Interview: Dishwalla

In 1995, Dishwalla released their debut album, Pet Your Friends which spawned their modern rock hit “Counting Blue Cars.” Although they never duplicated that success, the band steadily released albums through 2005. This year will see the band release their first album since that time with Juniper Road. Surviving the Golden Age got to ask guitarist and founding member, Rodney Browning Cravens about the new album, new lead singer Justin Fox, and the legacy of “Counting Blue Cars.”

Dishwalla took a long break after 2005’s self titled Dishwalla. How did you come about reuniting? Who approached who?

After several years off, and all of us raising families and doing other things, George and I started hanging out again. Our kids were in the same class at preschool. We’d see each other at Tuesday night school meetings, and we’d sit in the back of the class whispering and waxing about the good old days, and all of our peers that were out again doing successful tours. I think we were starting to miss being out there and being active as a band, and started having those kinds of conversations.

This is the first album without JR on vocals. What can fans expect?

Well, to me, this album is the natural progression to our ongoing story. Over the past eight years we started touring again. When it came time to write and record new songs, we really felt it was time to return to our roots and make a Rock record. We wanted to create something with the live energy and push that we feel when we play live concerts. You’ll still hear the core “Dishwalla sound”, but also you’ll hear us stretching out and covering new sonic/creative territory as a band.

How has the bands approach to songwriting changed with the addition of Justin Fox?

Honestly our approach hasn’t changed at all. Over the years, we’ve always been a heavy collaborating band, a five-man songwriting collective. It’s one of the things that has always made this band really difficult. We don’t agree on lots of things. But it always seems to raise the bar on the creativity and final sound. We jokingly refer to this as the Dishwalla chopping block, where our collective ears and taste start hacking up new ideas. It’s never easy, but at the end of the day, where a better band for it. Our collaboration together as musicians and songwriters has always felt magnetic and unique to me. I’m told we actually have a sound unique to us.

What were the recording sessions from Juniper Road like?

It was intense. I think it was only 10 days out in the desert. We tracked around the clock. While one guy would finish something we would switch right over to something else, often multitasking. It was very focused effort. This album was written over years, and then recorded out in the solitude of Joshua tree at our friend Eric Burdon’s house. Also, we were quite fortunate on this album to have producer Sylvia Massy, (Prince, Tool, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, etc…), lending her help. We had previously worked with her on the last self titled studio album “Dishwalla”. She’s a bit of a mad creative genius, who’s really talented at thinking outside the box. She’s got great musical sensibilities, and an unbiased ear that was just right for this project. And of course, her mysterious and uncanny ability to get great performances out of all of us. It’s kind a like she helped us get out of our own way! We were lucky to have her.

Preceding the new album, you released a 20th anniversary edition of “Counting Blue Cars”. What do you remember about writing and recording that song?

That song was written in Santa Barbara in our rehearsal space at San Marcos self storage. We rented a rehearsal space there by the month and rehearsed 4 to 5 nights a week. We were messing around before practice and I happened upon the intro/verse guitar riff and chord progression. As soon as Scott and George started playing along it immediately had that essence that gives the song such a fresh sound. We further developed it over the next week and came up with the chorus idea. The lyrics and melody ended up getting refined over a couple weeks of pounding it out in our practice studio. None of us ever thought of it as a breakthrough idea or anything, but rather just an album track that seem to sound pretty good whenever we played it. We ended up recording it and all of Pet Your Friends out in Philadelphia with producer Phil Nicolo. The rest is history.

It’s obviously the best remembered song on Pet Your Friends, but do you think it was the best song on the album?

No. Shocker! Lol. When you say ” best”, it gets completely subjective. For me, it was “Haze,” “Moisture,” “Charlie Browns Parents,” and maybe “Give.” But, especially “Haze.” That song’s essence and vibe captures what we felt we were all about as a band at the time: it had the soul, wah wah, and overall cool vibe of Isaac Hayes, the guitar power and riffage reminiscent of Led Zepplin, and the epic soaring balladry of Queen. To me, it’s creatively and sonically unique and cool- and it’s one of core fans favorites after all these years. My friends call it stony rock. Wah wah wah….

You will be embarking on a US tour this summer. What older songs are you most looking forward to playing?

Oh man, that’s a hard question. Besides playing the hits, and new tunes off of Juniper Road, I’d have to say that playing “Charlie Brown’s Parents,” and especially “Moisture” is always a slam dunk for us. Up tempo in nature, with a heavy, dope sounding drum loop reminiscent of the Beastie Boys on Check Your Head, with huge guitar chunks on top of it all. What’s not to love about that? Can’t wait…

You can pre-order Juniper Road on iTunes

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