Who doesn't love a game? Well, one is certainly afoot with mystical, time-travelling, pop-culture-referencing beings I Don't Know How But They Found Me. It's been a few years since the mysterious duo appeared on stage at Emo Nite in LA, with a buzz around them gaining pace quicker than you can say "Isn't that the guy from that band?!" Initially denying everything, even when presented with actual photographic evidence, the purported mastermind Dallon Weekes admitted that yes, there was a band, completed by electric-blue haired drummer and backing vocalist Ryan Seaman, and iDKHOW is their name.
Cue a string of fantastically retro videos, right down to the grainy VHS footage of a long-forgotten talent show, infomercials with more layered context than a lasagna, plus a minefield of clues as to just what they're about, and finally the long-awaited album is here.
Well, almost. With even more being teased to the story, and everything unravelling like a well-designed murder mystery (just without, y'know, a murder), it sounds like Dallon is ready for the follow-up to debut EP '1981 Extended Play'.
"When we first started, we had our own timeline and our own plans for releasing music. The first year or so that we existed we operated in total secrecy, and denied that we even existed at all," Dallon remembers. "It took a minute for us to get the ball rolling and build from the ground up, which is what we wanted to do. We didn't want to use any of our other past employment to build a name for ourselves."
One thing's for certain, iDKHOW have built a name for themselves. One away from Dallon's previous home in Panic! At The Disco, and it's all rooted in one idea: "Making music and making art. It's supposed to be fun," he enthuses. "When people start to make it not fun - or if you start to make it not fun, you have to change something, otherwise, what's the point?
"Once you got too comfortable, it's time to start doing something else, which is why we've changed the narrative of the band with this new record. As we progress, we'll either change the narrative or disregard it altogether and start from scratch because I never want to have to do the same thing twice… If I wanted to do the same thing twice, I certainly would.
"We could create an album of 10 to 12 songs and just put it out into the world and say 'here are 12 songs'. We might do that one day, you know, who's to say?" he smirks with the air of someone who always has a secret up their sleeve. "But I think that doing that is a wasted opportunity to create more, not just musically speaking but visually, and with stories too - which is what songs are at their foundation."
Stories tend to be written with a set beginning and end in mind; it's the middle where things happen. For iDKHOW, the narrative they're forming is the kind of story that'll leave you plugging the holes with your own ideas, since as Dallon says with a wry smile, "we've intentionally left gaps!"
Sat in his home studio dissecting the road already travelled, Dallon has been vying for this moment. With the announcement of their debut 'Razzmatazz', the whirring cogs of their burgeoning fanbase's minds have been sent into overdrive.
"We wanted to leave enough room for people's imaginations to sort of wander around in this idea, because I remember… I wish I could say who it was," he pauses. "But I remember watching this horror movie documentary talking to all these famous legendary horror movie directors, and one of them said: 'The thing that's behind the door is always scarier in your imagination'. It's always scarier until you see it and then you go, 'Oh that's not as scary as what I imagined'. Leaving room in the fictional narrative has created a lot of interesting theories that I've seen people talk about in places like Reddit, and some of it is way better than what I've come up with," he chuckles. "It's really interesting to see. Sometimes I'll read through, and I go, I gotta use that idea!"
Fans are the intricate network that brings lifeblood to iDKHOW. In the same way, back in Dallon's day, if you wanted to know something about a band, you had to work for it - you couldn't just bash in a name on Google et voila, you've got their star sign and their dog's name. In fact, they were untouchable beings that existed in this realm of possibility, with their existence given by someone's want to know 'em.
Which is where the idea to spin a tale of a band forgotten to time comes into play. Born from learning about real bands who fall to the wayside, it started "to develop as we were recording the EP," he says.
"I would get lost into these weird YouTube holes, and talent shows and stuff from like local TV access cable channels from 1982. I wanted to be on these shows, so that's where the idea of us being this forgotten-about band started because that's a pretty common story in music.
"There are so many wonderfully talented people that write genius music, and create genius art, but never really reach that next level, just because of luck. They don't know the right person or that next step just never comes, and it's a tragedy. Really, I discovered a lot of really great amazing music."
Sowing the seed for the idea was Dallon's own experience of the need to "put in the footwork" when discovering bands of his own.
"If you just happened to see The Cure on MTV because a friend has MTV at their house - and this is what happened to me - I saw The Cure music video, I think it was for 'Wrong Number', and I was like, 'What the hell is this?!'" He marvels, eyes widening. "And so then I had to go to my local record shop and look through magazines and learn everything that I could about The Cure, and lo and behold, they've been around for 20-plus years before I'd ever heard of them. I had a lot of wonderful things to discover all at once, but it's a little bit different now."
Mentioning groups like Detroit punk-trio Death "who were ahead of their time, who, just because of circumstance, were forgotten about," the basis for the fictional iteration of iDKHOW holds the same essence, just with an extra understanding of how things can go down in the following years and decades."Because of the internet, people were able to rediscover them and fall in love with them like I have."
"As we've moved on we never want to have to do the same thing twice," he continues on the narrative development. "So with a new record, rather than completely throw that idea away, we've decided to just twist it a little bit, and pull the curtain back a little bit more and take a left-hand turn. People will see that narrative shift once videos and that start to fall out."
Theoretically, there are three Dallon's. The one on a Zoom call with Dork today sat back in his studio chair; there's fictional Dallon from the iDKHOW lore, kicking about in the mysterious tapes from the 80s; and there's also songwriter Dallon, since the songs also belong in their own universe. That seems like a lot of work going on?!
"It's not that difficult because I grew up idolising artists that that did similar things, you know this isn't anything new," he says nonchalantly. "David Bowie did it with 'Ziggy Stardust', and The Beatles did it with 'Sgt. Peppers'. I think those are both great examples of how artists can create a fictional narrative around an album, and that's something that has always really entertained me.
"I remember being a teenager and poring over the artwork for 'Sgt. Peppers' and looking at all these clues that are supposed to be in there. Some of them were intentional, and some of them were not. That lore was created by the fans and letting fans imaginations run with it. And you know mine certainly did so the inspiration for what we do, I think has probably got to start with, with artists like that."
There's no denying that iDKHOW fans have let the lore run away with them, but that's all part of the fun; escapism, especially in such turbulent times, and with such a soundtrack rife with rampant energy to boot, will always be alluring.
But with the story unravelling in such staggered drops, in part due to the band using that breathing space to make sure it evolves in a way they want it to, and in part due to circumstances out of their control, bouncing off their own ideas keeps the left turns coming. The internet loves a mystery.
"You can access anything instantaneously, so discovering things, I feel like maybe I could be wrong, but discovering things now has a little less weight. Back then you had to do all this footwork; you had to go here, you had to chase it down. So putting all that effort into something that you discovered that struck a chord with you, it helped it to make it mean more."
Which explains, partly, why iDKHOW's fanbase is growing at an astonishing rate - they're a band with a mystery that, if you do want to put the work in, you're rewarded with this ever-expanding idea. If you don't, there are still plenty of bright, vintage-pop-indebted tracks to dive into.
"All of the narratives that we've created, the fictional story, are based on things that are real, but they're presented more metaphorically, and things like the White Shadow." Dallon points to a mask hung on a speaker in the background. "Some fans have noticed that it's an Easter egg that's appeared in just about everything that we've done," he says. "And it's certainly representative of something I haven't really discussed. Maybe I'll talk about that specifically one day, but everything that we're doing is symbolic or representative of something else."
Both iDKHOW and 'Razzmatazz' could be seen as a reflection of society given the nature of the narrative, the music dealing with Dallon's own experiences while the visual elements take on a more direct approach.
"Either a reflection or reaction," Dallon nods. "That's what art and music are, or at least should be. And I think that's what art should be. All too often it's treated as a product, like Pepsi or Coke, and it's a shame to see that happen because there's plenty of good artists who are certainly talented, but they throw that sound away in favour of commercialism, and maybe I'm getting a little bit too philosophical here because I know that that's certainly part of it - you want to sell your art to keep the lights on, the bills paid."
More reflection on these ideas appears in the iDKHOW world, such as the video for 'Social Climb', billed as a long-lost corporate propaganda film, or the Top Of The Pops-influenced 'Choke'.
Given Dallon's own journey has included being part of a very successful rock band, he's felt that level of achievement. Now he's just trying to clear out the usual band clutter of, "Follow us here! Check out our new video! Subscribe to this!"
"I honestly don't care if you do any of those things with us," he shrugs. "Subscribe, follow along if you want to, but that whole first year that we got started was really a great reminder of what music was when I first got started; just a band in a room playing for a bunch of strangers and trying to gain people's attention, based on your art."
Mentioning that any notion of using his previous success to inflate iDKHOW would've felt "disingenuous", Dallon knew the only way to make people care was "by starting as any other band would; from the ground up. Doing something like that was more of a challenge because of the band I've been in before."
"That's the idea behind the 'Razzmatazz' too," he says of the album. "Pulling the curtain back on a lot of my life experiences from the last 10 years or so. I think people see show business, and they see LA and Hollywood as this big, bright beacon of culture, and it's so wonderful to be there - that's where I had been living; I'm back in my hometown of Salt Lake City now."
Learning more about Dallon's experiences gives the fictional narrative surrounding iDKHOW more clout. The 'timeline' version of the band are ones who get sucked into being corporate shills. They leave themselves as these beings that are at the beck and call of a higher power, with the artistry falling behind until they resurface in some dusty VHS tapes in an unknown basement.
"A lot of the themes and songs on the record are about my time there, and things that I saw and experienced," he explains. "A lot of people are really enamoured with Los Angeles and Hollywood and entertainment business culture, but to me, it's this weird decaying city that's obsessed with itself, almost like the embodiment of narcissism. People step on each other's necks to get another dollar and to get their face closer to the spotlight, and it's so bizarre to me. That's not the world that I come from and that's not the world that I want to inhabit."
For many musicians, making music is a way to help deal with difficult situations and feelings. "It's how you process traumatic events, or anger, or just any kind of emotion really," Dallon says. "And it's almost like expelling it or exorcising it from your memory and from your person. It's getting to externalise in a healthy way, almost like therapy."
"The things that I'm singing about on this record are very real to me, things that mean a lot," he adds. "Maybe this fictional narrative is my way of protecting myself from this very real stuff that I'm singing about. Sort of like a shield, or a security blanket to keep people from seeing too much."
Despite this, the music that Dallon creates is exceptionally fun; 'Razzmatazz' is filled with the energy of a band who are deep in their own world, and the meaning behind its title is more than befitting of iDKHOW.
"It's something along the lines of a big showy event that's meant to distract and impress," Dallon says. "It's an old slang term from like the 1930s, or even earlier, it might even come from Vaudeville. I'm not sure how old it is, but it's certainly an outdated slang word. It's one that's always been in my head since I was a kid, I've got an affinity for outdated slang, and I think there's a certain charm and certain irony in humour to it.
"That word, in particular, was part of the kids show that we would watch at school when we had music lessons. Our teacher would wheel in the TV and put in a VHS tape of this music programme called The Music Machine. It was this super low budget, public Canadian educational TV show, but the host was this woman who would start each show by asking this giant computer, this music machine, to 'Play us some razzmatazz' and I never forgot that theme song."
It turns out there are also a few other things that use that magical word, including "a Pulp song that I didn't know. I love Jarvis Cocker and Pulp, their song is fantastic. The other thing I learned about it is that Jamba Juice has a [similarly named] flavour of a shake; no idea what that tastes like. So there's either some sort of potential cross-promotion or a lawsuit just waiting," he laughs, taking a swig from a big mug.
There's more to come from iDKHOW, but what that looks like, who knows? Even Dallon only has a faint idea. The breathing space between projects, be they videos or tracks, allows for natural experimentation, meaning Dallon can take things wherever he wants. When the world stops, iDKHOW keep going. Even if their secrets are to still be revealed...
"I think whether you try to or not change creeps its way in," Dallon muses. "Jeff Goldblum would say, 'Life finds a way'."
Taken from the September issue of Dork. iDKHOW's debut album 'Razzmatazz' is out 16th October.
Featuring iDKHOW, Wallows, Arlo Parks and loads more.