Nothing has shaped the story and success of La Dispute quite like its hometown of Grand Rapids.
From forming in the city as a band of high school teenagers back in 2004, to laying down sweat-covered sets at beloved former all-ages venues like Skelletones and The DAAC, the acclaimed five-piece owes its start to GR and local fans.
But since the 2008 release of its breakthrough full-length LP, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, and the band’s subsequent triumphs touring all over the world during the past decade, the city has served as more than just a hometown.
A creative wellspring, an emotional center, and a continual catalyst, Grand Rapids has provided vocalist Jordan Dreyer with so many of the moving, emotional stories he’s rendered into gut-wrenching poetry as La Dispute has developed its signature sound.
Perhaps best-known for Dreyer’s amalgamation of spoken word and primal screams, the band’s music has evolved, touching on everything from jazz to blues, prog rock and screamo, with the band coming almost full circle on its latest LP, Panorama, released late in March.
“Everything that happened in those first four or five years, operating principally in and around West Michigan, is what propelled us forward,” Dreyer told Revue. “So it’s crazy to think back. I never thought in 2004 when I was a sophomore in high school that I would still be making music with my friends all these years later with a degree of success that made it semi-sustainable career-wise. It’s pretty f*cking wild.”
He credits the strong independent music scene in Grand Rapids for making his band what it is today, especially thanks to venues like The Pyramid Scheme, where La Dispute will play an almost immediately sold-out show as part of the venue’s eight-year anniversary celebration this month.
In fact, Pyramid Scheme co-owner Jeff VandenBerg was the first to release any of La Dispute’s music when he issued the band’s debut EP on his label Friction Records back in 2006.
“I think that Grand Rapids is such a peculiar city in a way,” Dreyer said. “It’s not Chicago or Detroit, but it has such a distinct sense of community. We were so young, and there were so many people who had been making art and making music and building the community already, and they welcomed us in. That was a big part of the growth that occurred in those years. There was a real sense of wanting to build up everybody, and we were just these little shits who knew very little of what we were doing.”
Growing up a lot on the road over the past decade and a half, Dreyer, now 31, has come to give a critical eye to his hometown as he’s continued to draw from its tragedies and history.
“All of our music, or the vast majority of our music, occurs in Grand Rapids,” Dreyer said. “That’s the environment in which it happens, the stories that we’ve told. So there is no external source that has had more influence on the way we operate or the music we make.”
On Panorama, Dreyer simultaneously deals with returning to Grand Rapids to write and record the album with his bandmates who have spread out all across the globe as they’ve grown into their own lives, while confronting his own departure from the city.
“When we wrote the record, I was living in Grand Rapids, but I was on a timeline because my partner had been accepted into a graduate program on the West Coast,” he said. “I knew that after I finished writing this record, I would be moving to the Northwest. So, I think that made me lean into the idea of making a record that related to home. … I ended up narrowing my focus back onto Grand Rapids, and the neighborhoods where I’d spent the three years living, preceding the record.
“I think a big part for me, on a lyrical level, was leaving home.”
The band actually scrapped its first two months of work on the new record after realizing that the framework they had forced upon themselves wasn’t ringing true in their hearts. They were initially trying to follow-up their more structured previous album, 2015’s critically acclaimed Rooms of the House, but then the band freed itself up to work more like it had in the very beginning.
“I think on every release in some way from a lyrical standpoint, I’m confronting an aspect of my upbringing or my environment and what’s occurred to me or around me or to the people in close proximity to me,” Dreyer said. “I think your environment plays a pretty important role in how you view things, and I think there’s always going to be that coming to terms with different aspects of that and what it means.
“This might be super arrogant of me to say about the city and about West Michigan, but having been so many different places in my life, Grand Rapids is a really unique place,” he added. “And while I love it deeply, there are parts of it that I loathe. There’s a lot of wealth and there’s disparity in that it’s very directly divided along particular demographic lines. There’s a brief mention of that on this record.
“Everything is sort of reckoning with the connections that you make, and the bulk of the connections that I’ve made in my life, I’ve made in West Michigan.”
wsg. Gouge Away, Slow Mass
The Pyramid Scheme,
68 Commerce SW, Grand Rapids
April 13, 8 p.m., Sold Out