Updated: Jan 4, 2021
Big Dopes are a Denver, CO based outfit with a quality new album titles "Crimes Against Gratitude". In keeping my own thoughts short, as I would like to let the band speak for their own work, I'd add that the album is extremely palatable and worth multiple listens from fans of Indie Rock music. Without further musings, a word from Eddie Schmid, one of the members of the band...
EB: Hello Big Dopes! How are you all doing?
BD: Kind of a loaded question right now isn't it? I'm hanging in there. I feel like every conversation I have with friends now begins with 10 minutes of venting out, like "well, here are all the bad things that happened to me recently, I miss everyone and kinda feel like I’m gonna explode, but overall I'm still breathing and trying to appreciate the little things." Taking it a day at a time. Long walks help.
EB: Tell us a bit about the background of the band, and a bit about the band’s individual members?
BD: Yeah! Well, I moved from Chicago to Denver in 2015 and knew basically no one here. I forced myself to get off my duff and go to open mic nights around town and try to meet people, which is where I met Justin Catanzaro. He's a fantastic songwriter that just happened to be a great bass player too. He also generally smells good, like fresh laundry. I'd had some songs in the bag for several years. Some friends and I had recorded demos here and there. But Justin and I really clicked as people, I felt so exhilarated by his energy and ideas. We worked to flesh out some songs of mine for about a year. We were offered a show here in Denver in 2017 but we didn't have a drummer. Justin knew Ricky Brewer from another band they'd been in together. We asked him to fill in as our drummer for that one show. Ricky has been our temporary drummer for three years. It’s been a dream. If his 2020 year-end review goes well we may hire him full time. Ricky is one of the most talented musicians and kindest people I've ever known, so it's looking good. But we'll see. Paul came on in 2019. He’s in an another great Denver band called Turvy Organ. We played a show with them and quickly became friends. He offered to record and produce an album for us. We started adding lots of synths, violins, and weird sounds. At some point I realized if we were gonna properly play these songs live we'd need at least a fourth member, so I asked Paul if he'd join us. We had a special initiation ceremony where we gave him a red turtleneck, it was very emotional. Paul plays basically any instrument you can throw in front of him. It's staggering. I'm so grateful that he's a dope.
EB: I have listened to your album “Crimes Against Gratitude”, and must say that it’s a nice work. What went into producing that record? Take us through the process of writing, recordings, and releasing.
BD: Thanks so much for saying that. A little over half the songs I'd written when I lived in Chicago, from about 2010-2015. I gotta say, especially at that time, I never really imagined myself getting into performing or recording -- I always loved music didn't start playing it till I was in my early 20s. Writing songs was always just a fun outlet. Having a band now is still such a surreal, fulfilling experience. It's like, "wait, you really want to play this song where I sing about baseball cards? And like, get really detailed about the sounds? This is the best day of my life. I'm gonna go cry." Ricky, Justin and I spent about a year and a half hammering down the song arrangements to get them ready for shows. I think playing as a trio really forced us to think about dynamics, having parts of a song feel different and like there's a movement and momentum to them. There's something really nice about having a limited palette of instruments to work with. We weren't constantly obsessing about how we can add a fourth tuba to the B section, you know? Also my voice is pretty low and can sometimes get drowned out, so we tried to work around that in different ways. For the album we recorded the bass, drums and rhythm guitar live in Paul's basement. Over the months friends came by to record backing vocals, percussion, and other sounds. My friend Erica Bisbey recorded piano parts for us. The piano we used was actually at this public library here in Denver. I saw it sitting in their basement one day, it was a really nice grand piano. I was like "uh, do you guys ever let people rent this piano? Like if we wanted to record with it?" And they were like "hmm, let me check... I think we can. As long as you're not playing speed metal or something? Go ahead I guess?" We brought some mics into the basement one day and laid down the parts, it was so fun. Much love to the Denver Public Library system.
much love to the public library indeed...
EB: There are a nice range of sounds on this record. What are some recording techniques that you used to get some of these interesting drums sounds and the like?
BD: Paul had a pretty simple setup for the drums - mics on the kick and snare, then just one or two overhead mics for the other sounds. We also recorded using MIDI triggers, which allowed us to blend our drum sound with other drum plugin sounds. That gave it some extra punch at times. I really had the most fun recording silly overdubs. Since we were recording it ourselves we figured we might as well get weird with it. If you listen hard, "Shoulder Chips" has Justin on it playing some very subtle kazoo. My friend Lela Roy (also my bandmate in the band Oxeye Daisy) is a wildlife biologist and really good at birdcalls, so we had her do some in the beginning of "Song of the Summer." For "Automatic Roof," there's a part near the end where for some reason I pictured books falling off a shelf. So we spent a considerable amount of time throwing books - different stacks of little books, big paperbacks, textbooks, letting them tip off a stool, and so on. I just remembered feeling so ridiculous because it was like "no, it's not right dammit! I need them to go dum-DUM-duh-dum, and this is just duhDUHdum." That was the moment we truly became artists, I think.
EB: What typically can inspire you to write songs? Do you draw a lot from your own life? Can you speak in depth about any particular song’s inspiration?
BD: Yeah, I pretty much believe in the old rule of "Write what you know." Most of the songs are basically fiction but I try to draw the details from things I’ve experienced. A lot of my songs, directly or indirectly, I think are just me trying to resolve some kind of conflict, a relationship or experience that's confusing me, stuff like that, and answering to it in a kind of elliptical way. I'm a somewhat anxious person, like pretty much everyone in the world. A lot of times - an embarrassing amount - if I'm not taking good care of my brain, really petty stuff will make me spiral into freakout mode. Writing is a way to shake it off a bit. I wrote the lyrics to "Don't Get Up" after someone stayed over at our place and wasn't necessarily the most conscientious houseguest. But the song is also a bit about dealing with the anxiety of someone entering your private home zone. You’re trying to entertain them but also suddenly realizing you had built up all these unwritten rules. Like "alright, this is how we do things over here -- I take a walk every day at 8 am by myself, and then I do the dishes, then I sit at my computer..." I had gotten so used to my introvert-y home routines that I couldn't simply enjoy the guest’s company, it just felt like my space was invaded, but I also wanted them to have a good time. I felt really frustrated and embarrassed with myself for getting angry with them. It felt like one of those moments of "welp, I guess I'm officially a big dumb adult now." I just decided to play up that bitter persona a bit in the song, like I'm this really uppity, expectant host, and just poke fun at myself and the situation a bit.
EB: What has the typical live experience been for Big Dopes?
BD: We really enjoy playing out. Or enjoyed, I should say. Justin usually tells one or two bad jokes. We had a lot of fun covering Cher and Operation Ivy songs at a few shows. For our album release show many friends got on stage with us. During Automatic Roof actually, in the part when you hear books fall off the shelf, I had my friend Ramel Sanchez (also my bandmate in Oxeye Daisy) dress up in a suit and throw dinner plates on the ground. One of the plates bounced — it was enamel or something — and almost hit some people in the crowd. It was pretty nuts. Glad we didn’t get sued.
EB: What kind of things does the future have in store for Big Dopes?
BD: We're getting set to record our second album and I'm really, really excited about it. Thinking about it has been one of a few things in that has kept me sane during the pandemic. We went to a cabin in the Colorado woods earlier this year and worked on demos which was so fulfilling. We're gonna record this next album properly in a studio and try to add some extra zest and bring in friends again to help make it feel bigger and fuller. If the pandemic lets us, we would really love to get out on the road and tour. We really miss the music community in Denver and everywhere. The time alone has been a good reminder of how much I really need other people, like at the most primordial level. I can’t remember ever being so excited to being in a sweaty crowd again.
thanks to the guys in Big Dopes, and thanks to Jake Cox for the killer band photo. stay evil...