September 15, 2014 Interview – Rodney Browning Cravens of Dishwalla
Sometimes a journey may lead one far from their starting point, but all roads head back to home in the end. For Californian alternative rock band Dishwalla, a few year hiatus after plugging away for over a decade was just what the doctor ordered for an exciting return to the stage. After achieving three consecutive Billboard 200 charted albums between 1995 and 2002, Dishwalla are back with a fresh lineup as they look toward the future continuing their careers. Most predominately known for the massive 1996 hit single “Counting Blue Cars”, the river bank of this talented band runs much deeper than some in the mainstream may realize. Recently we sat down with founding member and lead guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens for a personal look at the years past of Dishwalla, their decision to return, new music, influence, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Dishwalla had an amazing beginning in 1995 with the debut album Pet Your Friends, featuring “Counting Blue Cars” which landed you best rock song in 1996. Since then, the band has gone on to a long career with three successful studio albums while building a dedicated fan base. Tell us how it felt when the band broke into the mainstream all those years ago?
Rodney Browning Cravens – I feel like we broke into the mainstream almost right away quite honestly. We got signed by A&M Records and made our record. What a lot of people do not realize is we were actually on the 1994 Carpenter’s tribute album If I Were a Carpenter. That actually came out before our real record and we were really paranoid about that because we did not want to be another band like the Lemonheads where their only hit was a cover. Entering the world with a cover felt really strange to us, but when we found out what other bands were involved, like Sonic Youth, Red Cross, and so many great bands, we said we want to be in this company. We tracked up a version of “(They Long to Be) Close to You”, but The Cranberries had already snagged that song from the tribute, so we did “It’s Going To Take Some Time”. That got put out and immediately they started playing it as a single. When we were recording Pet Your Friends out in Philadelphia, we already had a hit song going on and it actually fooled us a little because we felt this rock game is easy (laughs).
Of course we came out with Pet Your Friends about a year later. I remember being on the road with Better Than Ezra, the record was suppose to come out in a week and the label said they were going to push it back seven months. We were crushed and thought our label was shelving us. They said, “No, we are just going to keep you on the road, keep learning your craft, and pounding the pavement.” We were destroyed, but it ended up being a great thing because we got our road chops. We had never been a touring band which had went from city to city before that. We played a few shows in Santa Barbara, went to Los Angeles, and got signed. I do not know if we were ready or not, but here we are.
CrypticRock.com – Well it turned out to be a positive thing since it helped you become a live band. Now in 2006 the band took a break from touring after the release of the 2005 self-titled album Dishwalla. Considering that you had just released the album a year earlier, what provoked the decision to take a break at the height of the album’s promotion?
Rodney Browning Cravens – We had internal strife and ended up separating with our singer. Things were not going well, we were doing our own label, and touring started to become expensive after September 11th. We were having some problems with some of our business partners outside the band, and those things helped the whole explosion happen. We never really wanted to stop and our singer wanted to do a solo record; we totally backed that actually. I think he got too into being a solo artist. We were always rough on each other. We were just honest to the bone with each other.
I would do things differently now, now that I know what I know, I have seen the effect of some of it. Definitely where we have been has brought us closer now after that time off and missing our career. Of course we all went on to start families and do other stuff. Honestly, I sometimes miss that we were not out there, but had I not taken that break I would not been able to spend every single day with my new child. I became a stay at home dad, went to the beach with him each day, it was awesome. As much as I missed the career stuff, I do not think I would change a day of it.
CrypticRock.com – Life happens and there are things that are more important. The band did return in 2008 with a new line-up bringing in your long-time friend Justin Fox on vocals and bringing back George Pendergast on drums for the first time since 1998. It was not officially announced, but it became clear the band moved on without J.R. Richards. Considering yourself and Scot Alexander have been here since the inception, how difficult was it for you to make this decision?
Rodney Browning Cravens – When the time came, it was not difficult, we wanted to play live again and Justin, as well as having a great set of pipes that lent their own sensibilities to our songs, is our bro.
CrypticRock.com – The chemistry seems to be good and the band is enjoying themselves. Justin has a different style of voice than J.R. respectfully. He has different inflections and a different style which is strong nonetheless. With that said, since you have been active again the better part of six years, there has not been a new album from Dishwalla in almost a decade. Can fans expect some new material to be released soon and if so what can they except to hear?
Rodney Browning Cravens – Absolutely, we have been working on stuff with the four of us all these years, and then more recently with Justin. It is very much in our near plans to release new music. As far as what they can expect, we have all definitely grown as musicians over these years, so I guess I would say a matured Dishwalla, with a heavy dose of fresh, exciting vibe. Needless to say, we are looking forward to recording and excited about the next couple of months.
CrypticRock.com – That is something exciting to look forward to. Putting out new material with Justin will help bring the fans closer and for him as well, because he will feel more a part of the unit, singing songs which are written for him.
Rodney Browning Cravens – It will certainly make a difference to Justin. He is a little timid right now because he said, “You guys are so used to each other, and I am not.” We are writing with no rules, which is kind of a first for us. I do not know what we are going to get, but what we have so far I am super stoked about. To add to that, it is great to be able to go out and play some rock shows. When writing, it will help us remember what felt good on stage, when we wanted to crush the audience when things were lagging. We are kind of keeping that in mind as we move forward.
CrypticRock.com – Seems like the right thing to do as playing live rock shows keeps keeping the energy flowing. It will probably provoke some really great tunes when you are ready to record. Let’s go back in time slightly now to 2002 with the Opaline album. The album is perhaps the band’s most beautiful piece of work through and through; from the lyrics, to the music, to the recording. It has amazingly been twelve years since the album’s release. Looking back on it now, what do you think made it so magical?
Rodney Browning Cravens – Several things; we wanted to prove we had more depth than step on a distortion box during the chorus and pound. We were working with some of the people in the Fleetwood Mac camp. We started to get new ideas of overdubs and ways to put it together, recording and science-wise. Honestly, we get bored easily, so we wanted to add new tambours and make something that was different. That coupled with every single song, we broke down to a acoustic guitar and drums. Once we had them, we said, “Lets shrink them down and see if it is still rad on one guitar.” That is when we found out where some of the flaws were, at that really organic level. We were literally putting the kick drums in the right spot with the vocal lines before adding the guitars back. It felt like we went way down the rabbit hole trying to dig deeper. No great record is ever made without extreme pain in my opinion. It was definitely hard, but it was worth it.
CrypticRock.com – It was definitely worth it and the album stands strong to this day. What are some of your musical influences?
Rodney Browning Cravens – In general I seem to get most of my inspiration from looking backwards in the past. I grew up a guitar player so I was really into heavy metal and Black Sabbath. There came a time where I sort of got sick of the rock antics that I was seeing in some of the hair metal bands in the 1980s. I liked the rock but I did not like the tights. That is when I started getting into what I would call the 80’s British Invasion with The Cure and Echo & The Bunnymen. For me personally, it is a strange thing to be able to like Duran Duran and Black Sabbath. Somewhere in there I think it snuck into our influences with some of the creepy notes and delays. That being said, I have been listening to a lot of old Robert Palmer, The Meters, Carole King, and real songwriters from the 70’s. Just because it is not our music style does not mean I do not hear the melodies. I am always listening and getting ideas. A lot of that does come from the past.
CrypticRock.com – It is great to be well rounded in music. It all bleeds through in your own music.
Rodney Browning Cravens – For sure, you can even try and cover a song note for note, and when you are done it will sound like you just because of your hands. Sometimes we will do writing exercises where we will just study songs we love, start playing, and all of a sudden they start changing a little; making it nothing like you started with. To us, that is how we always got into the good stuff, exploring and tinkering.
CrypticRock.com – That is great to be experimental in that fashion. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Rodney Browning Cravens – You know, I do not really watch them because they scare me (laughs). I do not know what it is, I just do not like that feeling of my heart fluttering. It has been a long time.
CrypticRock.com – That is ok, horror films are not for everyone. Are there any particular films that have struck you?
Rodney Browning Cravens – Definitely; The Shining (1980) and The Exorcist (1973). I remember when her head spun around, it was like chicken skin on my arms. I remember one film called Silent Scream (1979); that was back when I was watching horror films.