Brooklyn musicians Danny Miller and Max Harwood created their sound in Rockaway Beach in Queens, a summer popular tourist destination, yet a cold and foreboding place in winter.
Attracted by the duality, they broke their Bushwick lease, rented a two-room surfside bungalow, and set up home-studio shop as the experimental folk-rock duo Lewis Del Mar (a name they chose because their fathers are named Lewis and because they wanted something that sounded like a famous author).
The pair, which plays San Francisco next week, toiled for more than a year, mixing diverse, unusual ingredients until they sparked Frankenstein to life, with “Loud(y),” a skeletal, clattering single that became a 2015 viral sensation and got them a contract with Columbia-distributed Star Time International.
The song, like Lewis Del Mar’s self-titled new debut disc, was rooted in the isolation of Rockaway, a solemnity underscored by the album cover photo of the pair awash in chilly sunrise surf.
“It’s where we went to find a sound that only Max and I could make,” Miller says.
“People say, ‘Oh, you live by the beach!’ and they’re thinking sunny, hanging out, getting a tan,” says Harwood, who has known Miller since they were both 9-year-olds growing up in Washington, D.C. “But that’s not really what that place is to us; the beach is subverted by the intense weather and also the city, and it’s what our project is about.”
It’s no Corona beer ad, Miller adds: “It’s a place that at one point, many years ago, was pristine, but is now polluted and overrun by man, on the fringes of New York. And that’s where our music stands.”
The friends – who worked Big Apple night jobs and recorded by day — formed a hard-touring blues-rock group fresh out of college.
But vocalist Miller had given up electric guitar after living next to a radio tower that cluttered his amplifier with the station’s broadcasts.
It makes sense, then, that acoustic filigrees — without chords and influenced by his Nicaraguan ancestry — form the backbone of Lewis Del Mar album tracks such as “Islands,” “Malt Liquor” and “Painting (Masterpiece),” which incorporate Harwood’s David Lynch-industrial percussion and iPhone-recorded subway-ride samples.
Admittedly, Miller and Harwood had moments of self-doubt while formulating their heady concoction.
“But every sound, every combination of things we used was all incredibly intentional,” says Harwood. “And sometimes I worry that musicians don’t even do that at all nowadays. They just pick up a guitar and start strumming something familiar.”
IF YOU GO
Lewis Del Mar
Where: Rickshaw Stop,155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1
Tickets: $12 to $15 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.ticketfly.com