Dry-Rot are a band that has intrigued me for quite some time. I first got in touch with them back in 2007 when their vocalist Drew Wardlaw sent an e-mail thanking me for playing their first self released 7” on WFMU. We traded off e-mails back and forth. Interviews were started, but were left to the wayside here and there. We finally nailed one down three years later with their guitarist Jordan Darby chiming in as well. Their first full length ‘Philistine’ has just been released on the Parts Unknown label and is a serious early contender for record of 2010…and that’s not just some easy rock writer lip flapping. It’s a challenging and disorienting listen that can reference Void, The Minutemen and This Heat as easily as I can scarf down a roasted chicken. For you industry types, check them out at SXSW. For people like me who like to stay home and pet the cat, just rock the record and feel cleansed. Interview done via electronic mail January 2010…
Tony Rettman: I guess give me a basic history of Dry-Rot
Jordan Darby: Dry-Rot came out of a few different bands that we, as a small group of friends, had been in and were trying to be in. Patrick (org. drums), Cameron (org. bass), Drew (vocal), and myself (Jordan, guitar) were all living in the beach resort town of Santa Barbara, about 30 minutes north of my native working class town of Ventura, California. Everyone was going to college at the time. I was away on a semester abroad in Europe when Patrick and Drew began forming the impetus of what was to be Dry-Rot. Let me back track a couple years prior — Pat played guitar and wrote all the music for the band he and I were in previously called Hit The Deck; he’s not naturally a drummer. I sang for that band and I distinctly remember having specific goals to accomplish in the ‘hardcore/punk’ scene or whatever you want to call it. It was a very idealistic time and was a formative band for Pat and I. We had both been in bands before that but Hit The Deck was the first band that we each took seriously. After a few years, it became more clear that my approach as a messenger needed a face-lift and I stopped giving the general public so much credence and credit for thinking on their own. It was frustrating trying to communicate ideas that I felt were important to share and address to a bunch of people that didn’t even care. Outside personal relationships I’d developed by going to shows, promoting shows, putting out records, etc, I just felt like I wanted to make them work for it a little harder.
It’s funny now, and my wife and I were reflecting on this yesterday, but really Hit The Deck was a grassroots local band, the complete opposite of Dry-Rot (a band I’d say is more of an “artistic statement” for lack of a better term). I get stopped on average at least once a month by people I don’t know that recognize me from shows back then; they say such nice things. It didn’t feel that welcoming at the time! But Hit The Deck is actually a bigger band in Ventura than Dry-Rot, even though Dry-Rot has gone on to do so much more and develop into a more ‘critically acclaimed’ band in just about every regard.
The point I’m making is this was the progression we were all going through…we didn’t wake up one day and decide we were going to be these “freaks”. As a group of people, we have remained the same, but the approach had to change or the formula would risk losing potency. It’s all about how you view your world.
Anyway, Drew sang for an awesome sloppy punk/thrash band called Blood Dumpster up in the San Luis Obispo area at the same time as Hit The Deck and that’s how we all met. He moved down and we all moved into Santa Barbara together. This was 2004-2005. It was a short time but a lot happened. We were really all that we had…we didn’t get along very well some of the time but everyone had excellent taste in the arts, and all things humor-related. These guys were all really funny and extremely creative and different. Originally the band was to be titled “GAK” and Pat was to play guitar and me bass. But when I got home from Europe and saw that nothing was happening with it, I changed everything and wrote what would be the first three songs off our first EP, Permission.
We drifted in and out with our relationship with Pat as a musician and initially we had another drummer, some kid from up north. That didn’t really work, we cut a quick demo and then started over and forced Pat to play drums. We recorded Permission with Brian Wallace, the tenor sax player for Sublime, because Drew knew him and assured us that he knew nothing about this style of music. It worked out perfectly because we wanted someone completely ignorant of the process. It was a mess. We tracked the whole session in a day, no overdubs except for two solos that I spent zero time on. We hadn’t really practiced for more than about a week prior. The B side was actually a jam that I made up on the spot and we just hit ‘record’…it was a rehearsal! We didn’t even know what was going on but hey it worked, I think.
TR: What were some of your first shows like?
Drew Wardlaw: On March 23, 2005, Dry-Rot played its first show in some barn or bedroom thing for someone’s birthday party. Cameron looked for a bathroom in the house, but found an old woman hooked up to an oxygen tank instead. We don’t complete a full song and break a PA system, a bass, and a drum set. The wiener drummer we had at the time quits the band because he’s too afraid and now has square dance parties in Nashville. Every member of the band bled somehow.
TR: What was your portal into the world of punk rock, hardcore…whatever you want to call it…
DW: I had to find out about punk and even just music in general on my own. My parents didn’t listen to any music and didn’t have any CDs…like they didn’t own a single one. They didn’t do anything creative actually. Except they made me play in the school band from 4th-7th grade. I wanted to do it, but they were the ones that brought up the idea. It was so stupid. I played the trombone, the dumbest of all instruments. I used to get made fun of so much walking around with that huge case. I had to walk home from school too, with that heavy case. The only time I heard music was at my friend Sean’s house. His dad would listen to classic rock records and he would quiz us on who the band was. His brother made me tapes of Pantera and stuff like that, and I liked the harder and faster music like that. Then in 7th grade, my friend’s older brother and I were talking about music or something and he decided to make me a couple tapes with punk on it. He gave me an FYP tape, a Propaghandi tape, an Angry Samoans tape, and a Youth of Today tape. You have to understand that there wasn’t any sort of scene or anything in my town, it was really small and rural. I just had to make do with whatever I could get my hands on or whatever people would give me, and I liked anything that was fast and mean sounding. That’s what got me about punk, is that it was really fast. It was faster and meaner sounding than even Pantera and the other heavy metal stuff I was listening to. It was kind of cool living in such a culturally isolated spot because I just had to discover things on my own and I had to make up my own mind about what was good and bad. Then as I got older I started meeting some people that knew more and all my opinions went out the window.
JD: I had three portals into the world of punk. The first, and possibly the most important, was my uncle Dave. He played in a great band called Blackworm that gigged with bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth. He showed me Flipper and Butthole Surfers when I was in grade school….this scared the hell from me & in retrospect was irresponsible of him. He would tell me about shows he would go to back in the day…he was THERE in LA when “it was all happening”. He brought me tapes he’d make of bands like Germs and The Ramones. That was my initial exposure but it was frightening; I knew that the music was special but it was too much to understand. The second, more direct influence was my brother. He’s not a punk and never was, but he had friends that were into death metal, punk etc and would pass stuff along to me. We sort of vibed for a few years there (he likes all styles of music so he didn’t get obsessed over punk like I did). He would take me to shows and I would be scared; we didn’t know anyone and it was all new. The third was a friend in high school who took the two prior influences and coalesced everything into something more tangible. His step-dad ran a screen printing business and would tell us about seeing Bad Brains in Santa Barbara, how the lights would be completely blacked out and they started with The Big Takeover — Suddenly a spotlight would shine on HR FLYING out into the crowd above the PA, singing every word perfectly. This all opened my eyes and I said “I want that”.
My parents are musicians. They were in bands and, above all, were music people. My dad knew Seymour Duncan, my mom was putting on folk rock concerts (she snuck on stage during sound check and played Willie Nelson’s guitar once!). These are my two biggest life influences, so they passed that gene down to me. They became Christians in the 1970s and that only served to intensify their musical leanings. People get down on Christianity, but when Christians or spiritual people in general are trying to communicate to God through music and they genuinely mean it and believe it, that can be the most powerful music experience that can be realized, in my opinion. They gave me a guitar and I instantly tried to be my dad…started garage bands left and right even before punk. I loved The Who, The Beatles, Randy Stonehill, Petra, etc. A strange mix never involving modern radio; our family wasn’t interested in the mainstream — it was boring to us.
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