There is nothing as great as a really good heavy metal album. Lately I’ve come upon some really great traditional heavy metal. Mitch Allred of American heavy metal band DOGBANE was kind enough to answer my questions. Anders Ekdahl ©2012
I still haven’t managed to decipher the title to your latest album. What does it mean and why the choice of that title?
MA: “Residual Alcatraz” is a song about an inmate locked away in the notorious Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary. The man spends night after night scraping away at the prison walls plotting his escape. During the night of his escape attempt the man dies. His earthly spirit now condemned to repeat this process over and over for eternity. The song is basically about a residual haunting. The track was chosen for the album title because of its length. Our songs usually average about five minutes or so in length while “Residual Alcatraz” comes in at just over three. The song was the perfect length for video trailers and short enough to hopefully make the audience want more.
How much time and effort do you guys put on finding the right album and song titles? Is it important that the titles say something?
MA: I would say an immense amount of time and effort. Each song is basically its own story and their titles and content should take on a life of their own. It can be very tough to capture the essence of a song or a complete body of work in one or two words. Honestly you are not the first to seem somewhat confused at our album title. Perhaps we weren’t as coherent as we should have been? If people have to ask you, you in turn must ask yourself. I do feel the lyrics and the songwriting are there though, at least for the type of music we are presenting.
When you are an American heavy metal band how much of an uphill battle is it to get noticed?
MA: Well it is certainly no cake walk, but I’m not so sure it is any more or less of an uphill battle than in any of the other genres of music. Basically here in the states there is not really a music industry anymore. The era of the rock star is pretty much over. You can’t even find a record store over here for the most part. Except for a few FYE stores in the local mall and they are the height of crap. The main problem you face is trying to stand out in a sea of average. Through modern technology most bands/artists have to ability to record from their living rooms whether they should or not. Now distributors such as CD Baby have the whole market flooded with every garage act from around the world. It is basically the same mentality as “I have a camera, I’m a photographer” or “I’ve got Photoshop, I must be a graphic designer.” To be completely honest I still don’t have it figured out myself, but what success Dogbane has had comes from being on a label with some decent distribution, and working with a PR firm who knows where to send your product. Anything short of this and you better be blazing a new trail, or packing people into venues at such a rate someone notices. Outside of that you will never get seen.
Is it frustrating that trendy shit gets more attention than the true stuff does? How fickle is the music scene in America?
MA: Sure it is frustrating, but hasn’t that always been the case? I tend to look at it from the stand point of what I consider as “true” should never be acceptable or trend setting for the masses. When things appeal to these so called masses you are catering to the lowest common denominator. True heavy metal should never be relegated to that. In regards to the music scene America is very fickle, people do seem to be more trend oriented here; that has always been the case, but make no mistake, heavy metal is still a very important part of our culture. Admittedly it has become increasingly difficult to get people to shows. To be fair, we are in the middle of a deep economic recession that has been going on for several years now. If one adds fuel costs, ticket prices, and the lure of easily accessible social media (facebook, youtube, etc.), perhaps this is what keeps people away. I can’t say for sure.
Would you say that the Europeans are more loyal in general? What kind of responses have you had to your music so far?
MA: I can say our best responses have been from Europe. In Germany especially, and we are very appreciative. France has also been most hospitable. We would certainly like to go over and play if that becomes a possibility. Norway doesn’t seem to care much for us, if you take the reviews at face value. Maybe we should kill something? (laughs)
We live in a time and age that seem to be more about instant fixes than longevity. How do you build a name for yourself when people seem to lose interest from day to day?
MA: Anyone who loses interest in things from day to day are not the types of people we should be writing music for. First and foremost you write for yourself. As a band Dogbane writes from a formula that is special to us, a formula which we hold dear and that inspires us. Those who listen to and appreciate what we do understand this. Our detractors never will. We will build our name because what we do is true. We work extremely hard and come from an honest place.
When you play in a band do you have a grand plan as to what you want to achieve? Why do you play in a band?
MA: Well it is no secret that Dogbane is a mature band. I am the youngest member and I celebrated my 42nd birthday back in June. I think our drummer Jerry is the oldest (we’re really not that far apart, honestly), but I won’t disclose his age at the risk of retribution (laughs). All of our members have been playing since our teens. Each of us has dreamed every dream one could possibly imagine when it comes to being in a band. Honestly, most of those dreams have never been realized. Realistically, they may never come true. The thing that sets us apart from everyone else is that it has never occurred to any of us to quit. As some of you already know we lost one of our founding members (David Ellenburg) a little over a month ago, due to a severe stroke. While this has been extremely tough; our resolve remains strong. My “brothers” and I play in a band because we have a mutual love of music. We play in a band because we don’t know how to do otherwise.
Does it matter if you do things on your own or if you are backed by a label today? What is the upside of having a label backing you?
MA: Well for the majority of our collective musical careers we have done things on our own. We do have a leg up over most bands in this department as our bass player Kevin D. Davis is our recording engineer. I myself have a degree in advertising and graphic design, and our vocalist Jeff Neal works in the print industry. Additionally my girlfriend Linda Ronsick is a graphic designer, and has helped to brand Dogbane very effectively. We are so fortunate to be surrounded by very talented people. With that being said, I still can’t overstate the importance of being on a label that has decent distribution and the drive to push you. We could have put the product together, but it did take our affiliation with Jeremy Golden and Heaven and Hell Records to get our record into the proper areas. It was also through the label that we were introduced to Clawhammer PR. What good is it to have a room full of CD’s if you have nowhere to go with them? That is the upside to being on a label. I can’t stress that importance enough.
How important is playing live in building a bands name and what kind of opportunities are there to play live to build the band’s name?
MA: It can be very important if you can get on the right shows and in the appropriate venues. This poses a special kind of dilemma for us. We are from a very rural part of North Carolina and good venues are hard to come by. We basically have to travel to bigger cities in the area, like either Raleigh or Charlotte for the best shows. Then because of the lack of good venues you have to play a political game with the club owners and their local favorites. This scenario has played out to our chagrin on more than one occasion. We would love to be afforded the chance to tour, but the support money is not there at the present moment. There has been some talk through our label and PR firm about some possible festival shows in the future. I really think this may be the best way to go. Our best shows so far have usually been performed with our label-mates.
What are your future plans?
MA: Dogbane will be going into the studio over the next week or two and begin laying down tracks for a Kiss Tribute album. The title is called Rock n Roll All Nite: A Millenium Tribute to Kiss 1974-2013. The album is slated for a winter 2012 release on Versailles Records. We will be covering “Charisma” off the 1979 “Dynasty” album. Once that project is complete work begins on our follow up to “Residual Alcatraz.” Hopefully our sophomore effort will be released in mid-2013. We do not plan on a whole lot of downtime.