American Dumpster, as the name suggests, is a recycling movement for ideas. Singer and principal songwriter Christian Breeden brings to the group a musical, lyrical, and cultural aesthetic inspired by a life in the junkyard. His family home just outside Charlottesville, Virginia is a curious nexus where art, agriculture, industry, and intellect merge in the most unpredictable ways. The Breeden farm is home not only to Biscuit Run Studios, a sculpture studio and long-standing institution in the Virginia art scene, but also to an extensive collection of assorted machinery, instruments, and found art. As a result, art has always been, for Christian, a recycling movement of sorts; welding a Mercedes-Benz grill onto the front of a school bus, for example, or crafting a “Big Iron Head” out of a junked VW Beetle forces familiar items into unfamiliar contexts in which those items can be reinvented.
American Dumpster treats music in a similar manner. American Dumpster’s original songs combine elements of ancient and modern folk songs with the greatest aspects of country, blues, and rock. With the influence of five musicians of varied backgrounds, American Dumpster’s songs have come to life in ways even the songwriter sometimes could not have anticipated. In “Blue,” for example, one of Christian’s collaborations with guitarist Andrew Ewell, Christian references the old murder ballads with the classic trope, “I wish to the Lord that I’d never been born, / Or at least have died when I was a baby.” Later in the song, as the narrator contemplates more modern escapes, he says, “I could sign up to crab the Bering Sea, / Or work high-tension lines in Hurricane Alley. / I could dig graves for the Army in the Middle East, / Anything to keep from waking here in the morning.” Elsewhere in American Dumpster’s songs are humor, remorse, vengeance, zeal, pride, passion, and heartbreak: “Feel the phantom pain from the limb you pushed away. / There’s a void there now and it’s shaped just like me.” The moods of these songs range from ruminative to ironic, from rebellious to reverent, and often demonstrate a rare and profound generosity of spirit.
The characters of these songs also represent a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds. The irrepressible narrator of “The Quitter” is given to zany overindulgences that are so unruly that after quitting drinking and smoking he’s still waiting to “see what the devil has in store for my hands now.” The Quitter’s doppelganger is the earnest narrator of “Touch,” whose need for human contact is at once ravenous and yet carefully repressed.
In Christian Breeden’s voice, as in his lyrics, one can hear the varied strains of music’s past. Like the tortured growls of Howlin’ Wolf or the deepest and sincerest words of Johnny Cash, Christian’s vocal quality is at once gravelly and exalted. His is the voice of heartbreak and reunion, of sorrow, loss, revenge, and of generosity—the voice of a man who feels life so deeply that to hear him sing is to be reminded that we, too, feel life as deeply sometimes.
As with Christian’s art and music, the musicians that comprise American Dumpster represent distinct musical backgrounds, tastes, and styles. Warren Jobe and former keyboard player Betty Jo Dominick formed the fledgling version of American Dumpster after performing together with Christian in a Live Arts production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Charlottesville. Warren has achieved local success as the drummer for such bands as The Jolly Llamas, Full Flavor, and The Cows, and brings to the group a taste for complex rhythmic changes and nuanced grooves. That, combined with a vast musical knowledge rare among percussionists, has helped Warren infuse American Dumpster’s country- and folk-inflected tunes with some of the syncopated stylings of reggae, ska, and dub.
After some time playing together at small local venues, the band, with then bassist Steve Riggs, was forced onto bigger stages in Charlottesville, where they met with washboard player and Charlottesville native Randi Connelly. After returning to Charlottesville from fifteen years of performing in New Orleans, Randi ignited the band’s live show with her unremitting excitement and energetic play, while also introducing the unique sonic texture of a homemade instrument into the mix.
Shortly after Randi joined the group, guitarist Andrew Ewell, who had moved to Charlottesville as a graduate student in the University of Virginia English department, turned up at a local gig and wowed the band while sitting in on a few numbers. His distinguished talent and broad musical knowledge quickly helped the band develop its tastefully sophisticated brand of junkyard rock.
Most recently, American Dumpster added bass legend Houston Ross to the roster. Houston’s superb musicianship and funky sensibility have found him international success as the bassist for Corey Harris (on tour and in the studio for Downhome Sophisticate and Daily Bread—both garnered with 4 1/2 stars by All Music Guide), as well as notable success with Tim Reynolds, Soko, Shannon Worrell, and countless others.
In May 2006, American Dumpster released an album recorded at Sound of Music Studios in Richmond, VA, produced by Montreal-based producer Matt Zimbel, and mixed by John Morand. The record, Rumor Mill, debuted at #29 on Plan 9 Records TOP 100 in-store sales chart, and is sure to confirm what Charlottesville has known for some time: the beautiful junkyard of new American roots rock is American Dumpster.