Sometimes there’s no need for a label, it’s all just rock and roll. Washington, DC’s Dot Dash understand that and with their latest record – Searchlights (their fifth, all on Ottawa’s The Beautiful Music label) they pump out 15 catchy, guitar driven tunes all wrapped up in a huge aircraft hangar production by Missy Thangs (Ex Hex).
This is a loud record!
Dot Dash have an impressive pedigree as well, with stints in bands such as St. Christopher and the Saturday People; Julie Ocean; Swervedriver; Minor Threat; Government Issue; and Youth Brigade. It may seem like an odd mix, but it all comes together once they plug in. Their sound is timeless and along with some pop, there is power; there are guitar hooks here that will get stuck in your head for days.
Searchlights is drenched in the power pop sound of bands like The Plimsouls, the Smithereens, or Teenage Fanclub with the looseness of early Soul Asylum and The Replacements. Not to say that it’s all 80s and 90s here but songs like The Infinite; Lonely Serenade and 10,000 Days would definitely have appeared on the mixed tapes I forced on friends back in the day.
We hooked up with singer/guitarist Terry Banks to find out what makes Dot Dash tick.
Dot Dash — Terry: guitar, vocals; Steve: lead guitar; Hunter: bass; Danny: drums
Tell us about your hometown scene…
It’s really good. Even just from an “indie rock” perspective there are 6 or 7 clubs in and around D.C. with original bands (touring and local) playing almost every night – it’s quite a lot of music, when you think about it. A D.C. band we like a lot and have played with a couple of times is called American Televison – great Buzzcocksy-type stuff with a rocking EP out. Further up the road, we’ve had big fun playing in old town Frederick (Maryland) a couple times with the all-around excellent Miss Lonelyheart who (to me) are like Big Dipper meets a punky XTC. They just released a really great 7” EP. And we just played with The Split Seconds, who rocked the house and have a new record out, too.
The new record is called Searchlights. Tell us about the inspiration behind that song and how it was chosen for the name of the album?
The four albums that preceded this one all have kind “evocative phrases” for titles — either lyrical snatches or just made-up things that sounded good. This time, for no particular reason, ‘Searchlights’ seemed to fit the bill. As far as the song itself, I think I overdid the ‘breathy vocals’ thing, so it maybe could’ve been a better track, but… In terms of inspiration, it’s mostly a consideration of the weird finality of time and of seeing diffuse light from far away, at night.
There are some seriously heavy guitars on the new record, “Lonely Serenade” (a favorite) and “10,000 Days” for example. Was it a conscious decision to intensify the bite of Dot Dash?
Partly it’s our ‘new’ lead guitarist Steve (although I guess he’s not really new, having joined the band in the front part of 2014 and also played on Earthquakes & Tidal Waves, the album before the new one.) He just has a heavier, more explosive style of playing (although he can also do lighter, janglier things, too.) I think the bigger difference, sound wise, with this record is the woman who produced it, Missy Thangs. She went for this really wild, kind of ‘out there’ sound. To me, the record sounds really “alive” and amped-up and kind of going over the edge in an exciting way — I love it. But it’s all in the ear of the beholder, of course. (People in bands always think their stuff is good.)
Describe your sound as a cocktail – what would it be called and what would be in it?
Hmmm… my band mates Hunter, Danny and Steve would each have their own takes on it, but my end of the equation would likely be a tangy mix of 60s pop, post-punk, mod, jangle, power pop, indie rock, punk, psychedelia, new wave, and garage (not that any of these genres are all that far apart from one another) – really just anything with strong melodies, full-on singing, and short songs.
What songs do you remember most from your childhood?
Something that really stands out was a local TV commercial in Baltimore in the 70s that was promoting that cars could now turn right on red. They used “Turn, Turn, Turn” by The Byrds in the background. I wouldn’t have even known who they were at the time, but I thought it was beautiful — that descending, chiming guitar figure.
If you could pick any time and place to travel back to for music, where would you go and what year would it be?
There are so many… Maybe The Modern Lovers in Ipswich, Mass. in 1971, or Orange Juice in Glasgow in 1980, or The Saints in Brisbane in 1976, but (speaking of The Byrds) I think the big one would be The Byrds at Ciro’s in Los Angeles in Spring 1965.
If you could tour with any band/artist right now who would that be and why?
We did a little string of dates last year with Tommy Keene, who’s a bit of a musical hero of mine/ours, so that was good, but I guess Guided By Voices would be another. GBV rock. As only old(er) dudes can.
Give us your 10 song playlist for the tour van/bus/plane?
Well, we’re way down the food chain from having any of those things, but in any case:
The Riotous Hues, “Lessonless Rainbows”
The Jam, “Monday”
The MC5, “Empty Heart”
The Velvet Underground, “Sister Ray”
The Undertones, “It’s Going To Happen”
Captain Beeheart, “Sure ‘Nuff ’n Yes I Do”
The Clash, “Stay Free”
Blue Aeroplanes, “Jacket Hangs”
The Beatles, “Ask Me Why”
The Barracudas, “Somewhere Outside”
When you’re not playing and have some time off, where could we find you?
I like to go running outside. I don’t mind hot weather but I hate running in the cold, so this time of year is a bit of a grind on that front. What else… does swearing at the television count as a hobby?
What’s up for 2017?
The future’s uncertain and the end is always near. (I sometimes go for days speaking only in Doors lyrics.) No, actually, we hope to make a new album at some point in 2017, and play interesting shows, and keep exploring the astral plane.
Note: Dot Dash’s Bandcamp page offers a few free downloads if you’re so inclined.