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Dot Dash - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 15 / 1 / 2012

Dot Dash - Interview


John Clarkson speaks to Terry Banks, the front man and guitarist with Washington DC punk band about 'Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash', their debut album

Dot Dash is a pop punk band from Washington DC. While a relatively new band, having first formed in 2010, its four members are all mainstays of their local scene, having played since the mid 80s in a succession of other acts in the Washington area. Dot Dash’s debut album, 'Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash', was released by the Canadian label The Beautiful Music in October of last year. It was recorded in three afternoons and, raw in sound but also very melodic, runs to fourteen tracks. Pennyblackmusic spoke to the group’s front man and guitarist Terry Banks about 'Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash'. PB: Your last band Julie Ocean took its name from an Undertones song. Does Dot Dash take its name from the Wire song of the same name? TB: It does. We do like Wire a lot, but it’s not a homage to them, or us saying, “Gee, we think we’re a bit like Wire.” We just thought it was a good, succinct name that looks pretty good in print, so we went with it. PB: You have drawn comparisons with a wide ranging series of largely British acts including The Jam, Joy Division, Orange Juice, the Wedding Present and the Buzzcocks. You spent several years off and on living in Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and were the second guitarist towards the end of their lifetime in Sarah Records band St. Christopher. How much of an influence do you think those years in Britain have had on Dot Dash's sound? TB: The time I spent in the UK was great and, in retrospect, kind of a “formative” experience for me, but more in a personal way than a musical one. As far as musical influences, I do love the bands you mention (and I know my band mates in Dot Dash do, too), but I don’t like them, or others like them, because of where they come from, per se. I just like melody and poeticism and intensity, wherever it happens to come from. PB: Washington DC is best known musically for its hardcore bands such as Fugazi and Bad Brains, and also its indie pop groups such as Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl. How much of an effect do you think your local scene has had on shaping Dot Dash musically? TB: I guess you’re always affected by your surroundings and there’s no question that the Dischord label, and the scene that sprung up around it, made an indelible mark on music here, and I think, directly or not, it shows up in our music. Nearly all of the stuff I’ve been involved with before (stuff like Julie Ocean, the Saturday People, Tree Fort Angst, and Glo-Worm) was pretty explicitly ‘poppy,’ but it feels like Dot Dash also has some darker tones, and some of that might square up with some of the post-hardcore stuff, or at least things in that zone. PB: Your bassist Hunter Bennett was in Julie Ocean with you. Who are the other members of the band and how did you become involved with them? TB: Danny Ingram plays drums and he’s been in lots of bands over the years, starting out in the early Dischord scene with Youth Brigade and, many years later, playing in Swervedriver, among lots of other bands in between. Somewhat coincidentally, Danny was playing in a reformed version of mid-80’s D.C. mod band Modest Proposal, who had got back together for a one-off reunion show. Bill Crandall was the guitarist in Modest Proposal and we thought he’d be a great fit for this “new band” we were thinking of. Bill was up for it and the four of us decided to give it a go. PB: 'Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash' was recorded in three afternoons. We interviewed Pam Berry some years ago who was in Glo-Worm with you, and she told us that that was a group that relied almost entirely on spontaneity, often only getting together to practice the day before a recording or a gig. I am not suggesting that Dot Dash run along quite the same principles, but do you think an emphasis on rawness and impulse suits your way of working best? TB: I do value spontaneity, but, in retrospect, I think I kind of got carried away with it. When it comes to making music, I always had this real aversion to anything that felt self-indulgent and, to me, taking a lot of time to record, or just “fussing” over things in general, felt that way — so I veered (sometimes excessively) in the opposite direction and took this kind of whacked-out pride in working really quickly. I’ve never been that way about writing songs, where I’ve always liked to be kind of organic and free flowing, but when making a record, I’d get into this “OK, let’s just go in and knock it out” mode… Way too late in the game (like in the last few months or so!) I’ve realized that kind of thinking (while admirably ‘punky’) has diminishing returns. So, if Dot Dash makes a second album (which we hope to do), we may take our time a bit more than in the past… PB: 'Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash' has some great moments. What are you most proud of about that record?' TB: Thanks. I think what I like most is that it’s sort of a “full body of work” — i.e., a fourteen song album, not just a promising EP or something. I also feel like it strikes a pretty good balance between being sort of direct and straightforward and also being kind of textured and grainy…. And, as always, I’m proud that the songs are short — the whole record runs thirty five minutes. I don’t know why I think that matters, but I do. PB: The album has been released on the Ottawa-based label The Beautiful Music. How did you become involved with a label so far away from Washington and why did you decide to sign with them? TB: I first became acquainted with The Beautiful Music about ten years ago when they asked the Saturday People to contribute a song to a Television Personalities tribute comp they were putting together. We (the band) didn’t end up pursuing it, as any time we had in the studio was spent doing our own material, but I liked the label and the people involved and we ended up keeping touch. Fast forward to 2011 when Wally Salem, who runs The Beautiful Music, expressed an interest in putting out the fourteen songs Dot Dash had recorded, it felt like a great fit. They’re great guys and really nice to work with. PB: In terms of a second album, what direction do you see it taking in comparison to 'Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash'? TB: Currently we have eight new songs that we’re playing live in gigs, in addition to songs from the album. When we get to ten or so new songs that we feel strongly about, we’d love to record a second album. We’re pretty excited about the new material in that the poppy ones feel brighter and poppier, and the darker, more ‘post-punk’-flavored ones feel, um… darker and more post-punky. Overall, we just kind of feel more “together” and intuitive in what we’re doing. I don’t think it will be wildly different from the first album, just, for lack of a better term, more fully realized. That’s the plan, anyway. PB: You have played some pretty prestigious support slots with Urge Overkill, the Godfathers and the Trash Can Sinatras, the Chameleons and Hugh Cornwell,and a lot of other headline shows, but have played them mainly close to home. Do you hope to tour soon, either in the States or abroad? Do you have any other plans for the immediate future? PB: We play as often as we can, but, you’re right, it’s almost always in or around DC. I suppose that’s just a reflection of the fact that that’s where we get offered gigs. But we’d love to play further afield — that would be great. I can see the billboard now: “Dot Dash: available for weddings, parties, anything.” PB: Thank you.

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