Dreamboat’s debut single “Cover to Cover” is a bracing endorphin rush. The sharp, choppy and melodic tune, released in June, kicks off with guitarist Nic Pugh’s chiming clangorous intro before diving into a cloud layer of grimy distortion. Over Tony Pugliese’s ferocious drumming and Caiti Mason’s pulsing bass, Sydney Nieboer’s taunting, snarling vocals kick in.
“I read it cover to cover/And I feel the same way/Say hello to your brother/I hear that he has changed…”
The song’s a swaggering, take-no-prisoners beast, where Pugh’s razor sharp guitar darts in and out of the vocals while tangling with the crack rhythm section. At the same time, Nieboer’s lyrics and delivery suggest a bruised vulnerability lurking under the bravado. That impression is borne out seconds later when the tune dips into a sinister sounding bridge.
“You put your hands on me/You trapped it just to feel/Small bones under your feet/Pleasure from hide and seek…”
“[Pugh and I] decided we should do a Riot Grrrl-based band, energy-wise, but with sensitive lyrics that could connect with people,” says Nieboer, who is also a fan of pretty-sounding layered shoegaze like My Bloody Valentine. “I was like, ‘We can mesh the two together somehow, where we can make it dreamy and pretty, but also raw.”
Judging by the single, the musical collaborators have succeeded in their goal. “Cover to Cover” stirs up a welter of emotions, but amid the song’s anger, hope, defiance and confusion, the prevailing feeling is an open-hearted empathy as deep as the Marianas Trench. (Dreamboat will perform the song along with a raft of other tunes at an Aug. 26 show at Snug Harbor celebrating the release of the band’s self-titled debut EP.)
“Cover to Cover” is accompanied by an equally electrifying video, directed by Josh Rob Thomas. Here, Nieboer barrels through Plaza Midwood, bristling with anger. She tips over a patron’s drink at Two Scoops Creamery, kicks a dude vomiting on the sidewalk and even rips a copy of Queen City Nerve out of a hapless reader’s hands.
The video is more than a just visualized rant; it’s punk-pop art with a character arc. Nieboer’s victims retaliate, ganging up on her and beating her bloody before she plunges into a fountain. She emerges seemingly reborn onstage and subsequently entertains an energized crowd at Petra’s as “Cover to Cover” gallops to an abrupt close.
Nieboer says she’s a private person, who prefers to leave the meaning of the lyrics she pens open to interpretation. Nevertheless, she reveals that the feelings of anger and betrayal portrayed in the song and video — and the subsequent journey of working through those emotions — are autobiographical.
“I was sexually abused by a family member, and that rage festered in me for a long time,” Nieboer says. “I feel like I let it out on people that didn’t deserve it, even strangers.”
Nieboer declines to go into any other details about the traumatic experience, and she has never sought professional therapy. Instead, music making has become her way of coping.
“Instead of letting it eat me alive, I [thought I’d] channel it into something positive, maybe reach people,” she says. The goal, Nieboer says, is to help people to stop seeing themselves as a victims, and as survivors and warriors instead.
“Bad things are going to happen to you,” she offers. “It doesn’t define you.”
The hardest thing about Nieboer’s ordeal, she says, is that the person that abused her was someone she loved. Perhaps the empathy found in her lyrics is a reflection of how she processed this fact.
“If it’s someone you loved, you’re upset but you still love them. You still have compassion for them in your heart,” she says.
To that end, the “Cover to Cover” video deals with the anger spurred by abuse and subsequent trauma. If you take your anger out on others, those people may very well turn against you.
“That’s why the mob comes after me. Then I understand. It’s an awakening,” Nieboer says. In the video she comes out stronger and more resilient.
“[I] turn that pain into art; turn it into a song that people could dance to and scream to and have a good time; take something ugly and make something beautiful out of it.”
California dreaming, Sewercide and NYC
Nieboer grew up in the Los Angeles area, where her family was steeped in popular music. Her grandfather, Robert Gil, played jazz piano on The Afro Cuban Beat’s 1959 album Hot Skins and the Art Pepper, Shelly Manne collaborative Pepper Manne LP from 1963. Nieboer remembers taking naps under her grandfather’s piano, drooping off while listening to him play. As a child, she was captivated by songs from ’60s girl groups like The Shangri-Las, happy-sounding tunes about dark subjects like biker gangs. It’s a sonic equivalent of the chiaroscuro that shows up in her current music.
Nieboer also started writing songs and lyrics. She formed a group with her siblings, and they performed music at a local coffee shop and other small venues.
When she was 13, Nieboer’s family could no longer afford L.A., so she and her family moved to Cornelius. Nieboer says she has been home-schooled most of her life, and had few friends because of it. Instead, she found nourishment in music. The first album she rented from the library was by ’90s Riot Grrrl band Babes in Toyland.
“It shook my whole world,” Nieboer remembers. “They were badass and … had so much energy.” Nieboer’s taste expanded to similar bands like Bikini Kill and classic female and female-fronted artists like The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith.
After graduating from home-schooled high school in her backyard with only her parents in attendance, Nieboer began a relationship with future Paint Fumes guitarist Elijah von Cramon. In 2008, the couple moved into a house on Woodvale Place in Charlotte. They got engaged and started performing in a punk band called Syd and the Lipshits. The band’s music was free-form punk rock.
“[Elijah] would play something and I would start screaming something on the spot about being on my period and how much it hurt me, or whatever,” Nieboer remembers.
Within a year, von Cramon had formed rock band Paint Fumes and the house on Woodvale Place had become an infamous and legendary party house called Sewercide Mansion. Paint Fumes played shows and booked other Charlotte bands for gigs in the house’s dank, graffiti festooned basement, which became packed with twenty-somethings.
“It was crazy,” Nieboer remembers. “There would be hundreds of kids that would show up out of the woodwork.”
Living in a party house soon took its toll on Nieboer.
“There were beer cans and piss everywhere. It was chaos, and I couldn’t live like that.”
She moved out and broke up with von Cramon, but they remain good friends to this day.
Nieboer attended self-financed classes at Central Piedmont Community College, studying sculpture and ballet. On the recommendation of her mother, who is a hairdresser, Nieboer attended and graduated from the Aveda Arts & Sciences Institute in south Charlotte. In 2011, she moved to New York City and started working at a hair salon.
“I was trying to escape Charlotte, grow as a person and try to figure out what kind of person I wanted to be,” Nieboer says.
Soon she started doing hair on photo shoots for Teen Vogue and other clients. She also branched out into wig making for New York company Campbell Young Associates, making wigs for Broadway, movies, TV shows and for celebrities that wanted a personal wig for awards shows or galas.
“I always wanted to make wigs,” says Nieboer, who likens the process to creating art. While in New York, Nieboer returned to writing songs. Several songs written during this period appear on Dreamboat’s upcoming debut EP. One example, “Glitter Eyes,” is about a friend from Nieboer’s New York days, a fellow beautician who ultimately committed suicide. Nieboer stresses, however, that the song is a high-energy and positive tune, focusing on the happy memories she has of her friend.
“It’s a song about my memory of her, how I’ve changed, and how I can see her in the clouds all the time,” she says.
In contrast, “Relic” is a sad and deeply personal song drawing on the fate of Nieboer’s beloved aunt, who was her hero for turning her onto ’70s rock ‘n’ roll and ’80s new wave. Tragically, Nieboer’s role model died from the effects of alcoholism when she was 14.
“’Relic’ is about addiction — when you’re addicted to something and you let it destroy you, and you [become] a relic in the ground,” Nieboer says.
Another song, “Woozy,” is about the end of a relationship. “When you are in a relationship with someone and you’re really committed to the idea of having a family and growing old with that person, and then it ends, you feel like you want to throw up,” Nieboer says.
After six years in New York, Nieboer had a reckoning.
“I looked around myself and it seemed like everyone was unhappy. They were working too hard, and they didn’t have their own life,” she says.
She closed that chapter and returned to Charlotte in 2017.
In the midst of the COVID pandemic in 2020, Nieboer was cutting hair to make some extra money.
“Sydney and I met through our friend Elijah (von Cramon) during the pandemic,” Nic Pugh says. “We were all in lockdown and he asked Syd if she’d be comfortable with us coming to her house to get haircuts.”
They immediately hit it off.
Pugh, who grew up in Mooresville, began playing guitar at age 14. Inspired by his mother’s music collection of Thin Lizzy, Queen, Snoop Dogg and Notorious BIG, he was drawn to Charlotte by rock shows at the now-demolished Tremont Music Hall.
“I went almost every weekend and it was like being a little kid at Christmas every time,” Pugh says.
He subsequently moved south to the Queen City at age 18. By the time Pugh met Nieboer, he had released an album as Nic Pugh and the Bad News in 2019 and had started playing bass in Paint Fumes.
“[Nieboer] mentioned that she was interested in playing in a band again and I was like ‘You should come over and we’ll write some songs then!’” Pugh remembers. At first, the pair wrote full-tilt Riot Grrrl songs with thermonuclear riffs and Nieboer screaming.
“Then I said, ‘I have a bunch of songs that I can show you,’” Nieboer remembers. “[Pugh] saw they were sentimental, emotional and [that they] told my story.”
Right then, the two friends realized that their music was going to be different. The pair began writing in earnest, Nieboer drawing from the lyrics and tunes she had composed in New York, and Pugh fleshing them out or bringing song skeletons in himself.
“We work on vocal patterns together,” Pugh says of the pair’s songwriting process. “Once we’re happy with [a song] we bring it to the band and they do their thing with it.”
First, however, Dreamboat had to be assembled. After Nieboer and Pugh had written a few tunes together, Pugh approached Pullover bassist Caiti Mason to join.
“Caiti was a friend,” Nieboer says. “We sent her two or three songs that we had demoed, and she was like, ‘I love it. I want to be part of it.’ She started coming to our practices and we just clicked.”
“As soon as [Mason] started working with us, we knew we had something cool,” Pugh says.
Drummer Tony Pugliese came in and recorded the EP, along with first single “Cover to Cover” with the band. He ultimately stepped away from Dreamboat, so the band recruited Coughing Dove drummer Nicholas Holman.
“He’s crazy talented,” Pugh says.
With their lineup set, Dreamboat released a second single, “Best I Ever,” off the upcoming EP in July. Unlike the debut single, the song about a fracturing relationship is not personal, Nieboer says. Instead, it’s a kind of short story — fiction instead of autobiography.
Pugh hopes Dreamboat can give people music they can relate to. That’s important, he says, because he believes music ultimately belongs to the listeners.
“Once a song is out, it’s not yours anymore,” Pugh says. “Whoever hears it can take it for whatever value they want.”
“What we set out to do, Nic and me, [was to] make a Riot Grrrl band, but with depth, with [the] actual substance of real issues, like family, friendships and lost love — everyday things that happen in life that everyone can relate to,” Nieboer says. “Life is messy, but that’s what makes it beautiful and worth living. Let’s just have a good time and love each other.”