Listen closely to Dishwalla, and you discover there is blood on these tracks. Twelve years and five albums after the band from Santa Barbara, California made their debut, Dishwalla endures. Together the group - lead singer JR Richards, guitarist Rodney Cravens, bassist Scot Alexander, keyboardist Jim Wood and drummer Pete Maloney - have survived record company musical chairs, countless musical trends, and even the curious challenge of having their very own smash hit right out of the box. Through it all - the good, the bad and the ugly - Dishwalla have emerged stronger than ever, and in the process have established themselves as that rock & roll rarity: a real, working band that stays together to play together.
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Fittingly, then, Dishwalla (a self titled CD) is very much an album about survival and transcendence - an inspired song cycle about rising "Above The Wreckage" to borrow a phrase from one of the album's numerous standout tracks. Recorded with three diverse yet distinguished producers - Bill Szymczyk (The Eagles, B.B. King), Sylvia Massey (Tool, System of a Down) and Ryan Greene (NOFX, Lag Wagon) - the new CD is, in the words of the group's JR Richards, "very representative of our whole journey."
It's a journey that, for many, began with Dishwalla's 1996 platinum debut Pet Your Friends that included "Counting Blue Cars," the compelling hit track that would define the band for its more casual fans. "A hit can be a blessing and a curse in the making," Richards says with a smile. "We had a song so big that it overshadowed everything else we came up with for the next few years. You end up competing with yourself.
It's been a mixed blessing but one that's helped us to keep working and keep going." It's also a song that's led some to wrongly typecast Dishwalla as everything from a hardcore Christian band to hardcore feminists. For Richards, "It's been interesting because some people thought we were a Christian band - and yet there'd be Christian groups protesting outside a club because we used `God' as a feminine pronoun. Ultimately, what we learned is how that song really connected with so many people on such a lyrical level."
Dishwalla enjoyed less commercial success with their second album, 1998's And You Think You Know What's Life About, at least partially the result of record company downsizing and its resultant turmoil. Leaving their label, A&M Records, the band proceeded to release the lovely, introspective Opaline on the small Immergent label in 2002. "We were pretty beat up after our first two records and our third record was very reflective of that," Richards explains. "This new album is really something of a rebirth because we're still together. It's like we're restating our vows," he grins. "We're still writing, still excited and the new material reflects that passion. And the new record has a lot more energy than the last album - a real sense of purpose. It's less an album about adversity than about overcoming it."
In a very real way, Dishwalla is the album Dishwalla has always wanted to make a strong set of songs that brings together the band's extraordinary and wide-ranging gifts. Dishwalla remains very much a band with each member bringing something distinct to the party.
"On guitar, Rodney brings a lot of style and keeps us contemporary," Richard explains. "Let's face it, bands are, in part, about being cool - and Rodney's cool! Pete is much more into a song than any drummer I know. He's also the conscience of the band. Everything he does musically is felt and not over thought. And even though I'm a keyboard player too, Jim comes up with stuff that I could never imagine. He can take something from sounding standard to something truly unique and exciting. And Scotty is more than a bass player - he's a great songwriter and musician. As much as we disagree with each other at times, when we play, it always brings us back together."
Released by The Orphanage - a progressive company founded by manager Leo Rossi as a nurturing, welcoming home for bands orphaned by the current record company turmoil - Dishwalla finds the band taking full control of their destinies. "This time everything was up to us without the second-guessing that's standard fare today for major record labels these days," Richards says. "Often you get the sense that they don't know what they want, so you as a band had better know what you want. It was great not to have that horrible indecision hanging over your head. We are plenty tough on ourselves as it is, so we don't need a label whose only thought is, 'I'm not sure if I hear the single.' "
Having released Live. . .Greetings From The Flow State, their first live album on Immergent in 2003, the band realized they wanted to record an album that brought the drama of their live shows into the recording studio. "Putting together the live album made me realize that there's a lot more excitement than I realized the first time around. It made us want to record a record that had the same kind of energy that we have live. We played the new songs hundreds of times before we recorded them. We wanted them to be road-tested and ready before the release," explains Richards, "and that translated onto the record!"
For Dishwalla, one of the keys to the new album was casting the right producers for each song. "It's funny because each person gravitated towards material they were most excited by," says Richards. "They all had different approaches. Bill basically pushed us to give the strongest live performance we possibly could. Sylvia was all about creating and capturing a great vibe in Weed, a city in Northern California where she works in this old theater that has been converted into a studio. Ryan, known for great punk recordings, used a lot of very modern techniques and pushed us to use our chops more. All of them brought out the best in us in their own particular way. Of course, we went through three masterings because each producer had they're own way of capturing things."
They call their latest CD simply Dishwalla because the album represents a fresh start and their name has become such a badge of honor. "I guess we've earned our stripes just by being a band as long as we have," says Richard. "You can't ignore that because these days it's not an easy thing to do.
"Every band that came out around the same time as Dishwalla is now gone," adds manager Rossi, a rock veteran whose tour of duties include years with Fleetwood Mac. "The only thing I can attribute their staying power to is the music and, like Fleetwood Mac, their ability to always put the music first."
Dishwalla demonstrates the band's range and growing skill. "Collide" is a powerful look at conflict; the grand and gorgeous "Ease The Moment" features the epic accompaniment of the 55-piece Golden State Pops Orchestra; "Coral Sky" is a romantic, wide open number Richards wrote about meeting his wife; "Creeps In The Stone" suggests Richards' love of Queen and calls upon his many years of opera training; "Above The Wreckage" finds the singer trying to make some sense of a tragic loss of a good friend who died on the way home from her engagement party. "She was a beautiful, pure soul and it just devastated me. She was one of those people this world really needed."
Thematically, there is a real balance of darkness and light here, though much blood is spilled along the way: "Winter Sun," is about the first time Richards saw his young son fall and bleed. "Bleeding Out" was inspired by Dishwalla's recent experiences playing for the American military in three separate tours all around the world. "That one was specifically written after talking to a Marine who'd been shot in Iraq," Richards recalls. "We were in a field hospital in Rota, Spain, listening to this eighteen year old talk about his experiences and hearing his concern for his buddies. It was a very heavy conversation."
In the end, Dishwalla -- featuring cover art by acclaimed contemporary artist Michael Godard, a good friend of the band's, - is a heartfelt, vivid record of the group's experiences and a musical rededication to the very idea of being a band. And being a band, Dishwalla looks forward to bringing this music alive again onstage soon. "Being in a band is like a relationship, and the live thing is the sex," Richard says with a grin. "And for us, the sex has always been good. Being a live band has always been something we had that couldn't be muddled by labels or other people outside the band. The feedback comes directly from the fans, and that exchange never gets messed up. Fortunately, we have a core of fans who have always been there for us. They've kept the shows feeling like an event, even when we weren't on the radio every thirty seconds. They're the primary reason we've made it this far."
Dishwalla proves that Dishwalla has even further to go.
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