(with Dan Cook)
April 15, 2002
Remember when Jimmy Page did the unthinkable and got Whitesnake's David Coverdale to sing lead for him in the early '90s? Now imagine Page moving another ten years forward and getting Soundgarden's Chris Cornell to join him. After listening to a lot of Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, the two decide to record together. Okay, now change the members to Atlantans Dan Cook (vocals, guitar), David Chase (bass) and Brian Hunter (drums) but let the sound remain the same. That's Dropsonic. Within the past year, they have released two new albums that merge the post-Physical Graffitti excess of Zep with the vocal histrionics of Cornell and the moody pop experimentation of Buckley. Last years release The Big Nothing flexes its muscle with huge, intricate Bonham meets Keith Moon drumming, wailing vocals, sludgy bass and melodically dissonant guitars. Chaotic rockers like "The Girl Who" and "Inside Out" sound as if the musicians are about to bottleneck slide off the edge of the earth. After this, Dropsonic spaces into the title track with ethereal, dreamy harmonies and acidic guitars. The songs on both records are more like soundscapes than your typical rock tunes and the crisp, clean, raw production only adds to the theatrical head-trip. Weird syncopations and time signatures underline swooping vocals and snarling bass throughout. The brand new CD Belle is a continuation of the formula, but it also displays a few efforts to escape the Zep trappings. Check out the thick bass hook hypnotism of "Did You Notice." This one manages to be creepy and endearing at the same time. "Eyesore" is full of guitar arpeggios that jangle with iciness instead of warmth and "Congregate" actually manages to work some straightforward pop-punk textures into the band's expanding ouevre. Never fret, though. By the closer "No Reply," they're back to the stomping beats and orange fluid guitar chords. This is where Dropsonic excels. If you like your rock loud, textured, slippery and one step past out there, get these records now. Dropsonic frontman Dan Dixon called me one day and we discussed the band, the comparisons and the future.
CM: What's the basic history of Dropsonic?
Dan Dixon: The story is that Dave, the bass player, and myself have known each other since middle school and we started playing in high school. We started our first band together and started playing instruments together at the same time. He moved to Athens and went to school at UGA and I stayed in Atlanta and started Dropsonic with some other people. He came back and we went through a bunch of different drummers and second guitar players and songs and incarnations and whatnot. Essentially, Dropsonic is the two of us and whoever we're working with. At this point, out drummer's been with us for two records so we feel like he's in the band. He's like a member now.
CM: Do you ever
feel like you fall between stylistic gaps? Do you find that the so-called indie audience
thinks you're too rock and the rock audience considers you too indie?
DD: Yes. We get that all the time actually. Team Clermont wouldn't work our record 'cause it wasn't indie enough and major labels constantly tell us that we just don't sound commercial enough. It's fine. I don't care. I think that eventually, at some point, it's going to work to our advantage anyway.
CM: It seems to me that with your sound you should actually have both the rock and indie audiences at your shows.
DD: Well, we do get some of both. At least we can play at both kinds of shows and get away with it. We did a little tour with Shiner, an indie rock staple, and we did fine. Those guys like us a lot and we're good friends with them. We also opened for The Strokes. On the rock side, we played with Injected at the Roxy, you know, and their audience loved us. Some of our biggest fans are these eighteen and seventeen year old kids that go to see them and now they come to all of our shows. Whenever we play an all ages show, they'll always be there. So we do cross over somewhat. Theres also a certain amount of people who come out and hear us who are indie rock snobs and say "God, you fucking guys sound like Stone Temple Pilots." I don't even like Stone Temple Pilots. So we get a little bit of that.
CM: Yeah, and
everyone mentions Led Zeppelin when describing your sound. Does that drive you insane at
DD: No, I like Led Zeppelin. I hear the comparison. It's not like it escapes me and I'm going to go, "Led Who?" I love Led Zeppelin, but it's not just that. I think there have been bands recently from around these parts like Harvey Milk who, particularly towards the end of their career, were doing straight classic rock rip off music. They were really great; don't get me wrong. I think they knew what they were doing. It was funny in some respects and they were brilliant about it, but that's not what we're doing. I think there are moments when it's like, "Oh, okay that guy's guitar playing kind of sounds like Jimmy Page or the drummer has a little bit of that Bonham thing" or whatever...
CM: Maybe like a more caffeinated Bonham...
DD: Caffeinated? (laughs) You mean Brian sounds a little more spastic? (laughs)
CM: Yeah, I would mention the bit of Keith Moon in there, but your guy is a lot more tight and on the beat whereas Moon would just go way out there.
DD: Yeah, that's true, but on a good day when he wasn't on quaaludes...(laughs)
CM: Exactly, I hear Brian as a non-Quaaluded Moon or a caffeinated Bonham. How's that?
DD: Yeah, and all of those things are influences. Then there's also Girls Against Boys who I really got into as I was coming out of high school and The Jesus Lizard, Fugazi, Sunny Day Real Estate, Shellac and shit like that. There was also a phase where I was really into My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Swervedriver and that kind of shit. It's all in there. I mean there are moments with us that within the same song it may sound like Led Zeppelin then My Bloody Valentine. I get the Thom Yorke bullshit all the time. Now, that's driving me nuts. I don't really sound like Thom Yorke. Unfortunately, I think any guy who sings outside of (the Pearl Jam clones) nowadays gets that, because there's no one else to compare them to. If you're a guy and you don't sing low or scream, you're either Jeff Buckley or Thom Yorke. We had a guy write a review of our last record that said we sounded exactly like Radiohead. We had one review saying that we were ripping off Led Zeppelin and another one that said that it's nothing about Led Zeppelin, but it's outtakes from The Bends or OK Computer. They said that we "obviously produced the record to sound like Radiohead. He said, "They tried so hard to tweak it just so to get the vocals just right." The whole review was like that, and all I could say was "What the fuck?" We were trying to make a record that sounds like Physical Graffiti. I'm ripping off Led Zeppelin, man. (laughs)
CM: I gotta say that I get the Jeff Buckley comparisons in your voice.
DD: From the point
of view of someone who is a singer; I only wish I could do what the fuck Buckley did. I
mean he was amazing. That guy's voice was just unreal. I would never sing that way even if
I could. He was a bit of stunt singer, but he could sing his ass off.
CM: It's good that you have that in the vocal, though, because if you just had someone that sounded like Robert Plant, you would be a parody.
DD: Right. Exactly.
CM: Do you actually try to make your recordings sound like Led Zeppelin?
DD: The thing is, what record sounds better than Physical Graffiti?
CM: So that is what you're setting your sights at.
DD: As far as production value, certainly. Yeah, I mean that's the shit. That's what sounds good to me particularly for the kind of rock music that we play. The truth of the matter is, all (producer) Steve Albini's been doing for the last ten years is ripping off Led Zeppelin drum sounds. The drums on Shellac records and Jesus Lizard records and the Nirvana record that he did sound like Led Zeppelin.
CM: You know he worked on the Page/Plant album, too.
DD: Right, he did the Page and Plant album. What else can you say? How indie rock do you have to be to sound like Led Zeppelin? It's been indie rock to sound like Led Zeppelin for the last ten years but nobody knew it because they weren't listening to Led Zeppelin.
CM: Or they knew it and nobody was admitting it.
DD: Exactly. It was one of the two and I think that's a much discounted fact. Listen to me. (laughs) I don't want people to think I'm some old guy ranting. Let me make that clear. I'm not old and I'm not ranting.
CM: I don't see why it should be a problem to have your record sound like the missing link between Physical Graffiti and Presence.
DD: There's definitely some intentional aping of drum sounds and maybe a little bit in the guitar sounds. The other thing is that when you start to get some of those sounds, you have to get some of the other sounds to have it all fit together on tape sonically so things won't occupy the same kind of space. The guitars are kind of thin sounding and the drums are really fat sounding. The guitar just makes room for the drums to sound so fat and the guitar sounds all thin like Page's did. That's part of it. Once you go in a little bit, you've got to go all the way in. (laughs) I think that you can definitely hear modern influences in our sound, too. That's just my opinion, but I don't think you put on our record and go, "Wow, this sounds just like Zeppelin IV." (Our bass player David) writes as much as I do. I obviously do all the lyrics and melodies and such, but the riffs and a lot of the sources for the songs are probably 50/50 between me and Dave. A lot of the stuff is written around stuff that he'll come up with and we'll just start dicking around and putting stuff over it. That's why a lot of the time my guitar parts aren't so much chords as melodies or these kind of weird dissonant picking parts. They sound really stupid by themselves, but when they go up against the bass line and create a counter melody, it makes it sound like something else.
CM: The fact that you are so melodic and dissonant at the same time is a big key to your sound.
DD: That makes us commercial and indie rock. (laughs) That's the bane of our existence, but that's fine. Next time we'll hire a producer with Pro Tools to make us sound like Nickelback. (laughs) I could do it, I could sing like that guy. Everyone I know has an impression of the Eddie Vedder goat singer model. Everybody's doing that now and people don't know what to do with you if you don't sound like that. It freaks them out. They're like, "Woah, he's singing so high" or "Woah, he uses his voice in some other way than the monotone gorilla yelling about how upset he is. It's weird and I don't know what to do with this. It's not written like a fourteen year old scrawling in a diary. How do I understand this?" That's what those bands remind me of. Staind sounds like something you'd scribble on the back of your notebook when you're twelve years old and you're mad at your dad. Those guys are fucking bald, man. They're in their thirties. It's like, "Dude, get over it. It's not that bad, I'm sure." Even if it was, go to therapy and write about something else. I'm a little cynical, you might have noted. (laughs)
CM: Yeah, Staind and Nickelback are a long way off from "The Big Nothing," which, by the way, I can't imagine how you could ever pull off live.
DD: You know, that's
the only one we've never been able to do live. That's the one that drives me nuts because
we can't. That's only because there are very distinguishable separate parts on that one.
It's not just layers. I mean there's an acoustic that's very distinguishable from the lap
steel which is very distinguishable from the keyboard. Then there's the electric guitar
and there's two drum kits on that fucking song. They were recorded live at the same time
with two separate drummers. There's bullshit in other songs that you can get around live,
but there's no way that we could do that one and do it justice as a three piece, which is
fine. I mean, it's a slow song and people come to see us rock. They don't want to sit
through some ballad. I don't know yet. We play "Sleepwalking" every once in a
while and it always goes over okay. Maybe we're a little schizophrenic, but the stuff
that's really fun to play live is the rock and roll songs. They always go over well and it
always makes sense to people and they get it and it's loud and it's rock and roll. If
you're into fucking Creed or Guided By Voices, you're going to get it. At some level,
you'll go, "Oh, okay, this is loud and it rocks." When you try to pull off the
mellow shit live, there's always a mixed bag with that. You're rolling the dice especially
if it's not your audience. So the rock songs are more like, "This is going to be
really good to play live." I like all of the songs obviously, but those are the ones
that come across best as a three piece.
CM: What should people expect from Dropsonic at a show?
DD: The actual plan is to do the album sequentially. We've never done that before. This (Belle) is our third record. I've always wanted to do this and we've never been able to do it. The last record (The Big Nothing) had shit on it that we couldn't actually pull off live. What we're doing now is that we've added Calvin Florian on guitar. He used to play in Sugarsmack. Another friend of mine, Jeff Holt is going to be playing Rhodes and some other keyboard stuff.
CM: On a side note related to you coming to Athens, have you noticed the "invisible wall" that seems to separate Atlanta and Athens bands and generally keeps the acts in one town without much success in the other?
DD: Certainly. The thing is that it's mostly with the clubs rather than the people. What happens is that the clubs won't book you at a show where people will see you unless you have that connection. We never once got a decent show at the 40 Watt. Three times we were booked there and it was always during Spring Break or summer or some bullshit like that. We were thinking, "Okay, we'll go up there and we'll do this and next time they'll hook us up with a Friday night or a Wednesday night opening for somebody during school," but there was nothing. It was like we could never get past that point and it was like, "Well, fuck this." We can go play in Charlotte and we can draw there or Birmingham or Savannah and draw there. I'm not going to fucking beat my head up against the invisible wall. I do like David Barbe and he asked us to come and do (the Caledonia show) so that's a big part of why we're doing it now. I don't care. It's a better way to spend a Friday night than working at the coffee shop or sitting and drinking in some bar.
CM: On the other side of the small venue shows, you have an appearance at the huge Music Midtown festival in Atlanta.
DD: We'll probably have three or four hundred people at the little stage. That's a bunch a people that's never going to see us otherwise so that's great.
CM: You also have the cache of saying that you did Music Midtown.
DD: That's true. Of course, we did it a couple of years ago and it hasn't bought us a thing. (laughs).