Editor’s note: The following story is part of Startland News’ coverage of the SXSW conference in Austin. Click here to read more stories from the 2022 trip.
AUSTIN — Dreamgirl describes itself as a family — a bit dysfunctional at times, but nonetheless family, members of the Kansas City-based band shared, laughing the morning before their debut SXSW performance this week.
“We have been together a long time now, and I think our relationships are pretty close because of that. The fact that we get to do this together, it’s so surreal,” said Lacey Hopkins, lead singer and multi-instrumentalist in Dreamgirl. “I never thought that we would be official artists at SXSW. It’s just very dreamy to me, a dream come true.”
Dreamgirl originally formed in 2013, but has evolved in band members and artistic sound through the years. Its members characterized the current sound as a dreamy-synth pop-summertime-rock vibe.
“Imagine Cyndi Lauper meets surf rock,” Hopkins said.
“We’ve definitely been experimenting with everyone having a say and collaborating on what each instrument should sound like; we all appreciate good music across various genres, which has contributed to this newest iteration of Dreamgirl,” noted Ian Dobyns, the band’s drummer.
Click here to check out Dreamgirl’s sound on Spotify.
Dreamgirl showcased its unique sound at Seven Grand in Austin’s downtown entertainment district as part of the SXSW music festival. It was the band’s first big performance since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they noted, and also kicked-off a busy next several weeks that sees the band on tour.
“It feels great to finally be back on a festival circuit and playing shows again,” Hopkins said. “The thing that I enjoy the most is playing and performing with my friends, so this is going to be a really special experience.”
“2019 felt like our busiest year; then in 2020 and 2021, we weren’t traveling — we had time to write music, reform and regroup on the business side, and really figure out what’s next,” Dobyns added. “[SXSW] is the start button to it all. It’s really cool.”
Click here to check out Dreamgirl’s spring 2022 tour schedule.
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Balancing band and business
Artists must embrace the business side of their artform — along with the creative — in order to open new doors and opportunities, the bandmates said.
“So much of music is not actually playing music — it’s taking photos, trying to figure out how to gauge interest on the internet,” Dobyns explained. “We spend quite a bit of our time on deciding how we want to cross promote and market ourselves.”
Musicians who are making money should look into becoming a business, Hopkins added.
“We’re an LLC — and that’s definitely a piece of advice I’d give to other artists,” Hopkins said. “There was definitely a learning curve for us, because so much you wouldn’t think about until you are in the situation. But now we are budgeting, creating spreadsheets and figuring out how to reach certain demographics.”
Dreamgirl countered some of its early pain points by tapping into resources, mentors and other musicians — specifically noting Kansas City’s Shy Boys.
Takeaways from the Midwest
As artists coming from towns across from Kansas and Missouri (with the exception of one Texan), the members felt there is a certain type of resiliency that Midwestern artists must anticipate, they shared.
“There are a lot of creative people in the Midwest, especially in Kansas City,” said Skylar Smith, guitarist for Dreamgirl. “Sometimes I think that because of where we’re from, that creativity kind of gets beat out of you.”
“Coming from the Midwest, you have to really believe in yourself because you have to travel more and put yourself out there in ways that are not accessible to everyone,” Hopkins added. “It has definitely been a journey for us — a lot of the popular music genres that you see in the Midwest are very different from ours.”
Dreamgirl’s top listener groups can be found along the coast, they said, noting that Kansas City listenership ranks as one of their lowest in metropolitan cities. Although the musicians nodded to the strong and collaborative music scene in Kansas City, they advised upcoming artists to branch outside of their hometowns.
“A lot of people get caught up in trying to be the best in Kansas City, and then they never leave,” Hopkins said.
“I lived here in Austin, [Texas], for a few years and came across several people who would exclusively play in Austin,” echoed Grady Drugg, the solo Texas native who was brought to Kansas City to play guitar and sing backup vocals for the band. “If you’re only playing local shows, there is so much you are closing yourself off to. Even if those first few tours are really uncomfortable and you have to sleep on a punk-house bus and get a chemical sting on your hand — I’m not speaking from experience — it will all pay off eventually.”
Being open to experiences (and music) that is good, bad and the vast in-between is a fundamental part of Dreamgirl, said Joe Gronniger, bassist for Dreamgirl.
“Everyone in the band has allowed themselves to be open to somewhat shitty experiences that you can pull beauty out of,” Gronniger said. “… I think that none of us are so proud or attached to our roots that it prevents us from listening to cheesy ’80s ballads or whatever we come across. Allowing ourselves to experience every aspect of something is a big part of who we are.”
Click here to follow Dreamgirl on Instagram.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.