Baltimore native Dexter Gilmore picked up the guitar at 16. Two years later, he moved to New Orleans to enroll in Loyola’s music program, where he met Andrew Landry and Evan Cvitanovic. In 2011, they formed Glish, a shoegaze band inspired by the ‘90s acts they were listening to at the time. Gilmore later embraced his funk side, releasing a two-part series titled Coldiloqs, featuring vocals from his childhood friend, Gabrielle Washington. In 2014, he brought Landry and Cvitanovic back into the fold, along with Washington, and added keyboardist Ben Buchbinder to form his current band, Sexy Dex and the Fresh.
SDTF make hallucinogenic, washed-out pop, drawing inspiration from ‘80s funk, ‘90s shoegaze, and the universe in between. Their energetic, leather-heavy live shows are propelled by Cvitanovic’s urgent beats, Landry’s steady basslines, the interplay of Gilmore’s spastic guitar licks with Buchbinder’s spacey synth, and the high-pitched harmonies of Gilmore and Washington. They released their debut album, Plus one Edition, in 2016 and added a new EP, Don’t Play My B Sides, to their catalog in October, along with three VHS-filmed music videos. Their studio sound is boldly DIY, a refreshing break from the current proliferation of hyper-produced funk. Moving forward, Gilmore plans to up the production value without compromising the warped vitality of their sound.
When did you stop being plain old Dexter Gilmore and transform into Sexy Dex?
Sexy Dex: I mean, we were just tryna find names and be funny, I guess. There’s all these New Orleans bands that are like “Something and the So-and-Sos,” you know? So it was kind of just a play on that. We had already been a band and were writing the music, but we hadn’t put anything out or come out to an audience yet.
Can you take me through the band’s formation? I know you were originally in a band called Glish, and then you put out your solo project, Coldiloqs, which featured some members of the current band. Can you run me through the evolution of SDTF?
SD: Evan and Andrew, who played with me in Glish… We’ve always been playing together since the moment we started hanging out. So that whole relationship had already been going on. Evan was the one to say, “Hey, let’s start a band.” I had some tunes I was making. We lived together also, so there was that. But we had mad tunes, and we’d already been jamming together; so he was like, “Hey, let’s turn this into something real.” He and I started practicing together to some tracks, and we already had a relationship, so we just brought Andrew along. Gabrielle and I have been together for the last ten years, and we’ve known each other since we were ten. She had moved down here around… I don’t know, what was that? 2014?
Gabrielle Washington: 2013.
SD: 2013, yeah. She and I had grown up singing together, so it was a natural thing, like “OK, let’s try this.” So we took Gabrielle in. And Ben… We lived on the same floor in college, at Loyola, so I remembered him from that. I hadn’t seen him in a while, and I saw him at a party, and we played together, and I asked him to be in my band.
Did the whole band go to Loyola?
SD: Everybody except for Gabrielle, who was a childhood friend. I’m from Maryland, Ben’s from D.C., Gabrielle’s from Virginia. We’re all from that part of the world. Gabrielle was going to VCU [Virginia Commonwealth University] in Richmond before coming down here.
Tell me a little about your individual developments as musicians.
SD: I started playing guitar at 16. That was my main instrument for a while. My dad played music. He was a radio DJ. So we always had guitars laying around.
Andrew Landry: I’ve played the clarinet in school bands since I was in fourth grade. But I really started the bass with my buddy Evan. We grew up playing music together, starting around 12, 13. We had a band together called Fungus You Can’t Kill. We went to NOCCA, so we did that while we were going to school and learning jazz studies. From there, we decided to play a lot of music together. I started playing guitar, and he started playing drums… Well, he was playing drums long before that, I guess.
Evan Cvitanovic: Yeah, I’ve been playing drums since I was five years old, and if you put anything in this article, just say thanks to my sister.
GW: The first thing I did musically was play Martha Washington in elementary school. I had to try out with all the rest of the fourth graders, and I made it. I was the first one. That was tight. My first band was actually Sexy Dex. This is the first band I was ever in.
What were you doing in between, musically?
GW: I was just going to school. I went to school for communications. It was kind of the opposite of [music]. I wanted to promote bands, and then it all changed when me and Dexter connected after I graduated college. He was writing for Coldiloqs and asked me to sing on one of the songs, so it just continued that way. I started singing with the band and playing keys. Most of the things I’ve learned musically have been with this band, learning from everybody around me.
SD: Ben’s not here, for the record, but he’s been playing keys since he was a very young child. His mother was a keyboardist who wrote plays for the school musicals. She taught him a lot, and he’s had a bunch of teachers—got into jazz studies while in school—so he’s well-integrated.
Prince is the influence that jumps out most obviously when you first throw on any given Sexy Dex track. You definitely seem to wear it on your sleeve. When did you first hear Prince, and what drew you to his music?
SD: I mean, it’s one of those things. I don’t really remember. I’ve just always known about him. My parents were huge fans, so that music has always been played at my house, as well as a lot of other music from that time—the whole Minneapolis funk scene and the L.A. funk scene.
What was some other funk you grew up listening to?
SD: Definitely George Clinton. Rick James is another one. Alexander O’Neal. DeBarge is a really good one. They’re really sweet, actually. They’re one of the most sampled bands in all of hip-hop, at least in the ‘90s and the early 2000s. There’s so much of their music that’s been taken and repurposed.
Sexy Dex obviously draws from more than just ‘80s funk. I know Glish, your first project, was a shoegaze band, and that track “Wait!” off the new EP definitely has a dream pop vibe. When did you get into that whole style, and what were some of the bands you were checking out?
SD: Boyz and Girl was a really huge influence. I remember when we first started Glish, that was a really cool one. LSD and the Search for God was a big one. My Bloody Valentine, obviously, Slowdive… Oh, Swirlies! They’ve had a huge influence on us. They were a really noisy, very ‘90s-sounding, brutal-ass shoegaze band. They had a lot of really cool songs. Alison’s Halo… I don’t know, there’s a lot. Belong, who’s local, they were a big one.
Let’s talk a little about the visual aesthetic on the new videos that you put out along with the new EP. There’s a lot of vaporwave-style datamoshing in there. Are you at all connected with the Krewe of Vaporwave folks?
SD: I’m not, but Evan and Andrew definitely are.
AL: I guess the summer of 2011, when it started to become a whole thing, we decided to do a similar project with sampling, plunderphonics, weird synthesizer stuff. We had a band called Shuvuuia. We made a bunch of really scraped-together, shitty tracks that were just experimentations in sound, with that modus operandi of taking plundered music and rehashing a lot of weird musique concrete stuff. We were hanging with Dex around this time too. This was around the Glish era, so early on, we were getting that hazy film over everything, that really washed out—I’m not gonna say the word aesthetic because Jesus Christ, that word’s been beaten down—but that stylistic look. So we incorporated that with Dex’s music too because that’s just stuff that we’ve had with us. We like adjusting tapes. Evan worked at a video store and collected hella tapes, and we’ve used a lot of that in our videos, where we just take this old footage or ideas from this old footage and make videos on VHS. So that’s where I guess that vaporwave aesthetic came from. We used VHS in our early videos, and we brought that really grainy, filmy, lo-fi idea to everything.
EC: The other thing about the Vaporwave thing is that Andrew and I didn’t produce music before we started getting into Vaporwave, so doing that taught us how to use a dock, how to use Ableton. That’s been helpful in doing this new recording with Dex because we’ve done it all by ourselves. We didn’t have to go to someone else and be like, “Oh, man. Make it sound good for us, please.” We could do it ourselves. The VHS thing was fun, but I think it’s oversaturated at this point. Any time I look at any new videos, there’s always a VHS filter going on. It’s kind of interesting, but I think it’s becoming lame now. That’s just my two cents. So I think the band is gonna veer away from that soon.
For me, what’s most interesting about your sound is the fact that it’s both funky and DIY, which is unusual, since funk is a genre that often feels very overproduced nowadays. The argument could be made, though, that all of it—the VHS, the lo-fi recording—is a nostalgia play. What, to you, makes SDTF more than just a nostalgia act?
SD: Well, for one, if you were to put it next to something from the ‘80s, say, it doesn’t really sound like that. It’s reminiscent of it, sure. It takes things from it, yeah. But I think it’s clear that we have our own vision and that we listen to a lot of other music and that we’re not afraid to put any of the things that we like into it. We’re not doing it for someone else’s pleasure or to be safe.
“Future” is a term that gets tossed around a lot nowadays when it comes to modern takes on traditionally African-American music (future funk, future soul, etc.). Do you see yourself as a futurist?
SD: No. I’d say I’m definitely living in the now. I’m talking about what I think the future is in the music, for sure, but from the perspective of someone who is scared right now.
When you do look forward, what do you see as an ideal future for pop music, in New Orleans and at large?
SD: For people to not be afraid. For people who are writing music to stop being so safe.
Who are some contemporary acts you see, both in New Orleans and outside the city, who are pushing the boundary in that direction?
SD: We have a friend whose moniker is Hush Puppy, this dude Matthew Lee. He does some tight shit. The shit that Quintron and Miss Pussycat do is pretty cool. That’s some crazy New Orleans shit that’s totally original. Naughty Palace, that’s another one. He does kind of new wavey R&B stuff. It’s just him and a keytar, and he runs all his stuff through Ableton onto a rack and plays it live with his own PA setup. It’s really good.
What’s your vision for the future of SDTF?
SD: Continuing to be in our space of getting better at recording and producing. We all feel like that’s the next thing that has to make the jump for us if we want to appeal or whatever. For people to accept something as good music, a lot of the time, production needs to be super crisp. And super crisp production is tight. So we wanna get there. We’re just gonna continue to write pop songs and try to simplify getting from point A to point B in the easiest and most effective way possible.