Hiding Out from Your Friends with Rebounder’s Dylan Chenfeld
The singer and songwriter takes Josh Mosh to his favorite secret haunt, Landmark Diner.
By Josh Mosh
This Must Be The Place explores the perfect spots, hidden gems, and secret slash not-so-secret retreats of New York’s luminaries and lunatics.
Hugging the corner of Manhattan’s Centre and Grand streets, Landmark Coffee Shop and Pancake House is an azure relic hiding in plain sight. Squatting on the first floor of a humble two-story brick building (you know those air rights must be crazy), Landmark is an old-school greasy spoon of a diner–a narrow slit of a restaurant too tight for more than one row of tables, the counter space serving as makeshift storage for high stacks of surplus cases of Snapple.
This enviable real estate feels like an anomaly in the chic downtown neighborhood developers are trying to rebrand as Solita. With its wide bright windows wrapping fully around two walls, unassuming interior, and modestly priced plates of basic breakfast foods, the eatery feels almost like an empty shop front set dressed to stand in for some TV show set 30 years ago. In this anachronistic time capsule, I meet up with New York’s own Dylan Chenfield, the musical mastermind behind nostalgic indie pop-rock outfit Rebounder.
Boasting nearly half a million monthly listeners and many millions more plays, Rebounder is a modern avatar of the downtown scene. Channeling Julian Casablancas’ sneering, casual cool charisma through a retro-modernist, TikTok-ready style, their pitch-perfect production shares DNA with indie rock darlings from Vampire Weekend to the Neighborhood, a collaborator on hit track “Change Shapes.” Unafraid of a little club rendezvous, Rebounder also recently released a Nightime Version of their song, “Boy Friday.”
A songwriter’s songwriter, Dylan’s compositions reflect the cultural hub of the city as a time and a place, even if it’s a time that’s past and a place that’s perpetually just about to open. In a city where change is unavoidable and the trends don’t stop, Landmark feels blessedly content with its understated self.
“I feel like one day we’ll walk out of here and turn around, and it’ll be a Starbucks. Or, statistically speaking, it’ll be like a bank. I really hope that doesn’t happen,” Dylan says. “A place like this will never open up in this neighborhood again. Just the location, windows on two different streets. All this natural light. I feel like I’m at home in the early 90’s.”
The waitress, a middle-aged woman wearing a face mask, comes by to take our orders with an impatient but not unfriendly tempo typical among line cooks and their consorts. Dylan orders a number 4 over easy, hold the home fries, without looking at the menu. The waitress seems shocked. “You can’t really eat potatoes before noon,” Dylan claims. “Hash browns and home fries are a classic breakfast food,” I argue, “Too potato-y for me. That might be my issue,” he admits with a smile. “Can I sub french fries? I’ll get french fries.” He tells the waitress, she makes a small but noticeably triumphant hand gesture and jots it down. I order a shortstack with a side of bacon and assure her that fresh squeezed orange juice is more than alright. The food comes and is perfect.
Josh: What is it about Landmark that’s special to you?
Dylan: During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time isolated in the studio with my brother Noah, but being inside a space can make you crazy, even if all your toys are there. We began finishing songs at a much faster clip than we used to, which is great, but I was often in a position where I needed to finish the lyrics after the music and melodies were already there. So I needed a place to write where I could actually focus. I basically treat this place as a library with eggs.
Josh: On your band’s website, under contact info, you say, “Just walk around downtown until you run into us.” That’s funny.
Dylan: It’s a joke, but it’s true. I can’t write at Cafe Mogador; I can’t write at Veselka. I don’t know anyone at this restaurant, and nobody knows me. I like to come here because I never run into friends here. It’s uninterrupted time, and that’s so rare. I’m so thrilled to be part of a music community or a downtown community, but it can get in the way of actually getting shit done. You know there’s an Adderall shortage, I'm trying to focus and get shit done!
Josh: That makes sense. This place is surprisingly peaceful. There isn’t even any music playing or distractingly bad art on the walls unless you count that Baby Yoda clock by the grill, which I don’t.
Dylan: Exactly, but at the same time, it’s not dead. I think it’s important to be outside around people and not just friends. So much of my work is internal. I write a lot of songs myself, or I write them with my brother, but even then, it’s still just two people in a windowless room a lot. Anything I can do to mix that up, shake that up, I need that. When I’m just working on lyrics, I don’t need to be around a bunch of vintage synthesizers and mixers, so I try to find a place with some natural light and get away from screens and distractions.
Josh: I work from home, so I can relate. I spend days without leaving the house sometimes. It’s not great for the old creative juices.
Dylan: Absolutely. I try to give myself this time at Landmark at least once a week. It’s actually easier to work as an artist with structure, than it is to go the other way. And it took me a minute to figure it out. It doesn’t sound sexy, but I treat my music like a job. I’m in my studio every day, I clock in, I clock out. But I’m always seeking opportunities to escape my normal habits and expand my abilities. That’s why I love working with other musicians or filmmakers whatever.
Josh: What other projects are you working on?
Dylan: I just scored a film; they wanted something 80s-inspired with elements of Italo-disco. I was like, let’s fucking go. I could listen to Italo-disco all day long. I also produce for other bands and artists. I love working with someone who knows what they’re looking for and can give me an assignment. I love coloring inside the lines because it helps me focus on something specific.
Josh: I’ve always said rules can be valuable for an artist. A blank canvas is intimidating.
Dylan: Yes, but it’s hard to make your own rules, and impose them on yourself. You can impose them on me when you’re paying me to work on your song all day, but it's a different story when it’s just me working on myself. But you have to find a way to keep creating. Sometimes, you have to give yourself an assignment. I want to find a way to put more of those rules on my own work.
Josh: I feel like collaboration can force you to be more disciplined with yourself because you’re not just working for yourself. You have other people you have to accommodate and work with, too.
Dylan: The better Rebounder does, and the better the production stuff goes, ideally, I can be like Jack Antoneff, but with people that dress well. You know what I mean? His band is only allowed to open up for cool bands because he’s a good producer.
And that’s why I love working for other people, too. The more non-Rebounder opportunities I can do, the more I can learn because Rebounder is insular. We’ve brought very few people into Rebounder, but CT (Chris Tomson) from Vampire Weekend played drums on our new song, and he helped write the song with us, that was a very cool experience.
Josh: Nice. A therapist once told me I shouldn’t be a writer because it’s too lonely and you don’t make any money.
Dylan: After the pandemic, we all spent so much time alone in the apartment; even if you’re making the Mona Lisa in there, you still want to get out and see other people, even if you don’t want to talk to them. That’s what Landmark does for me. It’s the perfect balance between a cell in solitary confinement and a party with all my friends. Sometimes I just need to go somewhere that’s like nowhere. I think it's important to constantly create and switch it up if you get stuck.