Earlier this year we reported that Dispatch was back at it after a nearly 12 year hiatus. With the studio album now complete and the tour about to kick into high gear, we caught up with Chad Stokes Urmston on reuniting Dispatch and what to expect from their most extensive album yet. Make sure to pre-order Circles Around The Sun, out August 21st, from the bands website.
OS: So Circles Around The Sun is the first full-length studio effort in over a decade, but you also released the Dispatch EP last year in support of your first widespread tour since calling it quits in 2004. Is it safe to assume Dispatch is back?
CSU: I think this kind of built on when we decided to get back together last summer, we decided not to just play one or two shows but to do a little tour. Then, when we decided to do a tour, we thought “wouldn’t it be great to play some new songs?” And we all write, so we knew that the songs were out there. We did the EP, and still had some songs left over and that turned into the album. So I think we’ll ride this album out and take some more time off.
OS: You guys have never really settled into one style, the evolution from Silent Steeples to Bang Bang alone can prove that. This album continues your forward progression but still sounds like a Dispatch record. What do you attribute your growth as musicians/songwriters to?
CSU: I think in the beginning we were really just learning our instruments. We all played guitar, but Brad and Pete; Pete switched over to bass and Brad switched over to drums. It wasn’t until Four Day Trials or Who Are We Living For?, our 3rd and 4th albums, where we felt like we were at our full power trio abilities. So I think you can account the evolution of the sound to that. But we all come to the table with different influences so it really depends on the timing of the recording and what we’re into at the moment. As we grow up and get exposed to different things… it’s really easy not to get locked into one sound when there’s three of us writing.
OS: And how do you still always sound like Dispatch?
CSU: There’s always been some simplicity to our songs… but our hallmark has really been our harmonies. We can almost do anything, and as long as we’re singing over it it’ll sound Dispatch-y.
OS: Yeah, I think the fact that your signature sound isn’t tied to one style allows you to experiment in tons of different genres, which is awesome.
CSU: It’s funny to think of… today for instance, we just played in Berlin and this friend of mine who’s known me since Dispatch but didn’t really know the Dispatch years, came up to me and said “I didn’t know you rapped!” [laughs]. It’s so funny to think that when we started out as teenagers, we almost didn’t know any better, we were up for trying anything as long as we could play it. We didn’t really judge ourselves for trying different things, and I think that helped build a wide palette of sound. We were joking the other day because our first song we released from the new album is like the Dispatch-rap-thing, it was originally just this jam and a throw-away song, but it became one of the highlights of the album. We just did a video for it, and it was funny to think of the Beastie Boys, which we have been a lot especially since MCA died. They started as a punk band and were just doing the hip-hop thing as a joke, and then became such a renowned, wonderful hip-hop group. We were saying that we were like the Beastie Boys to a lesser extent, but instead of coming from punk and hardcore we were coming from funk. We were not too self-conscious not to do it, and now we have a few songs; that’s how the songs “Bang Bang” and “Here We Go” came about, just trying to fit lots of words into the songs. It’s funny to think how bands start one way and for whatever reason find their niche in a different place than they otherwise would have thought.
OS: This album was recorded with Peter Katis, and features a much broader scope of production than your previous studio efforts, what was the recording process like this time around?
CSU: I think we had some recording envy, because when we recorded our first few albums we did it on a shoestring budget and didn’t really get into the production of things. if you listen to Bang Bang there’s maybe five tracks [laughs], Steeples as well and definitely Four Day Trials. And then Who Are We Living For? was a little bit of “alright, we’re gonna go for broke on this” but we were still fairly young and really just trying to get songs to carry over to tape. We weren’t experimenting so much. So we definitely had more experimental energy this time after taking 10 years off from recording Dispatch. We felt, here’s our chance to really fuck with things… bend things a bit and stretch them.
OS: Do you feel like the recording process led to a different final sound? Because this album has a significantly more American vibe than your previous studio efforts, which featured a lot of reggae and ska influence.
CSU: I think some of it is the separation we’ve been able to cultivate being in different bands, and then coming to the table with songs that we really thought would work well in the Dispatch circle. It is interesting that the reggae and the ska stuff isn’t there, because I love that stuff, but it just didn’t feel right and we didn’t try to force it. We did do a couple when we were jamming and working on the new tunes, I can remember one or two reggae songs that I thought had potential, but they didn’t really arrive at a place we needed them to be at before we went to the studio. These new songs are really jumping out at us, and we try not to think about it too much, just move forward when the three of us agree it’s a good song that will be fun to play and sing. For me, it’s really about what songs I think Pete and Brad will dig playing. Thats what I had in mind when we first shared songs together for this session.
OS: Is it difficult to deal with the egos of three such strong musicians, including yourself, and three such different writing styles?
CSU: It is hard, Who Are We Living For? was recorded under some dirress because of that. You know, “we’re doing too many of so-and-so’s songs,” or “I don’t like this lyric,” or “why aren’t you standing up to that person”… I think the combination of growing up and having musical outlets outside of Dispatch really help us now to appreciate what the different guys bring to the table. It’s still tricky to figure out which songs to play since we have three different writers though. Some songs feel definite, but others are in that gray area where one guys feels like he’s getting support from one person but not the other, and then it gets personal. I think we might always have that, but it’s definitely better than it was.
OS: Is there a particular song off the new album that you are most excited to play live?
CSU: We just played “Not Messin‘” live at Bonnaroo for the first time and that’s pretty fun and kind of a trick. Typically we always play the songs for years before we record them, but because we haven’t been playing live for so long, these songs were all recorded first which is kind of ass-backwards for us to do. It’s tricky to try to recreate things now, but that was a fun one. And like you said, this album is so produced and so layered, but here we are as a trio trying to recreate 50 different tracks. That does rear it’s ugly head as a problem but it’s a challenge at the same time. I am excited to do “Circles Around The Sun” though, the end jam is really fun. I think Brad is gonna stop in the middle of that song; as I reintroduce the intro half way through the tune, he’s gonna switch with Pete on the drums and come up to play his harmonica.
OS: What is it like balancing your set lists with the fresh new material and the older tunes that really attracted your rabid fan base?
CSU: Last year with the six song EP, we only played about three or four new songs per show, so we still played most of our old catalog. But you raise a good point about this fall because now we have the six new EP songs and the 11 new album songs, we could almost do a whole show with new material…but no one wants to see that [laughs]. That’s gonna be really interesting to see how we choose… 15 new songs to work into the set is much harder than three or four.
OS: Any chance fans will get to hear some of the rare Silent Steeples-era acoustic tracks like “Water Stop,” “Hey Hey,” or “Born Normal”?
CSU: I doubt it. That’s not unreasonable to think in the future, but because of all the new shit right now, we’re not really looking to add some old stuff to expand our song list. That’s just three new tunes to work back in… I wouldn’t mind tossing “Railway” into the mix again though…
OS: The industry has changed a lot since Dispatch threw the biggest concert in independent music history. What advice would you have for independent bands trying to break into the industry today?
CSU: First of all, be safe drivers. One thing that hasn’t changed, is that to start a band and make it work, you’ve gotta just hit the road. Get a few songs recorded and just give shit away through social media like it’s your job, get the music out there and play for whoever you can.
OS: There’s a lot of chatter these days about subscription music services vs. illegal downloading vs. actually buying the physical disc. Dispatch came about at time when peer-2-peer file sharing sites helped grow the grassroots movement with your fans, not to mention your lenient policies about taping live shows. Obviously the “wild wild west”era of the internet is coming to an end, but you still continue to give recordings of your live shows away and even the most recent single from Circles Around The Sun.
CSU: I feel like if there has ever been a band that’s built on the pillars of the people who listen to it, it’s us. We never had help from the top down, it was always a ground swell. I am eternally grateful to the people who keep listening to Dispatch and keep coming to the shows. We understand that it’s about the live shows for us, and we’re really content to just give the music away and do the “see you at the show” type of thing.
OS: The last decade was pretty quiet for Dispatch but these past few years signal a change. What can we expect in the next decade?
CSU: Well I think we’ll tour this album for a year or so and then take some time off. I think we’ll definitely play a bit more as a group than we did in this past decade, but certainly not as much as we did in our first decade together [laughs]. We’ve almost been together for twenty years now! I think we’ll coordinate tours around albums, so as soon as we feel psyched to record another album again, I’m sure we’ll hit the road.