton says. "I mean, I'm old now so I'm probably righteous and jaded, but the 'scene' as a monolith is still the same: very male, very exclusive and very fake. There are bright spots like there always have been, but sometimes the space in between those is as big as it ever was."

This new tour also previews some upcoming releases from the band: a compilation box, set to be released on the Numero label, and a new EP to be released on the Mudd Guts and Pillowscars labels.

"We've been playing a new song recently, I think it sounds very much like it could have been on an early record." Parton says. "It's not something we set out to make that way, but it's also what we know how to do. Plus it sort of carries another dozen years of our lives in it, so maybe it's the most Duster thing there ever was."

In recent years, hip music publications (such as Vice, Spin and Stereogum) have come around to praise the obscure band, even claiming them as one of the most influential indie groups in recent years. While Parton says he doesn't notice his music's influence in modern rock, he is appreciative of any support or praise.

"When someone, anyone, tells us that we made an impact in their life or that they have a connection to what we've done it means a lot." Parton says. "I think a lot of misplaced people find something that they like in our sound, I like to think that we are sort of in this together."

There is a certain amount of self-awareness needed in successfully resurfacing a beloved, underground band. So, Duster is taking it slow, with an, as they say, "chill or be chilled" attitude at their shows. Parton is aware of the unique circumstances they are in—being a band who received most of their attention while on hiatus—and even thinks their album Stratosphere wouldn't be as acclaimed if it were to come out today.

"I do think the obscurity of it might have helped it get some attention recently, but it could just be some algorithm somewhere that fucked up and here we are," Parton said. "I mean we are still tiny and unknown, so let's not get too excited here."