Escaping the Blue Cars of Santa BarbaraBy Akshay Patil
The Tech interviewed Rodney Browning Cravens, lead guitarist, and Jim Wood, keyboardist, of the band Dishwalla. The band played an amazing concert in Axis Night Club on May 21 as part of a tour to promote its new album, Opaline.
The Tech: How would you describe the soul of your new album, Opaline? I know that previous albums have been more playful and this album was a bit more deep.
Rodney Browning Cravens: It’s probably more of a healing record ... for the band and for us as individuals. And just with everything else going on in this world, that’s just where we were going.
Jim Wood: Also with this album, this was the most time we spent on making each song a good song. We stripped down all the instruments, brought it down to acoustic guitars and vocals and it had to be an awesome song just in that format. In previous albums we had approached it differently. Every song has a distinct feel to it and it had to hold its tone... from the very beginning of the song to the finished product.
RBC: Not only that, but I think we picked songs that fit together into one record. We paid a little more attention to that this time.
TT: How would you compare Opaline to Pet Your Friends or And You Think You Know What Life’s About?
RBC: Just an evolution of the same people that wrote those songs, you know what I mean? We’re a little bit older, we’re listening to different records now, and we’re just turned on by different stuff.
TT: I know you guys are making a music video for your new single “Somewhere In the Middle.”
RBC: It’s done. It’s in the can.
TT: It’s in the can? When’s it coming out?
RBC: Uhhhh ... we don’t know. We’re in the stage where we’ll probably start pitching it to VH1 and MTV. We’ll see what happens. It’s an animal in itself.
JW: Oh, and by the way, the album is actually pronounced “Opaline,” not “Aupahlean”
TT: Oh really? I’m sorry, I had no idea.
RBC: I didn’t catch that. You can’t tell really, that’s the English language for you.
TT: How do you think your songs transfer to an acoustic format? One of my favorite products of the band is an acoustic version of “Haze.”
RBC: Well I think our songs stand up just as strong, acoustically ... proudly, I say that. Especially on this record, because, like Jed said, that’s how we approached it. In general, we have a lot of melody in our music and so you can sit down and play a chord and sing the melody with it and it should be enticing.
JW: We give kick-ass acoustic shows now too.
RBC: We do. We’ve spent a lot of time on it, because we go to radio stations and it’s just a good way to get different versions of your songs out there.
TT: You guys going to play some acoustic stuff tonight?
RBC: Can’t really say it’s acoustic because my acoustic’s plugged into something. So no, not really tonight.
TT: How would you say Santa Barbara has affected your music?
RBC: Oh gosh. You know, I don’t know. I think we’ve been a bit sheltered; there isn’t much good radio there so we’re sheltered from a lot of good music and a lot of bad music. And so we’re sort of up in our own corner of the woods. We really have to go search for new music if we want it. And it’s a laid-back town. For Pet Your Friends we purposely went away. We did And You Think You Know What Life’s About there. This record we wanted to get away from our friends and all the people who would drop by if we were recording. So we went to LA.
JW: Santa Barbara is way too laid-back to make records in. There’s just too many things to do and it’s too nice out. “I’m here in Santa Barbara, what I’m I supposed to do here?” It’s easy to waste time.
TT: What was the thought process that went into writing “Home”? It’s got an amazing guitar track and everything else. I know in the press release, [lead singer] JR talks about going to Atlanta and writing it.
RBC: Yeah. He actually wrote it in Atlanta. He penned the lyrics and started getting the chords going. Then we came back and recorded it. That song was quite a process to get on tape ... there are so many tempo changes and shifts in the song. I think that song actually took longest out of all the songs, like the cool little guitar rift and the chorus didn’t come until the end of the fourth quarter. So it was a nice little surprise.
TT: How do you guys felt you’ve dealt with the legacy of “Counting Blue Cars?” That was the big hit and that’s the one that even not-so-acquainted fans know. Does it haunt you ever? or ...
RBC: It’s both a blessing and it haunts us. It’s why we’ve had a job all these years; it’s why a lot of fans come and check out our shows. I know there are fans that only knew that song who came to our shows were surprised by the depth of the band.
JW: It’s really hard to top it because, you know, where do you go from there? You can only try and make more of them. The best you can do is equal it.
RBC: The down side is that’s the definition of Dishwalla to a lot of people. One of the cool things is that too keep it fresh, we change it every single night.
JW: It’s probably only the number three favorite song among our fan-base.
TT: What are your favorites among the songs that you’ve written?
RBC: Oh gosh. That’s a really hard question. I think “Home” is definitely one of my favorites. “Until I Wake Up” is another. I really like “Give” on the first record. I think that’s a song we nailed. “The Bridge Song,” an acoustic song off of our second record, I feel like we captured the story with exactly the right music to back it. And sometimes when words and the melody and the emotion all come together into one complete picture is when you get outstanding stuff. I think that song has that for me when I listen to it. I believe the story so much when I hear it.
JW: Same. Some of the older stuff. “Until I Wake Up” is definitely one of the best of the group. It’s also one of the most requested. “Angels and Devils” on Opaline ... I don’t know, I just love this whole record; I think it’s 11 of the best songs we’ve ever written.
TT: How do you go about the song writing process? Music and then lyrics? Lyrics then music?
RBC: Traditionally we had always done the music first; little seeds of ideas that happened in the studio. This time JR spent more time on his own; everyone did their thing and brought something to the table.
TT: What CDs are in your CD player right now? What are you currently listening to?
RBC: I’ve been listening to same stuff throughout the whole record process, and I still haven’t gotten rid of it. Coldplay, Travis; I was revisiting U2’s Achtung Baby. Stuff that’s a little more ambient, maybe. Mostly rock, stuff I’ve been listening to in the past. I always go back to my Led Zeppelin and my classic rock. I had hippie parents, so our record collection when I was growing up was really good. Stones, Zeppelin, Janis Joplin ...
TT: Floyd ...
RBC: Not so much that. Floyd I found on my own. My parents had set sounds. Classic song writing. It seeped in and then I started playing the guitar and I got into metal. So somewhere between all that is where I play.
JW: I don’t know ... I’ve been living on a bus for the last month, so my 5-CD changer has become a 1-CD changer. A lot of different stuff. Kruger & Dorfmeister, they’re German remixer guys. They do all sorts of crazy shit. I like listening to R&B when making an album because there are so many funky beats and so much soul. Makes you look for it in your production ... the soul of each song.
TT: All right, I’m sure you guys get asked this a lot. But I just can’t find the answer to this question anywhere. How’d you get the name?
TT: You get asked this a lot?
RBC: Of course!
JW: Because we knew no one else would have it.
RBC: You see, we didn’t want to do another copyright search since they cost $200 each, and we didn’t have that kind of money. We knew that the weirder the word, the less likely we’d have to do another search.
TT: Does it mean anything to you guys?
JW: There was an article in Wired Magazine about cable hackers in India. The story itself wasn’t as much of a big deal to us as the fact that we liked the word and we thought it was kind of interesting.
JW: I think they were pirating the soap opera Santa Barbara. It was the most popular show in India; that was the tie we needed.