The next night after a gig in Boston – playing to a hometown crowd for friends in the city of their beginning – The Submarines took the time for a quick chat with PopMatters before their show at The Music Hall of Williamsburg. The married couple of John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard have just released Love Notes/Letter Bombs, a new collection of songs detailing their lives – past, present and future.
Dragonetti spoke wistfully as he reminisced about starting out on drums at age four; he had to leave behind a beloved kit when his family moved to Cairo and then Dubai. He begged his parents to let him have another but it wasn’t until years later they did. He discovered guitar in his teens and a simple four track recording system which started his interest in writing as well as production. Hazard grew up in Vermont, a family household without television and a rule that piano was to be mastered first before any other instrument. About the same age as Dragonetti’s first drumming experience, she was learning the keys before moving on to guitar. By her teens she was writing songs to acoustic guitar. They met while playing in separate bands and Dragonetti ended up producing Hazard’s debut Little Airplane in 2002. Now they’ve co-written and recorded three full-length albums: Declare a New State (2006), Honeysuckle Weeks (2008) and Love Notes/Letter Bombs.
Love Notes/Letter Bombs began as sketches of songs which Dragonetti took into the studio to work with Spoon’s drummer Jim Eno and producer John O’Mahony, who has worked with Coldplay and Metric. Meanwhile, Hazard was in Paris for a month filling up notebooks with lyrics and ideas of her own. They each hold a veto power in the band, so anything not fully endorsed by both is taken out of the mix. The title comes from the track “Tiger”, and powerful imagery of conflict and convergence runs through the album. Lyrics such as “You know I’ve loved you from the start / but this house can’t make you stay” in “Tiger” and “Would you ever let me love you like I did before the fight” from “A Satellite, Stars and an Ocean” convey the idea. Their song “Birds” was used recently in the fundraiser compilation Songs of Love for Japan, benefiting Shelterbox, which delivers emergency shelter and essentials to the area. The Submarines were happy to help them out and have hopes they will travel to Japan some day.
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This spring they are busy touring in support of their new release, playing all ages shows where they can so a younger demographic can discover their signature indie pop. The constant collaboration is a hard version of couple’s therapy to recommend; its always a challenge with the togetherness of working together and traveling on tour. It all seems so effortless and Dragonetti was pleased to hear it described as such. But, on stage later that night, the complex layers of arrangements showcased the talent of each band member, revealing their passion for making music as well as for each other.
Just before the band was to go on stage, Hazard was buzzing about decorating the instruments with strings of tiny white lights while Dragonetti was intently tuning guitars. He was wearing a dark dress shirt with black pants while she wore a vintage white dress with appliqued flowers. With a quick “good evening” greeting from Dragonetti, they began the set with their first hit, “Peace and Hate”, which incorporates electronic bleeps that sound somewhat like a submarine (and additional elements were triggered by Dragonetti using foot pedals and a laptop nearby). New songs were presented with enthusiasm and older songs, such as “Brighter Discontent” and “Swimming Pool”, still sounded fresh. During the encore, Dragonetti introduced band members J Stare on drums and bassist Scott Barber. After “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie”, the swelling chorus of “Xavia” became a bold opportunity for a venue-filling, sing along with the audience.