Wastelanders strike loud, ambient chord

By Tony Martin

Wastelanders is the one-man side-project of Dean Costello of Chicago metal mainstays Harpoon, and his newest record, “Wastelanders II: Cosmic Despair” is about to be re-released this fall.

To use the word “ethereal” in describing Wastelanders would sell it short, as Costello’s style of ambient, vocal-less electronic and guitar suites sound more like classical pieces than run of the mill instrumental rock. Waves of drone and texture ebb and flow, creating an atmosphere that is at once both soothing and haunting. Wastelanders does an amazing job at saying things without using vocals. It also doesn’t hurt that it is louder than almost anything DeKalb has ever heard (save for that Sunn 0))) show that Harpoon opened at).

There is a sense of both desolation and optimism in the looped keyboards and guitars. The Wastelanders website describes the band as “based on spaciousness and volume [but] it also aims to focus on things which are quite depressing, but could be addressed and alleviated with a positive mindset.” Listening to songs like “The Crossing” highlight the plight of the modern man in an indirect, subtle way.

“Wastelanders II: Cosmic Despair” was recorded at both Costello’s DeKalb apartment and the city’s own legendary 7th Street Space. The Northern Star caught up with Costello for an interview about DeKalb’s most unique musical act.


Northern Star: Where did the Wastelanders idea come from?

Dean Costello: Wastelanders was launched after the band Infinite Love disbanded. Infinite Love was kind of similar, but with people living in Chicago and DeKalb, and it fell apart after a few months and a few shows. At the same time Infinite Love was playing, I was writing and recording Wastelanders songs in my room and at the 7th Street Space. I never planned on trying to play live; it was purely a recording project. Infinite Love gave me the idea that I could play live and it might be cool. Infinite Love was using a lot of my amps for that band, so when it was over I realized maybe I should just plug in all my amps and see if I can work out a live set that somewhat represents the recorded songs.


NS: What should people expect from a Wastelanders show?

DC: Wastelanders is based on spaciousness and volume. Ideally, my computer will work and I will play the songs decently! It probably won’t be that entertaining for those used to and expecting to see a [full] band play. Many people think Wastelanders is a noise band, and I could see why they think that because of the volume, but I don’t really think that. If anything I would call it loud ambient with an emphasis on chord progressions and movements.


NS: If people came to a show and really liked what you were doing, what else would you recommend?

DC: Well, some stuff that I think is pretty inspirational, although it doesn’t necessarily sound like Wastelanders is Gas (Wolfgang Voigt), “Konigsforest” and “Pop” particularly. About five years ago a friend recommended the “Pop” album and I loved it instantly. Christian Fennesz was my initial inspiration to do a computer music type band that used manipulated guitar and keyboard. He was basically the reason I recorded the “Total Desolation” cassette. Sunn 0))) and the ideology behind it has been influential to me too. The only thing better than cool music is cool music very loud.”


NS: What plans do you have next for this project?

DC: Well, I got the final mastered copy of “Cosmic Despair” about six weeks ago so I do plan on doing much e-mailing to see if anyone would release a 2xLP. The Hewhocorrupts label is releasing the digital version in November with 50 percent of digital sales going to Oxfam International. After that I want to record a song I have called “Infinite Loss” which will be released by Love’s Label as a 12″ single. My song on the A side, and a remix of it on the B side. I want Wastelanders to be like the bands that inspired me growing up. It has to have a positive message and hopefully push critical thought. We can create a wasteland, but we don’t have to.