An Introduction to Dopapod the Jam Scene’s Latest Shredders: An interview with Rob Compa

07/10/2015

Dopapod has come a long way from jamming in keyboardist Eli Winderman’s basement in Boston, Mass. Eli, guitarist Rob Compa, bassist Chuck Jones, and drummer Scotty Zwang are bringing their eclectically-influenced jam rock to the west coast, stopping in for a Saturday (July 11) show at the Independent in San Francisco, CA.

My first exposure to Dopapod came in the form of a “Dazed, and Dubfused,” a voiceless, version of a popular Led Zeppelin song in 2011. The song is spacey and a half-step into the weird keys, interchanged with Anastasio influenced guitar. Jamming through a journey of emotions that, ultimately, melted my face.

You could say practice makes perfect for this band. Dopapod has played about 150+ shows a year for the past three years. Primarily in the northeast, and no further west than Colorado. That changed in 2015, now on their first full west coast tour from San Diego to Seattle.

I was lucky enough to speak with guitarist Rob Compa about their hectic schedule, growth as a band, and thoughts on the jam scene in preview of their San Francisco show. Check it out, and don’t forget to pick up your tickets to the show here($13+ fees).

SFCritic: So – where are you guys playing now?

Rob Compa: We are about an hour away from Buffalo, New York at a festival called.. Buffalove.

SFC: Appropriately named festival, how is the band holding up? Is fatigue setting in?

RC: Yeahs, there is fatigue. Always. We love it, we love playing but it gets grueling. On paper it looks like we never stop playing but we make sure to have time off in the winter to recover and write new songs. We get tired of the same old songs. It’s interesting, when you start a tour, you start making a setlist and we have so many songs. But by the end of the tour, it always seems like we have about four songs.

SFC: So Dopapod now adds mileage to an already packed schedule, why the west coast?

RC: Excited to do it, it keeps us going. Going to new places, we are thrilled about it.

Dopapod is no California virgin, however. California love was first experienced at High Sierra Music Festival in 2014. A late night set that exercised the demons of a festival day one with Compa’s shredding guitar, and a day set that displayed much of Dopapod’s latest album “Never Odd or Even.” So, Dopapod has experience with Northern California and expectations for their SF show.

RC: I hung out in San Francisco for a good week during High Sierra. I would live there if I wasn’t so poor. I got a falafel wrap and it was 13 dollars and… nope. It’s a rule of ours to have no expectations about the crowd. It’s good to have hopes, but you shouldn’t have expectations. If you hope there is a good crowd in town then you’re more likely to be happy with whatever you get. If you expect something, you set yourself up to be let down. It’s our job to play music no matter how many people are in the room.

Sage advice. I HOPE the crowd comes to play. Rolling Stone listed Dopapod as “Bonaroo’s best kept secret.” Take it from your humble correspondent; it’s best that secret gets out.

SFC: Educate us about the band, Rob.

RC: We were all going to Berklee College of Music. Dopapod started as a duo between Eli and Mikey (Carubba). Mikey currently plays drums in the band Turkuaz. I knew Eli from playing in reggae bands, we then added Chuck, then Niel, and it happened gradually. We were all in five different bands each and Dopapod was just one of the bands. Slowly we kept getting busier and busier. I remember there was a day when I had to chose between one band or the other, the gigs were on the same day.

It’s hard to identify a single, or even a few influences of Dopapod’s music, but Compa’s guitar is unique.

RC: We all listen to pretty different things. I’m really into Jimmy Herring, he is a major influence for me. I grew up a Phish phan, I love Trey. Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery from a jazz background. Django a little more than Wes, I can listen to him all day long. And a lot of country guitarists too. And yeah.. that’s good.

The musicianship is apparent at each viewing of a Dopapod show. The band seamlessly shifts through different songs and improvised themes. Flow is something Compa and co. focus on, or don’t, depending on how you look at it.

RC: We always write a setlist, but we always ignore it too. We don’t totally ignore it, we use it as a guideline. We try and read the crowd, we want to read the mood of the audience. We’re always down to improvise to the point where, we find ourselves in songs we didn’t plan on that night. I usually have more fun if I’m surprised at what happens. I would wake up in the morning working on a setlist and would finish an hour before the show. Now it’s like, 10 minutes. I like that better because I’m not so attached to it, and better stuff happens that way because it’s more spontaneous.

At the heart of Dopapod’s on-stage presence, is the ongoing musical conversation between Compa’s guitar and Eli Winderman’s keys. Eavesdropping into this musical relationship feels like listening to two people that finish each other’s sentences.

RC: We’re lucky, we have a very similar vocabulary on our instruments. Almost anything any of us plays we can play back at them. We can anticipate each other really well. The first time we ever played with each other it was like that. The first time in Eli’s basement with Dopapod and we just did a free for all without talking about anything. It was just there.

Ask any relationship therapist, the key to any successful relationship, is being a good listener.

RC: I think that when you play with someone, you want to be respectful. The last thing I want to be is a rude musician. Like, stepping on people’s toes or being a show off. For a long time I was wary to not be that. So instead of playing a solo I would just play chords. I didn’t want to get in his way. As time went on we did what we wanted. He is my favorite musician to make music with, especially improvisational. I also feel like in recent years I’ve been trying to make an effort to… even though we have great ears and we can duplicate what each other is playing… I feel like that is the most primitive form of communication, it’s actually not that creative. I don’t want to show people I have good ears, I want to be a good listener and listen to what the music sounds like and assess what I need to play to make the music sound better.

It’s thoughts like these that are indicative of the band’s growth over the last few years. The raw “Dazed and Confused” cover from years ago contrasts with the added vocals and simpler melodies on their most recent album.

RC: I guess we’re growing up a bit and don’t feel like we need to show off. We can just write a good song with a melody. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. I feel like we were writing and that was what was coming out. I don’t know if it was so much deliberate, it’s just what was there. This newest album is the one we are the most happy with so far… I think we can still do better.

Never Odd or Even’s sound is as much influenced by the band’s natural growth as their unofficial producer Jason “Jocko” Randall’s introduction.

RC: A lot of it had to do with our engineer, Jocko. it’s hard to describe, instead of arranging opinions, he was just really a good morale booster. Sometimes in the studio you take so many takes on one song and you start to get hard on yourself and he was a positive source of energy. He can state an opinion without being condescending about it.

I don’t have much science behind it, I kind of played my guitar and laid down my vocals and played Nintendo upstairs. You don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen. Eli was sort of in charge of it, we were all ok with it. We were there to put in our two cents, it was collaborative, but I was content to be the guitarist on the album.

From the outside analyst, one might say Dopapod is entering their prime. But there is always something to learn from a certain Bay area basketball series.

RC: I duno, if I admit to something like that (entering their prime), we’ll probably start to suck. I watched this interview with Lebron James. Someone asked him ‘are you nervous about the finals?’ And he was like, ‘I’m not nervous because I’m the best in the world.’ And I watched him miss every shot in the last game of the series, and was like… I bet he psyched himself out by talking a big game. I’m not here to criticize Lebron James, but I’m just saying… I’m just taking it one show at a time and trying to have fun.

It’s chill Rob, go Dubs.

Perhaps a better indicator of the band’s sense of self worth lies in the covers the band does and doesn’t play.

RC: There’s like a humongous email chain on covers. It’s pretty open if everybody thinks it’s a good idea. I saw a band a few years ago that opened for Umphrey’s McGee, and it was alright and I was enjoying it. And then they played “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, and all of a sudden I was like, ‘I fucking love this band.’ It’s an effective thing to do, it really draws people in. It’s hard to be open to new music, I know I am. Like that band was great but I was skeptical because I haven’t heard them before. Then they played something I was used to. At this point we only do them if we feel like doing them. We’re too old to try and impress everyone.

The recent Fare thee Well Grateful Dead shows made me reflect on the “jam scene” they birthed and state of the scene presently. Bands like Dopapod, Papadosio, and the Werks, among others are beginning to jump from opening for jam scene caretakers Umphrey’s McGee and the String Cheese Incident, to their own headline shows. Will the jam ever die?

RC: I never thought about it. I don’t think so, there’s plenty of people that still love it. I feel that it was a bit smaller than when Sound Tribe and Umphrey’s and Disco Biscuits were coming up, I don’t know I wasn’t there. I think maybe part of it is that there is so many festivals now and there’s so many bands and there’s so many people they can’t all go to the same one. In the 90’s it was basically… Phish .. now, there is hundreds of festivals and hundreds of bands and it’s great.. I want variety, that’s a beautiful thing. Because of that, the crowd is spread out. I love how our scene is going and how it looks, and I love every band in our scene, they’re all my best friends. I don’t see any sings of it weakening.

Dopapod recently crushed a set at last week’s High Sierra Music festival and have been working their way up the coast from San Diego this week. Be sure to check out these up and comers at San Francisco’s intimate Independent on July 11.