Dispatch, seen performing here at Outside Lands, releases a new album Aug. 12. Photo by Jacob Pierce
When Dispatch released its first album in 1996, the world was a different place.
Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill was topping the Billboard charts, eventually selling over 7 million copies that year in the US alone. There was no Google or YouTube. There was no Facebook, MySpace or even Napster, the file-sharing service that would later help circulate the group’s folksy, funk-infused reggae sound.
Since parting ways in 2002 for an indefinite hiatus with only brief reunions during that break, Dispatch’s music, for reasons unknown to just about everyone, launched into underground cult classic stardom—making its members, in essence, the Arrested Development of the Sublime-esque white boy reggae rock world.
Last summer, the band got back together for a 13-date tour off their ever-so-creatively-titled Dispatch EP. Currently the band, often stylized as DISPATCH, is promoting its first full-length studio album in 12 years, Circles Around the Sun, which hits stores Tuesday, Aug. 21.
Last weekend, we met up with the guys from the band in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park before their set at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival to talk about their music, clothing choices and future as a group.
Santa Cruz Weekly: Your 2004 farewell show “The Last Dispatch” has been cited as possibly the biggest concert in indie music history. Chad, why the heck did you wear a skirt?
Chad Urmston: Why not?
Brad Corrigan: Why wouldn’t Chad wear a skirt? We’d all love to do it, but he’s the only one with the vegetarian physique to pull it off.
How is songwriting different than it was in, say, 1996?
Urmston: It’s pretty similar. It’s just sitting around with some acoustic guitars and playing tunes and seeing what connects with the other two.
Corrigan: It’s a way to journal life. You’re making songs when you’re in your teens. You’re making songs when you’re in your twenties, now in our thirties. You’re just capturing life as it’s going by, so it does feel like the same process, even though it could be totally different material, different experiences.
I enjoyed the new song “Josephine,” off the upcoming album Circles Around the Sun. How did you write it?
Corrigan: Chad wrote that. It’s a good question.
Urmston: It just started with a little lick, and I liked playing that. Then, I said, ‘OK, where’s this going?’ and started singing along. And I met this girl Josephine when we were jumping freight trains and played it to these guys. And they liked it.
And Levon Helm died this past year. I just felt in a good place where we could tackle songs like that. It wasn’t reggae. It wasn’t up-tempo. It was a mid-tempo groover, and we were all in a good place to go for it.
Have you talked to Josephine since?
Urmston: The story is a bit exaggerated. And I’ve never talked to her since the night I met her. The character in the song goes up to Canada and waits for her for years and years, and I guess he never really sees her again either.
You’re all good guitar players and good singers. Is it hard deciding what song to put on an album or into a show? Or who’s going to sing what part?
Urmston: That is hard. It’s easier now because I think when we were younger, we were more insecure. There was a little bit of attack on our person if someone didn’t like the song. Now there’s so much more appreciation for each other and what each brings to the table. We’re just in a great place where we’re really huge fans of each other and put it together democratically and go forward.
Corrigan: We don’t need it anymore. I think we really needed it early on. Our value came from it, and our identity came from it. There were days when it was personal: really you don’t want to play that? Or you don’t like that?
There was no separation between us and the music that we made. Now songs are still super personal, but we’re way more comfortable with each other, and we’ve been through so much. We don’t need it. And the day we do need it is probably when we stop playing again.
Urmston: We’ve also come to terms that we play a lot of old songs. We’ve heard of bands going forward with a new album and playing no new songs. We’re not above playing the old shit.
Corrigan: Something that Chad might not tell you but that they want to is that we have finally decided who the lead singer is, and it’s me. So, if you could clearly state that... Now we can all just relax.
So you never get tired of playing “Two Coins” and “The General” and “Bang Bang?”
Pete Francis Heimbold: We still love it because you’ve got to just keep reinventing it.
Corrigan: There aren’t that many songs we’ve left behind. There might be a couple. What you’re hoping you’re hoping you’re writing is timeless. [laughing] Some things don’t necessarily hold up there.
Urmston: We still like them, and it’s not like we’ve been playing full on for the past twelve years. We have had a break from those old tunes and, it’s almost like revisiting old friends.
What was it like playing shows without each other?
Urmston: It’s kind of weird, like hooking up with a different girl while you’re with someone else.
I know you’ve all done cool projects on the side.
Urmston: That’s been part of the healthy journey that brings us back to this place, just having other outlets that—.
Corrigan: I don’t like people… Sometimes I even tried to record without an engineer, but that didn’t work at all. So, I’m slowly letting people back in one at a time.
Urmston: I was number seven. Thousand.
Corrigan: No, you were six.
Urmston: Oh, six hundred.
You embraced Napster early on…
[Corrigan hugs an imaginary figure.]
Heimbold: Brad is now making out with Napster.
You supported Napster. Does file-sharing and easy accessibility of media threaten the music industry as we know it?
Urmston: It builds it.
Corrigan: Yes and no. It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand the good thing that it tears down the power line with the corporations that decide what gets distributed and what gets heard and what doesn’t. But the flip side too is that some people think music is just simply free. There has to be a middle ground.
In the Napster era of file-sharing, everyone should see that as a discovery experience, where you can find and sample anything when someone says, ‘Oh, I’ve heard that. I think it’s really good, and I want to support it.’
And maybe pay $225.00 to see it at a festival…
Urmston: Yeah I think if they come to a show, that’s it for me.
Now that we’re in the 21st century, some people think of capital letters as similar to yelling. Why did you decide to stylize your band name in all caps?
Heimbold: Sometimes I get so upset with the lowercase! And the way they just hover down there. They’re getting a lot of love, man. And you’ve got to sometimes cap it out.
Did you guys become bigger because you broke up?
Corrigan: Did we break up?
Heimbold: I think we might break up again to get even bigger.