Article and Photo by Miles Hurley
Dopapod is back in the van and on the road! The dynamic four piece jamband officially came back earlier this year with a celebratory performance at The Capitol Theatre, and since then have performed big gigs at places like Peach and Resonance Music Festival. But just a few weeks ago, they kicked off their first full tour of 2019 with a pretty spectacular night at The Theatre of Living Arts in Philadelphia—as well as brought the full band to keyboardist Eli Winderman’s Funk N Bowl session the next day. In between all of that, the band also has released a few new songs recently, like the funky “Velcro” and the socially conscious, proceeds-donated track “November.”
With Dopapod’s two-night run in Boston coming up next, The Poke Around took the chance to ask Winderman some questions about everything Dopapod, Octave Cat, and more.
Thanks Eli for taking a few today. We’re catching you in the beginning of your multi-weekend run here. How does it feel to be back on a fully scheduled tour with Dopapod?
Eli Winderman: It’s great. I mean, we all definitely missed it a lot. It’s been nice though, not being on the road all the time, and being able to meet up and rehearse before everything. It’s nice to be able to do that. Before, we were playing so much that anytime off we had we weren’t going to be rehearsing that often. But now, we’re putting a lot more thought and time into what we’re doing. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m excited to be back in the van, stopping at rest stops, and throwing the frisbee around. We’ve all been exercising a lot more, we’re making sure to get hotel rooms with nice gyms, and getting into that routine. It’s nice to get into that kind of routine with your best friends. And doing something that a lot of people find value in. It’s special to me.
That’s great. That sounds like a healthy way to go about it, to be able to plan ahead and know what you’re doing at all times.
Definitely. But there is something to the opposite of that. You know, when you’re playing a lot of shows, and you’re trying to make every show different, it forces you out of your comfort zone a bit. That can lead to some really cool moments, and it can also lead to some less tight mistakes. But I think what we think of as a mistake, most people wouldn’t even notice. Like, I’ve been really into basketball the past couple years, and there’s so many analogies with music, especially in the jam scene. Every show is its own thing, its own. It’s always a unique experience, and there’s these moments that only happen at one time, and you’re watching these people improvise in the moment. We definitely try to embrace that as much as possible. When I listen back to shows, for me it’s the jams where I go, “Oh shit, this is tight.”
I think that was one of the realizations I had in taking some time away from the band and then coming back to it. I was able to listen to a lot of shows with a little more separation, psychologically. It was nice to have that perspective of listening back to shows that I had no recollection of at all, and seeing which were the moments I really started bobbing my head and started to feel it. And for me, it’s pretty much always in the jams. So, we love to have the time to plan stuff, but we also try to keep in mind to plan for unplanned things, too. And, not trying to plan too much and box ourselves in.
I’ve seen how intense your fanbase can be, intense in a good way. The DopaFam have always seemed super tuned into how each show sounds as a unique thing to the next or last one. And they seem to appreciate the dive off that cliff you guys take every time, not knowing wether what’s gonna happen next is going to be good or not so good.
Exactly, like you have to take that chance and get one or the other. It’s with any jamband, some shows you’re like “Ehh.” Others, you’re saying “Wow.” It’s the nature of the beast. Again, it’s just like in basketball. Sometimes, teams that are really good teams are terrible, for whatever reason. Maybe they just had a really long road trip, or they just didn’t sync well, or they didn’t eat well. The only thing that isn’t the same between music and basketball is there’s not really a defense in music. You’re your own defense, not being in the moment, and that sort of thing. But yeah, the best teams can have the worst games. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Because I’ve had other gigs where you play the same set in the same order every time. I think that’s probably more effective overall, but it’s boring. Maybe it’s a little bit selfish of me, but I’d rather take the chances to find those special moments.
So, over the course of 2019, as you’ve played some shows and some festival appearances, have you found that the certain elements to that kind of improvisation, such as listening to one another one stage, have come back pretty naturally?
So, in 2018 we we weren’t doing any shows, but we did a couple things together, like The Werk Out thing, the trio thing with Mikey. And Chuck got married, so we were still hanging out a bunch, but just not playing as Dopapod for awhile. And, when we first got back together, I felt it was not sick, at first (laughs). I was like, “Oh shit. We’ve got some work to do.” But that was the first day. The second day it felt like it was coming together, then the third day it felt pretty good. And then, a month later we did a week long rehearsal thing, and that’s where I felt like, “Oh here we go. We’ve got it back.” And then we went into the studio, and we rehearsed again for a week, that was right before The Cap. By the time we got back to The Cap, I felt like we were tighter than the time before we stopped.
I came across an interview you did right after The Cap show where you mentioned having gotten other members of the band more involved in the music creation process. You’re going into the studio again now, and of course you’ve been releasing some new songs. Do you feel that collaboration is still going, or even growing?
Definitely, and I wouldn’t even say that I made that happen, people just started to do that, during the time away. Like, Rob started to write a lot on his own, and made the goal for himself to put out his solo album. And then Chuck to started to write a bunch of stuff on his own, and Neal has always played with a bunch of different bands and has written in that setting. But yeah, we have a lot of stuff in the works right now. We’re basically using a lot of the time we have between shows now and the ones coming up to record. We have a lot new stuff, and it’s interesting. A lot of these songs started as us just hanging out. Rob would be playing something on guitar, and I’d be like, “Oh, what is that?” And he’d say, “I don’t know, I’m just making it up.” It was like a seed idea, and we wrote all the different songs based off these seed ideas. Some really cool stuff has come out of that. We also have a bunch of songs that, over the years, we started playing and then stopped playing, for whatever reason. So I’m really excited about all the new stuff.
In the past, I would just make a demo, and everyone would learn it, and put their own twist on the song. Then we would make arrangement changes as a group, when we were all together, and then over time from playing them on the road, they would evolve. That was kind of our process before. Now, it’s cool that we took this year off, because we sort of reset everything. Now we’re back to doing what a normal band would do, where we write the stuff, work on it, record it, and then release it, and then play it live. Which I think is cool, because it allows time for our fans to listen to stuff, and then wonder if we’re going to play it live. It’s cool I think for the experience of going, “Woah, new album? Look at all these songs I’ve never heard before!” Instead of going, “Oh, I know half of these songs already.”
Absolutely. Although, I will say that I think it’s neat that your fans have been into songs being a live thing first, and then getting studio treatment. For a live band like you guys, it’s cool that your fanbase has desired live stuff to have a studio creation.
Oh yeah, totally. And realistically, we’re still going to have that. Like one of the new songs we had opened with for the show in Philly. So that one’s already out of the bag. But a lot of them, we’re going to save until we have a video or something, so when its drops its really like, “Whoah, what is this.”
So, on that Philly show. That’s where you’re from, right? What was it like to bring a Dopapod show back there?
It was really cool. Yeah, I live here, and in the year off I started the funk night here. So, I feel that there’s like multiple versions of me. The Funk N Bowl version of me, where I just show up on a Sunday and jam with whoever I can get. And a lot of people around here know me from that. Then there’s the Octave Cat version of me, which has it’s own crossover with the Lotus scene, and also the South Philly jam scene. We’ve done a lot of small festivals around there. And then, with Dopapod, I feel like a bunch of people were like, “I had no idea you did this!” Like, the guy that owns the bowling alley, Varone is his name. He’s the reason that Funk N Bowl is a thing, he supports it. He’s the man. But he came to The Cap show, and then he came to the TLA show, and he was just like, “Dude, this shit is crazy.”
So there are versions of me, in a way. And its fun as an artist to not get pigeonholed into one thing. Like, Funk N Bowl are usually well attended and it’s really fun. But because we do them every week, and for whatever reason, whether its rain or an Eagles game, sometimes there’s just not a lot of people there. And I’m like, “Oh man, do people do not care anymore?” But then next week it might be packed again. But, it’s just really nice to have a bunch of different things going on. They’re like different house plants that I water. They’re in the same house, but they’re different worlds, different organisms.
And Octave Cat just released a new record back in September. Are you happy with how that one came out?
Oh yeah, overall for sure. I mean there’s always things on recordings that….like you write the song, and then you record it, and then you mix it and master it. And by then, I’ve heard it way too many times, and you lose touch with what it’s actually like to listen to it the first twenty times. But yeah, it seemed to a get a pretty good response from people. I feel like with Octave Cat, for me especially, I listen to it a lot as we’re making it. And then once we’re done, I listen to it every once in awhile. I’m kind of over it once we’re done with it. But it’s been really fun to play those live, and see how they evolve with Jesse and his modular synths. I think we’re starting to tap into something really unique on the jazz end of things, but it’s like electronic dance music with jazz. Some of these songs I think are just really unique and cool. Like “Send It To Donny,” the last song on that album, that one’s so fun to play live, and to fall in love with the bongos (laughs). I’ve been playing bongos a lot with this band, I really enjoy it.
Tapping into some jazzier stuff with Octave Cat—is that influenced by new stuff you’re listening to right now?
I’d say that both Octave Cat and Dopapod are both products of influences that everybody in the band has. And that’s a really cool thing. It’s great when your music can be a product of what everyone’s different favorite styles. The ultimate example is The Beatles. Like, all their individual music is great, but it’s not the magic of The Beatles, where you have this Venn Diagram of convergence, where the song is greater than the parts.
Oh definitely. I remember putting on the White Album for the first time, and my friend telling me how that one was the sound of them separating. Every song sounds like one member’s individual thing.
Yeah, that’s true, that’s kind of when it cracked. And when it went to that Maharishi thing….yeah, all these things that make it hard to keep a band together. It’s a lot of compromises all the time. You need everyone to be able to say, “I don’t agree, but I’m okay with doing that because you want to.” And it’s hard to do that. The bigger something gets, the more people are invested in it, and the harder it gets.
With Dopapod, does it feel like your relationship with the other guys as friends is separate from your relationship as bandmates? Does it feel different on and off stage?
For me, its kind of one thing, because we don’t live in the same city. I think if we were all in the same city, we would all hang out more not in the context of a band. And Neal and Chuck, they have their other band, Mom and Dad, and them and Luke Stratton do lots of stuff out there like rock climbing and all that. But for me, I don’t usually see them unless we’re doing a show. I see Rob, because he’ll come down and we’ll do Funk N Bowl and things like that. He does artist at large at festivals I’ll be at with Octave Cat. But it does all feel like one thing, because they are my best friends. Well, they’re more than that. They’re like family. They’re my brothers.
So, there are a bunch of openers joining the upcoming tour. Anyone you’re particularly excited to link up with?
Yeah, all of the openers are amazing musicians. We always try to pair up with openers that musically inspire us, and that maybe do something a little different than what we do, so that the show isn’t too monotonous. But yeah, all of them are amazing. Paris Monster is really really great, the drummer Josh Dion, he also plays a synth and sings, and he’s got an incredible voice. Ghost Note, obviously super funky guys. I’m really excited for JoJo Mayer and Nerve in Boston. They’re doing two nights with us, and they do a lot of improvising, so I think each show will be really different. I think we’re going to try and collaborate with all of them as much as we can, throughout the tour.
The Paradise Rock Club in Boston was, of course, where Dopapod played its last shows on NYE 2017. Does that room have any special significance for you guys?
Oh yeah, it definitely does. When we were all going to Berkley, that was one of the venues I’d go see music at a lot. It has a special place in my heart for sure. It has this horizontal layout, which I always think is really cool, it’s just different. And that place, for whatever reason, people freak out in that room. People have a good time. Maybe it’s just the acoustics, but the sound of the crowd is always just so loud and awesome.
Stream Dopapod’s entire Philadelphia show from November 23rd here below, directed by and courtesy of the official YouTube page of MK Devo. For info about shows, tickets, and more, head to https://www.dopapod.com.