How do you prepare for a tour?
The way we that we prepare for tour is about 30 minutes before the van is supposed to leave we pack our bags, frantically looking for enough socks to get us through a week and then we stuff everything that we can possibly fit into the van. Then we figure out a way to pack all of our equipment and merchandise. We have this system for packing our van because we haven’t been using a trailer. We took out the back two benches of our 15 passenger van, there’s not an inch of space in the back of the van and we all have our bags with clothes and stuff.
As far as preparation for tour, we don’t really do that, with one exception. I do preparations for my voice. Because when you hit the road and you’re getting ready to sing full on, every night, if you go into it completely cold, you might have a rough time with it. Every day I try to sing a few songs, practice belting all the high notes.
What do you do on your days off?
Well, today I had the day off in D.C. and I spent it trying to fix a bunch of problems in my house. We got home at five or six in the morning, went to bed and I didn’t realize that there were some people coming to replace the carpets in our house, so they woke us up and we had to vacate the premises in the morning so that kind of sucked. When I got back last week we had another day off, the gas got shut off in my house so there was no hot water, no heat and no stove so I was trying to deal with those things.
It depends. If we’re in the middle of tour and have a day off you’ll maybe sleep late, catch up on emails, watch a movie, write music, something like that. If the tour is over and we have a couple weeks off, I’ll maybe try to find a job. I was working at a hardware store in my neighborhood, making a little bit of money, just trying to pay the bills.
Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?
Actually, this tour we started a new pre-show ritual, believe it or not. About three dates into the tour we realized things weren’t going well and the sound guy from The Used got us together and gave us all these pointers. He basically gave us the kick in the ass that we needed to get on stage every night and really bring it. The second night of the tour we were getting stuff thrown at us. I got hit by a lighter, cigarette buts, coins, and whatnot. There was stuff flying on stage the entire show. We were like, “Man, this really sucks. This crowd doesn’t like us, what are we doing?” We kind of got a new attitude which was to just come out on stage every night and really try to make the audience care. When you first get on stage, they might not give a shit because you’re not the band they came to see, but hopefully if you play your songs and you mean it and you are good then they will. So we kind of got our shit together so to speak and we’ve been playing a little bit better. One of the things we do is about an hour before the show we all get together and start warming up. Everyone’s playing their own thing. It’s a place you don’t want to be ‘cause everyone’s playing something different and it’s just noisy and it makes no sense. But it helps us get warmed up and come together.
The other night you crowd-surfed into the audience and another time you jumped off the balcony. How do you know if the crowd is going to catch you?
You don’t know if they’re going to catch you, I’ve gotten dropped. One time, not too long ago, there was a pretty big crowd, pretty packed and I thought for sure they would be able to hold me up and I kept going until my back hit the floor. The other night, we were in this club in
It’s just one of those things, getting into music and wanting to connect with the audience too. One thing I like to do, and try to do at our shows is to break down the barrier between audience and stage. Sometimes there is a physical barricade, which I don’t like. I always liked when we used to play shows and there was no stage at all. We’d be standing there eyeball to eyeball with the audience and I always thought that was pretty cool. For me, music is about communication. I don’t want there to be a separation. Sometimes I’ll physically walk out into the audience and sing to try to make that connection.
What do you feel is the biggest struggle being in a band?
Trying to do what we’re doing and have a career at it. The odds are about the worst odds of any career you could ever possibly have. And the amount of work that you put into it is more than any job you would ever have or any career you could ever have. Sometimes you think to yourself, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” But then you think, “I can’t do anything else, or I don’t want to do anything else.”
It’s kind of a blessing and a curse because as an artist it’s really cool to have a gift, to express yourself and be able to sing, play music, write songs and reach people on an emotional level. But at the same time, you give up other things – your stability, being confident that you’re going to be able to pay your bills next month, or knowing what you’re going to be doing a year from now. This could all end tomorrow; I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no stability, there’s no guarantee over anything when you’re in music. It’s kind of like jumping off a cliff and you’re not quite sure if you have a parachute or not. I’m going to do this and not look back. And that’s how you have to do it. You can’t do this rationally. So many bands, they come and go. You hear about bands that were so amazing and no one ever knew about them. That can’t be the reason for success. Art and music is about communication. If you have that passion to do it, then that’s what you’re doing and it’s sort of a pure thing.
When will you consider that you made it as a band?
When we’re on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine then I’ll be like, “Yeah, I think we made it.” [laughs] In a sense we have made it. We put out a national record, been in stores, gotten on radio, gotten on MTV, all this really exciting stuff. At the same time, I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to pay my bills next week. I don’t know if you look at success as financial success to say that you’ve made it or you look at the fact that you have people who will die for your band. Even if it’s just a handful of people, that’s pretty cool too. You’ll meet kids that have tattoos of your band, and you’re like, “Holy shit, this must really mean something to somebody.” That’s really awesome. Then you’ll look at people like Dave Matthews who packs 15,000 people into an arena, well that’s pretty cool too. I don’t know. As long as I’m still doing what I’m doing and I’m happy and I’m playing music I want to play with my friends and we’re having a good time and we’re still touching people and connecting with people on an emotional level, I’m stoked.
What inspires you to keep writing, playing songs and touring?
Inspiration comes in different form. For right now, it’s all I really want to do; it’s all I know how to do. This is my life, this is what I do. I play music and I believe in my music. There’s not really a question in my mind of, “What are you going to do today?” I know what I’m going to do today, I’m going to play music and if I have a few minutes I’m going to try and write a song. As long as I feel that way I’m going to keep doing it. The day I wake up and I’m like, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I’ll figure something out.
What musicians do you look up to?
I look up to different musicians for different reasons. I look up to Jeff Buckley for instance, because he was such a great singer, the beauty that he captured in music was so amazing, just breathtaking. When you put on his record Grace, it changes the temperature of the room that you’re in. The beauty that is captured in that music is just overwhelming. A band like Radiohead for pushing envelopes so much and changing what they do and really pushing, artistically, their limits. A band like U2, who have tackled big, important issues in their music. I love The Edge’s guitar sound, it’s so signature, he can play one note and you know its The Edge. Bono, I like his voice, but the things they talk about in their songs are deeper issues and that’s something I can connect with.
Are you guys working on a new album?
Not officially. We’re always writing new songs, but we haven’t begun a new album yet. I feel like the current record, Citizen, isn’t done. Our record still has a lot of life left in it. This record I really love so much and I’m really proud of the songs and the lyrics and what it says. We have that one song, “Going Through Changes” and the video, and it gets played on the radio. This record is more then just one song and I think there are a lot of people that haven’t heard it yet. I want to keep working this record for a little while and hopefully have more people check it out.
Do you feel you have to be depressed to write a sad song or in love to write a love song?
Different things inspire songs. I think if you’re sad it helps writing a song, to put what’s really happening when you’re sad into a song. Things that you might write in a song, since you’re feeling it, it might be easier [to write]. Since you’re feeling it you know how to express what it feels like. You don’t necessarily have to be sad to write a sad song or in love to write a love song. I tend to write about what’s happening in my life, what I’m going through, what I’m learning, how I’m growing, all those different things.
The experiences you write about, if they’re real, do they come out better in the songs?
No, not necessarily. In order to write a song you have to have experienced life. To be a compelling songwriter, you have to have experienced something. If you’ve never gone through anything hard in your life then you can’t really write good lyrics about going through something hard. Having had that experience of going through something hard, you don’t have to necessarily be sad at that moment to write because you know what it was like to feel like that, even if you’re not feeling like that at that time. So, to write a song about being in love, you have to have been in love at some point.
Are there any songs that you sing later and they lose meaning for you, either after singing them so much or if you’re at a different point in your life?
No, they don’t necessarily lose meaning. They’re always about what they’re about, but sometimes they take on new meanings when you go through other things. Sometimes I’ll be singing a song and I’ll be thinking about something else that’s going on in my life and I get into that aspect of the song, like its describing something else or I make up new meanings for what it is. Songs are cool like that; they can be interpretive in different ways.
Who would you want to collaborate with?
I always thought it’d be cool to collaborate with Rufus Wainwright. I love his music and his voice. I wouldn’t mind collaborating with Carrie Underwood on like, making a baby. [laughs] I have to be careful because I only get one shot at this. I have to figure out who my idea celebrity girl would be. Sienna Miller. She is so beautiful to me, I think she’s perfect. I don’t know anything about her personality though. I kind of live in a dream world. I’m an artist; I kind of live in an alternate reality sometimes.
What do you love about music?
Initially, I started playing music for all the wrong reasons. When I was a teenager I thought it’d be cool to be famous, be a rock star, meet lots of girls and be rich, like all the guys on MTV. I think over time, growing up a bit, it’s not about that anymore. It’s kind of a search, in one sense, to find beauty, to find meaning, to express myself and to communicate with other people. Music, the way it makes you feel, there’s a certain power in music. It’s amazing. Music has had a big impact in my life. When you get to that place in music where you’re making music and you get that feeling, it’s a great feeling; it’s kind of like a drug in some sense. That glimpse of beauty, that glimpse of how it makes you feel, its a little taste of heaven. Ultimately, if we can communicate that feeling to other people and other people can have an experience that’s meaningful to them, to me that’s what it’s about. If our music can lift up somebody whose feeling pretty low, that’s really awesome and that’s what I hope our music can do.
Did you think growing up you’d be in a band, touring across the country?
No, never. Never thought I’d be in a band. I didn’t really get interested in pursuing music seriously until I was in college. I never thought this was going to happen, it was kind of a fluke that it did. A friend of mine that was in another band invited me to try out for his band to play guitar and I was like, “Dude, I’m awful at guitar. You don’t want me in your band; you don’t want me to bring your band down to that level.” And he’s like, “No, man, we’re just having fun, its cool.” So I tried out for his band and I really liked it, and I fell in love with being in a band and from there I started this band with Dennis and the rest is history.