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Interview with Dresden - August 17, 2000
Dresden: Ethereal rockers discuss their dreams, the ailments of the industry, and the real heart and soul of Rock & Roll
By Daina Kazmaier
(more articles from this author)
2000-09-02
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Background: Kel Pilshaw (bass, piano) & Sean Enright (drums)
Foreground: Dave Bockhay (lead vocals, guitar) & Kyle Corbett (lead guitar, backing vocals, piano)

Four individuals with one vision of their destiny: to bring the masses to their knees with nothing more than unified emotion. Music can be felt hard enough and deep enough to move one's soul. Music can be liberation. Liberation from what, you ask? Where do we begin...

During my drive up to the interview in North Jersey, about a hundred or so questions that I wanted to ask the band were running through my mind. Being that a live performance by Dresden about a month earlier inspired me to dig deeper into their minds and see what makes the band tick, I already had a feel as to what they were about. Words that came to mind were expression, vitality, and, of course, the aforementioned liberation. So I decided to wait and see which path Dresden would take me along- and believe me, these guys have issues with plenty of interesting things.

Kel Pilshaw

Dresden's full length 1998 release, "The Day that Neil Armstrong Died," (prequeled by a 1995 demo and followed by a five song EP recorded especially for Maverick Records) is a disarming shade of grey- not too heavy or harsh, but certainly not airy enough to be another stamped out product processed from the ‘starmaker machinery.' There is something underlying the guitar-driven musings that is quite unstructured, and it makes it all the more beautiful to listen to. And that ‘something' can only be interpreted by the listener.

The band is currently in the process of reworking their press kit to market to major labels, and although the Maverick showcase didn't work out as planned, Dresden keeps their heads held high. Sure, they had between two and three hundred people attend their CD release party in 1998, but gigging is not a regular event; the band can sell out a club on an average of once a month. One of the more serious bands I've encountered, rehearsal is mandatory once a week. In fact, a "phenomenal stage show is in the works," says lead singer/guitarist Dave Bochkay. "We're working on a way to translate our anger live on stage. We'll make the big push and see what happens."

Their musical union formed in 1992, but the guys have been tight for plenty of years. "We were all friends in high school and we used to get together and complain about the bands each of us was in. So one day it just hit us- we got together and made Dave the singer," said Kel Pilshaw (bass guitar). The birth of Dresden happens to be a rather ironic statement considering that the band is named for the German city that was burned to oblivion. Lead guitarist Kyle Corbett came up with the name. "We couldn't think of anything to call ourselves- we had some horrible names. There was West Wind...Rooster...we were hanging out drinking one night, and I had a fascination with Kurt Vonnegut at the time. He wrote a book called ‘Slaughterhouse Five' that tied in with Dresden. So we were hanging out and still thinking of names. I said, how about names of cities? We started rambling off some and I came up with Dresden. No one said anything, so that was it. And I went there for the first time not too long ago- it's a really dark, melancholy, beautiful city. We didn't really think about it at the time, but the name makes perfect sense for us."

How about Neil Armstrong and the recurring theme of astral images on Dresden's full length release? (A few song titles: Apollo 11, Ascending, Gemini III and IV.) Dave Bochkay writes about 90% of the lyrics, but everyone in the band fuels his imagination. His connection to Neil Armstrong touches on the personal side. "The album from a lyrical/musical standpoint is about whatever it took to put Neil Armstrong on the moon- that amazing accomplishment, I felt, was lost to society as a whole. I was watching a show on Armstrong, and the guy was just fearless. At that time, I was going through terrible panic attacks. Basically, I saw society lose that edge as I saw myself lose the edge. ‘The Day that Neil Armstrong Died' was my way of saying look what happened to society. You know, when you turn on the T.V. and hear your favorite rock tune...and then you see a Toyota drive by or some shit like that. I remember when it was so uncool to sell out like that (not that we would do it now), and again, that just wiped out the whole thing. Our tunes somehow point it out. For example, ‘Voices' was an experience of recapturing that sort of thing. When I was finally able to say that I had my backbone back- you know, it's just embarrassing to go through a panic attack. I basically fell to pieces. But everything comes back- that whole thing about resurrection and damnation and fire...and I was able to recapture my angst and inspiration. But that's basically what the record from my perspective is about. The ironic part is that the title track (The Day That Neil Armstrong Died) is the most upbeat. But that's totally just the way we work. It was the last song we did on the album and everything just fell into place."

Kyle Corbett

Dresden may have a slight dark side, but their musical tastes aren't limited- among some disagreement, the general consensus (actually Kyle) came up with this: "Kel's into super heavy music and indie rock. Dave is into the Pet Shop Boys and 80's type sounds, Sean's (Enright, drums/percussion) likes classic rock and jazz, and I'm into the jazz and classic sounds. Then we're all into the same thing, like A Perfect Circle, Tool, Kings X, Rush, and all that stuff." And it's obvious on the album; the variety of sounds that are intertwined each have their own genre. But the catch here is that Dresden possesses the power to control those differences and make them work as one. And the first song they ever played was purely original. "We never had the discipline to play covers. We did do a few great ones, but they were our kind of covers. King Crimson, Genesis tunes. The best one we ever did was ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway' (Genesis). We played intricate rock."

"We have about 40-50 songs, some never got finished. My goal is to have our first major release be a live double box set. We have a ton of material and we're constantly evolving. Seriously though, if we get signed to a major, we'll cut a double album as our debut," says Bochkay. "If anyone has the guts to do it."

Radio play is also relatively familiar to the guys. "Matter Doesn't Matter (a track off of Neil Armstrong) gets played. Actually the title track gets the most attention. We send out press kits to stations like WDHA and WRAT (both New Jersey) every couple of months and request that only track six (Matter Doesn't Matter) gets played...but it's Neil Armstrong that they like."

One could wonder how prolonged the song writing process is for a group with such a passionate presence. "Some songs come immediately and some take forever...there's so much to write about and other bands aren't writing about it, so I guess we'll have to do it. Right now there's a lot of inspiration. We'll get around to it one of these days," says frontman Bochkay.

"Some of the songs, even ‘Frozen,' (off of Neil Armstrong) are constantly developing noted Kel Pilshaw.

"There's so much shit that needs to be written about." Like what, Dave? "Commercialism, TV, the apathy of the world, technology, the world trade organization, Bosnia...it's all there, and all we (modern artists) can write about is (insert most annoying lyric here) and it's embarrassing. No one's saying anything about anything."

"We're trying to translate our anger live. We used to have a bullhorn...we might bring it back...we want to make the people see that there is angst and craziness out there- the world is too much of a crazy place."

Dave Bochkay

"We all grew up playing music. We really love music, but it's hard to go out there and try to sell what we have. I'd like to eat by playing music, but I want to be smart about it too and make it clear that we have an anti-stance against all these bands...Creed, Matchbox 20, Blink182, and others...all I can think to myself is: ‘is this rock and roll?' Is this guy singing bullshit to a bunch of 15-year-olds who buy Britney Spears? Is that rock and roll? Are you really getting it? Is that what you really want? So we're trying to get that across in our live performance- we're pissed off at the world and that's really bitter...it's like, hey, what the fuck? We're all rooting for the people who come and see us. Again, it's not a dark thing per say, it's a variety. What we're trying to do is come across live as powerfully as we possibly can- there's an odd sort of personality that the band has and I want to focus on it that second we come out so people just walk up. There's been people at Dresden shows that are like, ‘what the hell are they about?' It took us many years to finally find out what we are about. So we're at a stage in our development where we know what it takes to get them- right down to the fucking colors. We know what we are. We just can't wait to get out there and show people...if they still care..."

"The bands out there now, and I do love a lot of them- but they sound like they're imitating themselves. So you get a whole record; every song has the same tempo, same guitar sound, same everything. By the fifth song I'm sick of it, and then I go back to what I grew up on. Led Zeppelin had variety, ‘this is our smooth song,' or ‘this is our really heavy song,' because there's different moods. There's different personalities. It's like Zack (de la Rocha) from Rage Against the Machine. Is he always that pissed off with three records against politics? Does he always wake up in the morning and say, ‘god, I hate this!' Did he ever get his heart broken? Did he ever have anything else? Is he ever like, ‘oh, I love this cereal I'm eating...?' They're going to drive it into the ground until it just sucks."

By that point, the band really got into going off on what ails the music industry. From the sell-outs, to the internet, to promotional tactics. And I'm right there with them; the industry has ‘sold out' in many ways. The ‘good old rock and roll' is leaving, and there's barely anything left but the money. Dave throws out another comment: "It really freakin' bothers me when I hear a good tune on a TV commercial and I think it should bother other people too. No one seems to raise the white flag. The money must be too good."

Kel cuts in, "It's like a guitar case full of cash and the industry's like... ‘ hey Lenny.....'

"It's not even to good products. Britney sold out to Mickey D's. Why couldn't she sell out to Jaguar or Mercedes or something along those lines? Sell out with class."

Sean Enright

So what else is corrupting our musicians today? Promotional tactics. The internet, according to the band, is a useful tool, but like everything else, has its limits. "We're constantly trying to find a way to cut a new path for ourselves. We do it through the internet so we have a base to work off of when we play out. We have our songs up everywhere (www.mp3.com/dresden). Biggest waste of freakin' time. Trying to find good music on the internet is like trying to find a needle in a stack of...needles. When it first came out, you had about three thousand songs. Now there's like five billion tunes on there. You go to mp3.com, IUMA, wherever, and the top hundred is the same as Billboard magazine. It's all about promotion. Traditional promotion. That's where the strengths in the record companies will be coming from. Anyone can have distribution, everyone's got their website up and stuff like that. Every once in a while I'll get an e-mail from Japan or the Netherlands saying ‘I was on mp3.com and I heard ‘Voices.' And I'll write back, ‘great, we're playing at the Birch Hill next week.' So if you can use the internet to market locally first then that's a start....the thing that pisses me off is that right now there's a million people out there in the world that are thinking ‘I could really use a band that has guitar driven music, a bald lead singer (see picture)...' That seat needs to be filled by that butt, and the internet will help do that, but again it comes back to traditional promotion and marketing, and no one's got the balls to stand up for anything anymore."

Not even the majority of the bands today obviously, because they conform to what the labels want. They make the music that sells. "We're not going to change the industry- they're not going to say ‘that marketing strategy is right.' You do have to play their game; put out three albums of what they want then do what you've always wanted to do- which sucks- every once in a while there's a band who comes along and wins. I don't think anyone's going to sign a Nirvana or a Poison, but it happens. The other thing now is that the turnover keeps getting faster. Bands keep having to reinvent themselves. A label can manufacture twenty bands that sound just like a band that's selling right now and put it out the next day and play all the shit to death. They're much more nimble than they used to be."

"Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) always had the best perspective of this. For years he's been saying it. I remember he was on the Howard Stern show a while back, and Stern asks ‘how much longer are you going to do this Billy before you retire, buy an island, and have sex with models?' And Billy's like, ‘basically I've got maybe three or four more years in this high-saturated market. That's all I can do.' Then Howard says ‘I thought you were going to save rock and roll.' Billy replies, ‘well, we just did a bad job.' That was a heavy thing right there. Who wants a major label deal? We're fucked anyway."

Cynical, but not ultimately discouraged. The band stays faithful to their weekly rehearsals, and the big dreams are slowly piecing together to form a reality. "The one thing about the band is that we've always been friends, we've always played the same music, we've always been of one mind set. I don't think there's anyone else in the world that's built like we are. We're like a machine that is perfectly made to go out on the road and play music and do that whole thing." And that's exactly how I felt about the band from the minute I walked into their rehearsal studio. So, is Dresden destined to save the world through rock and roll?

Visit their website: www.dresdenband.com
Download mp3s: www.mp3.com/dresden

Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Dresden - The Day that Neil Armstrong Died (2000-07-26)


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