Interview: Jon Lewis, The Dopamines

Posted: October 26, 2017 in Small Talk

No introduction to the band really required here. The Dopamines are a fucking ace Midwest punk band. Listen to the new one ‘Tales of Interest’ if you haven’t already. Here’s me having a chat guitarist/vocalist Jon Lewis about the new record, Futurama and ‘Cold Duck’….

Image result for jon lewis dopamines

Dave: So, the new Dopamines album, ‘Tales of Interest’, did it turn out as you imagined? I heard recently (on the Angry and Anxious podcast) that it is the album you always wanted to make- what do you mean by that specifically?

Jon: I think what I mean by the “record I’ve always wanted to make” is that this was the first time I didn’t really hold back on ideas I had, no matter how far-fetched they seemed at the time. I mean, the record doesn’t have anything wacky on it. There’s nothing too far outside the box we’ve created based on our previous records. But we didn’t hold any ideas or criticism back. And the reception from Michael, Jon and Josh on everything I had to bring to the table was awesome. Everyone was honest about what worked and what didn’t. Everyone understood the vibe of the material. Everyone made it their own. And that’s how all our records were made for the most part, but this one was different in that nothing felt like, “this song might have been better if…”. At least not to me. Everything from the inception of each song to the finished recording felt natural. It was a blast to make. 

D: How do you think that ‘Tales of Interest’ differs from the other Dopamines releases? How has the band’s sound/songwriting evolved over the years?

J: It doesn’t stray too far from the reservation in terms of how it sits in our catalog, but it’s definitely darker. The songwriting hasn’t changed much at all. We just write what we want. If it doesn’t fit whatever standards we set for ourselves at that point in time, we tweak it to see if we can reign it in. If we can, great, use it. If not, well then lets write something else. We don’t set very high standards, we just kind of process what’s brought to the table, and see if it comes out a ripper. As far as lyrically? I had a blast. I’m much happier these days, so it was fun to kinda dig around and see what’s been bothering me that I forgot about. 

D: How does the songwriting process work in the band?

J: For this one it was very different. We usually write as a team. and by write, I mean music. Lyrics are just Jon or I taking it home and coming back with some shit. Anyway for this record I did a lot of demoing alone. I would write 3 or 4 songs, do some demos at home, and then bring them in to practice for everyone to hear and tear apart. about 1/2 of the record was written that way. Which isn’t really normal for us. From 2012-2015, we didn’t get together much to work on new shit. We used to always write together. Someone would come in with like a hook or half a song, and we’d piece it together, together. It was a foreign concept to write shit the way we did for this record, and I didn’t like it at all at first. But eventually we got into a groove of getting together consistently and all this shit I felt like I was writing alone started to feel more like a joint effort, like it used to. I mean the end result couldn’t have happened without an equal effort from everyone, so ultimately it ended up feeling like I thought it should in the end, a team effort. 

D: I heard that ‘Tales of Interest’ was recorded in like four and half (booze-fuelled) days. How does that compare to other Dopamines LPs?

J: Pretty much par for the course. I think the first LP was mostly whiskey and beer, Expect the Worst was a lot of five star pizza and Weird Al DVDs, Vices was a lot of Andre Brut Champagne and Tales of Interest was Space Bags and Cold Duck. You gotta prioritize these things.

D: What is the album cover about?

J: That photo is of a junkyard I frequent in Cincinnati, when I need parts for my car. I’ve always hated spending money on cars, so if it’s feasible I try to work on shit myself. Anyway this particular junkyard is a “pull-n-pay”. You literally check to see if a car that matches yours is “in stock”, and you go pull parts from it. All the cars are setup in aisles, like in the photo. I don’t know, I mean it looks pretty ominous in the photo, which was the intent. But in reality, that place kinda puts me at ease. Plus there’s all walks of life there, it can get pretty hilarious. I took that particular shot years ago when I was there looking for a turn signal lever. I was giving a friend a ride home and he was fucking really wasted, and we were listening to metal and he kind of got out of control and kicked my steering wheel while i was driving, and completely snapped the turn signal lever off. The photo actually wasn’t hi res enough to use for the cover, so I just went back and took the same shot with a slightly better camera. I dunno, just thought it looked kinda neat. 

D: What was the thinking behind the decision to re-record “Douglas Bubbletrousers” (and re-name it) and “Business Papers”?

J: “Douglas Bubbletrousers” (Hot Rod reference. Go watch it) was re-recorded because we love that song and wanted it to get proper exposure. It fit the vibe of the record and I always wanted the bridge to be more outer space-y. So we threw it on and renamed it “Expect the Worst”. Michael thought that was a good name for it because it made it seem more mysterious, naming it the title of a previous record. Like when NOFX did “Pump up the Valuum” and didn’t put the title track on the record. I mean, it looks better on the back of the jacket than “Douglas Bubbletrousers”. we didn’t want to write this serious as fuck record and then you’re taken out by a WTF song name.  

“Business Papers” was the first song written after Vices was done. It is by far my favorite Dopamines song. I so badly wanted to hold on to it for a full length, but when Larry Livermore calls you and asks if you want to put a song on a comp that he is curating, you fucking give Larry the best you got. I thought we would have had a new record out way sooner than 2017, so when it came time to start putting Tales of Interest together we were like fuck it. Put it in there. Honestly, Business Papers is the song that kicked the door in for every song I wrote after that. That’s why I wrote a reprise of it for the end of the record. I would have written a 30 minute version of that song and put it out as a record if someone asked for it. Love that song. Everyone fucking killed it on Business Papers. Hopefully Adeline doesn’t get miffed that we re-recorded it. The Thing that Ate Larry Livermore was an incredible comp to be a part of. Maybe that song should have lived and died there. Oh well. Also, we stole that song title from our friend Jonathan Pool (Brickfight, F.Y.I.). Sorry dude. 

D: Titling the record ‘Tales of Interest’ is the second Futurama reference I’ve found The Dopamines have made along with the clip that was played at the end of “Dick Simmons” on Expect the Worst. Are there any other Futurama references that I am missing?

J: There’s the song “Try This Kids at Home.” On the copyrights split. Bender says it during the episode “Bender Should not be Allowed on TV”. It was the pain in the ass to get that as the song title; everyone thought I meant “Try This at Home, Kids.” and I kept having to correct everybody. I think that’s it. I wanted to do something Futurama-y on every record, but I get vetoed constantly with all my stupid ideas. I actually wanted to put the sound clip from “Anthology of Interest” on the new record, to close out side A, and right before the last song on the record. But it was too goofy.   

D: What do ‘Kalte Ente’ and ‘Kaltes Ende’ refer to?

J: They both mean “Cold Duck”, which is a flavored champagne we drank a lot during recording, because it’s fucking called “Cold Duck” so why not drink it? We wanted to call a song Cold Duck on the record, but because the record is kind of dark we thought it might take away from the vibe which is weird because we usually don’t care about that shit. So I jumped on Wikipedia to learn more about Cold Duck, because why the fuck not? Turns out the original names for it come off really cryptic and dark when you make them song titles, so in they went! And another happy coincidence, the German name for Cold Duck translates to “cold end”, and the song “Kaltes Ende” on the record is about a family member who died of an overdose. So what started as a joke ended up actually fitting.  

D: What inspired the decision to cover the High Hats song “Heartbeaten by The Police”? How does it fit in with the rest of ‘Tales of Interest’?

J: Well we toured Europe in 2015, and the band Priceduifkes toured with us. It was an amazing tour for many reasons, one of which came in the form of a mix CD. The dudes in Priceduifkes made a couple tour CDs, with a mishmash of different bands, genres, etc. One particular song was “Heartbeaten by the police” By The High Hats. They’re a pop punk band from Sweden and I’m genuinely shocked that they’re relatively unknown in the states. Both records (that I know about) are total rippers.  Anyway we immediately fell in love with the song, and then decided to do a cover of it. I’m not sure we were always committed to putting it on our full-length but as our material began to develop, that song really started to reflect the vibe of the record. So we were like “fuck it, lets cover it for Tales of Interest”. I actually asked permission from them to cover it. Jonk, the guy who put out both High Hats LPs (Alleycat Records) gave me the go ahead, but as I understand it some of the guys in The High Hats don’t really communicate regularly via the internet, so I don’t know if the band is ACTUALLY fine with our cover. 

D: You covered Guided by Voices for a 7” recently too. Are there any future plans to record any more covers?

J: We just kinda record covers at random. We actually did a cover of “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. We did it for Josh’s wedding, his wedding favor was a real limited 7″. It’s kinda awesome, except I slowly got real drunk while recording it, and by the time I finished my vocals, some of them are REAL bad, but we kept them in because it was kind of funny. It’s floating around the internet, I submitted it as our song for the Fest 16 comp and I think you can hear it on Rad Girlfriend Records’ bandcamp page.

D: So, more broadly, what is going on with the band right now? You had a hiatus of sorts for a while, but you are going back on tour in the summer, is that right?

J: Yeah we’re doing a tour starting on June 18th in Baltimore, and hitting up all the upper east and Canada, dipping back down through the Midwest. Just check our Facebook. It’s been ages since we’ve hit up a lot of these places, and honestly, I don’t think this is the beginning of serious activity for us, so come out!

D: I understand that you recently had to cancel the planned European tour. Are there any plans to come back over here at some point?

J: Oh absolutely. 2018 definitely. We’re really bummed that we had to scrap the tour, but there were some circumstances that got in our way. But rest assured we’re going to get back there! 

Check out the new record here: https://radgirlfriendrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tales-of-interest

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