Most of us who grew up in the late 1900s remember Dishwalla as a intrinsic part of the musical landscape. Their hit single in 1996, Counting Blue Cars, not only earned them a Billboard Award for “Best Rock Song,” but also placed them among the greats of Alternative Pop/Rock of the time. Scot Alexander played bass for Dishwalla, and has much to say about touring the world as an LDS musician, his upbringing, his patriarchal blessing, and his testimony. His energy and love for music pour out of his interview. He also offers advice to musicians who are trying to “make it” in The Biz. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers! You can find out more about what Scot is doing at his MySpace.
To find Dishwalla on iTunes, click here.
Wikipedia and your blog page mention that Dishwalla is active again this year. Why did you take a break as a band, and what made you decide to get back together?
A: Dishwalla (sort of) had a reunion this past summer when we were invited to come play RockFest with Matchbox Twenty and The Wallflowers. It was great to get together with the boys once again, the only problem was, our singer backed out 2 days after we booked the show! So, rather than burn bridges with people (the promoter and our booking agent), we opted to continue to do the show. We had a singer from an up and coming Santa Barbara band do the date for us and it was great.
The answer to why we got back together is simple… we missed each other! After spending 12 years together on the road we had so many great experiences together and it was great to get together again to play music with no pressure and to just have fun with it. We shall see what the future holds for us. Some of us want to do more shows and stuff together, but we are all very comfortable with our families and have pretty much moved on at this point.
Tell us about your upbringing. Did you have a lot of music in the home?
A: We were always listening to music at our house. I was addicted at an early age to music and quickly took control over the family hi-fi system with our expensive German “Garrard” turntable, I remember. (This is the seventies of course!) I was raised by just my Mom, and I was an only child, so really my early musical influence came from her taste and record collection. I remember we had all the early Rolling Stones, all the Beatles, Linda Rondstadt, Carol King, Carly Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart, etc. Basically ’60s and ’70s rock and singer/songwriters.
In terms of my musical vocabulary what I learned most from all this was… the song is key. Above everything else, when melody, lyrics and rhythm come together and do something that moves another human, there’s nothing else quite like it. It just has to be sincere and it will connect with people regardless of musicianship. So, that is what I’ve always at least strived to do in whatever musical situation I’m in. Whether I wrote the song or only played bass, I want the song to touch or affect the listener in some way. Music (even pop music) is is an art, but in its purest form, it’s a communication (hopefully) between an artist and the listener. The feeling you get from that is why we do what we do.
Did your parents support your career as a musician?
A: Well, I should start by saying I was not the best kid. Haha! I have extreme ADD and did poorly in school and got in quite a bit of trouble through my youth. I had very few interests in life except for surfing and music. I think my Mom saw music as a positive thing for me and was always very supportive. I remember growing up as a teenager in a small apartment with her in Santa Barbara, CA, and I had this huge bass amp in my bedroom which would shake the entire apartment complex (I practiced for at least 4-6 hours a day). Our neighbors HATED us! Haha! My sweet Mom could really care less, because she knew how committed I was to the instrument and how determined I was to make something of myself.
I just want to say to any aspiring musician/artists out there, only you know what YOU are capable of. Nobody else knows what’s inside you and what you’re actually capable of. So pay little attention to nay-sayers (even if they share the same last name). If you knew me early on, you’d probably think I’d be the last guy on the planet to ever have any success in the music industry!
What bands influenced you the most growing up, how did you develop your talent in playing bass and which bands are influencing you now?
A: We were quite poor as I was growing up, which was not the norm for Santa Barbara, CA which has some of the wealthiest people in the world who reside there. We did not have money for lessons for bass so I had to read books to teach myself how to play and I just played along to other artists. I listened to EVERYTHING though. Rock, jazz, classical, reggae, whatever. I really wanted to be well-rounded as a musician but my heart was with many of the English bands of the time; Echo and the Bunnymen, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, The Specials, New Order, English Beat, Joy Division, Stone Roses and of course The Cure. All these bands in the nineties had incredible bassists!
It’s funny, In the nineties, although I was in a band that had quite a bit of success, I remember feeling at the time like “man, the nineties have really got to be the WORST decade ever for music.” Haha!
I’d like to say things have improved since then, but I’m not sure they have. I think each decade since the sixties has become a bit more homogenized. One cool thing about what’s going on in music right now is this whole Indie-revival thing. There’s a lot of bands the last few years which are very influenced by the bands which influenced me such as Arcade Fire, Carbon Leaf, Bloc Party, The Killers, B.M.R.C, LCD Soundsystem. There’s quite a lot of new stuff I like right now.
How is the Boise scene? Tell us about The Naughties.
A: The music scene in Boise is funny. There are a handful of really great artists up here. The only problem is, they have no idea how to get from point A to point B in terms of making music their career. It’s very easy to get stuck here. It’s a wonderful place to live, but “comfortable” is rarely a positive thing when you’re trying to move forward with something in your life. The other problem is people up here in general just do not go out to shows unless it’s a cover band. That’s where The Naughties come into the picture. We are simply the weirdest cover band I’ve ever heard. We just play stuff that WE want to play! (Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, Editors, the Bunnymen, Brit Pop, etc). It’s really been a lot of fun for me.
It is very different from the scene in Santa Barbara before Dishwalla got signed in ‘94 to A&M records. The late eighties and early nineties were a terrific time to be playing original music in that area. I grew up sneaking into bars to see Toad the Wet Sprocket play at UCSB. They soon signed to Columbia, then Ugly Kid Joe got signed, then the rap/metal band Snot was signed, Summercamp, UCSB student Jack Johnson, and loads of others. It was a great music community: a really non-competitive environment, great support from the local press and radio, everyone was involved and wanted to see the bands succeed. It was really an awesome time.
What other musical projects have you been doing lately? Your MySpace mentions that you like to collaborate with other musicians whose music you enjoy.
A: Occasionally I’ll produce bands that I want to get behind, but recently I’ve been doing mostly bass session work for other bands or songwriters. It’s been pretty cool, because with the Internet I’ve been able to collaborate with people all over the country. We’ve just been using ftp to send files back and forth. Someone sends me the mix, I record the bass here and my studio and send the file off to them. There’s a really cool site: www.esession.com/scotalexander where anyone can hire professional musicians for their project, so I’ve been doing a lot of work through that. I played on a lot of great stuff last year, but this guy Cary Judd is on another level (www.myspace.com/caryjudd). I foresee great things for him in the future if he stays out on the road and keeps developing.
In Dishwalla and the other bands you’ve played in, how much are you involved in the songwriting process?
A: Dishwalla (especially the first two records) was really a team effort. We had a system that was really organic… 5 guys jamming out ideas in a room, record everything, JR (our singer) would open up his lyric book and either start to work lyrics into it or he would just get the melodies down and come back to lyrics the next day after listening to the tape. It was quick and painless. Later, we got more into a singular writing style, which yielded some of my favorite songs as well, such as on the “Opaline” album. JR originated the bulk of the material but sometimes Jim (our keyboardist) or myself would solely write songs as well. I remember during our second album, I was feeling like there wasn’t a single yet (at least a good lead-off single) so I sat down on my bed and wrote a song called “Once In A While” which ended up being the first single, and was #1 “Most Added” at rock and alt radio the first week it came out. I was ecstatic because it was like the first song I ever wrote!
One really cool thing we did in Dishwalla that helped with the longevity of the band (we were together for almost 14 years) was equally split royalties. It’s something that we saw so many other bands fight over and ultimately break up over, that we decided early on to just make it all even regardless of who wrote the song. We were all equal partners in everything. I highly recommend any band that wants to stick around long-term to set up their business in this way.
Was it a challenge to keep your standards as a Latter-day Saint in the world of touring and music?
A: I’m a convert to the church. I was baptized when I was 19 years old, which is a weird time to start being responsible for someone who never had to be very responsible before! I was not mature enough to serve a mission at that time and I was moving forward quickly with my music career. I was simultaneously in 3 bands that were all doing quite well and getting Indie label interest. I was attending SBCC at the time and taking String Ensemble, Music Theory and Jazz Improv classes. My whole life was music really. Soon after I was baptized, I had managed to lose all my previous friends within a few months. Relationships soured with the main band I was in, as they just could not understand me, or at least the change in me. I thought I was still the same guy!
I was crushed. So when I hooked up with the band that was to become Dishwalla in ‘93, I said to them early on, “If you have a problem with my beliefs, let me know now, but if you want someone that’s going to be committed to the project, will work to the bitter end and always be a good friend, then let’s do this.” They were ALWAYS respectful, and always looked out for me. I had and still have a great relationship with those guys.
Later on, when Pete Maloney (from Tonic) joined as drummer (who was a recovering alcoholic), food became our drug of choice on the road. Haha! The road became a quest for fine dining. It was great to have another guy in the band not drinking, but the rest of the guys generally kept it pretty mellow. The music was always more important than partying.
I guess the reality of it though is, temptation is real. You just have to make a decision and stick to it. I made a decision early on that I didn’t want to go the route of so many members of my family who are alcoholics and ALL of them smoke. I already know where that path leads, and I’m very conscious that I’m more susceptible to those temptations because it’s in my genes.
Also, I’ve always been a bit weird in that I don’t go and hang out with people after we play very much (which made things a bit easier). I’d generally come off stage and go to the bus or hotel to watch a movie or whatever but tend not to socialize much. I love people, I just am not very good at that kind of thing.
How has your testimony grown as a result of music?
A: I’ve seen so many people touched in a positive way by the music we’ve created over the years on parts of the globe I had no idea existed. It is truly an honor to have been blessed with opportunity to share a talent with others and at the same time support my family using the tools Heavenly Father has given me.
In our church we are given (when we are ready spiritually) a special blessing which is kind of a road map for our life called a “Patriarchal Blessing.” If we are faithful and diligent, the blessings from the patriarch are available to us. It’s totally dependant on our faith. After reading mine, which was done when I was about 20 years old, I realized it said something to the affect of that “I should continue on in the career path which I’ve chosen.” Now, at the time I was cleaning carpet for a living so I was pretty sure it was not referring to that!
I just went for it. I put my faith forward. I really only had developed that one talent at the time. Music. I had NO other choice but to succeed. I had nothing to fall back on, and I had a young family to support. It was very challenging, but ALL great things worth having are.
I believe EVERY ONE of Heavenly Father’s children has been given talents which are there to be utilized and nurtured to the fullest. It is part of our purpose and our responsibility. Regardless of what that talent may be.
Does Dishwalla have songs that deal with faith and spirituality?
A: Dishwalla, I think, had several songs which touched on faith and certainly having questions about faith and figuring out what is true. JR had several songs that have to do with figuring things out for yourself, which in my opinion is so critical for members of any faith.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
A: This question makes me laugh. I say this to myself at least a couple times week! I just turned 37 last week, and I realize now after taking 2 years off from music that I’ll NEVER do that again. After having 2 gold records, and a platinum (for the American Pie soundtrack) as well earning a Billboard Award for Rock Song of the Year, touring the world for over 12 years with so many major artists and contributing songs to over 20 soundtracks for film and TV, I really feel I’ve accomplished what I set out for on that level. Although I feel I have much more creativity inside, I don’t really feel the need to join another band and start this whole process over again. I’ve already been there (and I know how much work is involved)! I will always continue to write and record my own stuff, play bass for other artists and if Dishwalla wants to do some stuff, then great! I will always do music in some capacity though even if it’s forming a new band with some of the old members. There are several other business ventures I’m involved in, and I’ve come to realize (maybe because of my ADD) that I’m going to go down many paths in my life and I’ve come to terms with that now.
How can we support you in your musical career if we like what we hear? Where can we find out more about Dishwalla and the other projects you’re involved with?
A: Please feel free to add me as a friend on MySpace (www.myspace.com/scotalexander). As soon as there’s something going on I’ll definitely message everyone. I love saying hi or corresponding with anyone, especially bands or LDS artists that need any industry related advice or have any questions. I’d love to help. So send me a message!