On The Road With Dishwalla

Dishwalla is currently on tour with friends Marcy Playground and Fuel, supporting its first album in a decade, Juniper Road. Although the band has been around for two decades, it has reemerged several times since it hit the top of the charts with “Counting Blue Cars,” which hit No. 1 in 1996 with the memorable, controversial line “Tell me all your thoughts on God / I’d really like to meet Her.”

Since then, the band parted ways with its lead singer and writer of that song, J.R. Richards, and brought on longtime acquaintance Justin Fox in 2008. 

The band’s affable guitarist, Rodney Browning Cravens, talked to Pollstar about what it’s like to be out on the road as a full-grown adult (at least according to chronological age), going through all the changes of being in a band for 20-odd years, having fun, and what advice he’d give to his younger self.

Following the June digital release of Juniper Road, physical copies of the album were released in stores today.

So, the band did some touring the last few years, but nothing to this degree, right?

Basically, when the band stopped working after our self-titled album, Dishwalla, we just played a couple shows with our new singer but we really weren’t sure where it was going, quite honestly.  We weren’t sure how we wanted to roll out and we all decided without a label deal and all the backing – I mean we live in different states now. So just getting together to have a cup of coffee was difficult for us.

And we all wanted [it] to be right if we wanted to do it, and we weren’t sure. As we got … back in [to touring] and with a booking agent and a few shows, and it went well, and we got invited to go out with some of our old friends like Vertical Horizon and Tonic, and different things, we went, “Wait. This seems legit.” That energy sort of turned it into what it is now.

You live in different states? In the days of GarageBand, sure, you can pass recordings back and forth but wouldn’t you want to practice a little bit?

Exactly. So that’s [why] this album was written over years but it was really concentrated clusters of effort. It would be, oh, everyone is in Santa Barbara for Christmas to visit their moms so lets jam out for three days and record these ideas and study them. We wouldn’t see each other for another six months. So we’d talk a lot on the phone, send ideas around, like you said, GarageBand or ProTools, but it was really slow going compared to the old days when this was our only job, we didn’t have kids, and we practiced eight hours a day, five days a week. It really took its time. In the end I think it’s better, but it wasn’t ideal.

Courtesy RSN Enentertainment
– Dishwalla
Justin Fox, George Pendergast, Rodney Browning Cravens, Jim Wood and Scot Alexander

How did you practice for this tour? Did that involve a month of getting together for rehearsal?

No. No! We’re in a mode right now that I call “loose / tight.” The loose part is we’re having fun and we don’t rehearse like we used to, especially the old songs.  I wouldn’t have to rehearse most of our songs again. But the new ones are a different story; we haven’t burned in the muscle memory of how it is onstage compared to the recording. So we had two or three days to rehearse and then we went for it.

Every time we go on the road, after 10 shows, we start to get our road legs.  You just start to get to another level, almost like a sport. So as of lately, we’ve hit our stride; we’ve got about 20 shows under the belt.

What fully defines “road legs” to you, beyond tightening up music?  Could it be relearning how to sleep on the bus or getting up at the right time?

(laughs) Well, we’re usually going to bed around 4:30 a.m. for whatever reason. It’s just hard to go to sleep after all that excitement.  We’ll have a couple beers and then grab showers somewhere, then get on our bus and, at 4 a.m., head to the next town.

So, yeah, it’s different hours … but, to answer your question, to me our road legs mean we’re playing the music tighter, people aren’t looking at their instruments to nail it, maybe our setlist has gotten a little better and we’ve located some songs that shouldn’t be played after each other because they’re in the same key.

And, definitely for us, our time between songs. We’ve always struggled with that. Now we have songs that are connecting to each other and it’s two or three songs before we even say hi to the audience.  That’s pretty cool; it’s a one-two punch.

I thought time between songs was something only “local” bands worried about and that disappeared after the record label deal. Apparently it’s a disease that can last a long time.

For sure! It usually involves, like, changing a guitar, a quick tuning.  Maybe it’s the singer saying something. There’s just always something. Again, we’re just getting it back, just now. More so than we’ve had it in years.  And honestly, what am I doing when I’m playing up there? Am I standing there? Am I a shoegazer?  Am I rocking out? Just figuring out where you belong, physically.

I know that sounds trite but it’s a thing.  You’ll look back on videos and think, “Ew, I don’t like what I see. What am I going to do about that?”  It’s a constant growing process.

It’s the same as when we were trying to get a record deal the first time around. We’re just constantly trying to figure out how to do it better, I guess.

Being an adult, at least according to your driver’s license, is there a difference in touring?  A young person could be all excited about touring but an “adult” could miss the family or the house that holds all your stuff ….

I don’t know how to answer that. It takes adjustment, I guess. I mean, if you’ve spent any time on the road, it’s wonderful. This might sound corny but music touches people in a way poetry sometimes doesn’t. It skips our brain and goes to your heart. These people I met, these fans – it’s such a good time and it’s such a good experience. There’s so much aloha every night. I think that’s the part of it I’m sort of addicted to, and being with the people that it reaches.

The tour has a great lineup, like Fuel …

Yeah, they’ve been kicking ass every night.

It just sounds like a good night of fun.

I will say that all the guys in [Fuel and Marcy Playground] are all super cool. It’s just a good way to spend the tour around all these mellow people There isn’t any backstage bullshit, everyone’s inclusive and everyone is cheering each other on. It seems that it makes every band bring their A-game. When they go out and kick ass it’s, like, “Fuck! OK. This is a battle of the bands! We want to win!”

But it’s all positive. It’s a fun raising of the bar. Especially when a band is on side-stage watching you, you want to give it your best.

Our bass player, Scott, has been sitting in with Marcy Playground. He’s done about 10 shows with them. So we’ll go out there and make faces at him and cheer him on. It’s fun, and they’re great.

Any venues stand out?

We just played one the other night, Penn’s Peak in [Jim Thorpe], Pennsylvania. It was a huge hall out in the boonies. It looked like a big theatre, and it was packed, and it was just right in so many ways. The sound was great, the people were awesome. Those are the gigs we live for, when the crowd is that into it.

To me it’s less about the room and more about the crowd unless the room is really shitty or there’s a load-in problem, but we haven’t had any of those. We had some fill-in dates, like the Monday after Mother’s Day and we were in Lubbock, Texas, or something but it was too small of a venue for this tour as in, like, fitting the gear on the stage. But I don’t consider that a bummer.  I don’t think we’re big enough rock stars to get too picky about that stuff.

How about the cities?

Everything in Texas was awesome. It was a note to self that Texas likes rock ’n’ roll. They really like their rock. I live out in Santa Barbara and it seems on the coasts people are more divided about what they like. It seems they’re pickier. I don’t know why. Like ‘indie-style snobbery’ if you will.

Las Vegas was probably one of my favorite gigs of the whole tour.  We played down at Fremont Street and it was killer. I can’t wait to go back. 

Right. So you were set up outside but underneath that awesome roof.

Exactly. You feel like you’re outdoors but you’re not outdoors. It’s craziness. There’s every walk of life. There’s jugglers and rappers and midgets with green mohawks and people flying by on the ziplines.  And just the fact that people don’t have to pay for it and can just show up, we had a huge crowd. It was a perfect gig.

They just put up a video of it if you want to see it. 

I think it’s something they will play in the hotels there to promote Fremont Street, haha!

They have that cool ceiling that plays videos on it.

I remember looking up during our set and seeing me up there, while I was playing!  Some of the things you have in your head while you’re playing and you look up and see that? They’re playing video constantly on the ceiling.

OK, so your tour with Marcy Playground and Fuel continues, but there’s a show coming up at the Santa Barbara Bowl with Tears For Fears. How did that come about?

That one kind of landed in our laps and it has to do with the relationship we have with our promoter. Goldenvoice’s Moss Jacobs approached George [Pendergast, the drummer] and said, “George, why haven’t you asked me for any favors?” And this show was coming up and it was kind of perfect timing for us as a hometown show in that gorgeous venue.  It’s one of the best venues in America. And we had a new record out and was on this rebuilding, the timing was just right.  So we’re super pumped and actually thinking [of] rehearsing for it!  Ha! Imagine that!

If you could go back and meet the Rodney of 1996, what advice would you give him, or what warnings would you give?

That’s a good question. Well, I’ve always been optimistic but we’ve been through the ringer with extreme downs, ups and losses. I think I would have told myself that as these things happen to not lose my enthusiasm, that happy-go-lucky, younger guy thing.  I’m still the same person but we’re all products of our life and we’ve had some experiences that have affected us, and not all of them have been good.

Part of the reason I think [Juniper Road] turned out so well is we had these “lived experiences,” as I call them. It just seemed like everything felt creatively and sonically on point and more real for me, after living these things and growing up.  We kind of came to aloha through all the B.S.

I think some of those harder experiences, like losing parents, just sort of help you see the silver lining. It helps you get a better perspective and that’s what I’m thankful for.  But I might be a little more grouchy than I used to be. I dunno.

Anything else you’d like to tell fans?

Just my own personal opinion about this record. We did a really good job of not going to our signature sound and just doing another Dishwalla-from-the-90s record.  That isn’t as easy as it sounds.  We’re on the rebuild and we do have a new singer, and our fans are important to us, so we wanted to make something they’d like and that we liked, but it had to be new and different.

It had to be enough of our signature sound to keep the supporters happy, if that makes sense, but we absolutely couldn’t bear the idea of doing the same ol’ stuff.  That’s why I think this record is interesting and definitely worth a shot. It’s almost like a new band again.

We took some chances. There are some songs like “Mazelike Garden” or “Darkness Conceals” that is covering new sonic territory for us and that’s exciting to me.  “Give Me A Sign” has a great piano riff in it and we don’t usually have that in our music. That’s actually the single that the label is choosing to go with it.  But it will have an edit; they wanted it a bit shorter so they edited out the first 10 and last 15 seconds so it starts will a full band.

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