Princess Feedback by The Dreaded Laramie

The Dreaded Laramie is a power-pop band with roots in Nashville, Tennessee and Lexington, Kentucky. The quartet is comprised of founding members and co-lead guitarists M.C. Cunningham and Zach Anderson who wrote Princess Feedback alongside Drew Sisher (bass, synth) and Andrew Mankin (drums). Princess Feedback, released July 5, 2024 through Smartpunk Records, is an emotionally nuanced, unapologetic breakup album created alongside Grammy winning producer, mixer, and engineer Dave Schiffman (PUP, Weezer, Thrice, The Bronx, Bayside).

I first saw The Dreaded Laramie live this past April at The East Room in Nashville, Tennessee alongside bands 76th Street and Arbor. Arriving in matching cutoff white overalls and fishnets, the band’s presence was undeniable before even stepping on stage. Their theatrical glam was amplified by extravagant choreography, making for an electric live performance. As they closed their set with a cover of “Tik Tok” by Kesha, there have been few shows I’ve been so sad to see end. Extraordinarily, the captivating magnetism of their live performance was thoroughly maintained in Princess Feedback.

Princess Feedback is an exemplary showcase of each band member’s individual catalog of talents, as well as an exciting push of innovation across multiple genres. With Cunningham’s fierce femmecore vocals supported by punchy background vocals, dueling guitars, and polished baselines, it’s easy, though no less impressive, to see how The Dreaded Laramie succeeded in making a true no-skip album with their debut LP. These ten earworms will undoubtedly last as anthemic breakup songs long after the summer ends.

The first track “Mess” wastes no time introducing listeners to the brutal lyrics delivered through fun, dynamic vocals and power ballad type riffs they can expect from Princess Feedback. One of my personal favorites from the album, “Breakup Songs” follows as a reflection on recovering from heartbreak, even on the days when healing feels hopelessly out of reach. The song brings you along for a part of the journey, ending with the lyrics “Healing isn’t train tracks, it’s a trapeze,” accepting healing as an often contradictory, nonlinear process.

Personal anecdotes continue the album’s exploration of messy relationships in the next track “Life is Funny”. The raw honesty, and subsequent relatability, of the lyrics, “I have a penchant for unhealthy attention / Maybe we’re right for each other, at least online,” render them as some of my favorite to sing along with on the album. The next track, “Happiness,” is a search carried out by a bubbly melody for both the happiness once found in another person and trying to find happiness with yourself. “I Should Go” then folds back to searching for a reason to stay in a failing relationship, and listeners are again brought along on a divergent journey of healing with Cunningham singing “I should go, unless there’s any way else you want to care.”

The album closes with “Where’s My Crystal Ball?” a track of final thoughts on the healing process, summarized perfectly with the line, “I’m so sick of it all!”

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with M.C. Cunningham in anticipation of Princess Feedback’s release. You can read the interview below, slightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Kaitlyn: [Princess Feedback] feels much more confident than your first few releases. How do you feel like the band has changed or come into yourselves since then?

M.C.: Oh yeah, there have been a lot of different factors from different angles of the music-making process that have changed things. Just from the live performance side, when we made those first two EPs, we were a band that was playing like 5-10 shows a year. Even when we made the record at the beginning of 2022, we had played I think 20 shows in the previous year, which was a massive jump up, but also, you know, in the year and a half since then, we’ve played 150 shows or something. So just playing a lot more live music has been a big confidence boost for the band, you know, just being less nervous and having less stage fright and it being a more mundane thing makes it more comfortable. I think that’s part of it, and just playing a lot more together made us a lot more confident.

Oh gosh, and recording with our producer Dave [Schiffman] was pretty huge for the band feeling more confident and just him pointing us in directions that felt more authentic to the band. Every song on the album probably started out 5-10 BPM slower and then became faster on the record. I think it’s just little things like that that we might not think are that big of a deal, or make-or-break, end up making such a big difference. I think we sound like a more punk or more rock band just with the BPM push. Or with like, the vocal on the album is a lot more confident and risky. It’s specifically because Dave pushed me in that direction, like, “Here, try out something weird and different and risky,” I think it makes a big difference. Like, this sounds so obvious. It feels very silly that it’s taken nearly a decade of playing in this band to realize this, but, yeah, like the main vocal is important. It makes a big difference when it’s expressive. I’ve been in vocal lessons and trying to take that more seriously and trying to get better control of my voice. I think that has helped a lot too. I could probably go on, but, those are I think definitely some significant factors in what has made us more confident.

K:  Yeah, for sure. It’s really cool you get to work with him as a producer. Did you recently start taking vocal lessons or is that something you’ve been doing?

M.C.: No, and sadly I wish I had done it since I was little. My first vocal lesson was right before we recorded Everything a Girl Could Ask, the EP that came out in 2022. Like the week before we went in to record that, our producer for that record was like, “Hey, you know, maybe this could be useful. Maybe you would get some good tips.” So I started seeing a vocal coach and saw her for like a year, then switched to someone else and saw him for a little while, and I’ve been kind of in and out of them for the last couple of years. So it’s fairly recent but, even the handful of lessons that I’ve had has made such a big difference, just learning how to feel what’s happening with my voice and how to control things and learning different techniques. Yeah, so relatively new, but it’s made a huge difference for me for sure.

K: Did you say you had played around a hundred shows this past year?

M.C.: Yeah, it’s been about 100 shows in the last 15 months, I think? Just over a year and a half or something. We’ve been playing a ton. It’s a blast. It’s new for sure, but it’s amazing. I’ve been really enjoying it.

K: How do you balance that with teaching?

M.C.: Badly. [Laughs] The great thing is actually that built-in balance. You know, academics have built in holidays, so like I’m on summer break right now. It’s nice to have that built-in 3 month long break at the peak of tour season. That helps a lot. And, you know, there are little breaks around. Like we got to do a tour around winter break, and there’s a fall break, and we’ve got spring break. So, for the most part, we try and play shows around the academic breaks, but also I have a very supportive department. It’s, I think, weirdly an ideal job for doing this kind of thing because of those breaks that are built in.

And because I teach philosophy I’m often thinking about the very things I’m songwriting about or playing songs about. I mean, not often as specific as the level of breakup like the album is, but thinking about what human flourishing looks like and what growth looks like and what it means to live a good life. Like, those are things I’m talking to students about in the classroom all the time, so it feels like the creative and academic side of things kind of feed each other, which is nice.

K: You’ve talked before about what you study academically influencing songs you write. How much of that influence from philosophy transferred into this new album for you?

M.C.: I’d say a lot. A lot of this album was written actually as I was finishing the writing and editing of my dissertation, so I was in the thick of research and reading all the time and, you know, whether it was reading Plato, which was what my dissertation was on, or the more recent secondary material or reinterpretations of his work. So I was spending a lot of time reading about the kind of themes that ended up being the backbone of the album. I mean, Plato in general is kind of my roadmap for getting through life, so it influenced the songwriting insofar as it influences the way I live my life.

I was kind of brought up in the philosophical tradition of treating philosophy as a way of life, and that’s pretty important to me. So yeah, like there’s a lot of reading stuff and thinking about it and trying to live it out, and then that making its way into the art that comes from living that life out. It feels like, ideally anyway, when things are working the best, the kind of art and philosophy parts of life are all kind of seamlessly intertwined and working toward the same goals. I think about a song like “Mess,” the first song on the album, or something like that, that’s just very unashamedly, “Oh, you know, I’m upset. It’s not maybe for a good reason, but I’m upset and here’s how I feel and I don’t care if it’s reasonable or not.” There are definitely places where the thoughtfulness and the philosophy breaks down early in this album and captures a lot of that.

K: As far as playing shows, how did you land on the aesthetic and the choreography you have?

M.C.: The outfits showed up really out of being practical. You know, it’s fun. We enjoy doing the matching thing, but we just found ourselves spending so much time thinking about, like, “What are we gonna wear for the gig?” you know? Then it’s like, we’re going on tour and, what, we’re gonna do this every night and we can only bring a little suitcase or a backpack? It was just like, oh we gotta have a uniform. That’s just easier, and we found that people were kind of responding better to the set in general when we were matching. So it was like, yeah, people like it, it’s easier for us, let’s do it. And I mean, it definitely captures the kind of vibe of what we’re up to and the ethos behind the music, of expectation-subverting and campy, like making fun of the structure of things by participating in it in such a way that kind of makes fun of it. The choreography and the outfits are part of that. A lot of what we’re doing is making fun of the kinda like, classic rock, machismo moves. But you know, don’t get me wrong, there’s also a lot of admiration for it.

A lot of what we do now, I think it’s safe to say came actually from a No Doubt cover set we did back in 2020 before the lockdown. We did this No Doubt cover set and, like, studied really hard for it and all really got into the characters, and it woke up a new personality for the band. It was like, whoa, we’re having a lot of fun doing this and being exaggerated and over the top and campy and, like, why don’t we just do this with our own music too? It’s been a journey for sure, but something that has felt really, kind of weirdly for as put on as it is and as kind of artificial as it might seem, very natural and authentic, which is fun.

K: Yeah, I didn’t think about the practical side of it. I definitely feel like it demands attention too, in a really fun way. It’s like at Jorts Fest, with Ghost Town Remedy there too, it’s easy to be like, “Oh shit, that’s that band.”

M.C.: Sweet, yeah. We love that band. They’re great. I think we’re very like-minded bands. Man, when we played A Fest for the first time last year, we wore pink shirts and bedazzled super short booty shorts and it was like, yeah, speak of attention commanding. It was a sea of, you know, black denim shorts and black shirts, and we were these little pink things walking around. It has definitely gotten us into those kind of situations more often than I would have expected.

K: Last time I saw you it was with the white overalls and the fishnets, which went along with the single “Fishnets” you had just put out. Do you try to pick a different aesthetic to match each album or release?

M.C.: I would like to say that it’s intentional, like, okay, we have this aesthetic for this release or something. And it is a little bit, like having the fishnets definitely was related to the “Fishnets” single. But also practical- we wanted to cut off the overalls because it was summer and they were super hot. Right now it has been more like, what are we excited about? That being said, we have been trying to hold back on the album aesthetic until it was announced, which was only like, I guess, whenever “Life is Funny” came out? I can’t remember, time is gone to me. Whenever that came out is when the album got announced, and we’ve been intentionally holding back on what the album aesthetic is until then so it has been kind of make it up as we go, but we have built a really vast and intentional aesthetic for the record. I’m really proud of that. We’re proud of that. So yeah, you can definitely expect the current and ongoing state of touring and promoting the record to be more geared toward the Princess Feedback aesthetic. And we will certainly change that up in the future.

That’s another way I think this band has grown and is growing, just in being able to have a little more foresight and being able to plan a little bit better things like the aesthetic. So much of our existence has been kind of treading water and trying things out. It’s like trial-and-error and kind of flailing, and we’re starting to get our footing a little bit to the point where we can do things like go, oh, we’re gonna be going on tour and it’s going to be supporting this album. Maybe the way we look should support it, or maybe we should spend time figuring out what the album artwork is going to be, which also isn’t something we have really done in the past. This is by far the most time and effort and investment we’ve put into creative partnerships for creating an aesthetic for the record. Yeah, so we’re moving more in that direction, and aesthetics is pretty important to us in general as a band. I imagine that will only continue to be the case.

K: How was your last tour with Virginity? Any favorite memories from the tour?

M.C.: Yeah, for sure. We love them so much. They’re fantastic. We had most of our meals with them, which was a new experience for us. We’ve been on tour with several bands and never before has it been like, “Alright, where are we gonna find a brunch place that can seat 8 people?” It was great. I guess this isn’t a very special thing but it felt special- we had a pretty heavy gear share with them. Like, I played [their guitar player] Chris’s amp and pedal board. I mean, I played his amp every night and used his pedal board a few nights. It was great. They helped us film a music video while we were on the road. That was a pretty special memory. And we both had songs come out, either, I can’t remember if it was on the tour, but very close to the tour. So we were promoting new music and had both been listening to each other’s new records and were both getting to hear the new songs live. It’s really cool to be such big fans of theirs and to have that reciprocated. It was a dream tour. I wish we could do every tour with them.

K: I know you play solo shows too. Do you or anyone else in the band release music outside of The Dreaded Laramie?

M.C.: I technically have put out solo stuff, but it doesn’t really count. I have uploaded a few Garage Band recordings to Bandcamp a long time ago. I do have plans to expand the solo project kind of thing. I spend a lot of time writing kind of folkier stuff and would love to have a home for that or get that stuff out, just because things move so slowly with The Dreaded Laramie a lot of the time. I know that it’s not crazy to go a couple years between a release, but it feels a little infuriating to me sometimes when it’s like, oh, I’m writing tons and tons of songs, and we’re backed up to like, you know, there are songs on Princess Feedback that were written in 2016. The backlog is immense. So I would love to start releasing stuff at least like, just to have a more casual thing, but I don’t have a place to direct people now for that stuff, sadly.

K: Do you have any other local artists you’d recommend or bands in general?

M.C.: Oh yeah, sure, let’s see. We’ve already talked about Ghost Town Remedy. They’re great. You saw me play with David Daniel Parker, he’s excellent. His solo stuff is great. Let’s see, who haven’t we talked about? I saw massie99 for the first time at Jorts Fest and they were incredible. I really, really dug that. Also Khamsin and Smallville are bands that are real homies who we love. A Modest Proposal is another one kind of in that same family that’s great. They’re based in Evansville, Indiana, but very much tied up in the same network of people and they’ve been doing some really cool stuff.

I have some in-general folks too. Like, we’ve talked about Virginity. Our friends in the band Pinksqueeze, who we’re going on tour with next month, are incredible. Their first record came out last year and is excellent, and they’re great people. They also, like, if you like the choreography, stage outfit, and general band aesthetic kind of thing, oh my gosh, they are experts at that. They’re incredible. Would highly recommend Pinksqueeze. They’re like queer powerpop from Chicago and they’re doing it. They’re doing it great. I could probably go on and on, but those are some that come to mind just off the top of my head that are great. Oh, one more! Townsel Turner. Incredible. We were partially a Lexington, Kentucky based band while I was in grad school up there. While we were there we got close with several great bands, like, Naptaker. is another one that comes to mind, but this band, Townsel Turner, is absolutely incredible. The music is great, they’re super nice, they’re doing really cool things, so that’s another one I would highly recommend checking out their latest release. Felt Like Eternity is an excellent album for being sad in the summer.

K: Anything else you want to plug for The Dreaded Laramie before we wrap up?

M.C. Yeah, check out the record on July 5th, and we’ve got 3 really cool vinyl variants to choose from, so I would recommend that. We’ll be on tour kind of out in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest in July, then on the East Coast and a little bit of the Midwest again in August with Teens in Trouble and BAT BOY, who are also great bands. So lots of touring coming up and, oh yeah, check out our Bandcamp page for any merch that’s up there! We are still trying to clear out some pre-album merch, so there’s still some really cool stuff up there that is at highly discounted prices as we clear space in the van for new album-themed stuff. Okay, I think I think that’s all I got.

Thanks again to M.C. for taking the time to talk- it was a pleasure! Be sure to follow The Dreaded Laramie on Instagram @thedreadedlaramie band, Twitter @thedreadedlarry, and Facebook. You can also check out their website, Bandcamp for merch, and Youtube for some incredible music videos. And don’t forget to check their upcoming tour dates with Pinksqueeze, Teens in Trouble, and BAT BOY (trust me, you don’t want to miss a show)!

Written by Kaitlyn Boykin