Posted by: Necci – Aug 16, 2012
“Jam Bands” are inherently un-hip these days. Perhaps the groups that comprise the genre have done it to themselves, with their seemingly endless guitar noodling music and patchouli-reeking, pot-smoking, hemp-wearing, dreadlock-flapping, hula hoop-spinning (I really could go on and on) fanbase. New York City’s Dopapod, however, is different. Very different. I had the opportunity to see them play at The Camel on August 9th. Here’s what went through my head as I watched their show.
The live music world really is different than it was even ten years ago. With the help of social media and the internet in general, we music fans have unrelenting opportunities to see bands that we have never heard of - groups that probably would not even exist without the help of the fast-paced information age that we currently live in. With so much music out there, it’s getting more and more difficult to pigeonhole a band into a particular genre. This, in my mind, is a good thing, and exactly why Dopapod is important.
Dopapod isn’t so much a jam band as they are a band that improvises. They are an electronic band without computers. They are a metal band with groove and soul. They are a jazz group with less wine and more acid. They are what would happen if Zappa, Yes, Deadmau5, and The Meters all sat down for a cup of coffee. They are the breath of fresh air that the jam scene (which they seem to have innocently fallen into) has needed ever since it grew stale.
All of the members of this prog-jazz-rock-electro-jam quartet went to Berklee College of Music, and their knowledge of music theory is certainly palpable. Their mostly instrumental compositions are intricate, yet the circuitous nature of their music does not stop them from catching a groove and riding it into the improvisational cosmos. From the moment Dopapod struck their first chord at The Camel, the audience was entranced by the spectacle that is a Dopapod show: impeccable musicianship, colossal songs, and a light show that would rival any concert at The National or a venue of similar capacity. I could even picture Dopapod on the stage of a large amphitheater or an arena; their sound is certainly conducive to a show of that magnitude, yet The Camel was only at half-capacity. I felt lucky to be in attendance.
With such a small audience, Dopapod made this show particularly intimate by bantering with the crowd, throwing in teases of the “Rugrats” and “Doug” theme songs, as well as tinkering with the melody of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” during their set-closing composition,“Onionhead.” Dopapod’s live show was fun, thought-provoking, and euphoria-inducing--all things that a concert should provide in some form or another. It was truly an experience that I feel like every fan of music should have.
I was able to catch up with Rob Compa, Dopapod’s guitarist, for a few words after the show:
So, Rob, what’s your favorite part about being on the road?
Always playing music. That, tied with getting to hang out with the other guys in the band. They’re my best friends. Those are the top two, I think. They might be different tomorrow, you never know. But also meeting new people and seeing new places. I didn’t get to travel much as a kid - I’ve still never left the United States. So, it’s cool to have an excuse to travel a lot, and see the country, you know, get around. It’s also really cool to watch the crowds grow. That’s a neat thing.
You guys have blown up pretty fast, I’d say, for the type of band that doesn’t really get radio play. Where do you think your sudden success has come from?
Well, good music, at least I hope it’s good. I think that’s the most important thing. But, definitely having a good booking agent. The strategy involved in that is something I never took into consideration until we already had an agent. Our guy, Tom Baggett, is smart, y’know? When we first got together with him he put together all these points of, like, “Here’s what we need to do and here’s how we’re gonna do it.” He’s done a lot for us. Also, good business sense is really important. Good advertising, cool ways of getting people excited, like facebook or whatever. Just crazy shit that gets people excited. Another big thing for us was getting our sound and light guy, Luke Stratton. By that point, once you have somebody doing sound for you every night, you don’t have to worry about where the levels are or anything like that. You can focus on the music. The lights really help draw the crowd in, too.
So, the last time I saw you guys here in Richmond, you were a completely instrumental band. What prompted you all to add songs with vocals into your repertoire?
I mean, I’ve sung for a long time. I sing all the time, just not with this band, you know? It just got to a point where, Eli was writing all of these songs--he writes most of the songs, we all help kinda, put them together. But as fun as writing instrumental music is, eventually you start repeating your ideas and you need to find something new to do, and you always need to evolve. You need to change. So that was how we changed. And it was natural for us, it wasn’t like this forced thing. It was more fun… we got kind of tired of never singing. It’s pretty funny, we didn’t feel a whole lot of pressure to make the change from being an only instrumental band, but you’d get those people that were like, “You gotta sing. If you want to make it in this business, you gotta sing.” And other people would be like, “I noticed you guys are only instrumental… badass!” But we weren’t filling anyone’s requests or anything, we were just doing what we wanted to do.
So as far as the improvisational aspect of your music goes, I’ve noticed that a lot of times it’s hard to distinguish the improv from the written-out compositions. You guys really have a way of communicating on stage and kind of doing things on the fly. What do you think that’s a result of?
I think improvising is just a part of every show for us. We’ve always wanted it to be compositional improvisation. We don’t want somebody just soloing, because that happens a lot. We really like it to be like, we’re composing on the fly, creating repeating motifs and things like that. So when people can’t tell the difference between like, “I don’t know if this is a song or if they’re improvising," that’s what we want. That’s the way we like it. As far as how we achieve that, if it’s even anything out of the ordinary, I don’t know, I think theory and ear training have a lot to do with it. Chuck [Bass] and Neal [Drums] are always improvising together and listening together, you know as a rhythm section. Me and Eli [keyboards] are always listening to each other creating melodic ideas, and I think Chuck is really the bridge between those two separate things. I think it works really well because on one hand, Chuck and Neal are total metal-heads. They have really similar taste. Me and Eli happen to have really similar vocabulary. The first time we jammed, it was just easy. But that didn’t really manifest itself at live shows in the beginning because we were too polite to each other, you know? Like I would hear something that Eli was doing and I’d want to contribute, but I wouldn’t want him to get mad at me after the gig or something, or be like “Why did you stop playing chords during that section?” But eventually, however long in, we just realized that we could do whatever we want. And that started working out for us.
So what do you see in the future for Dopapod?
Rob: I really don’t know. I’d just like for us to continue with the momentum we have and see where that takes us. A lot of times, with being on the road and all that, I have to remind myself that we’re already “here.” We’ve already “made it.” And by that I mean we can support ourselves with music, not that we’re famous or anything. But people come out and see us play shows, and they enjoy it. That’s all I can really ask for. The stuff we’re doing now is the stuff that I was dreaming about when I was 15 years old. You know, I was failing english tests and dreaming about playing music. So while I don’t want to sound complacent, we are really grateful for where we are now and I can’t really ask for anything more.
Check out Dopapod’s newest album, “Drawn Onward” at Dopapod.com. Also, keep your eyes peeled for more Dopapod tour dates in Richmond!
By George Gilliam