Interview: Dustin Allen [That Dog Was a Band Now]
Dustin Allen is the frontman for the cross-continental band That Dog Was a Band Now. Although Dustin and his bandmates are separated by thousands of miles, their unique sound has helped them gain a loyal fan base from around the world.
We had a very cool convo. Check it.
Jesse: So, how did That Dog Was A Band Now come to be?
Dustin: Well, our members all met at the international physical theatre & clown school in rural northern California in 2013. We all started jamming from the day we met, before school had even started. On the weekends, we would either play at house parties or we would just start practicing music and then people would come into the apartment and start partying around us. We formed a big 12 piece band with members from up to 7 different countries (depending on the gig) called Flock of Foreigners. That Dog Was A Band Now was already its own thing though, and we would typically open up for ourselves at FOF shows. Between these two bands, we started playing major festivals, getting hour-long radio station sessions, opening up for some of the more popular bands in the county, and gaining great momentum. Then 10 months after it all started, our school ended and we all separated to our different corners of the globe. But, after a little over a year apart, and constantly in communication with each other, we decided to make another run at it, and then That Dog Was A Band Now reunited in late 2015, started writing new material—recorded the EP May of 2016—and then toured Canada and the USA until late September.
Jesse: Very cool. International physical theatre & clown school? Did you all want to be clowns before starting the band?
Dustin: [Laughs] Yeah, Jared (the accordion player) was a circus clown with the Ringling Brothers, and the rest of us were into theater, absurdism, and physical comedy—in fact, we still are. But the music is its own thing. Trying to make comedic music or musical theatre has always felt inorganic, false, and lame.
Jesse: That's fucking awesome man. So how do you separate music and comedy? How do you go from writing comedic material to writing a song?
Dustin: Well, the music has always been a natural way for us to come together. We'll get so lost trying to make some absurd play—tensions might start running high—but then we'll pick up our instruments and connect again through music. Even though we're trained in theatre and have made shows we're very proud of together, I personally believe we've always connected more naturally through music. And to be fair, the songs we've written lyrics for as an entire band are generally the ones that are (at the very least) on the edge of being comedic. For example, Cool Island Night and Old Boyfriend off our first EP are borderline comedy. The other songs in our repertoire I generally write during our time apart, then send cheap cell phone demos so that everyone else can then write their parts and make suggestions and edits from wherever they are on the planet.
Jesse: Very nice. Do you also weave music into your comedy?
Dustin: Very rarely. Sometimes we find ways to hide our instruments and play some environmental or atmospheric themes live—to layer behind a scene—but it's not a huge priority. Lately, we are much more focused on making new music and getting ready for the next tour than we are on making theatre.
Jesse: Okay cool. Tell us a little bit about your upcoming tour.
Dustin: We're stoked about it! Three of our members are heading over to Svendborg, Denmark to record a new album with the help of a great friend who is from that area and who did live sound for us sometimes in California. We have a couple days in the studio, and then we're playing a Saturday night slot at a local festival called "Svendborg Sound" which is apparently pretty awesome. Then playing a couple shows in Amsterdam, a couple in Berlin, and hopefully a few others that aren't quite confirmed yet. It will go for a couple weeks at the end of August and into September, and all begins with 3 days of rehearsal at our banjo player's family home on the island of Öland in Sweden.
Jesse: Wow! That all sounds incredible. So where all are you guys from?
Dustin: For sure, eh? We're counting our lucky stars right now. Linus is from Sweden. Brittny is from Iowa originally and Jared from Maine. I'm from Edmonton up in Canada.
Jesse: Have y'all ever thought about moving to a central location or do you think you're all able to better stay in your creative lanes by being thousands of miles apart?
Dustin: [Laughs] Great question. Unfortunately, visa complications don't allow us to all live in any of each other's countries. It's been good to have so much space, but it's also cruel to be kept away from your band. We try to jam on Skype but the delay tends to confuse things. There are a few countries in the world that would take all of us in, and we are certainly considering heading to one of those for a while, maybe in 2018. What is cool though is that rather than holding down jobs and making time a few nights a week, or whatever regular bands who live in the same place do, we designate decently sized amounts of time to work together and don't have to focus on anything else while we work, so it's just a more concentrated experience.
Jesse: Very cool. jamming via Skype?! That's a first. Well, hopefully by the grace of technology you will all be able to jam here soon in some sort of virtual reality with zero delay.
Dustin: I don't know which is more preferable between the VR zero delay system you've proposed, or you know, Australia, but it would be great to be a band in a physical place again, whether that's some kind of Philip K Dick-esque meta-cyber space in the ether, or Melbourne.
Jesse: If you do relocate, what countries are in contention?
Dustin: As far as we can figure, it's basically just Australia and New Zealand. Americans don't have many working holiday agreements. Canadians and Swedes can basically go anywhere to work for a year or two—except the states.
Jesse: That would be a great excuse to move to either Australia or New Zealand. Anyway, are you guys currently working on any future projects or mainly just focusing on your upcoming tour?
Dustin: Yeah, we think so too. It would likely be a pretty good time for a band like us. And yeah, we're recording an album during this tour, in Denmark. I'd been writing songs without purpose all winter, and when we got word that we were being offered to have a record produced, I looked at what I had and happened to have a pretty cohesive album already mostly written. I'd been tinkering, adding, subtracting, and we had all been writing our parts to these songs. Actually, we're really happy with this bunch of songs. Some we have been playing for almost 2 years but just weren't ready for the first EP, some I wrote over the long cold Canadian winter, some is based on poetry from years ago, and one I wrote about two days ago. In general, it's a more mature sound, more lyrical depth and poetical verses at play, and the instrumentation is more complex on a lot of the songs. We have grown a lot since writing our last record. We are not a house party band anymore, we've had some dreams shattered and hearts broken. If I've learned anything, it's that this type of suffering should lead to a pretty solid record. Other than that, we have already started vaguely planning touring the new record in 2018, but we're also keeping ourselves open for opportunities that may arise. Looks like we'll all take the winter apart, probably meet up somewhere in the middle, and tour for a few months next summer. And then go from there.
Jesse: The world of music is bittersweet. Great music often seems to come from cold and hard places. So, you're signing on with a label?
Dustin: Not yet! We were offered to sign on with a Polish death metal label and to pay them 1000 Euro for the privilege, but we decided to decline. We are lucky enough to have a good friend with access to a few professional studios in Denmark, and sound engineering skills, who is really generous and excited to work with us. Socialists, right? Signing on with a label is an eventual goal but we're surviving so far without one.
Jesse: [Laughs] Well I think you made the right move by declining. I've actually never heard of a band having to pay to become part of a label. Weird. Anyway, to sort of wind things down a bit, what's the craziest shit that ever went down at one of your shows or live house parties?
Dustin: The Craziest show we ever played was a wedding back in 2014 when we were core members of Flock of Foreigners. This is quite a story—so bear with me. Basically, we’d been busking in Eureka, California—about 15 miles or so from the town we were living in at the time, up in the Redwoods of Humboldt County. So, this one couple really liked us and got all our contact info. A few days later they reached out to us and mentioned that they were looking for a wedding band and that we had the right kind of energy, so they came to a show we had at a microbrewery the next weekend (Mad River Brewery, great stuff!) and watched us again. They offered to pay us around $1000 to play their wedding at a beautiful outdoor bird sanctuary in the Redwoods. We took the offer, of course. But we thought it was a little odd. Humboldt County is very artsy. Lots of bands. Everybody knows tons of bands. I guess we thought it was odd that they were asking us, an eclectic group of strangers they met on the street—about 10 of us who’d been living in California going to school together, from Sweden, Greece, Denmark, Canada, and the USA. Anyway, we showed up and everything was absolutely beautiful. The dance floor was this giant bamboo mat in a forest clearing, and we could actually play on top of (and in front of) this massive tipped over Redwood tree—but before the dancing there was dinner. And before the dinner there were speeches. And the speeches began to show us that we were not at a regular wedding—but a hyper-religious cult ceremony. So we were sitting at this table, and people were chanting all these weird things. Anyway, we soon learned that the bride and groom had met in some nearby cult-like school. It was basically a place for people of this cult to meet each other and get married. Neither of them had met each other’s friends or family at all, just heard them mentioned a few times on the phone. The bride’s grandfather was this really intense guy from Boston who gave an insanely passionate speech about sin and the importance of the cult, for the wedding of course. And all the other speeches mentioned their specific ideology several times. Meanwhile, we were dealing with the discomfort of everything by liberally emptying out the tub of beer and basically getting drunk. Later, once things had loosened up a bit, that same grandpa tried to indoctrinate one of the girls in our band to become a member of the cult, telling her how she was living a life of sin, and basically offering her salvation. Throughout the rest of the evening we all winded up having super strange encounters with different attendees, but they all ended up being really decent folks, just oddly misguided. The set of music itself was pretty good. We learned a couple Alabama Shakes songs by request for their first dance and all that. But I kept trying to edit all the curse words and even mentions of “God” and “Lord” out of songs I’m singing to avoid upsetting the pack—images of pitchforks and torches kept running through my head, and by this time I was a few beers deep so I kept screwing up a bit and every time I did I saw a band member turning and looking at me with intensity I've never seen before. But, in the end it was mostly sweet, and I kind of feel bad for talking about all this in a negative light, but we played a cult wedding and it was intense.
Jesse: [Laughs] I'm dying over here. Pure gold and one hell of a story.
Dustin: Yeah, it was really something. I wish I could remember more details but that was three years ago now.
Jesse: This has been great and I don't think you or I will be able to top that story so to finish things off do you have any last words of wisdom for all the kids out there?
Dustin: I think what I have learned most from this project, in general, is not to take your partnerships for granted. When you find that magic chemistry and gel with people on a creative and personal level, it is worth sacrificing time, money, and opportunities to keep those relationships alive and healthy. When we split up the first time, to go back to our homes and our own adventures, I think we just kind of assumed that we would find other people to play music with and start our own bands and find success again—yadda, yadda, yadda. But that wasn't the case. We all did good projects with cool people, mostly in other fields of theatre, variety performance, Cabaret, sketch comedy, etc.—but the real deal is so different than the one that's not as authentic—especially with something as personal as creating art together. And those authentic connections are rare and worth nurturing, even if your mates are usually thousands of miles away and you have to buy a lot of plane tickets.
Jesse: Beautiful, true words of wisdom, Dustin. Thank you so much for chatting with me. I absolutely loved the album and can't wait to hear more from y'all!
Dustin: Thanks for the interview and the support, Jesse! It means a lot to us!
"We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever." — Sagan