Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fan Q&A with Pegleg of The Dingees

I’ve always been a sucker for picking up cool looking compilations with huge tracklists because you never know what new musical treasures you might find. Back in the summer of 1998, I remember buying Songs from the Penalty Box, Volume 2 because it had a lot of the ska/punk/hardcore bands that I loved on Tooth and Nail Records. One of the cooler discoveries on it for me was this awesome little punk tune called “Another Burnin’ City” from The Dingees. I sifted through the liner notes, found out their debut album had just been released earlier that year and went out and picked up Armageddon Massive within the next couple of days. Not only did I fall in love with their punk stuff, but I loved their Clash-flavored forays into reggae, ska and dub as well. They had attitude, swagger, grooves for days and some cool, relaxed vibes that just seemed to really set them apart from most of the other punk/ska bands available at the time. The fact that they also had a killer version of “We Three Kings” on the Happy Christmas comp later that same year sealed my love affair with them.

They released two more albums in the next couple of years (Sundown to Midnight in 1999 and The Crucial Conspiracy in 2001) and then The Dingees pretty much went underground for a while. They returned in 2010 with Rebel Soul Sound System, a labor of love that was written right after The Crucial Conspiracy, musically fleshed out over the span of a few years and recorded, produced and released in the kind of DIY way that produces a really rich, unique, organic end product. Rebel Soul Sound System is the sound of a band evolving, maturing and remaining true to their most integral elements. Songs like “Still On the Move” and “Smoke Signals” show a confidence and a determination to let the songs dance, move, breath and exist as they want and not as some label head might say they “should.” With songs that play out over the 5 minute, 6 minute and even 9 minute mark, Rebel Soul Sound System is an album to listen deeply to, dance along with and get swept away in.    

After mentioning The Dingees in a few different posts, I was contacted by their frontman Pegleg about hosting “an interview by proxy” made up of fan questions and his detailed responses. To say it is an honor would be short-selling it for me. The guys were definitely a cool part of my musical youth and it’s a privilege to get to share this behind the scenes look at the making of Rebel Soul Sound System, Pegleg’s creative process, how the band incorporates their collective influences into their own sound and what we can look forward to from them in the future.

Q: What was The Dingees process during the creation of Rebel Soul Sound System, from the words to the music to the length of the song to the effects used, particularly in ”I’ll Be'neath the Canopy” in particular?
Pegleg: it was definitely a long process over many years. By the end of August of 2001, we played our last show of the Crucial Conspiracy tour at Tomfest in Washington State. Soon after Tooth and Nail sent us an email saying they were not interested in releasing another Dingees record. We were still playing shows locally, working on new songs but mostly just sitting around in a post 9/11 mind-blown haze. You know, booking a tour or trying to look for a new label didn’t seem like the most important priority at that moment. I had just moved into the house at 4th & Maine in Long Beach where most of Rebel Soul Sound System would end up being recorded. We all started to get real jobs for the first time and had pretty much settled into a hometown, hanging out lifestyle instead of roadwarrioring & studio campouts. Watching the wars begin (which had caused gas prices to soar) didn’t help prospects of getting back on the road anytime soon. I started to become interested in the idea of home recording music at the same time reuniting with old friends who I hadn't seen a lot of in the busiest touring days. One was childhood friend DJ ShermOnE who ended up contributing a lot to Rebel Soul, playing all turntables and some drum programming. He had his DJ turntable setup, as well as a Roland 1880 digital studio DAW workstation. We started demoing new songs, just by accident, hanging out, messing with drum machines, making loops and sampling. Eventually Landers would end up coming with me to Sherm’s dad’s house in Vista for a couple days at a time to work on new music. It became a regular thing to get a couple days off, load up the instruments in the van and head to Sherm’s in San Diego. We did this for a year or two. After awhile we had over 20 tracks of demos I refer to as “WhiteNoise” because if Rebel Soul sounds lo-fi, you really have no clue. 

These recordings gave me the idea and inspiration for making a new Dingees record ourselves at home. I saved up $500 and bought an MBox which gave us two XLR mic inputs and Protools software we used for recording on a borrowed laptop. This was fine for songs with drum machine or samples for a beat, using only two stereo tracks. Landers and I would add guitars and keyboards at my apartment and basically just get to know what we were doing with the software. Eventually, in summer 2004 we went to Planet X studios run by Pete Mattern. He recorded my little brother’s band the Carmines and helped me earlier mix down the “WhiteNoise” demos when Sherm needed to free up space on the 1880. Pete’s studio is a small converted garage at his house. We went one day out to Norco and recorded Scrodge's drums for “Global Tribal,” “Capital Imperial,” “Blackout!” and “Still On the Move.” Also that day, Bean recorded his basslines over the beat I made for “Sound Depression” and the previously recorded drums for “Smoke Signals,” which we recorded at my apartment on the 1880.

At this point, Sherm had become my roommate in Long Beach and Landers and Scrodgers moved in to the apartment directly above ours. So we had full reign, literally recording the album in our bedrooms & living rooms, dragging instruments, equipment and computers back and forth between the upstairs & downstairs apartments. We would have band practice in my living room, play local shows every few months or so, and keep working on recording. The house was right on the corner of an intersection downtown Long Beach in an area called the West Gate Way. Its mostly poor family housing and apartments close enough to the hustle and bustle of Ocean Blvd so we got away with jamming all the time. People walking by the house would stop and listen and let us know they liked what they heard. It was great. People in the neighborhood were real cool to put up with us. I ended up living there for 8 years and I did my best to memorialize the place in the artwork for the actual hardcopy of the Rebel Soul Sound System CD. The living room just basically became the band room. You couldn’t even use the front door to get in because of the giant bass cabinet blocking the way. Organs, PA, piano, guitar amps, drumset… always ready to go at a any moment. There was a small room right off the living room that had glass doors and in there was my control room with all the recording equipment. It seemed perfectly setup for a studio and this was in a building that now is over 100 years old. When I moved in they told us it was in the historical record, forever saved by law from demolition. There were carved lions heads on the fireplaces, all old school, true craftsmanship. It was amazing, a very inspirational environment to record the songs and be creative in. When I finally moved out I remember Sherm coming over, who had long moved out already, when I was dismantling everything and packing it all in boxes him saying "Man this is crazy, can’t believe you’re moving, this place is like a museum." I think the collage on the inside of the CD artwork pretty much gives you the feel of what it was like making music in there and what he meant. 
We kept on working like this, in spurts, from time to time, some furiously, some not so, with no particular schedule, whenever any group of us could agree to get together and record. Sometimes it would be the whole band there, playing together, or other times only recording Scrodge's drum track. Sometimes Bean would come over and record his bass part or Dave would come over and do sax or vocals. Jeff Holmes would send me guitar tracks on CD he added over my rough mixes and I would fly them in. Me, Scrodge and Landers would do backing vocals and percussion together. One guy would stay late after practicing and add something to the mix. A lot of times, it'd be Landers and I working on guitars or keyboards or organs. He got a Rhodes at one point... most of the album is made by him and I. Or I should say, the majority of what was played and recorded was done by either him or me. All guitars, synth, clavinet, rhodes, organs, keyboards, besides the organs and pianos on the reggae songs, those were played by JBonner, the rest was either Landers or myself. Landers wrote and played all the lead guitar parts as well. Once we had a bunch of the drum tracks, we collected amps and guitars from anybody willing to help. Our old producer Kravac offered some equipment, Jeff Holmes gave us his twin reverb amp to borrow for a while. Teppei let us raid Thrice's arsenal of axes down in Irvine. Even Beans barber loaned us his $25,000 strat. If it was too late at night we would load the van up with guitars, amps and recording gear and setup in the waiting room of my stepdad’s office. We could record all night and not disturb anybody. We found any way to make it happen. Eventually we needed more mic inputs to record drums on our own and we pitched in $1500 to step up from an MBox to a Digi002 with 8 mic inputs. I guess I should add, all Dingees songs start initially as songs I'd play for the other guys on acoustic guitar, the basic guitar progressions, lyrics, melodies and arrangements. Then each member would work out his own part as we develop the new songs at practice. Then when we felt ready we would start laying down tracks. Some exceptions for example, “Test the Champion” was purely a product of demoing with Sherm and making beat loops with Line6 delay pedal out of samples from Jungle Drum & Bass records, then adding some chords on top and spontaneous lyrics coming out. That song did not exist on acoustic guitar before that, but most of them did. I had sent JBonner rough mixes of our progress early on with hopes that he would be down to play on our new songs. His contribution to the reggae songs on The Crucial Conspiracy had really expanded the sound well and gave them a more authentic roots feel. I was pretty content to wait until he was available. He was real busy playing bass with the Aggrolites at this time, but we finally arranged to record for a day by May 2006. Landers and I took the laptop and MBox and our hard drive of recordings out to Ontario, Inland Empire to J & his mom’s apartment, where she used to make us Chorizo we ate with Doritos in The Crucial Conspiracy demos days of late '99. The difference now is half of his garage was taken over with all kinds of organs and pianos, mic stands and recording equipment and the walls were painted up with slogans black ark style, Jstudio on the wall. Good sights, good signs. You can see this in the artwork to the album as well.

When we got there, J showed me he had already recorded the organ and piano tracks for “Sound Depression” on his own. He gave me a disc and I piped those tracks in later at home. In the next few hours, he laid down piano and organ tracks for all the reggae type chops on the album, “Global Tribal,” “Still On the Move” and “One Inch Equation.” Before we left, Landers recorded upright piano on “Test the Champion.” It felt good to get Bonners contribution finally and it added more than I could have imagined, as always. This addition made me want to move forward with another element I had been waiting on even longer for access to. We really had no budget. We would pitch in what little we could afford from time to time or save up. Putting it together this way had me learning patience. Jah! Horns we knew through Beeken, the saxophone player. He was in a band called Dub Kinetic that we used to play with in downtown Long Beach in 2001-2003 at a place called M-Bar. By 2007, Jah! Horns section was becoming a busy business and we needed to pool $400 for a weekend of work, which we were glad to do. First, Beeken came over separately and he and I went through the songs that I wanted to add horns to. I had written the parts for “Smoke Signals” and the intro line to “Global Tribal,” which he transcribed.

I also played him “Test the Champion,” “Still On the Move,” “Port Royal Sound” and “Once Inch Equation.” He proceeded to make up all the parts on the spot that afternoon and we recorded all his idea on scratch track. The next two days, I think it was a weekend, Trumpet Bryan and Farmer the Trombone player came over and I recorded all those ideas in full horn section translation version. I think it was a few months later that I was able to borrow a baritone saxophone for a week or so, and Jah! Horns came back for one afternoon and Beeken added Bari to “Global Tribal.” Also we added a part to the end of “Smoke Signals” with a full horn section all together and I got to play Bari. It was definitely a highlight of making the album for me.

I was pretty much recording most lead vocals on my own and I had a hard time "producing" myself. I didn’t have the patience to go through and edit a ton of takes and I really despised the idea of auto-tune. So I just usually hit record and busted a few takes from start to finish and then picked the best one, warts and all. The girl gang vocals to “Blackout!” were recorded at my son's baby shower, performed by all the attendees. Another cool location was a piano closet in a theatre at the Long Beach Convention Center. Landers was working there as a maintenance man, and after his shift one night, around two or three a.m., we snuck down there with a backpack of laptop, MBox, mics and cords. The theatre’s piano closet had a grand piano we put on the intro to “Blackout!” Security came in all mad to bust us, but when we explained what we were actually trying to do, they let us stay and finish. Once I felt all the layers were there, I made plans to return to PlanetX and start mixing to analog tape with Pete. I assumed I would go out there for a day or two and come back with a complete album over a weekend. However, the first trip we spent all day and night, over twelve hours, and came out with a final mix on only one song, which was “Still On the Move.” The voluntary aspect of other peoples involvement left us at the mercy of their schedules and Pete pretty much had a free day to offer his help about every 2 or 3 months. We worked like this on and off, for about a year and a half, until finally we had the mastered version of the album. This was 2009, the same year I moved with my family to Maui. The first year on Maui, I worked on the album artwork, and the album was finally released on the Jamendo website in 2010. So it’s pretty much the most unconventional way to make an album of songs that are meant to flow seamlessly together. It is literally a hobby album. I still refer to it as playskool or little tykes: "My First Album." Intentionally made on no budget, in our spare time, with any equipment we could beg, borrow or find. D.I.Y. and that was always the intention. We openly spoke together often that it should be home- recorded, self-produced, completely pure product of a band as a group of recording artists, undiluted by A&R and record executive marketing influence and quarterly cycles. It was the product of our living rooms, bedrooms, garages and borrowed or stolen spaces. It was coming from pure inspiration and love of creating new music & crafting good songs.

“I'll Be'Neath the Canopy” was originally written on acoustic guitar. It started in the early demo days with Sherm’s 1880. I asked him to rebuild a beat from a breakdown on a live Japanese import version of The Wailers’ Exodus album. He made it on Korg ER-1 analog drum machine. That’s what gives it that four on the floor bassdrum beat, the rockers/steppers reggae beat. Then, he finished it off with some strange sounds, rather than typical snare drum sounds. On top of that, I put a bassline, a lead guitar part, acoustic guitar, vocals, some delayed percussion and keyboards. That demo became the sketch and we eventually rebuilt the track in Pro-Tools with better quality and each band member playing their part on their own instrument. The song idea came from a line in a book (I think it was called Einstein’s Dreams) that said, "some born high, some born low" and then it morphed from there into a song about the haves and the have-nots, rest for the weary, the first becoming last and the last becoming first. I was going for an ambiguous feel for the song, genre-less. I think I was referring to it as new age music to myself, but it’s not like I was listening to Yanni for inspiration or anything. By new age, I just meant a timeless, alien music, almost from another realm or planet. Not earth music. What’s hilarious to me is recently hearing the theme song to the movie The Neverending Story and I was laughing at the similarities. It’s got a pounding drum beat, ethereal synth sounds, spacey and otherworldly, with male and female vocals and it even has a magical harp leading to the bridge; all just like “I’ll Be'Neath the Canopy.” So in the end, I think I was subconsciously trying to recreate some pop culture crud stuck in my brain from my 80's childhood.
Q: The diversity of Dingees songs seems indicative of influences from multiple genres and eras and cultures. Please explain why or how a band/performer has been inspirational for you guys as musicians and as humans in general.
There are the Dingees obvious usual suspects of course: the Clash, roots reggae, Dub, JA & 2Tone Ska, Wailers, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Bad Brains, Fishbone…
but the biggest new artist to influence us during the making of Rebel Soul would have to be Manu Chao and his albums Clandestino and Esperanza. I remember a friend 
showing me Esperanza right before 9/11 and immediately I got it. I loved every song; the multi-genre, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, anti-war protest songs. After 9/11 it was that much more relevant: "This world go crazy, it’s an emergency." It was heavily reggae influenced and produced like a Bomb Squad Public Enemy album full of Spanish acoustic guitars, trumpet, trombone, video game sounds and radio & TV samples. It seemed custom made for our enjoyment. All perfectly interspliced together with no let up between tracks; global transmissions all bleeding into one giant statement: NO WAR! This sequencing was very influential on the seamless style sequencing of Rebel Soul. Manu Chao is someone we all grabbed onto, could agree on and automatically he became an icon to us in the pantheon of Dingees artistic influences. He’s right up there with Marley and Strummer. The hornline on the bridge of “Global Tribal” is replay of the horns on "Mr. Bobby."

Another new influence that the whole band got into equally as heavily is Fela Kuti and his bands Africa ‘70 and Nigeria ’80 and afrobeat and west African funk. Fela is his own institution and mythology and just glancing over him would do great injustice, so I wont even try. But in a Dingees inspirational pantheon, Fela
would be Zeus. You know, Most High, Godfather, let’s just put it that way. Hopefully anyone reading this will do themselves the favor of discovering Fela. “Smoke Signals” is our attempt at bringing Fela & afrobeat influence out through our music.

Another big one would be Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros. Taking more the Clash Sandinista! global world music approach, tackling any admired genre as the real definition of pure punk freedom, as opposed to punk equaling the fastest three power chords possible while wearing matching leather jackets.
Funkadelic and Parliament has been music we have always collectively loved, cherished, respected, sat and listened to in awe. Let’s Take It to the Stage was played constantly during the making of The Crucial Conspiracy, but Rebel Soul songs is where the influence starts to show up audibly. A lot of our guitar riffs are funky but we never really come right out playing a straight funk song. It’s more the way that George Clinton would also tackle any genre with Funkadelic
and Parliament. The pure freestyle abandon to play whatever type of music you enjoy regardless of genre or convention. The key is good songs. If the song is good in demo form, just lyrics and lone accompaniment on acoustic guitar or whatnot, then no matter the presentation, genre or style its going to be a good song, so you might as well play it in the most appropriate style you like and as funky as humanly possible.
Le Tigre's album Feminist Sweepstakes was huge for most of us. For me it was greatly motivational as far as demonstrating how cool and classic a D.I.Y, 
self produced, MPC sequenced album with guitars could be. Also the songs and samples are great, the girls gang vocals, their image and politics, there’s a lot
to love about them. Soul music, James Brown, Marvin Gaye "What’s Going On," Stevie Wonder, Stax/Volt, Motown, the girl groups, Phil Spector’s "Wall of Sound" also "plastic" soul or 
white guy soul like the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Revolver, the Who, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the six or so albums after that. There was 
a period of time when we all would go to this club in Hollywood on Saturday nights that had a soul music room and a lot of the vibe and energy came from us all sweating out our troubles on that dance floor to the classics. The DJ became Scrodger’s girlfriend for a while. We'd show up, it seemed sometimes forty people
strong, and just take over the room, ruling the whole dance floor, literally busting out James Brown splits. It was out of control. 
The idea I had for Rebel Soul production was layering and piling sounds and instruments like the “Wall of Sound” or Pet Sounds or Public Enemy’s Bomb Squad
production team. I wanted the songs stuffed full and brimming with stimulus from all angles and directions, just like when you are walking downtown Long Beach city streets. Without good headphones and a strong attention span, I’m sure it could be quite dissonant and disorientating to most listeners, because I produced the thing, I placed each sound where it was to go and when I listen, I get bombarded. But at the same time, it’s an album I feel you can listen to over and over for many years and still not hear everything hiding in there.

Drum and Bass music became pretty huge for us, specifically Ragga Jungle, Congo Natty and DJ ShyFX mixes. We would play that when we wanted to get energized, 
pumped up and ready to lay down heavy grooves. We'd be bouncing off walls around the living room studio with Ragga Jungle Anthems Vol. 1 & 2 ghettoblasting 
the neighborhood before practice or packing up the van for a show. For me more personally, I was listening to Bjork and Joni Mitchell a lot. Bjork’s Vespertine gave me the idea for the clicky, glitchy drums on “One Inch Equation” and Joni Mitchell’s virtuosic poetry was the lyrical ability I was aspiring to and still do, with Ladies of the Canyon and Blue being my favorites of hers. The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and Go-Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike both had impact on me production-wise. Landers and I were listening to a lot of NarcoCorridos which were unavoidable on 4th street & Maine in downtown Long Beach, with artists like Chalino Sanchez & Los
Tigres Del Norte. It was amazing, wonderful music mostly about drug trafficking in Mexico. I notice now a lot of the ideas of musique concrete, sound collage & field recording have made it onto the album and I guess that just comes from having your own recording equipment. At times I would record cool ambient sound when I heard it going on outside. But come to think of it, I did have a 
disc I listened to a bit back then called the Droplift Project. It was a compilation of sound collage artists and they would "drop" free CD copies in big 
chain record stores (back when they were still in existence) and you were suppose to go to the record store, look up Droplift, and "steal" your own copy. It’s a pretty cool recording. Tape Op magazine is a free magazine subscription about D.I.Y home studios and recordings. I read every copy that came to the house during the making of the 
album. The last thing that had a big influence on the sound was my MPC 2000XL. It’s a sampler/sequencer/drum machine unit that is used mostly in hip hop "beat" production. I created the drumbeats for “Sound Depression,” “Test the Champion,” ”The Hardest Game,” “Reconstruction,” “Port Royal Sound” and “Who Stole the Soul in Rock 'N Roll” all on the MPC. The sound collage "Street vs. State" was created entirely inside the MPC.
Q: The accompaniment of female vocals is very prominent on album. Is there any talk of doing shows with these heavenly beings?
Pegleg: The women who sing on the album are sweet friends who volunteered their beautiful voices at no charge. They were simply down for the cause. Kelly Michelle is my lady of twelve years and at night after putting our children to bed, we'd fire up ProTools and I'd record her adding backing vocals. Chelsea Somma is a lifelong friend, someone I literally grew up with as a child (in the same apartment at one point), who we played shows with her band in
the early Dingees days. She had JRoss and I over to her place in Huntington Beach when she had to be about nine months pregnant. I brought some mics and a laptop and I recorded them together in her living room. JRoss Parrelli we met through Jah! Horns and she had a band with them called Tulasi at the time. She is a total 
modern day classic artist in her own right. Everyone should check her album out: J. Ross Parrelli: Lov'n Mak'n Music. It has always been a dream of mine to perform our music live with a full band. We never played a show with the full instrumentation from our records. It would be great to do so with keyboards, horns, the backing vocals, everybody.
As of right now Landers and Scrodge are the only Dingees members who still live on the U.S mainland. We haven’t played a show since 2009 when I moved
to Maui with my family. Bean soon followed and DC moved to Tokyo. There is some talk between us of demoing for a new album, but no consideration of touring or shows 
at this point. Just the hope and possibility of recording the new songs as the album ideas I've written, with and as the Dingees band.

Q: When will the Dingees have more merch for sale online? How do I obtain vinyl versions of the Dingees albums?
Pegleg: We have been considering all the options for creating a webstore for shirts and stickers, buttons and patches and our albums on CD through mail order, but no way I’ve found yet seems D.I.Y friendly. Just a lot of fees I'd rather not give to some middleman company for not really doing anything other than 
having you at a virtual tollbooth of some type. That being said, we’re filing for a fictitious business name so we can start accepting checks. 
Once that’s sorted, we'll put up some kind of webstore. Open Water Records released a vinyl LP of The Crucial Conspiracy you can purchase through Broken Circles:
What I would like to launch in the future is an International City Recordings website or hub for future releases. DC & I are working on a hardcore punk record
and I have solo recordings I'd like to put out as well. This would also be a place we could have merch available.

Q: Years ago I read that you guys were interested in doing a Sandinista type double album. What became of this idea and will it ever come to fruition?
Pegleg: Once The Crucial Conspiracy was released we still owed Tooth and Nail two more records contractually. We had known for long time that 
Tooth and Nail’s audience and market wasn't the optimum place to promote our music. We figured we'd do a double album to fulfill the contract and move on. 
All the songs on Rebel Soul would have been on this double album, plus another albums worth of what I feel are lesser quality songs written during that 
same period. So its good it didn’t work out that way. But it’s important to note that Rebel Soul Sound System was the album that I wrote directly after The Crucial Conspiracy. The recording process happened over many years, but I kept working on the original album idea I had and the same main group of songs I wrote back in 2001-2002 to keep the creative arch going. It’s the trajectory that the Dingees music takes, in it’s correct order of inspiration. Of
course, Rebel Soul doesn’t sound like the juvenile punk and ska of the first two Dingees albums, but songs like “Blackout!” and “Everybody Today” are the logical evolution of songs like “Middleman,” “Summer” and “General Information” from The Crucial Conspiracy, just like those songs were the evolution of the earlier albums. The sound evolves, but through the same musicians, that’s why it’s appropriate to still call it a Dingees album. It’s the same guys. The music may morph, but the band is the same five dudes from before. We are the Dingees and we define what that means. The name is meaningless in it’s original intent. I guess it’s a good description of the lo-fi sound of the new album, but that could never have been planned. A band’s recordings are supposed to become higher quality over time, not degrade. Dave Lumiam our old manager used to marvel and say to us, "your record budgets are suppose to increase over time, not decrease!" Who would’ve thought back in 2000 that the music industry would devolve and destruct to the point where we had to scavenge up equipment just to record a new album ourselves.

There you go! Thanks to everyone who submitted questions! You can check out the killer vibe of Rebel Soul Sound System for yourself at Jamendo.

Also, here's a couple of links to stay up on all Dingees-related goodness:

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