"This sounds made up, so I apologise, but it’s totally not," says Dear Boy frontman and lyricist Ben Grey when explaining the inspiration behind the name of the band's Strawberry EP, which came about after he had a series of weird and wonderful dreams about the summer fruit. "I had these incessant dreams about strawberries -- it was insane!" he says. "I just kept dreaming about them in all kinds of ways: some were menacing, some were really weird and cool.
"So I would write all this imagery down, and one of them was very vivid. I had this dream that I was at a play and a skeleton was performing the Hamlet soliloquy to a giant strawberry, and that’s how that started. There was strawberry on pizza. There was all this weird stuff that started coming into my silly head and I just sat down with the band and I was like, ‘Dudes, I think it’s strawberries’. And they were like, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I think the next era is strawberries. I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think that’s just what it is’."
The Los Angeles four-piece leaned into the strawberry theme in their dream-like video for "Love Interest", but if you're looking for opinions on strawberries then you might consider the title of the Strawberry EP a little misleading. Dear Boy already had two EPs to their name -- their 2013 eponymous release and 2016's Parts of a Flower -- by the time they released the Strawberry EP in March, and have built up a dedicated fanbase in their hometown. Despite being surrounded by sunny vistas and palm tree-lined streets in LA, there's an overarching Britishness that recalls Pulp and Suede that influences the band's sound. Their songs sound more like they were recorded in Hackney than Hollywood, but without losing their authenticity.
"I feel like every American musician romanticises the UK so much, especially in my world," says Ben, as he reflects on his time spent living in London. "All my favourite bands are from the UK, and that’s not on purpose -- it’s just what it is. I’ve lived there, I’ve been there many times and spent probably years of my life there. For us, and for me especially, there’s a magic there that sort of pulls you in.
"I sound American, because I have this voice, obviously, and I’m from the Valley, but our musical touchstones are all British. Those sounds with my voice and our experiences being American...whatever this paella is, I’m happy that it comes out the right way," he laughs. "I would never try to pretend that I know what it’s like to be British or to be from the UK, I don’t know that experience, all I know is what those experiences mean to me."
The experiences that flow through the Strawberry EP centre on when a person comes to define a specific part of your life, albeit fleetingly, with an enveloping intensity that eventually fizzles out. The EP toys with longing and excitement, bolstered by Austin Hayman's jangly guitar-playing, bassist Lucy Lawrence's post-punk sound, Keith Cooper's measured drumming and the vivid imagery created by Ben's lyrics. "Something Good" is a confessional acoustic track that sees Ben pleading "Will someone ever be enough for me?", while "Anything At All" is propulsive track, replete with summery guitar trills as the lyrics centre on trying to find meaning in a short-lived dalliance.
"All of the songs are really personal," says Ben. "I’m kind of a maniac when it comes to writing songs, because I labour over the lyrics so much. My heroes are Jarvis Cocker and Leonard Cohen, and I don’t think I’m like them, but those are the people that I really look up to. For me, I labour over the lyrics and I’m constantly accessing those vulnerable parts of myself, just because that’s what my heroes do and that’s what fans and friends expect. So I’ve now become accustomed to how that feels, and I’m also accustomed to how the release of that feels - purging that out in the ether."
The EP was produced by the band with input from many of their talented friends, including Phoebe Bridgers' drummer Marshall Vore, AFI's bassist Hunter Burgan and Pat Spurgeon from Rogue Wave. Explaining the freedom that self-producing the EP gave Dear Boy, Ben says, "We had all kinds of people that we could bring into the fold whenever we wanted or whenever they were in town, just because we love them and love their work, and just to see what they could bring to this. It was so open to explore, so I really liked the experience.
There was all this weird stuff that started coming into my silly head and I just sat down with the band and I was like, ‘Dudes, I think it’s strawberries’.
"We were always co-producing our records, so I think we were like, ‘Let’s try one without our parents and see what happens’. We were kids running loose!" he laughs. "So it was just us and the engineer, and it was very empowering and it was very exciting. We hit the ceiling, creatively, and everybody in the band is so creative and everybody has such great ideas."
The EP has attracted positive reviews, and its singles have received regular airplay on tastemaking LA radio station KROQ. The band is already looking ahead to recording a new record in the summer, with Ben revealing to SPB that they already have 33 songs written in preparation for the new record. But, at the minute, the band is enjoying the success of their new EP and seeing the fruits of their labour being so well received.
"I’m just so happy, because we’ve received letters, the radio reaction’s been so great, the live reaction’s been so great and the people who I respect and fear like the record," says Ben. "It’s just great. The only period of time that I ever feel like I’m on vacation at all is the couple weeks after a record comes out. I’m just so happy that it’s resonating and that it sounds the way it does. And everybody in the band feels that way, it’s a relief for us. When it came out we all just hugged each other and were like, ‘Oh my god’. It worked, we did it."