Interview: Dopapod’s Eli Winderman On Getting The Band Back Together
In 2017, Dopapod was continuing to break out on a national scale and play to some of their biggest-ever crowds. They surprised fans by announcing a hiatus for the entirety of 2018, but according to all four band members, it was the healthiest move for them to make. Burned out from years of aggressive touring, Dopapod was starting to feel like work, says keyboardist Eli Winderman, and while fans may not have necessarily seen it during some of the soaring, sonic adventure shows the band was delivering throughout 2017, behind the scenes there was a lot of unaddressed angst and stress.
The Dopapod that will return for a reunion show on April 27 at Port Chester, New York’s beloved Capitol Theatre is healthier. It’s still a band of best friends — Winderman, guitarist Rob Compa, bassist Chuck Jones, drummer Neal “Fro” Evans — but also a group ready to attack Dopapod with renewed vigor. There are new songs, too; the band has a new album’s worth of material in the can and will debut some new tunes at The Cap.
The reunion show — and a VIP-only brunch show the following morning — are all Dopapod has on its tour schedule for now. Here’s Winderman on what’s to come:
JamBase: So when we last spoke to you in September you guys hadn’t announced anything yet but it seemed like things were taking shape for a potential reunion. What finally made it time to schedule a reunion show?
Eli Winderman: I think we all just really missed having the band be a part of our life. We all did a bunch of gigs with other projects, and we missed the chemistry. We’ve been playing together for almost 10 years now, and we are best friends. We did have a bunch of different hangs over the year. Chuck had a bachelor party and got married — that was one of a lot of really great, wholesome hangs with everybody in the same room. We were able to have some healthy conversations that kind of rebuilt things. We were burned out from the touring thing; it wasn’t our relationships with each other or anything like that. But the time away from it and being able to hang out and do activities that didn’t involve the band was really healthy.
Test Of Time (Studio Version)
JamBase: Did the hiatus do what you hoped it would do?
EW: I think it did more than even we had hoped. For a long time, I had been trying to get everyone involved with the songwriting. I had a lot of ideas that I brought to the group, but I’ve always really wanted everyone else’s input to make it well-rounded in terms of influences. We were able to do that sometimes, but it’s amazing how the break has lit a fire under everyone to be the leader of their own thing for a year. Everyone has a healthy motivation to pursue songwriting. It helped everyone’s perspective to own it and keep something going that was theirs. I mean, we were just so burned out before it. We had toured for eight years, nonstop, and I think sometimes forgot why we were out there in the first place.
JamBase: Was being the primary creator of Dopapod material burdensome for you?
EW: I’ve always enjoyed writing, so it wasn’t burdensome that way. But the burden was felt beyond the music. We went through a change in management, and not having help in that department just got to be too much for me. We have new management now, and everyone is writing, and it’s all just so much more enjoyable.
It’s interesting: Leading up to this break, I felt like every time we rehearsed, we’d do it just before we went on tour, literally the day before, and it was always “let’s go, let’s go, we need to write something new or get a special cover together.” It felt like being on the clock — it was a stressful thing, and we felt that angst and stress all the time, for a long time. We just didn’t have time to focus. We were constantly touring, and you’re supposed to build in enough time to put thought and care into what you’re doing, then tour, and then take time for the thought and care again. Now, we’ve had a few different rehearsals and there hasn’t been a single moment of that old angst and stress. That’s probably the thing I’m most happy about.
JamBase: Whose idea was it to schedule the reunion show?
EW: The reunion show as an idea from our agent and manager. Initially, I wanted to do what we’d normally do, which is book a tour. He said no, we should get all the fans, all these people together in one place and just make it very special. I was scared at first — that’s a big room — but it’s been working out so that was cool. We’re trusting in the people we work with.
I think we had a bunch of group phone calls. I had been trying to set things up throughout the year, and everyone was like, “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.” Chuck getting married changed that a bit, and we were all there, and for the bachelor party, too. That was the test run of all of us hanging out again, and after we had some conversations with our agent and manager it became, let’s talk about when we want to get together.
In December, we did a week in Colorado at this really cool spot. The first rehearsal was really about writing new music, so that’s what we did then. About a month later we got together in Philly and set up in a studio and recorded a bunch of new music. The focus was just on that. The week of the show we’re going to set up and rehearse all week and figure out exactly what we’re going to play. We have whittled down the song list we had to about 30 songs, and we’re going to pick from those to give everyone time to get comfortable and re-learn them.
JamBase: Are any of the new songs on that list of 30?
EW: I think we are going to play a couple of new ones, yes, at least two of the new ones. We will have a new album, probably in May [since the interview, a new album has been confirmed for release on May 25th].
JamBase: What songs from that list of 30 do you want to see make it into the final setlist? Can you share one or two?
EW: I think we want to just deliver the best show we possibly can. We’re going to pick the songs we feel are our best crushers. The Sunday after we’re doing the brunch gig; that’s a more kind of intimate thing for the hardcore fans and there’ll be some rarities and bust-outs there. But we’re just trying to put on the best show we can.
JamBase: Why did you guys pick The Cap for this?
EW: I went to see Ween there in December and it was actually the first time I had been to a show there. It’s big, but it feels intimate. It’s a prestigious room. It’s also right in the heart of where a lot of our hardcore fans are, and people can travel there relatively easy. It’s exciting to be doing it there.
JamBase: The question you guys will get in every interview this year: When will there be more Dopapod shows?
EW: As of right now, it’s just this one show. Our focus is on this show, and we’ll see where it takes us. That’s as of right now. We’ll have to be enjoying the band again and all really want to do more, for sure.
JamBase: What becomes of Octave Cat, and the other projects you’ve been involved in in the past year?
EW: Octave Cat has a new album also. I spent a lot of time on that over the past year, and I’m not sure when it’s going to come out, but we’re trying to pitch it to a few places, including overseas. Europe has great scenes for the jazz and electronic stuff you hear [from Octave Cat] and we’re also a small group that can easily travel. But I’m really excited about that album too.
I spent so much time writing last year. I tried to write a song every day, just to get into the flow of it. Stephen King wrote a book about how he forced himself to write five pages every day no matter how he felt. I tried to do that as much as I could this past year, and it definitely yielded some cool stuff, often on the days I just didn’t feel like writing. You force yourself, and you’re like, this is cool, and then you go back to it a month later and it’s still working for you.
The Funk ‘n’ Bowl has also really been taking off. There’s an awesome energy in that, awesome crowds. It’s been great to play with all of these great musicians: Josh Dion, Eddie Roberts, the Turkuaz dudes came in. I feel like I have a solid community in Philly now. I’m from here, but from the suburbs, and then I went to Boston and New York and I was kind of gone for a long time.
JamBase: Those have been very fun. Will the Funk ‘n’ Bowl concept continue?
EW: It definitely will.
JamBase: What do the new Dopapod tunes sound like? Especially for people who have been listening to the band for a long time and know your style.
EW: I feel like we’ve come full circle a little. Originally, the music was mostly instrumental and very weird, very proggy with a lot of chromaticism. Over time, it became more song-oriented. Now, I feel like we have a good balance with those two. We’ve tapped back into the weirdness a little bit but still have solid songs. They’re not all long, progged-out and epic, either; a lot of them are four to five minutes, though one is about seven minutes.
This is the first album that Chuck wrote an entire song for, and it’s so funny and weird. We always like to throw one or two songs on that show our sense of humor and go to that side of our personality. Rob also wrote a really cool song that’s more social commentary. We had a really good time making it and recording it and got some cool videos to share as well. I think our fans are going to like this a lot.