As the hippies of Westeros once said in the days of old: “Summer is coming.” Festival season is finally upon us, frends, and we’re kicking off our summer coverage for the 6th Annual Disc Jam Music Festival, which takes place in Stephentown, New York from June 9th – 12th. As you might remember from last summer, with our festival coverage we like to shine a spotlight on some exciting lineup bands with pre-festival interviews (Twiddle, Kung Fu, Moon Hooch). So, for the first installment of our “Road to Disc Jam” interview series, we caught up with Chuck Jones (bass, bottom left) and Scotty Zwang (drums, bottom right) of Dopapod. For those unfamiliar with Dopapod, it’s a kick-ass jam band based out of Boston, comprised of Chuck, Scott, Eli Winderman (keys), Rob Compa (guitar) and Luke Stratton (sound & lights). The guys just finished off an epic three-night run in Boston, and are currently gearing up for two sets as a featured headliner at this year’s Disc Jam. We’re still mystified by the idea and meaning behind “The Dopapod Orchestra” (see below), which was left unexplained with this conversation, so I guess the question will have to be answered within the campgrounds of Disc Jam. If you haven’t yet, get your passes here. As an ending note, we just read Rob Compa will be joining Kung Fu & Sophistafunk as a guest artist at tomorrow’s Brooklyn Bowl concert. Tickets for that show are available right here.
Sound Fix: Hey Chuck & Scotty – thanks for taking some time here to answer some questions ahead of the summer festivities. With my interviews, I like to not only dig into the band itself, but also the individual musician. If you wouldn’t mind explaining who each of you were before Dopapod, and a bit about your personal musical origins, I think that would be a great place to start.
Scotty Zwang: I’ve been playing my instrument for about 20 years, maybe 19. I have this argument with my Dad all the time, about whether he got me my first drum set when I was 9 or 10. I’ve done everything from playing theatre gigs in a pit band, to Jazz Bands and The Real Book, to just playing in different rock bands for years and years. Then when I was about 21 or 22, I started playing in the jam band scene, primarily electronic stuff. I’ve also just kind of been the resident “new guy,” bouncing around from band to band. The first band I was in was this group called Sonic Spank, from Philadelphia. I did that for two years or so, then played with this one called Greenhouse Lounge, which I had the pleasure of performing with at Catskill Chill in 2013. After Greenhouse I joined Dopapod at the tail end of 2013, I think it was October 16th, if I’m not mistaken.
Chuck Jones: I started playing bass when I was 11 or 12, right in between 8th and 9th grade. All throughout high school I played music with a couple friends, and we would get together every weekend to practice and jam. During the week our school had a music program, where we played tunes and learned theory. During high school I didn’t care or put as much effort into theory as I really should have. Then between Junior and Senior year of high school, I went to Berklee for their summer performance program. During that summer I fell in love with the school, and the experience opened my eyes as to how much there was to learn within music. That program got me excited, so when I got home I applied to Berklee, got in, and started up there the following Fall for four and a half years of formal music schooling. I played music with Eli, the keyboard player in Dopapod, in pretty much every music project I was in throughout Berklee. He started Dopapod at Berklee, maybe during our second or third year, and then I joined as a Senior. After that, we were pretty much gigging every weekend. Then I graduated, and everyone was done with school, and at that point we all went to Berklee to be musicians, and we were all still playing music, so we all decided we really liked the band, and we liked playing with each other, so we continued on. That was in 2010 and we’ve been doing it every since, everyday in some way, shape, or form.
SF: Continuing with this chronology, tell us the story about how Dopapod came to fruition. What was that of moment where you decided to create the band or run with the concept?
CJ: I don’t know if there was ever a specific moment for me. Scotty’s pretty new, he joined in 2013, but for the rest of us, it sort of just made sense, and it was feeling good. There was always something new, and it was always progressive, so we’ve never really plateaued or got too stale. So after a year or two of that exciting progression, we started to consistently be better and get better gigs. It’s been a very enjoyable uphill ride. We got to the point where last summer we did Red Rocks and we did Bonnaroo, which were both awesome, and we had a huge fall tour with the Nth Power. So since our inception there’s always been something new and better to make the ride incredibly enjoyable.
SF: It’s funny you mentioned Bonnaroo, because I was there covering the festival when you performed. Your show was the first one I took my friends to at Bonnaroo and it definitely kicked the weekend off in the right way. We were upset by the lack of jam bands at Roo, but you represented the scene incredibly well.
CJ: We were excited about the opportunity, and had no idea how it was going to pan out. When we got there, and looking back, we’ve never had a more excited audience, like ever. It was a different beast than Boston. We had 10,000 people just chanting our name before we got out there, and I think that was one of those moments where we were all thinking, “hell yeah, this is it, we’re a real band, there’s thousands upon thousands of people out there excited to see us perform”
SZ: It’s been a crazy ride for me as well. And as you were saying about the progression of Dopapod, although I’m relatively new, I remember Dopapod when it was Eli and Mikey, who’s in Turkuaz now, and I just kind of followed the progression of this band. After watching it for years, I started to think, “that’s what I need! I need a band of that caliber, where there’s really no rules of what style of music to play, and everyone feeds off of each other and brings something to the table.” I always wanted a band like that, and I never really thought that I’d be in Dopapod one day.
And back to Bonnaroo, I’ve wanted to play Bonnaroo for years. The first time I attended was in 2006, when it still very much was a jam band festival. They had Radiohead headlining, and there were definitely a couple of different more mainstream bands, especially headliner-wise. But at that time it was very much a jam band festival. Then when I worked for a band that played in 2009, I couldn’t believe just how obscure it was. For example one day they had a metal stage, where one of the tents was a lineup of metal bands, and then at night they had Nine Inch Nails. So for me, when I think for my bandmates as well, we listen to a lot of different music. Although we’re in a jam band, Chuck and I are into a lot of Punk Rock music. So to be able to go to a festival like Bonnaroo, especially play it, it’s nice to go and check out a lot these bands that we’ve heard of, and are in love with now, that span all genres. As much as I really loved and respected the giant jam band festival that Bonnaroo was back in the day, it’s very interesting and exciting to see how it’s changed over the years.
SF: So was Bonnaroo one of those moments where you thought “ah-hah,” we’ve made it, at least to a degree?
CJ: I guess Bonnaroo was that moment. I mean, I really think we have established ourselves, and there have been various points where we’ve realized we’re doing stuff that is long-lasting. Even that moment where we realized people started hating us, we thought, “hey that’s weird!” You know? At this point I don’t really care about that noise, and I by no means am comparing us to Jimi Hendrix, but he has some quotes saying not to listen to the criticisms of others, because it’s distracting. So now I think along those lines, where I try to not let someone else’s opinions in too much.
SW: I fully agree with what Chuck is saying. Good or bad, none of that really matters. It’s nice to know we can be ourselves and do what we want to do, and I think people appreciate that. We can watch the band grow to something like Roo where 10-15,000 people are there, and a majority of them are there before you go on, chanting your name. I never would’ve expected that in a million years. As far as the success goes, and where or not we’ve made it, I’m happy with where we’re at, and I’m really happy with the rate things are growing. How long will it last? I really have no idea, and I would really hope it will last for a lifetime, as far as a band and music career goes. But you know, you never really know. It’s definitely encouraging and exciting to do this when you have a festival that you really resect and have all of those people chanting your name. It’s incredibly hard to explain the feeling that goes through your body and the thoughts that run through your mind when all of that is happening. You definitely have to take a step back and just look at it and think “holy shit!”
SF: Yeah guys, that’s awesome. I vividly remember that set and thinking it must’ve been an amazing moment for your band. So one of my favorite Dopapod songs is “Bubble Brain.” That said, what are your favorite songs to play in concert?
SZ: That’s a really hard question to ask, because I guess we’re all so close to the music, so it’s hard to name one right off the bat. I mean I’m a big fan of “Brain Dead.” For me, before I joined the band, it was one of my favorite songs, and now that I’m in the band and get to play it as often as I do, it’s one of those songs where it’s so difficult to play at times, especially certain parts of it, that I just feel good about myself, and honored, that if I plaid it correctly, I did a great job. I was watching a Rush documentary, and Neil Peart talks about playing “Tom Sawyer,” or one of those songs, and how because it’s such a difficult part to play that when he plays it, he feels good about himself when he’s able to pull it off.
CJ: Right now I’m really into as much improvisation as possible. I don’t know how to explain this the right way, but I’ve stopped trying to take myself, or us, or anything, too seriously, you know? There’s a fine line of getting up there and being a professional and practicing, but when you get up there, we’re just playing music, you know? If we play a bad show to us, or someone else, it doesn’t really matter, you know? I’ve been really trying to focus on that lately. Also, I didn’t smoke weed for a long time, and I’ve been smoking a little more recently, so that’s been awesome. Honestly, I get a little high and I get up there and improvise and it’s been really really enjoyable. I’m gettin a kick out of it. Just to be completely honest. **laughs** You can publish that, I don’t care! It’s almost legal, right?
SF: So for the second layer of that question, which might be easier to answer since you’re not as close to these songs, but if you had to choose one of your favorite songs to cover, what would that be?
CJ: We covered “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden a couple times, before we were with Scotty. I really like that one. When that one hits, it feels good, because it’s so slow and it’s so sludgy. When it’s working and Eli does the melody and all the tones are there, it’s a really powerful song that I love to perform.
SZ: For me, my favorite song to cover is one I never heard of before, and then Chuck presented it to the band to cover. It’s this song called “Squarefoot” by Rudder, which has one of my favorite drummers, and one of Chuck’s favorite bassists. It’s just a really fun song to play, there’s something quirky and silly about it.
SF: Stepping away from music for a second, I want to dig in to your personalities a bit. What is your one favorite movie?
SZ: It’s hard to say a favorite, but off the top of my head, Ace Ventura Pet Detective is front of mind. Chuck and I were watching it the other night. It’s the funniest shit non-stop like the entire time. **laughs**
CJ: Yep! **laughs** I think one of my favorites, I’ve been watching it forever, that pops into my mind, is Terminator 2. I fucking love that goddamn movie. It’s everything I want in a movie. I think my dad showed it to me way too early, I was 8 or something?
SF: Did you see Terminator Genesis?
SZ: I stopped after 2, might’ve seen 3, Rise Against the Machines? But after that I stopped. I didn’t want to ruin the classic.
CJ: I unfortunately watched the third and the fourth, which were both pieces of shit.
SF: If you had to choose just one, what is your favorite band of all time?
CJ: Probably The Headhunters. I found out about them 10 years ago, but I just love Herbie Hancock and the Head Headhunters. (below)
SZ: Honestly, just overall, between their songwriting and energy, I’m a giant Foo Fighters fan. In fact, I kind of base my entire career off Dave Grohl’s life. So I would have to go with Foo Fighters.
SF: So this is kind of a strange question…if it’s wishy washy, we can scrap it, but thought I’d give it a shot. Why do you create music?
SZ: Ooo that’s a good one! Chuck do you want to go first on this?
CJ: Yeah, I think the easiest answer that I’ve told people when they ask why I you do this and what’s my connection to this, is I think that music just in general has given me my highest highs, and my lowest lows.
SZ: I guess I would also have to add to that, because I kind of feel the same way. I feel it’s almost a kind of necessity. If I didn’t play music in front of people, as much as I do love performing, I would need to play music. And there are definitely moments when we’re out on the road, most of the time for six to seven weeks before we have a break, and when I get home I don’t want to play my instrument. As bad as that might sound, I kind of just feel that sometimes that’s imporant, and the reason I know that I play music, and why I love it so much, is when I don’t play my instrument for like a week, or even a couple days, I really, really, really miss it. And when I do get to play, especially in frotn of peole, there’s just something refreshing about it, and I just love it with all my heart.
SF: Just three more questions, thanks for your time here guys. I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but tell us about the origins of the name “Dopapod.”
CJ: Eli, our keyboard player, came up with the name, before either of us were in the band. He just put the words “Dope” and “Pod” next to each other, and it didn’t look good with the “Dope,” and with an “a,” it happened to make a palindrome. I think there was an intention to tie it to the word “Dopamine” too, versus “Dope” as in heroin. We play jam band music, so most people listening to us are on pot anyways, including a few of our members. **laughs**
SF: What new music does Dopapod have in the works right now? What can we expect in the coming year or so?
SZ: Well we definitely have a handful of songs that we’ve been working on while on the road, and with the little bits of free time that we have had. But a lot of the new music we have has been heard by people while on the road over the past six months. You know, we’re definitely gearing towards taking some time to able to write and finish some new music. Eli is always writing. He’s got a lot of stuff on deck and in the back burner, whether it’s completed compositions or just an idea. Normally when we all get together, Chuck or Rob will have some little riff or direction that they’ll want to take his ideas in. But as far as concrete new stuff goes, there is material in the works, but nothing that’s ready for release. We have a lot of ideas that are ready to be expanded and turned into songs, but we’ve just been touring so much, that it’s been hard to find ample time.
CJ: Yeah i think that’s pretty much where we’re at.
SF: Alright guys, this last question isn’t really a question, but an open forum. If there’s anything you’d like to add that we didn’t cover here, now’s your time!
SZ: If you haven’t already, get your Disc Jam passes. We’ll be playing two sets at that festival. Don’t miss out!