Thanks again to Terry Banks for the interview. Just a week or so ago we were talking about his first well known band, Tree Fort Angst, and today we talk about his latest, Dot Dash. This year Dot Dash released a fantastic album on the Canadian label The Beautiful Music, which the lovely Wally runs, called Spark>Flame>Ember>Ashes. If you can, do get your hands on it. It has 14 songs of great power pop! I have listened to it many many times during the past month and Im happy to recommend it to you all. But now let’s hear from the band itself. Oh! You can also become fans of them on facebook.
++ Hello again Terry! I’ve been playing more and more the Dot Dash album during the last couple of weeks. It grows more and more on me. For some reason I started thinking that the sound is not that far away from early Creation bands, like The Jasmine Minks for example. Do you think I’m totally missing the mark?
Ha… you’re not missing the mark at all. I consider a comparison to The Jasmine Minks to be a real compliment and, yes, I loved a lot of the early Creation stuff, especially them (i.e., the Minks) and Biff Bang Pow! and The Loft — great bands.
++ It’s a really great record, and I’ve already asked you on the Tree Fort Angst interview a couple of questions about it, but do tell me which of the songs on the album would be your favourite? And why?
I think the ones I like best are those that have a slightly different, slightly darker feel to some of the other bands/music I’ve been involved with before … Songs like “Dissolve,” and “That Was Now, This Is Then,” and “There and Back Again Lane,” and a couple others.
++ And even if it’s a 14 song album, it doesn’t feel long, which I think is an achievement for two reasons. These days bands release very short albums, and usually they include lots of filler tracks. This is not your case. The tracks all sound fresh time after time I listen to them. So, were there more songs recorded that weren’t included in the album? And why did you stick to 14 songs?
Thanks – I end up discarding a fair number of songs unilaterally (i.e., never even taking them in to the band), so the ones we end up doing are ones we feel really good about. Because of that, we never really feel like we’ve got any ‘so-so’ songs (according to us, anyway.) So, we recorded everything — the 14 songs on the album were the 14 songs we had at the time.
++ Tell me how and when did the band start? How did you all know each other?
We got together at the beginning of 2010. Hunter and I were in Julie Ocean. We knew Danny from around town and we had talked about trying to do some music sometime… In late ’09, he was playing with Bill for a one-off, one-show reunion of his (Bill’s) old band Modest Proposal – they were a mid-80’s-era D.C. mod band. (They had lost touch with their original drummer, so Danny filled in.) That led to the four of us giving a new a band a whirl… It came together pretty easily.
++ And what about the name? Was that easy to decide?
Admittedly, the name comes from the song by Wire, but it’s not saying “please compare us to Wire” or whatever… It’s just a good, succinct name that we all liked.
++ What about gigs? How are you doing in that subject? Any favourites so far?
So far, we’ve played about 12 shows. Our ‘debut’ was opening for The Trash Can Sinatras, who kindly gave us our first show, in summer 2010. I think our favorite show as a band happened a few weeks ago in October, opening for Hugh Cornwell, who was sort of the ‘main guy’ in The Stranglers. The show was at a college, on a big stage, with a really ‘pro’ set up, which was kind of fun. The drummer in the band was Clem Burke, from Blondie. They were all really nice guys and it was a very fun evening. We’ve also played enjoyable shows with Urge Overkill and The Godfathers, among others… At the end of this month, we’re opening for the 80s U.K. band The Chameleons and are looking forward to it.
++ My favorite could be the opening track, “The Color and the Sound”, that for some reason the title makes me think of a poppier “The Sound and the Fury” by Faulkner. I know, it’s silly, but the idea is stuck in my head. Anyhow, what’s the story behind the song?
Thanks – we all really like that song, too, and felt it was sort of the obvious choice for the lead-off track for the album. As far as any story behind the song… hmmm…. Honestly, it was pretty ‘stream of consciousness’ and took about as long to write as it does to play (i.e., two minutes flat), which is often a good sign…
++ Your first release was a little single on the German label Edition 59. Just 59 copies and I’m a proud owner of one of them! How did this release came about? Ever met Werner?
Werner got in touch by email and offered to put something out, and that’s really the only contact we had. I think his label is a very cool ‘art statement,’ and kind of a very arch comment on the nature and realities of doing obscure music or, more accurately, music that exists on an obscure level… It’s a groovy little thing he’s doing with Edition 59 – and I must admit I am quite impressed that, with Alan McGee’s blessing, he has reissued miniature versions of Creation singles by Biff Bang Pow!, The Jasmine Minks, Revolving Paint Dream, Slaughter Joe, Meat Whiplash, and (pre-Creation) The Laughing Apple, among others.
++ What about meeting Wally of The Beautiful Music? They should book gigs for you in Germany and Canada!
Have never met Wally in person, but if I ever find myself in Ottawa, he will absolutely be getting a shout! And, yes, some gigs abroad would be great.
++ Let’s go back to the album. The title, “Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash”, it makes it feel this album is the beginning and the end with that title! Was that the intention?
It’s just a phrase I came up with last winter when building a fire in the fireplace… I was just thinking about the constituent parts of a fire, I guess… The little ‘carrot’ mark — > — between each word just looked good graphically, in kind of an early 80s post-punk sort of way… and I also liked the ‘greater than’ connotation — i.e., a spark being greater than a flame, being greater than an ember and so on…
++ And how different would you say was the creative process and the recording process compared to the other bands you’ve been involved with?
I guess one difference is that since Dot Dash started, and just before then, I kind of reconnected with Joy Division, over maybe the last two years or so… Not sure why, but it just kind of hit the spot… Maybe that had an effect… The Dot Dash stuff is still “poppy” and melodic, hopefully very melodic, but it’s sort of darker, too, at least as I hear it.
We recorded the 14 songs on spark>flame>ember>ash over the course of two Saturday afternoons and a Sunday afternoon. We did most of the stuff in one or, occasionally, two takes… Eric, who recorded us, is a nice guy who was good to work with and got us kind of a good ‘live in the studio’ sound. It’s got a fairly scrappy feel, but that’s a reflection of how it came together as, again, we wanted to get all the stuff down… In any case, it was fun.
++ And what would you say are your expectations with this album? Will there be a second one?
As far as expectations, it’s just been great working with The Beautiful Music guys — so it’s already ‘successful’ on that front. If the record gets some good reviews and manages to intersect with people who like it, or are interested in it, all the better.
Yeah, doing a second album is something we absolutely plan to do. We have eight new songs that we like a lot and are already doing them live… When we get to ten or so that we feel strongly about, we’d love to make a second album.
++ On “There and Back Again Lane” you sing about Superman and Lois Lane. Are you a big comics fan? Or?
Um, no, not really… It’s just a rhyme that popped into my head when writing that song and I liked its universal feel…
++ You’ve written so many great songs over the years, so perhaps you have the answer, what makes a song a good pop song?
Thanks a lot. Hmmm… For me, a least in terms of raw measures, the essence of a good pop song is brevity. Being short doesn’t make a song good — but, to me, one of the things a good song will always be is brief… Beyond that, you need an appealing melody that sort of ‘declares’ itself from the outset, and lyrics that mix urgency with poeticism, using kind of plainspoken, ‘everyday’ language… Or something like that… Who knows? Certainly not me… I don’t exactly have a “string of hits” to my name!
++ Let’s talk guitars now. How many guitars do you own? And which do you play on this album?
I pride myself on not being a “gearhead.” You can only play one guitar at a time, so why have more than one? But I can’t really say that, as I do have more than one guitar – I have two… I usually play a red Gibson ES-335 (think Johnny Marr, or whomever.) I also have a black-and-white (or ‘Jetglo,’ as they call it) Rickenbacker-330. I bought it in 1987 — drove from Richmond to Charlottesville and bought it from an R.E.M. kid at UVA. In the South in those days, R.E.M. were like The Beatles…
On the Dot Dash record, I used the Rickenbacker for the first seven songs, but later thought it sounded a little muddy and wooly, so, for the other two sessions, I switched to the Gibson and also used a Telecaster lent to me by Eric. I actually think Telecasters sound best for the kind of stuff I play, but I’ve always gravitated to guitars based not on how they sound, but how they look and what kind of music they make you ‘think’ of… Back then, I liked, among other things, The Jam and Beatles/Byrds/early R.E.M., thus the Rickenbacker… The 335 (a wedding present from my better half) brings The Smiths/Postcard/Velvets vibes…
++ So what’s coming up next with Dot Dash? What’s in store for the near future?
Ha, who knows… Primarily, we hope to get a second album out in the coming year and, of course, to continue playing shows and, overall, just have fun doing it.
++ You were telling me on the previous interview that you like to read. What are you reading these days? Any books you’d like to recommend?
If I rattled off all the music-related books I read you’d run out of space very quickly… The one I‘m currently reading is ‘Shadowplayers: The Rise and Fall of Factory Records’ by James Nice, which is truly excellent. On the non-music side of things, I am four-fifths of the way through a five-novel ‘box set’ of Patricia Highsmith, who wrote all the ‘Ripley’ novels. I’m heading into the last one, ‘Ripley Under Water.’ You pretty much start rooting for Ripley after the first novel, which is weird… I also recently finished ‘The Cold Six Thousand’ by James Ellroy. It’s been out for quite a while, but I missed it among his other stuff. His novels rock, but I think my favorite by him is actually his autobiography, ‘My Dark Places.’
++ “Alright, Alright”, it’s time to “Dissolve”. Isn’t that very inspired of me? Anyhow, there’s another song in the album called “Seconds in a Day”. If you have just seconds to save some records of your collection from, I don’t know, a massive fire, which records would they be?
Ha, yes, very inspired… Hmmmm… I think I’d just grab whomever was there an leg it out the door, but let me think… Well, I have a quite rare Modern Lovers bootleg… Really obscure 1970-71-72 stuff recorded in Boston – not the ‘Precise Modern Lovers’ stuff that came out of Rounder and the French label (can’t think of its name), but from that same era… It has them playing a New Years Eve show at the Mercer Arts Center (the NY Dolls were also on the bill.) I think it’s called ‘Songs of Rememberance.’ I also have a bootleg of Aztec Camera playing to about 10 people in Manchester in 1981 that’s pretty great – it’s from the ‘Just Like Gold’/Postcard time… Can’t think of any others at the moment – maybe I’d grab them and cut my losses…
++ Thanks again Terry, I look forward to talking later about The Saturday People or Glo-Worm, will you be up for it? Anything else you’d like to add?
Who am I say to say no… Nothing to add, other than thanks for the interview – and thanks for writing about Dot Dash!