Meet the Mysterious Indie Band Behind That Weird "Dream Phone" in Chinatown
In Chinatown, an old Russian telephone is collecting people's dreams.
Juliet Bennett Rylah
There's a phone in Chinatown that allows you to record and listen to dreams. I found it in a roundabout way: A poster, pasted to a wall in Koreatown, ambiguously advertised "The Office of Night Things" and provided a phone number.
The following day, I called the number. A woman with a British accent informed me that I had reached the Office of Night Things and that, at the tone, I should leave not a message but a dream. Googling the number brought me to a video, reminiscent of an '80s infomercial recorded on VHS.
"Are you having trouble remembering your dreams?" the same woman asked. "Do you feel like technology is constantly distracting you? Well, you're not alone."
She suggested that by sharing my dreams with the Office, I might help them to "study and preserve these sacred messages from the unconscious for future generations before they disappear completely." There was a sense of urgency in her otherwise robotic tone.
The channel hosting the video belongs to the band Night Things, a Los Angeles–based synth-pop duo composed of Maize LaRue and Zach Shields. The band's Instagram account revealed the Office had a physical address in Chinatown, where I found one thing: an old phone booth.
By day it's relatively unobtrusive. At night, however, it glows green and pink, blending in neatly with Chinatown's neon aesthetic. When you pick up the receiver, you can record a dream (press 1) or listen to a dream (press 2). I hit 2 and a childlike voice described being chased through a mall by an armed assailant.
The Dream Phone
Juliet Bennett Rylah
It may seem odd for a synth-pop band to have a random phone that collects dreams, but this isn't Shields' first musical project to explore themes outside of our tangible world. Dead Man's Bones, his duo with Ryan Gosling, filled their self-titled 2009 album with macabre ballads about ghosts and graves. That record also heavily features the Silverlake Conservatory of Music Children's Choir, which is where Shields first met a then-teenage LaRue. The pair would end up collaborating again after Dead Man's Bones dissolved, practicing covers and playing shows at nursing homes. From time to time, they also chatted about their dreams and noticed there were some similarities.
"There was one where she was getting kidnapped and I had to save her and then we'd go on the run," Shields says. "It was that version of that dream over and over again. So we made these alter ego characters of ourselves [that lived in] this dream world: two people who are in love, trying to get close to each other, but who can never quite get there."
The duo's shared dreams would inspire Night Things' original tracks, including single "Cost of the Summer." The appropriately surreal video opens with Shields recounting a dream in which he’s a child who meets a dark-haired girl on a summer's day in an unknown place. The girl vanishes before he can speak to her. Shields and LaRue then dance their way through the track in an attempt to unite, despite barriers such as glass walls, fog and faceless drones impeding them.
Night Things' full album, slated for September, contains other songs inspired by dreams. The Dream Phone is their way of gathering more inspirational fodder.
"[Dreams] have guided not just the visual side of what we've done but even a lot of imagery we touch on in the lyrics of the songs we write," LaRue says. "We could always be inspired by something else, but at least for right now, [dreams are] a pretty big part of the process."
LaRue and Shields found the old Soviet-era phone on eBay; various friends and relatives helped with the recording tech and custom neon signage. The Chinatown location is practical: Their manager's office is in the adjacent building.
While some callers have interpreted the word "dream" to mean aspirations, the band estimate they're getting an average of 20 usable dreams per week via both the hotline and the phone, including entries from one Canadian woman who shares her dreams almost daily. The best dreams come from those who call upon waking, when the dreams are fresh.
"There's something really vulnerable about your dreams. [They happen] before you wake up and put yourself together and decide who you are that day. Even people's voices sound different in the mornings," Shields says. "With social media, it's the exact opposite. Social media is the projected idea of yourself and who you want people to think you are. Your dreams are who your subconscious is telling you that you are."
Select dreams are posted to the band's Instagram account. There's one about being chased by Darth Vader, and another about inventing a program that turns houses into solar energy receptors. One man admits to having recurring dreams about his last boyfriend.
To submit your dreams, dial the Office of Night Things at (800) 390-0934 or visit the Dream Phone at 977 N. Hill St. Names have been bleeped out, so those worried about outing themselves as having sex dreams about their boss should feel slightly safer.
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