As a member of Caveman, Matthew Iwanusa crafted four hook-laden indie pop albums rich in synth-laden arrangements, buoyant hooks and spacious atmosphere. With new project RIP Dunes, however, the New York artist transitions into darker, sleeker spaces, drawing on the sounds of ’80s post-punk and new wave, with a stark gloom that brings to mind artists such as Tears for Fears, The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen.
On March 1, RIP Dunes will release their self-titled debut album. Today they’ve debuted the first single, “I Dare,” a dreamy and lush set of new wave pop that nods to the mid-’80s era of art-pop, when artists such as Kate Bush and Talk Talk were catalyzing synth-pop into something more abstract and ambitious. Its video, directed and animated by Haoyan of America, takes inspiration from Grand Theft Auto, with a little bit of Miami Vice for good measure.
“I was messing around with a sampler and started making weird nonsense words and sounds into it and got those weird delayed vocal sounds in the beginning,” Iwanusa said about the new single. “That kind of started the whole idea for the song. I had Haoyan of America do the video for ‘I Dare.’ I’ve wanted to make something together for a long time. We have lots of mutual friends and I think all their videos are amazing! We decided to go off of a little Grand Theft Auto feel for this while keeping it in AI since it seems the world is going to be only AI one day. You’ll see some familiar faces like T-1000 from Terminator 2, Hatsune Miku, Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot dog, Some random GTA players, NPCs from other zombie and post apocalypse games. I think it turned out pretty great.”
Iwanusa told us about RIP Dunes, drawing inspiration from childhood, learning new instruments and more.
Treble: I understand that one of the biggest catalysts for the sound of the record was picking up a 12-string guitar. How did that help shape the sound of the album?
Matthew Iwanusa: I think it was just a sound I always liked. It seems like a more uplifting instrument so it’s kind of fun to write moodier stuff on it.
Treble: Do you find that learning new instruments/techniques tend to bring about more creativity?
MI: Absolutely. There are sometimes where I learn something and use it once and then never use it again. Like “I Dare,” I haven’t used a sampler since that song.
Treble: These songs feel a bit darker and more stark/sleek than the brighter, more buoyant work you did with Caveman. What prompted you to pursue this direction?
MI: I was mostly just getting inspired by older bands who I guess had that sound. It was also Covid and I was stuck in my house. Weird times in general.
Treble: You’ve cited bands like The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen as influences. Are these artists you grew up listening to, or did you come around to them later on?
MI: Yeah, I’ve been a big fan since I was in high school of both bands. Echo and the Bunnymen has always been a favorite. I think when I was younger I was more afraid of them, which kind of kept bringing me back to listening.
Treble: The project was named after a place you used to visit as a child. How much does nostalgia, or perhaps detachment from it as you get older, inform your songwriting?
MI: Yeah it was my family’s lake house in Michigan. I think nostalgia is a big part of songwriting for me. Whether it’s a specific person or place. Or just a feeling about a certain time in my life.
Treble: There also seems to be a sense of loss that looms over these songs—is that connected to the images conjured from your own childhood?
MI: Hard to really say. I feel like those type of things are easier for other people to see before I can see it. So maybe ask again in a couple years.
Treble: Do you feel that you’ve changed a lot personally over the years?
MI: Yeah. I’ve definitely changed. And keep changing. Just like dealing with my personal life and wanting to be a better person every day. I got a niece now who makes me want to be a better person. But I got my issues, like everyone else.
Treble: What do you hope that people take away from hearing this project?
MI: I just hope people like it. And if they don’t that’s cool to ya know? But yeah, if people take the time to listen, I think they will like it.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.