Rob Compa, Eli Winderman, Chuck Jones and Neal “Fro” Evans (l-r) Photo by Ben Wong
“We’re not going to show up and not have it rehearsed, I’ll tell you that. We’re practicing our butts off,” Rob Compa says, describing Dopapod’s preparation for their upcoming reunion at The Capitol Theatre.
The Cap performance is set to be Dopapod’s first official gig since announcing they’d take a hiatus for all of 2018. However, the evening prior to this interview, Compa joined his Dopapod bandmate Eli Winderman for one of the keyboardist’s freeform “Funk N Bowl” nights in Philadelphia, along with Mike Greenfield (Lotus), Jonathan Colman (Muscle Tough) and Chris Aschman (Trinidelphia).
“Whenever I play with Eli – because we’ve been playing with each other since before we were even old enough to drink – we do whatever we want,” Compa says warmly. “We don’t even care if we try things and they don’t work. Just on an improvisational sense it’s really liberating.”
According to Compa the decision to get back together with Winderman, drummer Neal “Fro” Evans and bassist Chuck Jones manifested with a week-long Dopapod rehearsal in Denver, which rolled into another week-long meet-up in Philadelphia. In no time, they were recording new music. As Compa explains, it just made sense to start pulling together a new LP.
“We just got rough mixes back for the new tunes and I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but I kind of got teary-eyed when I heard it,” he chuckles. “Because I still have a band.”
Below, Compa reflects on Dopapod’s hiatus and looks ahead to their newest, and perhaps brightest, chapter.
Despite being on hiatus, you’ve performed pretty consistently with Eli at things like Funk N Bowl and Brooklyn Comes Alive. How did those gigs come about?
Incessant touring was where the breaking point was, and wanting to take a big break from writing or creating together. [During the hiatus] we’d just do these fun gigs where it was low pressure. There wasn’t really any elements of ambition involved in the gigs that we would do throughout this past year. We were just at North Bowl playing funk tunes together and being totally in the moment instead of thinking about like, “Is this gig gonna be good for us? I hope enough people come.” We were just completely in the moment and having fun playing with each other.
Even when you weren’t performing with Eli, you kept busy this past year, jamming with acts like Soul Monde and Pink Talking Fish. What did you gain from those experiences?
I think one thing I’ve gained is more of a need to be creative. For a long time, even though I was in Dopapod, this original band where we wrote all this music, I was always happiest just being a guitar player. Just, “Tell me what to play, I’ll play it.” I’d always kind of envisioned myself being like more of a side-man.
But after doing a lot of gigs where I play a part, it’s made me appreciate opportunities where I really get to be creative and be myself. I got a lot better at being a stylist – playing whatever was appropriate for whatever gig I was on, and just doing my job. And I think that’s a really important skill to have, but I gained a new appreciation and a hunger to be creative.
What was that first conversation about bringing Dopapod back like?
I think it was always sort of in the air. When we stopped, we told everybody we were just going to do it for a year, but to be honest, that was kind of to appease everybody. To not be dramatic.
So fans didn’t hit the panic button.
Yeah. At the time when we stopped, some of the guys were like, “I don’t know if I want to do this again.” It was definitely at that point. And then I guess late summer/early fall was when we started seriously talking about ways that we could do it and it would be enjoyable, and not be something we’re trapped in or something that we have to do.
Music is such an important thing to me and it’s all I want to do, but it’s almost like your joy from music is a valuable resource that you have to conserve. And if you do it too much, all of a sudden you wake up, and it’s just like a job like any other.
So we started figuring out ways that we could avoid that as best as possible, and stay really good friends, instead of it being this machine that we’re cogs in.
That makes sense.
And that’s also why there’s only one show right now [at The Capitol Theatre]. Because we’re… There’s no way to know how it’s going to work. We’re figuring it out as we go.
Are you considering a tour, at all?
There’s definitely talks about other things. But, baby steps, you know? We’ve recorded a bunch of new music, too. So it’s not like we’re going to play one show to relive our youth, and then go back to the grind. We’re making music together, we’re writing and creating stuff, and we are actually finishing up a record too.
Amazing! Was that the plan all along? To have a record in the chamber post-hiatus?
At first it was kind of like, “We’ll record if we have songs.” Like, “We’ll see how it goes.” When we got back together for the first time to play, we automatically, right-off-the-bat started writing. Which is how it always was, because like we didn’t get a chance to rehearse that much when we were touring either. It’s kind of funny when you’re touring all the time. You have the least amount of time to create. But when we would rehearse, it was always, first and foremost, for writing’s sake. So we were like, “We have music. Like, let’s record it.”
And then, we had recordings we had never used from our 2017 album MEGAGEM. So there’s some of that stuff too. We could’ve put out a double album, but we kind of figured in this day and age a two-hour album maybe isn’t the best idea. So it wasn’t a matter of the material being weak or anything.
But I’m happy that there was still new music [to write]. Because it was up in the air a while back, and then all of a sudden, I’m listening to new songs of ours and it makes me really happy.
Are you going to break out some of these new tunes at the Capitol Theatre?
Yeah, a couple of them. But I know when I go to shows and see a band, if they play too much brand new music, then I feel like they’re force-feeding it to us. So we don’t want to do that, but we’ll give them a couple of new things for sure.
Pre-Haitus and Post Hiatus, what’s changed and what’s stayed the same?
Things that have changed: I think it used to be Eli was predominantly the songwriter. But he never wanted it that way. The other three of us were kind of to blame, because we were either too lazy to write or too self conscious to. Or both. So he was always like, “Would somebody else bring in ideas?” [Laughs.] Not that he was too tired to write. I mean, he wakes up and writes music.
But that’s different now. Chuck has tunes that he brought in. I brought in some tunes. Neal’s writing lyrics. It’s a lot more collaborative so far. It doesn’t mean it will always be that way, but that’s what it’s like right now.
And things that have stayed the same?
We haven’t really gotten a chance to improvise together yet, but I know when Eli and I were playing together last night, it was like riding a bike. The first time we ever played together was like that too. We’ve kind of always had a similar vocabulary, where we can talk to each other with just our instruments. It would go wherever it wanted, no problems. So that’s one thing that’s stayed the same.
And Neal and Chuck have been playing together all the time out in Colorado with their band Mom and Dad. They both live in Denver, so they do a ton of gigs together.
To me, the relationship that Eli and I have, melodically and harmonically, is the same one that Neal and Chuck have rhythmically. I’ve always kind of thought we’re two pairs of musical soulmates that got added together. Chuck and Neal have this amazing relationship together and they have this telepathy, and Eli and I have the same thing, and then we sort of stuck both of them in a room and it became Dopapod. And it’s still like that.
How does it feel to make your return at a revered venue like The Capitol Theatre?
It’s almost like we’ve been driving around in a really nice old Volvo and all the sudden we’re in a Maserati. Dopapod to me will always be a bar band, and that has a negative connotation, but we discovered who we were in these little itty-bitty rooms. And we played our share of Cap-sized rooms, too, but we know exactly what to do in a little bar because we’re close to each other. We can hear each other perfectly. I feel like we usually don’t take ourselves too seriously when we’re at small places like that. I would like to keep that mentality when we’re at the Cap.