‘Backup Plan’ Pulls Dakota Theim's Music to the Present

The Portland singer/songwriter's infectious new single bridges his love of Harry Nilsson with contemporary bedroom pop.

By Conner Reed June 3, 2022

Dakota Theim is ready to leave the ’70s behind. The Portland singer/songwriter's first two albums, 2020's Somewhere Under the Sun and 2021's Tangled Heart, were stuffed with sun-dappled evocations of Harry Nilsson and post-Beatles Paul McCartney: delightfully retro nuggets about love lost, found, and reveled in.

His latest single is something else.

"I don't really want to become typecast as a ’70s-emulating songwriter," Theim says. "I'll always probably have some of that, because it's part of me—I'll always love that music—but I definitely want to keep experimenting and exploring new production styles." 

That desire is evident from the opening seconds of "Backup Plan," Theim's infectious new one-off release. Past Dakota Theim songs, pretty much without fail, begin on piano, guitar, or electric piano, perhaps stretching the definition of "acoustic," but never breaking it. "Backup Plan," on the other hand, delights in the intangible: it kicks off with a leisurely string sample that dissipates into a smooth wall of glowing synths. Before long, a slinky, Unknown Mortal Orchestra-adjacent rhythm takes hold; by the 20-second mark, we've got a forceful digital chorus of Theims harmonizing in our ears.

It's a studied conconction. After penning the song in March, Theim spent some time diving into Spotify's indie pop playlists and cataloguing his favorite production tricks. He was drawn to small things—snare samples, vocal layering techniques—that would give his still-classic melody a contemporary edge. (Oakland singer/songwriter Still Woozy was a particular inspiration.) "In the past, I intentionally limited myself, because I think you can become paralyzed with all these options and wanting to go overboard with the production process," Theim says. "But I kind of let myself go a little wild with this one. With this song in particular, I wasn't worried about recapturing everything perfectly live." 

He also engaged in his least hermetic recording process to date. Theim cut his first two records in his parents' Canby living room, playing most instruments himself, but "Backup Plan" was recorded in the basement of his house in Northeast Portland. For the first time, he brought in a drummer—Jack Stringer—whose rhythms helped move the song in a "moodier" direction than he initially imagined; he buried some guitar licks by roommate and bandmate Ben Bilotti in the mix and pumped up Alex Werner's sinuous bass line. 

The result is a more lacquered, slightly darker iteration of what we've come to expect from Theim—it expands his sound without obliterating it, and would fit snugly on any moody summer playlist. Check out "Backup Plan" for yourself below, and catch Theim at the Doug Fir Lounge on June 16 before he embarks on a quick West Coast tour.

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