Asked for a one-word description of her bandmate, passenger, and former boyfriend Dan Geller, Amy Dykes doesn't skip a beat. "Hypochondriac," says the singer.
The adjective immediately draws a howl of outrage from Geller, and the pair soon descends to the kind of good-natured bickering associated with couples in sitcoms. In fact, the two members of I Am the World Trade Center were romantically involved for their first two records and up until the recording of their latest, The Cover Up.
"The album's about our breakup," says Geller, who has the phone for most of the conversation. With Dykes--characterized as a "firebrand" by her bandmate in a previous interview--at the wheel, the two are driving through Arizona on their way to the next gig. "But now things are on the mend and everything's cool and we're best friends."
The Cover Up--due out May 18--marks a number of firsts. It's their first effort as friends, not lovers, and their debut for a label other than Kindercore, the indie imprint cofounded by Geller. The disc is also the first conceived in a studio with, in Geller's words, "a real producer", a former member of electronic-dance band Mephisto Odyssey named Mikael Johnston. Previously, the Athens, Georgiaí‚ based duo did everything themselves, recording Dykes's vocal parts and Geller's synths at home and then arranging the material on a laptop.
"We did one track with him [Johnston] and we were like, 'Holy shit, this is awesome.' Our sound is a lot more dance-y now," Geller says. "But it's still pop music."
The tunes are a little less perky, with the fizzy sugar-pop content of previous disc The Tight Connection reduced in favour of a darker tone. This is best exemplified on "No Connections", where Dykes coolly warns, "If you're looking for a good time/Call me tonight/If you have expectations/Don't call me". But on "Future Sightings" the duo employ house beats for a swirling disco mix evoking the moony-eyed feeling of new love.
The choice of covers is different as well. On The Tight Connection, both Dykes and Geller chose favourite songs--Blondie's "Call Me" and the Stone Roses' "Shoot You Down", respectively--that were more fun than relevant to anything going on in the world at the time. But on The Cover Up they unearth the furious 1980 Jam classic "Going Underground".
"We do all these obvious covers, and we wanted to do an unobvious one on this album," Geller says. "We picked it also because the lyrics are so relevant to living in America in 2004 that it's ridiculous. We heard it and were like 'Oh my God, this is exactly the kind of song we wanted to write, why don't we just cover it?' "
Although "Going Underground" might be apt in the current U.S. political climate (sample lyrics: "You choose your leaders and place your trust/As their lies wash you down, and their promises rust"), the band's moniker remains a source of controversy. Having named itself after the Twin Towers prior to 9/11, the duo saw no reason to change its name--a decision that has caused some press criticism, not to mention double takes from customs officials.
"They don't like it," Geller admits. "They look at you weird for a minute, then you explain it and it's okay, and we usually get through with no trouble. Go figure."
It could be said the name has kept life interesting for I Am the World Trade Center. The same could be said for the relationship between Dykes and Geller--which, it turns out, isn't quite as well defined as it might seem.
"It's exciting, because we don't know what's going on. Some days we're not broken up," says Geller, who'll bicker with Dykes at the Brickyard on Saturday (April 3). "It's like, I don't know, we can flirt with each other now instead of just knowing where our relationship stands. And it makes our live show exciting, because the lyrics are pretty biting but we're also having tons of fun with it so it's completely ridiculous to us. We never know what to think from day to day. Some days we'll be knocking each other off-stage and other days we'll be running into the audience. I think we're much more concerned with each other's feelings now than when we were a permanent couple."