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
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.
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 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
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
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."
"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
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."
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
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