The city of Tacoma, Wash., is also known by the oracular nickname “City of Destiny.” For the two San Joseans who make up playful psych rock group Funny Face, that name proved true in more ways than one.
Earlier this year, Funny Face released Dog In Hell, their second full length and the first recorded in their native home of San Jose. The album—an inspired blast of fuzzy, devil-may-care garage pop—marks not just a sonic progression for the band, but a progression in identity as well: their last full length was released under the slightly longer name Funny Face House.
“We’re the band with two names,” says guitarist/vocalist Adam Szyndrowski with a shrug.
Funny Face began in 2014, when Szyndrowski moved to Tacoma after his band in San Francisco broke up. Originally, it was supposed to be a brief trip, an unplanned vacation to visit his friend Mallory Petty, who had moved north a few years earlier. But upon arrival, Szyndrowski was charmed by the city’s cheap rent, bounteous music scene and he and Petty’s budding romance, and decided to stay. Soon, the two moved in together and began hosting shows in the 110-year old house they affectionately dubbed Funny Face House.
“At first we didn’t play any shows there—we just had other bands play,” Szyndrowski says. “We were like, well, maybe we should play shows with these people.”
With a new project in mind, he set about penning songs in the fuzzy, stoned register of Thee Oh Sees and Ty Seagal. Petty, meanwhile, got reacquainted with her old instrument.
“I started playing bass in eighth grade or something, but then I didn’t play again until Funny Face,” Petty says.
After a few years of being a band in Tacoma, the couple moved back to San Jose to be closer to Szyndrowski’s father, who was badly sick. Having spent half a lifetime in a wash of lo-fi bands and cheap rent, the experience shook something out of Szyndrowski. He cut out drinking, began dealing with his father’s affairs and set about writing a more sharpened set of songs.
“I started focusing on trying to create something that could have a lasting effect,” he says. “Before we were thinking, ‘All our songs suck. They’re all recorded shitty. No one’s going to listen to it over and over, it’s all hiss.’ I’d never really made an album that was sonically pleasing and catchy and just a tape-flipper, so that was what I was trying to do.”
Despite sounding very much like a live band, the album was recorded in true COVID-era fashion: piecemeal over the internet. Songs began with scratch (temporary) guitar and bass tracks recorded on a laptop in Szyndrowski and Petty’s dining room. From there, they went to a drummer in LA, the rhythm man for Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. and indie-pop group the Drums. Then, songs came back to Szyndrowski and Petty, who went about drenching them in fuzzy guitars, thick slabs of bass and layers upon layers of atmospherics.
“I think we got 40 tracks on one song, just doubling guitars,” Szyndrowski says.
Finally, everything was sent to San Jose’s District Studios for mixing, giving the whole project a significant jump in fidelity and sheen. While the project passed through many hands, Szyndrowski says the bulk of the album’s sound comes from its mixing.
“I would attribute a lot of that to Ryan at District,” Szyndrowski says.
Bits of San Jose appear all throughout Dog in Hell, from the “East Hills” to the “98 Civic” seen zooming down 880 and 87. Explosive opener “Seventeen,” meanwhile, features plenty of things that would be familiar to any teenager in America.
“Reckless rebellion, going outside, not giving a fuck, hating school—it’s the culmination of what we all went through when we were seventeen.”
Now in their 30s and more mature, Funny Face look back fondly on the time. There will be more teenage years to come. Dog in Hell isn’t the only thing the duo are bringing into the world this year.
“We’re going to have a baby in five months,” Petty says. “It’s kind of exciting: Funny Face House baby.”
Youth Riot Records