Sammy Skidmore and Emma Hayes, two born and bred Seattle-ites, first met and connected over their shared love of music at a local summer camp as seventh graders in 2006. Fast forward more than a decade later, and the two formed their group Dining Dead and released their multi-dimensional sophomore EP, Stranger Wages, which they perform at Blue Moon Tavern on Aug. 4th.
For Hayes, who grew up in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood, an interest in music was encouraged by her bass-playing dad, who played in a Beatles cover band. “My dad was really into music, so like, my first concerts were Elvis Costello at a winery and Queen at the Key Arena,” she recalls.
Skidmore, a native of the Green Lake neighborhood in Seattle, didn’t come from a musical family. Instead, she discovered rock ‘n’ roll by watching Josie and the Pussycats at six years old. After that, she asked for and received a guitar from her grandparents, and as she grew, began to take advantage of all-ages venues, like Vera Project, and other live music opportunities in Seattle.
“Yeah Vera Project was huge… for me. I was always going to Vera shows, and a couple DIY venues I don’t even think exist anymore… as a super young kid,” says Skidmore.
The summer before eighth grade, Skidmore met Hayes at a local summer camp. She recalls being drawn to Hayes’s Pixies band tee and woolen leg warmers. “We became friends, and she played guitar and so did I, so I thought that was super cool,” she remembers. “And she showed me a lot of cool bands. Like I remember she showed me the Pixies and the Ramones and I was like—wow, I’m obsessed.”
The two attended a few live shows together as preteens, including The Shins at Bumbershoot and Sound Off!—a battle of the bands for youth held annually at Seattle Museum of Pop Culture—before losing touch for a while.
After high school, Hayes stayed in the area to study at Seattle Central University and University of Washington. Meanwhile, Skidmore moved around—living in New York, Dallas, and Hawaii before returning to Seattle.
“When I moved back to Seattle about three years ago, I was like, who plays music?” says Skidmore. “Emma was like the only person I remembered from my youth that played music so I messaged her on Facebook [to see] if she wanted to jam sometime.”
Casual jamming quickly turned into writing some original material and playing at open mics nearby. Then, they added a bass player and drummer. Organically, Dining Dead—named for a quote in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—formed. In the years since, they’ve released January 2021’s Takeout EP, their debut full-length Medium Rare, which came out in February 2021, and now June 2022’s Stranger Wages.
Dining Dead creates reverby, moody and surf-informed alternative rock that at some points leans twangy Americana and at other points lo-fi indie. Blending the sounds of west coast and the American south wasn’t necessarily intentional, but a natural extension of the band’s history and sonic interests. Their bassist Shannon Barberry was born and raised in Tennessee, and Skidmore spent time in Dallas and Nashville, where she participated in a songwriting retreat and got into country music.
“I think it happened totally naturally, like Shannon definitely brings in some elements of that just from her own place but definitely happens naturally for me,” agrees Skidmore. “Living in Texas, I finally got exposed to country music in a way that wasn’t judgmental. I feel like in Seattle we’re like ‘oh, country’s so stupid,’ so finally listening to country and really being exposed to it in the country scene in Dallas was huge for me.”
For Skidmore, who does a lot of the band’s songwriting, the storytelling aspects of country and folk imbue Stranger Wages with a bit of southern hospitality.
The opening track, “Spaghetti,” for instance, brings a little spaghetti western to the table—as Skidmore tells the melancholy story of desire and wanting, punctuated with echo-y octave slides and twisty riffs on guitar, reminiscent of a guitar technique called a hammer-on more typically used in acoustic playing.
There’s also plenty of Seattle sounds on Stranger Wages, which Skidmore named after a mix-up with Social Security department called “Stranger Wages” forced her to wait more than six months for her unemployment money during the pandemic. Though the mishap gave her more time to write, tracks on the EP like “Gatekeeper” are saturated with the sort of aloof vocals and intense, building guitar you’d hear from MTV-unplugged Nirvana.
Though now gainfully employed at an art gallery, Skidmore, and Hayes, who’s a teacher, would love to make music their full-time gig—since it consumes their free time anyway.
They recently played their first-ever Capitol Hill Block Party, a popular festival in the Seattle area where many new and emerging bands get discovered and gain traction. Now, they’re playing two notable local shows—August 4th at the Blue Moon Tavern with with Ha Vay and August 12th with OH MY EYES and Zookraught at Conor Byrne Pub—in August, and the group is already planning and writing songs for their next project.
“We’ve already started writing new stuff. I’m always writing songs – it just kind of depends what makes it to the top and what we end up liking as a band,” says Skidmore. “We have some goals for the next project, so [drummer] Bogie [Pieper] and Shannon, the rhythm section, they’ll make the groove and then Emma and I are filling in on top instead of me coming with a completed song. That’s what we’re trying right now.”
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