CCFX FTW: A Q&A with the DFA Records Super-Trio

Interviews, Local Music
Owen Murphy
all photos by Niffer Calderwood
Transcription by Emily Harrop

CCFX is a new supergroup out of Olympia, Washington, a collision of talents, a stellar collision of sorts, featuring friends from the bands CC Dust and Trans FX. On their debut self-titled EP, artists Chris McDonnell, Mirče Popovic, Mary Jane Dunphe, and David Jaques trade instruments and ideas to create something that both harkens back to new wave and goth of the 80's while updating the sound and genre in a really interesting and entertaining manner.

It's no surprise the band caught the attention of DFA Records; co-founder Jonathan Galkin tells us, "I was a really big fan of the Trans FX record Into The Blu and had reached out to Chris McDonnell to say hello. He was living in Olympia with Mary Jane Dunphe who I was already a big fan of -- I loved Vexx releases and the CC Dust singles. I was obsessed with her voice and was always buying anything she did. I could not believe my luck when he sent me some new tracks they were working on together, along with David Jaques -- a total surprise to me -- and those were “Ode" and "2 Tru”. A few months later, they sent me 'The One To Wait' and 'Venetian Screen' and I basically nagged them until gaining their trust and earning the honor of putting out this remarkable music." 

Mary Jane, David, and Chris were kind enough to join us at KEXP post live appearance on The Morning Show with John Richards for their first ever interview.

KEXP: How do you guys all know each other, and how did you come to make music?  

Chris: I don't remember when we met.  

Mary Jane: We met at Phantom City Records, volunteering. And then I think we just played music in your garage because you got a reel-to-reel and you just wanted to write songs on it. So I'd come over and make music.  

Chris: And those songs are really good. 

Mary Jane: Revisiting [them] -- It's not as painful.

Chris: What about you, David? When did we meet you and start playing music?

Mary Jane: I remember I just asked if you wanted to be in a band. We never really hung out before.

Chris: Yeah, because of your cute style.

Mary Jane: No! Because of music that I heard and listened to.

David: Yeah. And then I met you when we were recording the CC Dust stuff.

Mary Jane: That was when we met?!

David: Yeah, we didn't really know each other. That was when Carlos was here --

Chris: -- And we recorded the demo there. And then y'all took it to Captain Tripps, High Command [Recording Studio], and we recorded everything.

Mary Jane, what kind of music was he listening to, or what was it about his musical taste that attracted you to him?

Mary Jane: Trisomie 21, and Section 25, and Borghesia, and he showed me some things I didn't know. I used to hang out at the house that he lived in and I'd hear it coming from his room, and I was like, "Damn! Those are cool songs!

So, forgive me. I'm hip, but I'm not that hip. Those are artists you're talking about?

Mary Jane: Yeah! And also I think we wanted to play music together because neither of us had played instruments in a band before. And we both are like, well, we could just learn together and get to play whatever we want to play... because we're just doing it for fun to learn how to make music on the instruments.

So as it turns out, the PR person for DFA Records sent us your music, I was looking back at our e-mails, in I think September last year. And we liked it and tried for a while to get you guys in-studio, but one of you had left Washington --

Mary Jane: -- Oh yeah, I moved to New York.

So I guess my first question is: What were your expectations for this project? I mean, you moved away after recording it.

Mary Jane: Yeah, but part of the recording, like the songs themselves, were asking questions about the future of the project. So I got to work through my own uncertainty and desire to keep playing by making the music in the first place.  

David: We kind of set it up so we would have more responsibilities later because she would have to come back to do all this stuff. 

Mary Jane: Yeah, it wasn't all the way done. 

When you say responsibilities --

Mary Jane: We made plans in the future when I moved, like certain things that we had started we hadn't finished yet. So it was already in the plan that I was going to come back and be back.

David: It's almost been that way before, too, because with the first quote-unquote CCFX songs we made two of them, and then we didn't work on anything CCFX for like a year and then decided to do it again.

Chris: I kind of like it like that, honestly, because it's more directed when we meet up and make plans.

Mary Jane: Yeah, the A-side was written a year after the b-side of the EP.

So, when did this all start?

Chris: Well, we started making the CCFX tracks because Trans FX had a track that we couldn't finish, and CC Dust had a track that they couldn't finish, so we put our heads together and wrote lyrics for the opposite ones. But Mary Jane pretty much got the lyrics on those. Then we finished that and had nobody to put it out for about a year.

David: And then we made remixes of them!

Chris: Yeah, exactly! And then Jonathan from DFA was like, "Oh, that stuff's sick, man! Would you guys make a couple more tracks?" And we were like, "Yeah, sure!"

Mary Jane: And I was going to move away before that was even going to happen, but then my ankle broke and I was stuck in Olympia for another four or five months, and that's when we wrote the other two songs.

Chris: And The County Liners --

Mary Jane: -- And we wrote a country album together, too. Chris and I were roommates, and I was really depressed in bed, and he'd just come in, give me a cup of coffee and a guitar, and be like, "All right! Let's write something!"

Chris: Yeah, that was cool! And that's when we wrote the first really bluesy song, down in our roommate Riley's room. It was supposed to be like Rowland S. Howard.

Mary Jane: Yeah I was really into Rowland S. Howard, stuck in the bed.

Chris: But when our doors would open, they were so close, they'd hit together.

So it seems like there's a friendship that weaves its way through music, is that correct?

Everyone: Yeah!

David: I think we're all friends first.

Mary Jane: Yeah, friends first.

Chris: Definitely!

Who's the least one right now?

Chris: Well, we take turns. You know, keeping the family together takes its twists and turns, but we're only stronger for it, being friends. Because if we weren't friends we wouldn't keep doing it.

Mary Jane: That would be crazy! Who does that? Fleetwood Mac?

David: Professionals.

Chris, you have a really interesting guitar sound that's both modern and --

Chris: -- Throwback.

Yeah, I guess. Where does that come from?

Chris: I couldn't tell you, really. I just like to play clean. You guys mentioned Fleetwood Mac. I do like Lindsey Buckingham.

David: What's that guitar?

Chris: The one I'm playing? The one I'm playing is "The Gibson" from the '70s. That's what it says: quote unquote. It's a single coil, I'm not a gear nut or nothing, but it's like a single coil S.G. so it sounds different than all the other ones.

What kind of effects do you put on it? I hear chorus I think.

Chris: Yeah, sometimes chorus. I usually play out of the Roland AMP, which has chorus built in, but delay, for the most part. I'm just trying to go super clean with these songs. Just be pretty, kind of like a studio player. But honestly, I only played guitar on "One to Wait". We got our credits messed up on the record. Mirche played guitar on "2Tru" and "Ode" and Mary Jane played guitar on "Venetian Screens". And a lot of our sound comes from Captain Tripps Ballsington in Olympia, Washington, he's the producer.

Mary Jane: It's a wild name, for a wild man who makes all of Olympia's music scene exist. He allows for the youth of right now to experiment in a beautiful analog studio, which is probably one of the main reasons why Olympia even has the music scene that it does.

Chris: It's just too cheap too.

Mary Jane: Yeah, if you can only afford so much he does it for the most unbelievable rates. It's a service to the community.

What's the name of the studio?

Chris: High Command Studio on the east side of Olympia.

Mary Jane: Just in a neighborhood. But don't go knock on the door.

Chris: Yeah, he does keep it under wraps.

David: You can call him on his home phone.

Chris: He does want business too! He's not crazy online, but he does want business.

So, Mary Jane, in listening to the recordings, I thought you were pitch shifting your voice. But are you not pitch shifting?

Mary Jane: What? You mean like when it goes down, or up, or something?

Yes! Because I guess you have a larger range than I expected.

Mary Jane: Well, did I sound different in the recording out there?

Well, you sounded amazing, so I don't know. Yeah, I guess it did sound a little different, but that's just my perception.

Mary Jane: No, I wasn't pitch shifting.

David: Which song did you think that was happening on? Because we have some pitch shift effects sometimes.

Mary Jane: Not on the vocals!

David: On "Ode" on the synths.

Mary Jane: On the synths, but not on my voice.

Chris: I've heard that and I'm not trying to get all gendered or anything, but I know that when people have heard it before they're like, "Oh, that's Robert Smith!"

Mary Jane: People thought Chris was singing on "Ode".

Chris: Maybe it's because we make the music together, but I cannot imagine, when I shut my eyes, anybody but Mary Jane singing it. But a lot of people, like my mother, was like, "Well, I don't know, is that you?" No, mom. Dang! Really?

Mary Jane: I think I'm an alto? I don't know. I want to find out. I was looking at Groupons for vocal lessons, just to find out where I am. I don't even know where I am, I've never done that before.

Do you have any idea where your style comes from? You seem like a very unique person.

Mary Jane: No, I don't. My singing career started in a weird -- I just was playing really raw performances, like noise performances at like 18 years old and someone saw that and thought, "She could probably fit in a punk band." And then I started singing in Vexx, that was like the first time. Oh, and Torture By Roses too.

Chris: Ooooh! That's a good one. I was just thinking about it the other day about how killer it is, you singing on the song "Cave" by TBR. It's really good y'all, I'm really serious!

Mary Jane: But, honestly, not to keep dropping Captain Tripps, but he's the first person I ever really recorded with, and I didn't get to know my voice until I [recorded with him]. He's the only person I've ever recorded with, and he kind of helped coach me to find my own sound. And it's so cool, I feel like I've learned so much just from being able to hear myself in that way.

How did he coach you? That's really interesting.

Mary Jane: I don't know --

Chris: -- He's super zen! He usually talks in metaphors, and it can get in your brain on the psychological level of the vocals.

Mary Jane: I saw him do it to you!

Chris: Oh, he's helped me! I can't sing still, but I can sing much better because of him.

David: He can manipulate you into singing better.

Mary Jane: There's this machine in the studio that sounds like a cat purring, it's like a really old mechanical device and I think that helps with the hypnosis or something. It's constantly purring. There's also a lava lamp. It's very cool, it's really groovy.

So, David, where do you come from musically in terms of your sound? Ideals? Hopes? Dreams? Aspirations?

David: I started playing bass right before CC Dust started, so that's when all the music aspirations started. I don't know, I just probably do the same thing as everyone else, and look up music on the Internet, or through other ways. It's always kind of changing. I've been getting into jungle, and drum and bass stuff from the '90s, and Chris and I remixed two of the songs on the A-Side of the E.P. that comes through in those songs a little bit.

Chris: And David's a crazy reader too, man. He's always on the philosophy tilt. Not to blow you up or anything, but David spends a lot of time reading.

David: Yeah, that's more of an ambiguous relationship to the music.

How did it feel to play at KEXP today?

David: Good! It was fun. I liked all the headphones and gear. I wish we could always hear ourselves really, really well, and quiet, and the only band playing.

Chris: It's nice in the morning too, and not having to be at a bar, and trying not to drink too much. For me, it was trying not to drink too much coffee.

Mary Jane: I can never drink before I play.

So, live, do you guys switch instruments?

Chris: No, not live, but in the studio for sure.

Mary Jane: Yeah, because all the backing tracks are on hardware too, and we all do that together. So all of that is done with all of us switching around, and then we record them on to the backing track so we can have our hands free. But live it's pretty fixed.

Chris: Yeah, and in the studio, I think that's part of the magic. Like, "Oh! let me reach over you here." and "Oh! That's the line!"

Alright, so Chris said something nice about David, so David, say something nice about Chris. What makes him a great friend?

Chris: (whispering) Don't do it!

David: I don't know.

Chris: Don't do it, man!

David: I mean Chris is awesome. It feels weird to try to talk about our relationship, but one thing I can say about him is that his music in Trans FX is a massive motivation and inspiration. I'm just always really stoked on making music when he shows me new tracks, which he's always making at an insane pace. And I have to get in on it really quick before it's over and he's on to the next thing.

Mary Jane: Yeah, he's so productive. I think that Chris is so inspiring to me because he's always making something, or doing something, or working through something. I remember when you painted so many paintings and you covered the entire outside of your house with them! You're one of the most productive people I know.

Chris: Thanks y'all, I'm blushing now.

Where does all this drive come from?

Chris: Probably just to deal with myself and have something to do. Because if I'm not, I'm not doing okay. 

David: Just pure life instincts.

Chris: Just survival, basically. I don't know how to do anything else.

Do you recall the first time you heard Mary Jane singing? How it hit you?

Chris: Oh I thought it was sick! I think it was on "Cave" by TBR and it hit me hard y'all! It was sick! It's super goth, but it's kind of goth with a smile.

Mary Jane: It's grunge-goth.

Chris: Yeah, it's pretty grunge, and it's kind of sad, too. It's scary. That's what I thought. I was like, "Damn, Mary Jane! You're sad and scary at the same time, and beautiful."

So, you played at the Fisherman's Village Festival in Everett this last month. I'm assuming there were hundreds of people there. What was the response like?

Chris: Oh it was groovy!

Mary Jane: Yeah people were very festive, in good spirits.

Did they know the songs?

Mary Jane: I don't know, I don't really open my eyes that much, so I can't say.

Chris: Yeah, they probably did. But I didn't really talk to anyone about it.

Mary Jane: Yeah, sometimes after I play a show I have to run away, go outside for 10 minutes. And whatever is happening next, I might not get to see anybody after.

David: The hotel was awesome though. We stayed in this hotel and swam in the pool.

Chris: That was cool.

Mary Jane: It was just funny because there were all these high schoolers that snuck in. And I think the only times I've been to hotel pools in the last 10 years is from sneaking into them. But they thought we were scary.

Chris: Yeah, they saw us and they dipped! Which I thought was funny. Yeah, we're the bad guys y'all!

Mary Jane: It probably made it more fun though. I feel like it always makes it more fun when you feel like you're going to get caught.

They thought you guys were scary?

Mary Jane: Yeah, like we were going to tell the hotel.

David: And they snuck in as the front counter-person was telling us that only adults could be in the pool at night, like really passive-aggressively.

Mary Jane, will you tell me how you left Spokane, Washington?

Mary Jane: OK. This is very leading question. We were talking in the hallway earlier. But I met this person named Swampy, and then two days later I hopped on a freight train with him and took it to Portland, Oregon.

How'd you get on the train?

Mary Jane: I climbed up on the bridge in downtown Spokane and waited at like 5 AM until the trains stopped. Then I got on and left from the Downtown Train Bridge.

Where have you hopped trains before, and where have you gone?

Mary Jane: Just like the West Coast, up and down. Never done the Highline. That's pretty wild stuff. Big tunnel.

Chris: Never hopped a train.

Mary Jane: You probably did it in Olympia! Did you take it from the track house?

Chris: No no no.

Mary Jane: You never did that?

Chris: No!

Mary Jane: Just to ride it like three blocks?

David: I've been on a bullet train in Tokyo, Japan.

Mary Jane: That is really cool and I have never been on that.

Am I allowed to ask you about --

Mary Jane: -- No.

That's ok.

Chris: About Swampy?

No, not Swampy.

David: We're going to talk about it all!

Chris: Get out of here, Dilbert!

Why'd you call him Dilbert?

Chris: Ok, I wanted to get at this, if you guys don't mind, Dilbert used to have a great YouTube channel, called Dilbert Hernandez.

David: It's still active.

Chris: I knew about it before I knew Dilbert, and we live in the same dang town!

Mary Jane: Dilbert is like your nickname, basically. But I associate it with your skateboarding.

David: Yeah, YouTube and reality kind of clashed.

Chris: Dilbert was on Hall of Meat in a skateboarding accident. It's really great.

Mary Jane: Is that a skate video? Is it a new one?

Chris: I mean, a year ago. He's skating a ledge and somebody opens up the door at that very moment and -- knock out. It's pretty amazing.

So, what happened?

David: Not much. It was really gnarly, it was like a slim metal door and I was going, you know, like six inches out from the wall. And then the door opened, so it kind of went in the middle of my body, like in my chest. And then I fell down and the guy looked like he was in shock. And I said sorry and then we just left. And I skated for the rest of the day even though it was really crazy and people kept saying, "Did he do it on purpose?"

Chris: Well, it seemed really bad too because the door's metal, so it's really loud.

David: And right before I hit the door I was running full speed to get on the board. But it was fun! That was a good trip. That's on Dilbert Hernandez on YouTube.

Was there a mark left on your body from the door?

David: I don't think so, no.

You didn't check?

David: I looked. Yeah. I mean I don't even think I got a bruise.

Mary Jane: Dilbert's very youthful. He heals very quickly.

David: I think I was just a lucky. It could have been worse. It could have hit my face, it would have totally crushed my nose knocked my teeth out. But I got it right, kind of to the collarbone and it was good.

OK, so you guys are described in your bio as a supergroup. So what are your secret superpowers?

David: That was two bands combined into one.

But that's not your superpower.

Chris: I told Dilbert that I wake up early sometimes and can't go back to sleep for the most part. It's just my deal. And he was like, "Damn, that's like a superpower!" So that's mine. Be able to wake up early and not go to sleep.

How is that going to save any lives?

Chris: I'll be up!

Mary Jane: The best ideas happen at that hour. It's proven.

What is your superpower? To travel secretly?

Mary Jane: I don't know, sometimes I can go invisible, but I don't do it on command. I actually never do it because it's too scary.

Chris: I've seen her do it. But we're roommates.

How could you see her do it if she's invisible?

Mary Jane: It's the event. We're talking about Kairos time, not Chronos.

Chris: Yeah, KIRO! KIRO 5! Shout out to Todd, if he's listening!

Mary Jane: Oh! Can I make a shout out?


Mary Jane: I want to make a big shout out to Stonewall Mary. If you're out there.

Chris: Hey, make it double.

Mary Jane: That's my mom.

Last question. Any new music coming out from you guys?

Mary Jane: There's a remix EP coming out of remixes of all the songs.

Chris: In May. That should be coming out soon. I think DFA just got the copies. We're super pumped about that.

Mary Jane: Yeah, the test presses were cool.

David: And we gave one to KEXP to play.

Mary Jane: So maybe you'll hear it.

Chris: And Transfix has a new thing coming out. It's not done yet, but it's in the mastering stages. Trans FX and The Showroom Dummies. It features a bunch of different singers. Yeah and that should be out probably in the summer on Joker's Got A Posse Records.

Are there new songs from CCFX coming out, or just remixes?

Mary Jane: These are remixes. We have plans to write more, but just gotta make the time, because I'm over in New York.  

Chris: Yeah, this summer we're going to spend a month writing together.

David: We made plans.

Mary Jane: Yeah, this summer in Olympia.

Chris: The beats are building, the melodies.

David: Two of the remixes are pretty much new songs. In the other ones I use the stems, but the ones on the A-side are like completely different.

Which songs are those?

David: "The One to Wait" and "Venetian Screens".

Chris: Yeah, we probably spent 20 hours on one song.

David: Yeah, "The One to Wait" remix we worked hard on, and everyone seems to like that song, so we'll see how they like the remix.

CCFX's self-titled EP is out now via DFA Records. The band will be playing Friday, May 25th at the Sasquatch! Music Festival at The Gorge in George, Washington.

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