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Giant Sand - Interview

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 16 / 8 / 2004

Giant Sand - Interview


Fiery Canadian indie rockers Despitado have recently signed to the Jade Tree label and have just released a six track EP, 'The Emergency Response' . Frontman Dagan Harding tells Ben Howarth of the down to earth ambitions of his band

Admiring the development of a young band over a series of albums is, I tend to find, as satisfying a pursuit as finding the holy grail of an all time classic album. Case in point, Idlewild. Anyone who had the good sense to pick up a copy of their early singles or debut mini album, 'Hope is Important', will have heard a scratchy and energetic but erratic punk/indie band, and then have watched them grow into one of the more charismatic and engaging bands around. It’s for this reason that I try and look out for young bands more than just go for the finished product. To begin with, let’s not overstate anything. Despistado are not necessarily the future of rock and rol. They have only released one mini album/six track EP (call it what you will), 'The Emergency Response' and whilst it shows a great deal of promise – exuberant indie guitar noise, with inventive and creative songwriting – it isn’t the best release of the year or anything like that. But it shows enough fiery spirit and individuality to suggest that, given time, Despistado could become one of the best bands on the US Indie rock scene, and right now, that’s enough for me to start getting excited. Pennyblackmusic duly arranged a chat with singer/songwriter Dagan Harding to find out more about a band that seemed – on the strength of that debut release – well worth finding out more about. They formed in a typical, ‘hey let’s form a band’ manner. “The drummer, guitarist and myself went to high school together” Dagan explains. “And we played in a band when we were there, and the three of us started writing tunes together. Our bass player played in another local band , but we asked him if he wanted to fill in with us, which he did, and he joined in with us”. “The Emergency Response” was the product of the early stages of the band, and essentially documents their first setlist. I ask Dagan if he feels that the band has changed significantly since those early recordings, which are now over 2 years old. “It has and it hasn’t,” he answers. “We’ve all grown, but we have a similar energy. The EP is quite dated, but it’s not irrelevant and we still play most of those songs live. It was our first set of songs and we were just figuring out who what we wanted, what we can do well, who each other are.” Despistado did not get spotted because they come from the epicentre of rock ‘n’ roll and they had a bunch of hipsters to get the hype ball rolling. No, Despistado in fact hail from a small, but not exactly remote, Canadian town, Regina. It’s just lucky that, unlike Britain where even the independent music scene is laughably centred on big cities, US label Jade Tree is prepared to judge bands on merit and take a punt on a band just because they like the music. Their approach really shouldn’t sound as novel as it does! “We sent Jade Tree 'The Emergency Response, which we’d already put out with some local distribution in Regina, and Darren the co-owner we saw had it on his list of what he was listening to on the Jade Tree website. It was totally cool. Bizarre as well! So we talked to him, and we were putting on some shows in Regina. A couple of shows to help raise some funds for the full length that we were about to record, and he flew up for those shows. We met him, hung out a little bit and then he went back home and called us and said that Jade Tree would like to release the EP” As I’m a big fan of most of the bands I’ve heard on Jade Tree, I’m keen to know if the bands on the label are too. Dagan answers this emphatically, “Yeah! Yes. Yes I am. I am generally a fan of American indie rock, I listen to a lot of stuff of Dischord and Touch & Go as well, but I knew this label really well and knew it had a lot of history behind it.” I wonder what bands have specifically influenced the band, and though Dagan thinks about this for a while, he can only really think of one, though he could hardly have picked better! “Fugazi, for sure, is one band that have influenced us. But Fugazi has influenced a lot of bands! We all like the post-punk kind of thing. There’s loads of great stuff on Dischord, but Fugazi is the main influence.” Immediately after signing to Jade Tree, Despistado set to work on a full length, which is now finished and should see the light of day in January 2005. As good a record as 'The Emergency Response' is, it will be this that will give a better indication of what Despistado are capable of. When I ask him, Dagan struggles to really sum up the new album. “Um, well, it’s better produced… um, I suppose it’s more contemplative. I think the songs are maybe better written”. Then suddenly, he’s hit with a welcome burst of clarity, “Well, it’s a rock and roll album!” I ask Dagan what he was aiming to do with the songwriting and the musical approaches on the album. “It’s not what I was aiming to do, its just what I did! Writing is an organic thing. We jam together, and then structure the songs. I do the lyrics on my own. I bring them in and then we adapt it as a group.” This is definitely true, the music on the album sounds so fresh it simply had to come from a spontaneous environment. But, I question, the lyrics on the album flit from poetic allusions on everyday relationships to some specific and intelligent political commentary. Surely this must demonstrate a specific intention to discuss politics and influence or inspire his listeners. Again he is adamant that there was no specific intention, just that he wrote what came to him! But he does acknowledge the political side to his band. “We’re political in that we actually give a shit about our society and how it’s structured, and what power means to everybody. We disagree about a lot of things, and we’re not all brainwashed by the same ideology! But I’d say we’re all compassionate. We care about the plight of the poor. If people are interested in what we’re writing then it’s awesome. If it opens their eyes to a different world politically then that’s awesome. That happened to me. A lot of my favourite bands have dropped hints. They’ve been subversive and put subtle things in and I find that interesting. But I don’t aim to do anything with the lyrics. I try and write all the time, and I just like to put different images together and see the effect they have on me, and hope that it has a similar effect on the audience. It’s fun and it’s chaotic” The band seems to be an awkward and enjoyable marriage between a desire to be creative, to emulate some great bands and to productive, with a chaotic desire to experiment and capture the moment “There is a lot of intent behind Despistado, but the fun aspect that we have is that we just let it happen and not plan it. We just try and see where the music can go.” One of the things that seems particularly important to the band’s development is the music community in Regina. “I wouldn’t say there are plenty of places to play, but there are a few places that you can play on a regular basis, but there are a lot of good local bands that have influenced us, and there are a lot of young bands and I would say the music community here is fairly tight knit. It’s a great place, Regina, to be in a band. Practice space is cheap, and there are tons of wicked musicians that you can jam with. I’m really keen to get a big community jam with all the bands together. We’ve talked about it for years but I think it’s really going to happen. ” Their commitment to Regina is epitomised by a recent incident in the band’s history, which really confirms in my mind that this is a band very worthy of attention. They were recently paid for T-Mobile to use 10 seconds of the opening song on their EP for an advert. Rather than pocketing the money they have simply cleared the band’s debts and have opened a forum to see how the money can be spent, forwarding two ideas for starters, a local band collective enabling jamming and participation between bands, and a drop in music centre providing equipment, practice space, an arena to form bands and get lessons. Many bands would have seen this as a chance to make a fast buck, or taken the idealistic no sell-out position. Instead, Despistado have taken it, and although only in the early planning stages, put it to good use in the music community. Despistado make adventurous music but have down to earth ambitions, which is the sign of a band with the potential to endure. As Dagan concludes, “I just want the band to be what it is, and to develop and grow and change. We didn’t plan on doing much touring as a band, but this is a new thing for us. We want to release records and tour.”

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