Whether on the Run or Not, Josh Dodes Band Makes a Name for Itself
The Josh Dodes Band is one of New York's finest - now they are gracing stages all over the country for VH1's Bands on the Run. One of four bands participating in the competition, Josh Dodes Band is now immersed in the "reality" of reality TV. Band leader, Josh Dodes originally came out of "clam chowder city," Boston, only to make his home in "corner hot dog land," New York. Breaking out of the mold, the Josh Dodes band straddles genres to create a, "piano-based funk-rock, with melodies that are hard to forget, soulful vocal harmonies, strong musicianship, and tons of energy." Get the inside scoop on the band being picked for Band on the Run, how the they got started and where they are headed...
[Ben] What do you think of the current trend of reality-based shows today?
Josh I think it's a pretty ugly trend, to tell you the truth, but not a surprising one. Everyone wants to feel omniscient on some level, and the reality shows create the illusion of that, the illusion that you're safely looking through a one-way mirror at someone else's life, and that it's basically just there for your entertainment. Plus, of course, everyone loves to feel better about their own lives by watching other people's fall apart. Like I think Groucho Marx said, "Tragedy is when I get a hangnail; comedy is when you fall down an open manhole and die."
[Ben] One obvious question about Bands on the Run has to be- how real is it? I mean, just how 'natural' can your average person be once the cameras are turned on? What % of pretence is there, really?
Josh Well, what's most real is the intensity and passion you see onstage - after all, that's the one performance setting that we're all used to already. We're all used to being in that particular spotlight. That's not to suggest that a live performance is necessarily an act; maybe it is for some bands out there, I don't know. For a more down-to-earth, organic band like ours, I think that intensity and excitement would be hard to fake, and good bands shouldn't need to.
A lot of the rest of the show is a somewhat caricatured version of what life on the road for a working band is really like. I mean, just for starters, no smart band shows up in a town and promotes a gig from scratch on two days' notice. And it's damn near impossible to pull up and get a gig somewhere for the same night without VH1's cameras (and free publicity) in tow. The amount of work it takes to promote a show successfully is not necessarily harder than what we had to do on the show (which could get pretty damn hard), but it's spread out over a much longer lead time, and much better organized. Smart bands know that you've got to treat promotion like a business: make a game plan, stay organized, see it through. That's how you get the most asses in the seats in unfamiliar cities, when you don't have a national network following you.
As to the amount of pretense you get from a personal standpoint, I think a fair amount. It's incredibly hard to ignore the fact that you have cameras surrounding you, and that in this context, your worst moment is likely to be the one they'll use. Some people, as you'll see on the show, chose to ignore it and freely acted their worst (cheating on girlfriends, etc.). But I think most people, definitely including myself, have a hard time being totally natural in front of the cameras. We did a reasonable job of it, while staying fairly careful, but stuff does get lost. For example, we're a pretty funny group of people - we know that was part of the reason they chose us - but I think the self-consciousness of the cameras made it harder for us to be totally loose and funny on the tour. Truthfully, there's no good way to psychologically prepare yourself to be in that kind of fishbowl.
[Ben] How were you able to land such a sought after slot on Bands on the Run? You competed with thousands of bands... What do you think VH-1 saw in you?
Josh I think what got us on the show was a combination of a few different things: our music, which is generally seen as original and genre-straddling; the fact that VH1 could see that our old and new fans have responded to that sound and our live energy extremely enthusiastically; the fact that our fanbase is really broad and diverse, even though it mostly appeals to the younger, VH1-type set; our experience, individually and collectively; our racial and gender diversity (we're the only band on the show with either); and our sense of humor, which frankly was a lot easier for us to show off in the application process than it was once we had silent teams of camerapeople hovering at every moment. (Kind of creepy.)
[Ben] How does one sell out at important NY clubs, like the Bitter End?
Josh Every successful band would have a different answer to that, but for us, I think it's a combination of having a sound that's original and different, which I think people are hungry for these days, what with the overformatted state of radio; an incredibly energetic live show which very obviously feeds off of the energy of our fans and requires them to be part of the experience; and the willingness to build our fanbase up one person at a time, over many years. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it's really true: every fan starts out as a skeptic (I know I do), and they have to be converted. We work our asses off to do that, on and offstage, in and out of New York, and we don't take anyone enjoying the show for granted. If you've got a sound people want to hear and treat every show like it's the most important one you've ever done, the odds are good you'll eventually pack 'em in.
[Ben] You said earlier, "We're treating our career as if this is not going to do anything for us, just because it's safer that way." Does that mean you've all got day jobs? If not, what do you guys DO during the day?
Josh We do all have day "survival" jobs - mostly temp work, so we have the flexibility to be on the road when we need to - but that's actually not what I meant. What I meant was that we're not going to work any less hard on building up our music career ourselves just because there's a chance that this show will make a big difference. The truth is, we were well on our way before "Bands on the Run" came along (which was part of the reason they picked us), and while we obviously hope the show will accelerate things for us, and are grateful VH1 took a chance on us, we really feel we're going to get there one way or the other. We're very do-it-yourself and hands-on. We're not waiting for someone to come along and scoop us up - we're able and willing to make a career out of this ourselves. We already are.
[Ben] The band only formed 3 years ago (1998) and thru heavy gigging and the wonder of television, you're already near-household names. Incredible talent, luck or selling souls to the devil: what's your secret sauce?
Josh All of the above (especially the secret sauce). We're good at what we do and work as hard as any band out there, but there's obviously always a luck factor. There are so many good bands out there (and even more bad ones!), so you need a certain amount of luck to break through, especially on this level. We have no illusions about that. And as far as selling our souls to the devil (by which I assume you mean Viacom here!), well, we felt that with this opportunity, even though we could see the faint outline of horns and a pitchfork, we could use the show to our advantage without sacrificing our integrity in any substantial way. This is both a business and an art, and the challenge is balancing the two in a way that allows you to play as much as possible and still be able to look at yourself in the mirror. We think we're doing alright in that regard.
[Ben] What'd it feel like playing the Kennedy Center? You weren't wearing suits, were you?
Josh No, but the gospel act we opened for the second time we played there all had suits with, like, a velvet image of the lead singer on the back of it. Eerie.
[Ben] For those without cable or club access, how would you define your music?
Josh Piano-based funk-rock, with melodies that are hard to forget, soulful vocal harmonies, strong musicianship, and tons of energy. It's a pretty unusual sound, but one that really works for us. Ultimately, the best way to define us is to listen for yourself: check us out at www.mp3.com/jdband or www.cdbaby.com/dodes.
[Ben] I notice in your list of least favorite bands you list Jethro Tull. Who do you think would list You in their least favorite acts?
Josh I would think that metal and rap-rock fans wouldn't be into us, on the grounds that we're not heavy enough… you know, we're more ass-shaking than fist-pumping. On the other hand, I noticed on the VH1.com bulletin board that some metalhead from down south claimed that all the bands on the show were lightweights, and then appended that by saying, "I almost forgot - the Josh Dodes Band is pretty cool." So who knows? Maybe Jethro Tull?
[Ben] You also list Billy Joel's The Stranger as your favorite album. Is that anything to do with your NYC state of mind?
Josh The catch here is that although I now recognize New York as obviously the greatest city in the world (and my home), I grew up despising it. They breed New York haters up in Boston, where I grew up. So at the time when I was discovering Billy Joel and getting piano bar gigs in Boston by singing "New York State of Mind," it was despite the New York connection, not because of it. Now, of course, those records resonate completely differently. (I remember how surprised I was when I moved here many years ago that Herald Square, mentioned in "Rosalinda's Eyes," was in midtown, not Havana.)
[Ben] You've been playing piano, and classical piano, from a wee age. How do you think that's helped you in your now rock career?
Josh Well, we've all been playing for years, and I think it makes a huge difference. Although we all come from different musical backgrounds, we have this shared vocabulary and a very easy ability to communicate with each other without having to talk explicitly about it. We never do the same song exactly the same way; our experience allows us to take songs that are written a certain way and make them into all different kinds of back-and-forth conversations.
As far as my classical background, I'd say two things: one, that having the technique and theory in place early on allowed me to build on top of it in a much more natural way. And two, although no kid loves classical music or practicing, I'm very glad my parents started me at a time when I really hadn't discovered the alternatives. By the time I discovered pop and rock music around age 12 or so, I had already been playing for seven years. It was damn hard to keep playing sonatinas once I discovered Elton John, but I could never have played Elton John well without having played the sonatinas first.
[Ben] Are you Republican or Democrat? Or do we even need middle-men to vote for us?
Josh I'm definitely a Democrat. I think that most artists and performers are, if for no other reason that the Republicans are a hell of a lot less interested in free expression (Rudy Giuliani, your table is ready). And I think that having middle-men is not the problem; it's the middle-men that we tend to get that are the problem.
[Ben] If you had to define your own fabulous groupie, what would he/she have to contain?
Josh Tough question, since I'm not really that interested in anyone who would put me on that kind of pedestal. I'm just me. If someone can't respect themselves enough to approach me as an equal, then they're wasting their time.
[Ben] How far in advance is your gig schedule set up right now? Where can we have a look at it?
Josh We're booking about 2-3 months out at this point, though sometimes things come up with a little less lead time. You can always find our schedule at our website: www.jdband.com. There are a handful more dates we're about to announce, including opening for funk god Maceo Parker in New York at the beginning of May. So stay tuned!!
[Ben] Finally, when you go to Burger King, what the hell do you order?
Josh BK Broiler. But if there's a McDonald's within spitting distance, then nothing. (I gave BK the best years of my childhood before I realized I had made a mistake.)