An Interview with Dopapod’s Neal Evans and Rob Compa, playing Albany, Syracuse and Rochester this weekend

I first became aware of Dopapod when I downloaded a show of a band with the funny palindrome name. They had a good sound, a bit heavy for me at the time, but they also did a killer cover of Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock”, a band I have been a fan of since college in the mid-90s. While that cover hooked me, it was the originals and the improv that kept bringing me back. When plans for a book release party for PhanFood came together in the fall of 2010, Nectar’s in Burlington was the venue and Dopapod just happened to be the main act of the night. A couple of emails between band manager Jason Gibbs and myself and the band was happy to help promote the book release, and led to a packed house for both the release and the show. At every festival since and every opportunity throughout, I’ve seen Dopapod continue to grow at an exponential pace. Nearly a studio album a year, plus a heavy touring and festival schedule has made Dopapod a sought after act that is spreading quickly from their Northeastern base. Upon the release of their most recent album, Redivider, UpstateLIVE sat down with guitarist Rob Compa and drummer Neal ‘Fro’ Evans of Dopapod to talk about their roots, what lies ahead, and what’s up with the palindrome band name and album titles.

photo by Andy Hill
photo by Andy Hill

Pete Mason: How did the band first come together? Who knew each other and when and where was the first gig? Any memories of that first Dopapod moment?

Rob Compa: The band started with just Eli (Winderman) and our friend Michelangelo Carubba as a keys and drum duo. My first show was at a little sports bar in Boston called The Draft. I wasn’t in the band yet. I just came out and sat in because Eli and I knew each other from playing reggae gigs around town. The first moment when I really felt like we were on to something was at my first rehearsal in a basement in Allston. We had a jam and just trailed off harmonizing with each other and answering each other’s phrases. It was crazy, like we had the same musical vocabulary right off the bat. It took a while before we were comfortable enough to play off of each other like that on stage though.

Neal Evans: Before I was in the band, I asked Dopapod to play an after party that I was planning for my band Cashed Fools. The party never ended up happening, but Eli invited me to come to the festival that they were playing the next day (Heady Fest), and I asked if I could bring some percussion. Heady Fest was my first show with the band.

PM: You blend a wide degree of sounds among your catalog. What musicians have provided the major influences for each of you?

RC: I’ve been a huge Phish fan since I was a teenager. That’s the biggest one for me. I’m also really influenced by country guitarists, particularly Duke Levine and Jim Campilongo. And I studied a fair amount of jazz over the years; I don’t consider myself a jazz guitarist necessarily, but I learned enough of it to have some bebop vocabulary in my playing. I particularly love Django Reinhardt.

NE: I came from a heavy metal and progressive rock background; the first song I played on drums was Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls”. And Primus. Then I got into more funk and groovin’ stuff. I’ve always listened to a wide variety, but the heavy drums really got me started. 

PM: Are there any new artists that you are listening to that are having an influence on you, or simply ones that you enjoy listening to?

RC: The Fleet Foxes have been a big influence over the last couple years. And Fro recently turned me on to Megadeth. Also, Tim Palmieri’s (Kung Fu/The Breakfast) playing has really had an impact on me.

NE: Jaga Jazzist and Snarky Puppy are my favorite new bands. They are musically amazing and very forward thinking. I’ve never heard anything like those two bands. Also Dub Trio is just super bad ass.  

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photo by Andy Hill

PM: What gear do you each use?

NE: I have a Yamaha Maple Custom drum kit, DW kick pedals, assorted hardware, cymbals from Sabain, Zildjian, Ufip, and Meinl, and Vater Fusion drumsticks. 

RC: I use a Paul Reed Smith Hollowbody II that I love the shit out of. I pretty much only use that live, although I used a Fender Strat and Tele on a lot of the new album. My amplifier is an old Fender Vibrolux that sounds great. For pedals, I use a maxon OD808 and an Analogman King of Tone for my overdriven sounds. I’ve also got a delay, phaser, and a octave pedal on my pedalboard

PM: How have you found the EDM and electronic environment to be, considering that the scene is becoming quite large and almost super-saturated with talent?

RC: I like bands that use computers and click tracks to do the electronic thing. And I think it’s cool that music is changing and evolving with the whole DJ thing, even though that way of making music doesn’t really resonate with me, personally.

NE:  There are some that I like and some that I don’t care for. As long as its originality is clear, I’m usually into it. I love hearing sounds and grooves that I have never heard before. 

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photo by Andy Hill

PM: What do music festivals provide to bands as they are growing, and how do the fans benefit from acts like Dopapod playing festivals on a regular basis?

RC: Festivals are awesome because it gives bands a chance to to be heard by tons of new people who might not have ordinarily gone out of their way to take the chance on the band.  And, it gives people the chance to discover new bands.

NE: Festivals are great for helping a band gain a following in the greater area of the festival. Most festivals have a large local attendance, so when we come back to the area, there will be a lot of people who first saw us at the fest. There is definitely a large growth of electronic music at festivals, and a lot of fans express their gratitude for keeping the live band element strong at festivals. And we like to do fun special things at festivals, because they feel like special gigs. Our festival sets usually have some fun surprises that may not happen at a club or venue. 

PM: Branching out from the Northeast, you have recently dipped into the Southeast and Midwest. How have you found the experience entering new markets, with only word of mouth to precede you?

RC: It feels great to play a market for the first time and already have people there excited for the show. It’s encouraging. At the same time, going to different parts of the country and playing for smaller crowds is very humbling. It’s important for us to remember that we still have a lot of work to do.

NE: It’s always fun to go to a place you have never been before for the sake of playing music. Some new markets do well, some not so well, but we will just keep at it. We have seen steady growth just about everywhere, which is a great feeling.

PM: How has the reception been from fans in these parts of the country?

NE: So far so good! Gaining many fans and street teamers all the time, and getting a lot of support from people in the new areas.

RC: It’s been awesome, all around. Even if a show isn’t necessarily packed, people always seem to have a great time. Crowd size matters not.  

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photo by Andy Hill

PM: Was there a moment for each of you where you were playing a show or on the road, and the thought crossed your mind, “Wow, I can totally see myself doing this for a living!”

NE: I think that happened for me when the first time I played a drum set.

RC: I think we’ve all felt that way the whole time. None of us really have any doubt that this is what we want to do.

PM: One burning question that I’ve had is the use of palindromes, both the band’s name and each album title: I saw live Dopapod evil was I, Drawn Onward, Radar, and the latest, Redivider. Did the band name come first, then palindrome album titles, or was that sort of the plan all along? Can that well ever run dry?

NE & RC: ?yrd nur reve llew taht naC  ?gnola lla nalp eht fo tros taht saw ro ,seltit mubla emordnilap neht ,tsrif emoc enam dnab eht diD  .redivideR ,tsetal eht ,radaR , drawnO nwarD ,I saw livE dopapoD eviL waS I :eltit mubla hcae dna eman s’dnab eht htob , semordnilap fo esu eht si dah ev’I taht niotseuq gninrub enO

PM: Regarding Redivider, the album is a fantastic mark of growth in the band and your best album to date. “Braindead” has a hint of Oysterhead, while “Bubble Brain” gives off a hip-hop feel, “Trapper Keeper” has one of your catchiest lyrics – they make for a powerful start to the album. What was the process behind each of these songs?

NE: Each song came together differently. “Bubble Brain” and “Trapper Keeper” were ideas that Eli had, and “Braindead” was written completely off of a guitar riff that Rob wrote.

RC: They were all different. “Braindead” seriously took like a year to write. It started with just the intro riff, which I brought to the band to jam over in rehearsal. And it became a finished piece very slowly. Eli wrote Bubble Brain on his computer, and we all learned our parts on our own, then rehearsed it and made some arranging changes. We started working on “Trapper” right before the Redivider sessions, and basically finished it in the studio, which was a cool new method for us. 

PM: One song of note, “Vol. 3, #86” is not only a stand out, Nintendo-esque track, but also one of the more unique titles. Where did this one come from and how were the pieces of the song composed and melded into one final tune?

RC: Eli wrote the music and I wrote the lyrics after the music was written. I’ll give 5 bucks to the first person who can figure out where the title comes from.

PM: You’ve played all over New England and Upstate New York. What stands out for you when you go through New York and hit off Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Ithaca and all points in between?

RC: Oneonta, NY is a standout. Some of our first shows were there, so we’ve got a lot of fans from there who’ve been with us from the beginning. That’s a really special place for us. Also I’m from Rochester, so I always enjoy playing there.

PM: Did growing up in Rochester influence your music playing in any way, either through school or the local music scene?

RC: Absolutely. While I was in high school, I did a bunch of musical extra-curricular things that challenged me as a musician, like pit bands and even an Irish band. I also played in a local cover band called the Earthtones, which taught me a lot about gigging and having a good attitude about playing with other people. After high school, I got really into an amazing local band called the Niche. Eventually, they sort of took me under their wing and let me sit in with them at shows. That was a huge influence for me and I still love their music to this day. Also, an early jazz based influence was a great local group called Doja. Their guitarist, Paul McCardle, is an amazing player and had a big impact on my playing early on.

PM: Got any favorite places to stop for food while in Upstate New York?

NE: Dinosaur BBQ, Alto Cinco in Syracuse and anything around Ithaca is great for hiking and chilling.

RC: Garbage Plates.

Dopapod plays Albany at Red Square on February 28th with special guest Big Something, March 1st at The Westcott Theater in Syracuse with special guests The Manhattan Project and The Greys, and March 2nd at Water Street Music Hall in Rochester with special guest Haewa. There will be Garbage Plates late night.

STS9 is heading to The Landmark Theater in Syracuse on April 18th

Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9) is playing the Landmark Theater in Syracuse on April 18th at 7pm. Having seen STS9 for the first time last year, I can attest that you can become instantly hooked from more than just seeing the band but rather the whole experience. The light show along with their grooves will get even the stiffest person dancing. STS9 has deep rooted tribal beats mixed with modern electronica, added with a twist of drum and bass psychedelia. The visuals are intense and paired up with their beats to make you feel like you are about to take a cosmic voyage.

Tickets for the show go on sale on February 23rd at upstateshows.com, Ticketmaster locations and The Landmark Theater Box office. Tickets are $25 and this is an all ages show

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Interview with singer-songwriter Jamie Kent, playing The Westcott Theater on February 23rd

It’s a Sunday afternoon and while every other touring artist may take the seventh day off to catch some forty winks, workaholic Jamie Kent takes the time out to interview with Morgan and Gauraa from UpstateLIVE. It’s no surprise, though; he does include singer-songwriter, concert promoter, entrepreneur, and mischief maker in his job description!

Mary Morgan Craig: Okay so before we get down to business can you tell us about this “stint” you had in a Mariachi band?

Jamie Kent: Ha ha, okay so I was in high school and there was a battle of the bands and a group of friends and I formed a mariachi band called Suko Gringo and we won the crowd award for it.

MMC: Thats awesome. Ha, the coolest kids in school I’m sure.

JK: Yeah, it was an experience.

Gauraa Shekhar: So what was it like growing up in Northampton, Massachusetts?

JK: Northampton is a really awesome town. It no doubt influenced my goals in the beginning being musician. Its a big music town I pretty much spent all my money growing up going to concerts. and when graduated high school I knew I was going to do music. I was either going to go to Berklee in Boston or Babson in Boston to either do music or music business. I did an undergraduate program for music business but continued to do music on the side at Conservatory.

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MMC: So why did you choose to apply to ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)?

JK: Well, when you’re first starting out you kind of take the advice of people you look up to and my producer at the time had a big music library that he would sell to radio stations and film and TV. He was both an ASCAP and BMI member and he said both are tough to deal with but I get paid more from ASCAP. So I was like “Oh Cool!” and started to figure out why it was better to go with ASCAP and what’s been really great with them for me personally is they have some really great programs to develop songwriters which a lot of others don’t. Last year I got into this songwriting program out in L.A. working with some really crazy people, (including) the dude who wrote Adele’s “Someone Like You” and Keith Urban and Lee Ann Rhymes’s last two records. So, they really network well and help you connect with other great songwriters that help take it to the next level.

GS: So what is it like writing music solo compared to writing with the band or in workshops?

JK: Its definitely different. It’s got its benefits and setbacks. Solo you can really do everything that you want to do which is awesome but for me sometimes I will lose focus and get distracted by Facebook or whatever and then it’ll take me a few days to write a song whereas when I’m writing with other people and we’re in a room together, we will focus for a few hours until the song is written. You do lose control over some of the things you want and you have to make some compromises but it is a lot more productive.

GS: Kind of keeping each other on track.

JK: Yeah, exactly! And also about challenging each other. Sometimes when you’re writing by yourself you can settle but when you’re with other people they can push you and you’re like “Oh yeah, it could be better” but you don’t think of that until you’re with someone else.

MMC: We’ve heard you have a tireless work ethic but touring 200 days is a lot. What was that like?

JK: You know, I love being on the road fundamentally but I also really believe that the live show is the most important aspect to being a musician these days and important of course in order to make money and survive since anyone with a laptop and a Myspace account can be a musician these days which is cool but that also means there’s an overwhelming amount of people so if you want to distinguish yourself and take it to the top your show has to be incredible. And ya I just love playing. The more I play the better I get.

MMC: Practice makes perfect.

JK: Yeah, exactly and you know like in Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers he talks about putting in 10,000 hours into something you’re going to know it better than everyone else and do it better.

GS: If you could pick one thing you like the most about touring what would that be?

JK: Thats a good question. I love the stories that come out of it. I’m a big fan of at my shows of weaving stories into my shows and making that part of it and that does inspire songs a lot. That is where a lot of stories come from: being on tour and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations and having something interesting come out of it. Often it involves like a random character that you meet in Rock Island, Illinois or wherever you might be but there’s nothing that you could ever experience by just sitting at home in the studio.

MMC: You’ve got a campaign going for your next record. You must have a great fan base, you’ve got a very successful campaign going and it looks like they’re even sponsoring your next record. How do you maintain such a strong connection with your fans?

JK: Well I think that the way I’ve been able to do it really well is because of this thing I started couple of years ago called The Collective. Its a community of my most loyal fans and in return for their contributions they get free tickets to shows, free music, free merch and they can log into a specific program where I post exclusive content and ask them questions. So like The Collective voted on my album artwork for the last two albums and like where they think we should tour, what the first radio single should be, that kind of stuff and that’s kind of kept people really involved in like my career and vice versa. I think that that’s been really helpful and since the beginning I wasn’t sure that people would continue to reinvest in the next project or the next album that kind of thing but they really have which has been awesome and they’ve spread the word to friends and it has really kind help create that loyalty.

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MMC: That’s great. I think we’ll start seeing a lot more of that kind of fan base building.

JK: Yeah, I think so. I launched it before Kickstarter even came out and then when Kickstarter came out I was like oh that will sort of become like what The Collective is on a bigger scale. Whats sort of surprising that they haven’t done yet is kind of create the community. Kickstarter is just like a project-to-project kind of thing, where they help you  make that one record and then that’s it and then hopefully they’ll go to Facebook or sign up for your email list or something like that but The Collective is about a long term community to create loyal fans. So even like we’re doing the Indie GoGo campaign for the next record but everyone who contributes gets a part in the collective so we can keep it evolved for the long term.

GS: When you first jammed with The Options was it a “love at first jam” kind of a thing or did it take some time? How did you know they were right for you?

JK: Its been an interesting journey with the options. Looking at The Options as they are now are the solidified Options. My bass player and drummer, Dan and Rhees have been with me really since the beginning. Rhees for almost 3 years and Dan for like 2 and a half years. And then our keyboard, accordian and electric guitar player Killian and Zach. They’ve been with us for about 6 months. So they are the newer Options. Rhees I met when I was first looking to form a band. He was playing with this other girl in the area who actually wanted to be on The Voice and then they had a falling out. I met him at a mutual friends party right as they were falling out and we just hit it off. He was surprised to have a band leader who treated him well and shared the money and shared everything with him. Then Dan came on shortly after through the Northampton music scene we kind of saw him and brought him on and then we had a different keyboard piano player for a while which was he was incredibly talented but we had kind of a lesson learned that personality goes a long way in a band. It’s about both talent and personality and if personality goes askew then things can not be the greatest on the road. So we made some changes and brought on a few new members who were both really awesome people and killer musicians and its been the best setup we’ve ever had and I think at shows we displace that energy as well.

GS: Cool, yeah we can definitely hear it in your sound.

JK: Cool! That’s the goal. Yeah, when you’re on the road you really want to be with people who you like and connect with. It really comes through in your music. If there’s bad energy there that will come through as well.

MMC: Your last album Navigation had a fresh Americana twang to it. What can we expect from your new, evolved sound?

JK: Its sort of taking that and pushing it. The idea behind the record is Brian Eno producing Bruce Springsteen. That’s sort of the vibe we’re gonna go for. We’ve got a couple chops that we’re pretty excited for so far. Its gonna be really kind of roots rock vibe, really song focused.

GS: Definitely like the sound of that.

MMC: As you grow as an artist, do you feel as if your songwriting process has evolved?

JK: Yeah yeah I really do. When I began I was interested in song writing and when I wrote my first one I was like wow this is sounding really cool, boom done. But I’ve become a lot more picky in my songwriting now. I want every lyric to kick ass and if it doesn’t, I won’t release it.

GS: It’s really cool that you have a lot of different work experiences under your belt, you were reviewing craft breweries for Two Foot Media nearly five years ago…was that something fun you just decided to do?

JK: Well I went to Babson in Boston. The focus is on entrepreneurship there and I kind of learned just a different way of viewing the world. Entrepreneurship allows you to turn what you love into a career or business which is fundamentally what I’m doing with music and I’ve always had a big love for Microbrew and in college a friend of mine and I decided we wanted to go on a road trip across the U.S. and sample different brews and so we convinced the magazine to hire us and we reviewed all the breweries across country and put together article on them. If you love something you can always figure out a way to make money doing it.

GS: Well we couldn’t help but notice that you’re known as a “mischief maker”. Where did that title come from? What mischief have you been making?

JK: Ha, yeah I’ve always been a mischief maker. That was kind of coined this one time when I dressed up in a costume and planted my first CD in 172 Starbucks stores in Manhattan. The video for Mischief Man films all that. So that’s where it came from and I’m always causing little bits of mischief on the road and thinking of new ways to promote shows. For example we’ll go into like the nearest restaurant and start playing with a sign that says we’re playing tonight and then just take off. Usually we confuse people and also attract some attention. We are also playing for SXSW and we have an RV that we’re gonna drive around and party in and do flash concerts.

MMC: Very cool. Sounds like fun. Do you miss your family while you’re on tour though?

JK: Definitely. But I’ve sort of gotten used to it. I’m really good up until three weeks. At three weeks I start to get a little homesick. I love life on the road but you do miss home sometimes. Northampton is a great home to come back to as well. When I’m out on the road I’m always looking for a place that’s cooler than Northhampton and I haven’t found too many.

GS: So what’s it like opening for The Wood Brothers?

JK: Yeah I mean they’re fuckin’ awesome. They’re so good. And they’re really good guys too. Just unbelievably talented as I’m sure you know but also equally as nice. Rhees has worshipped Chris Wood since he was growing up so the first time they met Rhees was really nervous but they totally ended up hitting it off and Chris turns Rhees on to they’re great players and they push us both to be better players.

MMC: Who is your favorite contemporary artist?

JK: I’m really liking Milo Green, Churchill, and First Aid Kit are like the three bands that are getting a lot of iPod time with me right now. I’m sort of on this like female male singer combo thing. But i’m always bumping like Ray Lamontagne.

GS: Is there any advice you can offer young musicians about the industry?

JK: Yeah I would say if you want to be a musician you have to be willing to work your ass off. Its so competitive and the market is so flooded with musicians you really have to work your ass off and want it  to get yourself out there. Otherwise I would say just put yourself out there like just do it. A lot of people ask me “How do I book shows?” How do I play shows?” and I always tell them really you just have to do it. Get out there, go to the venue, talk to people. The only way anythings going to happen is if you just take action and do it.

Make sure to catch Jamie Kent open for The Wood Brothers on Saturday, the 23rd of February at The Westcott Theater!