H/T Scene SC Upstate
There’s an old cliché people tend to spit out along the lines of “music changed my life” or the hyperbolic “(insert band name here) changed my life!” as a declaration of a particular artist’s importance. With that said, I can say without any doubt or hesitation: The Dirty White changed my life.
A few years ago, I was given a demo by a new local band thanks to my co-worker, Jon Alexander. At the time, I wrote a music column for the Spartanburg newspaper, The Herald Journal, as part of my freelance work. So Jon would point me in the direction of his buddies’ bands, whom, ninety percent of the time, didn’t even have anything for me to listen to aside from a barely audible track on MySpace. The measurement of my excitement when Jon placed the CD in my hand couldn’t fill a shot glass.
I ate my words as soon as the music blasted from my speakers. My subsequent article burst with enthusiasm about this new band I had just heard called The Dirty White. No one in the area sounded like them. Their sound contained a frenetic energy that cannot be faked and, even in the demo’s unmastered form, I could hear the band’s potential. My long dormant interest in local music was reawakened.
Because of this article, I met Wes Gilliam, who manages the band. Wes is now not only one of my best friends, but like a brother to me. We’ve been roommates for two years, taken on different creative projects together, moved cities, and started SceneSC Upstate. Hell, had it not been for The Dirty White, I would have never known Columbia’s SceneSC in the first place. Without The Dirty White, there likely never would have been a SceneSC Upstate.
Since that first demo, The Dirty White made quite a name for themselves in such a sort time. They released the full length Vs. Evil Circles to much critical acclaim, even attracting the notice of one of the largest UK music magazines, Rock Sound, who gave the album an enthusiastic 8 out of 10.The following split EP with Hurricane Fighter Pilot was humorously released on cassette when every indie band and their mother rediscovered vinyl…again. Though the amount of releases the band put out may be modest, the degree of the quality wasn’t.
And it would be criminal not to briefly discuss the band’s live performance. Whether on stage or the barroom floor, The Dirty White never failed to rock whatever venue they played. Ten people. One hundred people. The number didn’t matter. If you were there for The Dirty White, they were playing for you. Bill’s numerous sardonic contrasted the music’s heavier slant. Both Matthew Tarleton and (current drummer) Tomlinson wailed away on the drums with maniacal looks of glee. I’ve said this numerous times before, and I’ll be saying it here: Watching Josh McDowell on stage is one of the greatest things in life. He’s completely in his own world, playing with a degree of energy and excitement you generally only find in a young child trying to imitate his rock heroes in the playroom. It’s a complete joy to watch someone who genuinely loves to play.
The Dirty White didn’t just become one of my favorite local bands, but one of my favorite bands period. I’m struggling to concisely portray what a positive force The Dirty White has been, so that the uninitiated who stumble upon this article can appreciate the gravity of the following: The Dirty White are breaking up.
Founding member John McDowell was kind enough to give SceneSC Upstate an exclusive interview to break the news.
Josh McDowell: I’m not really good at giving grand final statements, but we’ve been very blessed to have the fans and support we’ve had throughout the state. We’re especially grateful for the support we’ve had outside of our hometown. Greenville and Columbia especially have embraced us and really made us feel at home. Bill is leaving the band. He’s moving to Missouri to be closer to his family. It’s been tough to accept. But if this move is what Bill’s life needs, than we want him to have that. We will be completing another album very soon. Within the next month, probably, and it’ll be free. There’d be nothing worse than not properly recording without wrapping things up to put a bookend on it and give something back to the fans.
So now that The Dirty White are coming to an end, what’s next for you? Is your music career done along with The Dirty White or will you be moving on you something else?
JD: Definitely not abandoning music. Music my passion in life and I could never deny it. I told Bill and Matthew when Matthew left the group…I didn’t know how prophetic these words would be but I said, “Even if you guys both left, I’d still be starting a project of some kind just because that’s just…what I do, whether it’s at home recording or starting another band.” I’m starting anew band with Charles (who replaced Matthew Tarleton). We’ve got a bass player we’re going to try out, but we’ll see how that works before we announce anything.
What will the new project sound like?
JD: We’re going to focus on Bieber as our influence. Probably through a little Drake in there? Yeah, Drake meets Bieber with Nicki Minaj on the side. We’re going to get Rhiannna to sing all the hooks so we can be on the Grammys. [laughs] Yeah. We’re going to get that Grammy then we’re going to back to being Fugazi.
Seriously though, I’m 100% not sure what the new band will sound like. Some mix between Sonic Youth and Pavement. I would love to bridge the gap there and explore it. That would be the ideal mix although I don’t want to set out to do that.
The Dirty White are playing a handful of final shows, but what of the additional shows scheduled on The Dirty White’s website?
JD: There’s a handful of dates that I’m going to try to hold. I definitely plan on honoring all The Dirty White shows that are on our website right now, although it won’t be The Dirty White. If a show is booked on our website, my new band will play in that spot. I know some people might be like “Oh, well, we booked under you the impression of The Dirty White are playing,” but I don’t think club owners will care too much about that as long as they don’t have to find a new band. I was hoping to have a solidified name and line-up to give to you, but I want this to be about The Dirty White, anyway. (McDowell notes that when the band is formed, The Dirty White’s Twitter account will be changed so that he can inform fans). There will be something new coming out of this. It will sound different, because it will be my songs and my influence, but it will still have a little of The Dirty White feel to it.
Do you have a favorite memory associated with The Dirty White?
JD: Oh, wow. There’s been a lot of fun shows we’ve played. If I had to pick one [memory], the “Dabney Coleman”video’s up there. Filming that, running around Greenville all day with you guys and the band …just having a whole lot of fun. As far shows go…our very show was a Halloween show in Florence. All the Halloween shows are always memorable. At our first show at New Brookland Tavern, Matthew’s girlfriend broke a beer bottle over someone’s head and got kicked out mid-set. I’ll always remember that! [laughs] Our most recent show at Bey’s was pretty memorable because we played to a pretty packed house. Looking back, though, we’ve had a lot of good memories. I’m hoping our next three shows will turn into my greatest Dirty White memories and a proper memorial.
So would say that The Dirty White is the most significant band you’ve played in to you?
JD: Absolutely. It’s been tough to accept. But we’re friends first and foremost. It’s going to be sad, but I want Bill to successful and thrive.
From your experience with The Dirty White, is there anything you’d say that you’ve learned that you didn’t necessarily know before?
JD: I’ve learned a lot more of the business side of music and what it makes to be a successful band. I’ve learned a lot of what not to do. Mostly, I’ve learned a lot about other people. If it wasn’t for this band, I wouldn’t have met so many people that I know now. There’s a whole crowd in Columbia and Greenville I would have never met if not for The Dirty White. It’s been, for the most part, a very awesome experience.
One thing I’ve always meant to ask you: your demeanor on stage is a complete 180. You’re outgoing and friendly, but when you’re on stage, you’re a completely different animal. What happens during the time you step on stage and slap on your guitar? How does that transition happen, going from mild mannered Josh McDowell to this completely unhinged guitar beast in their own rock world?
JD: I guess it’s a couple of different things. The way it happens is I flip a mental switch. I’m a pretty shy guy, and when I get in front of a room full of people….[pause] when you’re doing something where you put your vulnerabilities out there such as your songs, and wondering what people are going to think of you, I think any of my nervous energy is transformed. So I get so into it that I’m not thinking about it anymore. And I’ve always been a firm believer of “if you can’t get into the music, why should you expect anyone else to?,” so I’ve always felt that a little of it is showmanship. The more explosive I am on stage, the more energy that’s going to send to the crowd and get the room going. It’s just a perfect release: when you work all week, then you practice these songs, and you know them backwards and forwards, it’s just time to let go and put on a good show.
On an unrelated note, do you feel that the only way a band can really survive is to be family/friends? A lot of bands use classifieds or randomly hook up, but you guys had so much history going in that the chemistry came off completely natural on stage, in recordings and videos. It’s not something you can replicate.
JD: That’s very true. Chemistry’s very important. The test of that happens outside of the music: long rides to/from the show, the practices, the post practice hangouts and all that stuff. You have to be able to enjoy each other’s company. It’s very key to that. I do want to convey, though, that you can learn chemistry. You can’t learn discipline. And it’s almost worth a little chemistry to make sure everyone has that discipline. First thing in order of importance is chemistry, but a very close second is work ethic.
One of the cool things about The Dirty White was that you couldn’t be easily labeled. Everyone tried to throw some label at you, and you guys weren’t posing to make some grand scene gesture, which I think threw a lot of people and critics off. What is it do you think The Dirty White stood for?
JD: I think we just wanted to do what we wanted to do. In a way, we wanted to challenge people into thinking a little bit differently about music. And we were kind of, you know “Yeah, we’re over 21 and we’re pissed! And we’re not happy about!” [laughs] We’ve got our own way of doing things…and I’ve always thought we were a punk band. We didn’t look a like a punk band, or sound alike a punk band by definition, but in the real spirit of punk rock, I think that’s what we were. We just tried to play the music we wanted to play. We’re happy…well…really surprised that so many people came along for the ride with us.
We do take a firm stance on some things, though. When I wrote “We Don’t Hunt,” it was strictly a reaction to everyone I was around, parading their trophies of dead animals and they kept trying to get me to “Ooh!” and “Ahh!” over it. And I was just like “Dude, you’re fucked up. [laughs] I’m going to write a song about this.”
A lots been made about Bill’s lyrics and how they always seem to tie into “Man vs Nature” things, but I don’t think he purposely does it. He just sees things, and filters it that way, I guess.
Yeah, I really loved that radio show when someone asked about “Dabney Coleman Pt. 5” and he just simply said, “Yeah that song’s about werewolves.” No, overreaching metaphors or BS pontificating about the lyrics, just a simple “Yep. This song’s about this.” I thought that was awesome.
JD: [laughs] Yeah. And that’s definitely Bill.
I truly believe that everything The Dirty White did was golden. And I can see the band being sort of an urban legend in the music scene years from now. “Hey, did you ever hear of The Dirty White? They were only around for a few years, but, fuck, they were awesome!” in the tradition that a lot of bands from East Bay punk scene were from the early 90’s.
JD: I‘d love to be remembered in a fond way. Hopefully, younger people will hear about us and things will keep growing. Unfortunately, with the digital age and a new band every two seconds, as soon as someone does something accomplished that’s highly praised, the next day it’s on to the next thing. Forgotten. That’s just the world we live in now. Hopefully, well be remembered for who we were. Maybe it’s one of those things that…maybe it’s for the best or that something bigger was to come…or maybe our third album would have sucked! [laughs]
I don’t want to compare ourselves to The Pixies or anything like that, but when I was young I don’t remember anyone talking about The Pixies until Kurt Cobain started talking about The Pixies. And they were only around a few years. Next thing you know, reunion tours galore!
Do you have any official last words? Anything for the press, the detractors, people who love The Dirty White? Do you have anything left you want to say to them?
JD: Um, can I think about for one minute? [A full minute of silence passes] We made a lot of mistakes. We had a lot of successes, but we did it our way. We, you know, we were all really new at this and were learning as we went. [pause] I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. We’re extremely grateful to our fans and everyone who supported us. The haters never made themselves loud enough for me to have anything to say to them. No one was ever really blatantly against us except for one instance I can think of, specifically, involving a certain bar. [laughs] But we won’t talk about that!
I just want to thank the fans and everyone who supported us and have been there for us and come to our shows without ear plugs and sit through it. I know that’s tough because I don’t even do that. Really, the biggest thank you to the people who come to all our shows we play in those [non-Florence] areas. You know, there’s a couple of guys and girls that I know I’ll pretty much see wherever we play. When we play Greenville, I know I’ll see you, Wes and Daniel. I know when we play Columbia, we usually see one or two people from the SceneSC crew down there. David’s always been a big supporter of ours, and put on the SceneSC comp. When we play Florence, man, I can’t even name all the people who come to every show we play in Florence. Those people who have heard us know what they’re going to get, but they continue to come out and support us.
Another thing I want to leave with everybody is that I’ll always be doing music. As long as my limbs work, I will be doing some kind of music. Until it becomes depressing and pathetic…I may just revert to bedroom recording at that point. I get told all the time I look like I’m 17, so I figure I’ve got a get extra ten years than most people have. Maybe when I’m 50 people will be like, “Oh man, look at this 30 year old man!” And I’ll be like “Yeah! That’s right! I’m still doing it! Not gonna tell you how old I am, but I’m still here!” [laughs] And that’s one thing I’m going to go kicking and screaming about: playing live. Yeah, the drive sucks. The gas money issue sucks. The pay sucks. But at the same time, I’d probably try to find a way to do it for free if I could. That’s why I will be starting a new band, and it’s going to be awesome. And I want fans to get excited about that. I want people to be happy for Bill and not resent him because he’s doing what he thinks is best for him right now. Who knows? Maybe even 5 years down the road..[trails off]
We’re really going focus on doing this album right now. We’re going to record it on GarageBand because the studio we usually go to is booked through April. It’ll sound better than your average home recording. Now, Bill may be long gone a month or two before it’s full mixed and out to the people, but it is coming. I never leave a project undone. I’ll see this through until the end. The Dirty White will come to a conclusion with the new album.
The Dirty White’s last Upstate show will be this Friday, March 4 at Fatso’s on Laurens Road in Greenville with We Are Now. $5. The last show with The Dirty White as a full band will be March 15 at New Brookland Tavern in Columbia with Coma Cinema
Below are The Dirty White’s two music videos as well as one hilarious behind the scenes look: