Dogbane – Kings of Karma

Saturday, 31st October 2015

Bands like North Carolina’s Dogbane, sadly, are going the way of the dinosaur. Whereas the 80s and 90s were once populated with heady, song-first, DIY, no-flash, but all substance bands, the new century has effectively sliced that number in half; probably more. We’ll quit while we’re ahead, but to know and appreciate true-blue, “meat and potatoes” metal bands ala Dogbane shows that proper song-manship still has a place, as does doing it simply for the love of the music.

The band’s new album When Karma Comes Calling (Heaven and Hell Records) comes with a bit of a back story. Guitarist David Ellenburg passed away in 2012 due to complications from a stroke, leaving the band to reassess not only their career, but their own lives. After drafting guitarist Jeff Rinehart to replace Ellenburg, Dogbane got down to business on a collection of songs that traverse the glorious fields of traditional metal, all the way to doom. And as we’ve been harping upon, few albums in 2015 sound like this. With that in mind, we grabbed the guitar tandem of Rinehart and Mitchell Allred to discuss replacing Ellenburg, their thoughts on the new album, as well as the pure joy of being in a band with a bunch of your friends…

Dead Rhetoric: How much was David on your mind when writing and recording When Karma Comes Calling? 

Mitchell Allred: In a lot of ways David is still very much with us.  He wrote “Dogbane” on our new album, and was instrumental in the riffs on “Deceiver”, and what eventually became ‘When Karma Comes Calling.” Our drummer Jerry was his best friend since their days in kindergarten.  The two of them had a lifetime of jamming with one another.  A bond like that doesn’t fade away overnight.  Our bass player Kevin also spent a lot of time with both David and Jerry in the years before Dogbane.  Kevin produced David and Jerry’s band Rictus Grin on more than one occasion at his studio.  When you spend time like that with people, you start thinking alike to a certain degree.  Sometimes you know exactly what the other person is going to do even before they do it.

Stylistically, David and myself were very complimentary of one another.  As our time together grew, we had the ability to answer one another with our guitars.  If one of us was stuck on a certain thing the other had the answer to it.  Even to this day, some three years after his death someone will say “that sounds like something David would do”, or if we’re stuck on an arrangement; we can invoke his memory and what direction he may have taken to get ourselves back on track.  David was our brother, he was our friend, and he was a founding member of Dogbane.  So, in those respects he’s always on our mind, but we do not obsess over it.  We are a different band now, and we must move forward without him.  I’m sure he would be in agreement on that.

Dead Rhetoric: In what ways did his passing bring the band closer? 

Allred:  David’s passing taught us to not take things for granted.  What is given can always be taken away.  It also made us feel like we had more to prove.  We had to show the first album was not a fluke.  We were hell bent on making an album David would have been proud of.  This band has experienced a lot of highs together, and on the other hand we’ve experienced extreme lows.  We’ve seen lows that felt impossible to climb out of.  At one point, I don’t think any of us were sure Dogbane would survive.  It took a period of weeks before we could even enter our rehearsal space.  As a result, nothing much scares or intimidates us anymore.  We’ve laughed together and we’ve cried together.  Tragedy will break you if you let it, it can also make you stronger if you let it.  We all were brothers before, but now we’re family.  Family is not always blood.  It’s shared experiences and it’s loyalty.  It’s sacrificing what you want for the betterment of all involved, that’s what Dogbane has now.

Dead Rhetoric: There’s always been this feeling of sincerity when it comes to Dogbane. As in, you’re not chasing trends, messing around with gimmicks, etc. Therefore, is it safe to say you’re somewhat of a “meat and potatoes” metal band? 

Jeff Rinehart:  It’s interesting you say “meat and potatoes” when describing us, because that is exactly how our drummer half-jokingly refers to his drumming.  Haha.  I do think that would probably be overall an appropriate view of our work, so far.   While we will probably always have a characteristic sound that ties strongly to the traditional, classic, NWOBHM and Doom metal bands of the 70’s and 80’s, I think there will continue to be some new elements and influences that will be explored and added to what has already been defined as the classic sound we’ve put on albums so far.  I don’t think it is safe or fair to say that with only two albums under our belts, we have even scraped the bottom of our creative melting pot or run out of ideas that would be compatible with what we like or consider to be in line with music we want to play.  I think there is still room for progressing into uncharted territory, while still maintaining the integrity of the band’s style and sound.  I think in terms of production, we will try to continue to find a perfect blending of the warm analog sound, married with the digital recording capabilities available to us.  I think our best is yet to come.

Allred:  I think you and Jeff  both are correct in characterizing our work so far as being “meat and potatoes”.  I’ve always said that we just play the style of music we like. It’s the kind of music that we grew up on.  Our musical direction hasn’t been a premeditated decision it’s just what pours out of us when we write.  It’s also kind of comical that what we do now seems to be somewhat of a trend, and it puts us in a weird predicament.  If a younger band goes the traditional metal route they are viewed as hipsters.  When guys of our age do it we get referred to as “dad metal”.  I’m not sure which label is worse to be tagged with.

Dead Rhetoric: Do you follow what young bands are doing? It seems like the art of writing a “song” has gone out of the window. Do you recognize that as well?

Rinehart: I am probably the least exploratory in terms of keeping up with the latest bands or trends, haha.  I guess you could chalk it up to laziness or lack of money or time to go deep into researching the latest stuff.  If somebody I know and share common musical interests with recommends something, I might check it out.  Usually, in whatever way I end up finding something I like, I keep up with particular favorite bands and probably could only name on one hand bands that I have bought all their stuff.  But on the other hand, many of my influences might be a little newer (relatively speaking) compared to some of my bandmates, as a lot of my musical influences are more mid 80’s to mid 90’s, haha.

Allred:  The art of songwriting has definitely gone out the window.  The funny thing is the ability to write a great song is in no way tied to being a virtuoso.  Most young bands haven’t figured this out.  I hear a lot of younger bands that certainly have chops, but their songwriting remains unmemorable.  The ability to tell a story has been lost.  You’ve got to be able to pull the listener in.  Three chords are all you need if you do it correctly.  It is much harder to accomplish this with continual arpeggio sweeps and strange time signatures.  There are bands out there that can do it, but they are the exceptions not the rule.

Dead Rhetoric: To you, what ultimately makes a good song? 

Rinehart:  I appreciate bands that write a good story or use dark romantic imagery and can blend the lyrics with the music in such a way that it creates atmosphere.  That is why I love King Diamond and My Dying Bride. I do like music that has a dark, sad or haunting emotional dynamic, and technical playing aspects, but which blend together for the benefit of the song.  Back in the day, I was all about flash and technique ala Shrapnel and Neoclassical fusion stuff; but, as I’ve grown older I have learned to appreciate the players who can shred, but also play with restraint, if that is what the song calls for and leave the listener wanting more with hooks, both musically and lyrically.  I try to write a song that gives me chills when I play it. I find that when I want to keep going back and listening to a solo or hearing the haunting aspect of music and lyrics, that is my ultimate thrill and sense of accomplishment, because that is what I love about the bands I’ve mentioned.

Allred:  You’ve got to have a hook. A hook and sing along choruses. I also believe that you need to be able to understand the vocalist.  A good way to know that you’ve achieved what you’re looking for is when you come up with what is referred to as a noggin nodder.  That is when you hear a song for the first time and without knowing and intent; your head bobs along to the music.  When a song is written well this will be automatic.  You should never have to “decide” whether or not you like a song.

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