As the group itself will readily admit, Boston-based jam band trio Dispatch may be the biggest band you don't know. In the late 1990s, the group released a series of albums blending roots rock, pop and funk, stylistically morphing between genres within songs, before amicably breaking up. Their 2004 farewell show entitled “The Last Dispatch” drew more than 150,000 fans from around the world, while three 2007 benefit shows at Madison Square Garden sold out instantly with virtually no mainstream media or radio support.
Twelve years after their last album, Brad Corrigan, Pete Heimbold and Chad Urmston return with Circles Around the Sun, and as Corrigan tells Fuse from his Denver home, the group had to destroy itself in order to rebuild. In between sessions for his upcoming solo album, Corrigan talked to Fuse about the pleasures of spearfishing, a--hole music industry execs and jam band groupies.
When I told friends I was interviewing you, half said, “I’ve seen Dispatch 15 times” and the other half had never heard of the band. You say in your own bio that, “We’ve been called the biggest band nobody’s ever heard of.” Is that frustrating? Do you feel underappreciated?
Brad: We feel overappreciated. We’re amazed that our family and friends have been as loyal as they have. They’ve embraced us taking 10 years off and they’re still there. So we have no idea how we ended up in this place having such a loyal movement of fans that are along for the ride. The frustrating part is that we’re creating songs that I think would hold up well on the radio or mainstream media, but a lot of the folks that are the gatekeepers to mainstream media don’t look at the quality of the art first. They’re looking to see who’s backing it and how much money’s behind it. It’s just not art-driven; it’s dollar-driven and advertising-driven and relationship-driven. Thankfully, we’ve been able to record independently and we’ve been blessed to not be in that world.
Was not entering that world your own decision or did the opportunity just never present itself?
Brad: Well, the bottom line is that we just didn’t meet the right people back then. We would have built the team with anyone out there inside or outside a label if we felt like the team member really got us and we got them. We found really solid people and started building a team, but we honestly just didn’t find anyone inside the recording industry that wanted to see us for who we were. It was constantly like, “It worked last year with such and such a band, and we’ll make you into the next fill-in-the-blank.” That was just one of the biggest turnoffs. Any time that line got dropped in a meeting, the three of us would just shut down, our eyes would glaze over and we’d whisper, “When’s the end of the meeting?”
Does any particular meeting stick out?
Brad: One of the guys we talked to was really close with a producer who had worked with Dave Matthews. He was going to connect the dots like, “Well, you guys have a similar fan base and a similar enough sound. Let’s just plug you into this producer, get songs that have this kind of tempo and we’ll market you that way.” And we were just disgusted by it. We love Dave Matthews and that’s why I play guitar and drums the way I do, but the idea of us being a mass-produced, homogenized, microwaved thing was just disgusting. Thankfully, Chad and Pete and I were savvy and protective enough that we really wanted to make sure we made our songs the way we wanted to make our songs, to make them as original and unique as they could be, and not try to cop a sound or production style so that we’re reminiscent to any other bands selling lots of albums.
It’s been 12 years since your last album. Do you feel any trepidation about coming back?
Brad: We appreciate our fans and how they’re still with us. We’re really excited for them to listen to the album and we want their honest feedback about what they think. If people don’t dig us, I’m going to open up an oxygen bar really close to the beach where I can go spearfishing. Spearfishing is my new passion. I just got back from a trip where I got to shoot my first fish. I know there are a lot of fish in the sea and I know that I can probably grill fish for the rest of my life and live barefoot on a beach and hopefully I’ll be fit and ready to rumble.
I can’t tell if you’re joking.
Brad: Oh, it’s totally true, dude. Oh my God.
Does all that diving and swimming help at all with your singing?
Brad: There’s a pivotal connection between being a singer and a spear fisherman. The bigger your lungs, the greater your capacity for oxygen. The more you can lay down and calm yourself and hopefully clear your ears to get to 20 or 30 feet [underwater] and just chill and wait for the fish to come by and then BAM! Dinner. Hopefully I’ll be down [underwater] for a minute and then I’ll be down for a minute and a half. One of my buddies can stay down for three minutes literally waiting. So at that point I’ll probably be able to hold a note for about six minutes and Dispatch will be known for a completely different reason.
It doesn’t sound like you’re too worried about your reception.
Brad: The bottom line is, let’s say that our fans don’t really get into it and the album doesn’t sell well and no one picks it up at radio. Chad, Pete and I can look each other in the eye and say, “There’s still nothing we would change.” We were completely honest to the songs and didn’t try to craft songs that would sell. We reached into the well and did a killer album that we’re really proud of. If we’re smiling at the end of the record and we feel we did the songs justice, we don’t really have to do anything else. You’re hoping that your fans embrace it; you’re hoping that critics enjoy it. But we can at least check the box that all three of us did it right.
More than a decade after splitting up, do you still feel that it was the right decision? Is there any part of you that thinks the band should’ve stuck together?
Brad: No, man. If we had made a different decision back then, we wouldn’t be playing now. No question. We walked away; we honestly didn’t see another option. There was one other option: sign a massive record deal and get a huge advance and to cash out. And to the people that were advising us to do that, we just went, “There’s no way.” That feels so dishonest and even though it’s completely legal and that s--t happens all the time, our souls didn’t feel good with that, so we just closed the door on record label meetings and went, “We’re out of here. Let’s keep our integrity intact and feel good when we look back at what we’ve done. Hopefully some day, we’ll come back together and enjoy the legacy of what we did and that we did it right.” Because we made a good decision back then with real integrity. It made it totally free for us to do whatever we want now. If we start to burn out, we’ll stop again. If we don’t, we’ll record more albums.
All three Dispatch members played sports in high school and college. Did that help with the band’s future work ethic?
Brad: Definitely. I played lacrosse, Chad came in as a hockey player, Pete came in as a soccer player. I think all three of us really understood and were drawn to team dynamics and what fun and discipline there is in it. We’ve been a part of teams that sucked, where the coaches were lame and the players weren’t working well and there was no humility. But we’ve also been on teams that have been incredible. And most of the teams that we’ve been on that have been incredible, the coach has integrity, the players have humility, everyone realizes that they might be decent on their own, but together, if everybody’s firing on all cylinders, the team can just be epic.
I’m sensing a metaphor here.
Brad: Yeah, the same thing applies to the people that we were putting around us as a band. We wanted to make sure that on a great day, we had great people around us, and on a s--t day, we had great people around us too.
What was your definition of success in 1996, 2000 and today?
Brad: A definition of success is feeling good about what you’re doing. If your heart’s resonating with what you’re doing, if you’re following a genuine passion and dream, that’s it. The part that we’re not in control of is one person or 100,000 or one million people listening and singing along. In ’96, we knew we wanted to make songs. In 2000, we knew we were burned out and had come to the end of our leash. We wanted to be authentic and not pretend that we were manufacturing smiles and jokes on stage, and then get off stage and have nothing to say to each other. We just really wanted to be true to who we were. It's the same thing now.
All three of us are recording and touring out of freedom and joy and wanting to do this. You can find people that, by the world’s definition of success, have a s--t ton of money, celebrity status and have sold platinum records, and you can tell they’re freaking miserable. You can tell in the whites of someone’s eyes if they’re hollow and they’ve sacrificed too much to get to where they are and my heart breaks for people who have gotten to that place and don’t know how they got there or what it’s for. On the other hand, it’s pretty amazing to be in a place where you’re afforded a lot of platforms but don’t really feel addicted to dollars defining your success.
Hip hop has a feud every week, but I never see jam band beefs. Why is that and have you even slapped a member of a fellow jam band back stage?
Brad: [Laughs] Oh man, I’m so tempted to make up some epic story. Yeah, Chad, Pete and I hate all musicians. It’s the scourge of our lives that we have to share music and melodies with anyone, so typically when we are backstage there’s an unspoken rule because no one can speak to or make eye contact with us or our family members. And the challenge is that most people don’t know who’s family to us. So everybody just sits there, eyes down, and if there’s eye contact made, there’s something called “first one down.”
First one down?
Brad: It’s where if you lock eyes, you immediately have to lock arms and go into a wrestling match to see who can throw the other one down on the ground. At that point, one person is victorious which is always whoever was related to Dispatch. Jam band people who are out there just cower and go for second place, at best. You know in Top Gun where it says there are no points for second place? We live by that. And there are two O’s in Goose.
Before you leave, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask: Are there jam bands groupies or is it just girls twirling around?
Brad: Wow. That is a really great question. I think there are just a ton of girls that love their hula-hoops.
Is that a euphemism?
Brad: I wish I could say more.
Circles Around the Sun is out now on Bomber Records. Dispatch begin their U.S. tour Sept. 20 in Vancouver.