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A Phone Interview With Chadwick Stokes

 by Damian Charles

 

Damian: Hey Chadwick! How’s it going?

Chadwick: Good, how’re you doing Damian?

D: Great, thanks for taking the time to speak to me on this snowy morning here in NYC.

C: No Problem!

D: Are you up in Boston?

C: No I’m actually at Pete, the bassist from Dispatch’s parents house in Riverside, CT.

D: So I just saw you at the Bowery Ballroom, I think it was my 5th or 6th time seeing you!

C: Cool!

D: How is it playing in NY, how does it differ from other places you’ve played?

C: Well NY is just a different place. With this new band and these new songs, I was particularly nervous about how it would shake down. I don’t know, the city just has this energy to it — you either swim or you sink.

D: Yea I was talking to a friend and it’s like a nervous tension for everyone. Most people know you from Dispatch or State Radio and they feel like they know you. They wonder if they’re going to connect again, is it going to be like they imagined? But the feeling in the crowd was great, everybody was really pleased.

C: Yea, I was happy how it went down. I don’t think the last time we played the solo tour we played NY so it was cool.

D: So you’ve played some of the biggest venues, from MSG and the Comcast Center, to possibly the smallest of venues: people’s living rooms. Which of those two extremes do you prefer? How do they differ in your mind?

C: Well the big ones are just surreal, they don’t really make sense in my mind you know? The smaller ones are kind of the way I’ve always played guitar in my bedroom at home or parties in high school. That’s more of the way it goes, but those big shows pop up now and again — you just ride the wave and hope you don’t fall off. Those aren’t something you get used to you know?

D: I literally can’t even imagine! So what brought you to the decision to play in people’s living rooms in support of The Horse Comanche? [out on February 3rd].

C: I think i just liked the idea of working on songs in front of people and inviting them into that process. I also like the idea of not knowing where I was headed. You know in the morning, when we get in the van, just to only know the basic area — to go into people’s houses, it really grounds you in terms of the geography of where you are. People’s houses are so personal, you get a real taste of what it’s like to live in that area.

D: Yea, I imagine you going to play a show and thinking, “Do I have to take my shoes off right now?”

C: Yeah, exactly.

D: It really does change things though. Most people think that during the recording process, you should keep these songs in a vault and no one can hear them until they’re done. You did the opposite of that.

C: Haha, yeah! There are some tunes that a lot of people don’t know that are on [The Horse Comanche]. But mostly, it’s the tunes from the living room tours that did the best in that setting, and that people connected with. I think Dispatch started me off on a musical journey that really didn’t have many barriers between the crowd and the band — so I think the living rooms were kind of an extension of that.

D: You have a nexus here — the big venues, the living room tour…it all revolves around the internet because you guys got your start through napster and encouraging people to discover your music that way. Even myself as a fan, found myself downloading every single live show that I could find — mostly so that I could hear any version of “Hubs” that you guys played.

C: Hubs Nice!

D: Yea it’s the ultimate jam!

C: Yea that’s epic. Pete does some great guitar work on it. That was the song that we wrote all together which was kind of rare. We usually had the songs separately and brought them together, but with “Hubs” we laid it down together.

D: I believe it was the Wetlands in 2000, you guys mentioned that you sold it out for the first time. You feel that energy in the crowd, you feel it in your solos, and it all stems from the internet and how you guys connected with your fans!

C: Yeah man that’s cool! The internet’s always been a friend to us, for a band on no label it’s always been real key to our success.

D: I saw that someone commented the other day — I guess he’d been to one of the Living Room shows — that you had changed one line in “Our Lives Our time.” You mentioned before that it was interesting to see fans singing the lyrics to the new songs. People in the audience knew the lyrics to unreleased songs like “Pine Needle Tea” and “I Want You Like a Seatbelt” already!

C: Yeah it’s wild, I think that the people that came out to these shows maybe came to the Living Room shows or are just on the inside track.

D: I was watching a Living Room Tour video the other day and you gave an explanation of “New Haven” and you stop in the middle of the song to explain a scene. I liken it to new-age folk tales where you are telling these inside stories and people that have gone to these shows can now go tell the inside stories to these songs. It really makes for a deeper connection.

C: I really like the opportunity (to tell these stories) because I would like that as a fan of bands I love. I’d want to know exactly what they’re thinking to see if I had a similar experience. It’s a neat opportunity to kind of break it down that much

D: I think we need a new word, “fans” doesn’t quite cut it. It’s more like friends — sounds cheesy but I don’t think the people in your crowds are just fans.

C: Yeah, I even hesitate to say fans, I usually just say “people who listen to music.”

D: So you funded this new album through the Living Room Tour — how much of the album costs did you fund through Living Rooms?

C: All of it! We actually added Living Room shows because the album went over budget!

D: That’s so interesting because it changes the game! I’ve personally paid for Spotify for over two years now, made hundreds of playlists, and according to their “Year In Music,” have listened to 58,000 minutes of music. But if I miss one $10 payment, that access to two years of my musical journey is gone. So it’s become clear to me that we don’t own the music, and the artists are still getting paid fractions of cents for every stream.

You’re on Spotify, but you’re doing countless other things to help fund your ventures. Where do you stand in this discussion of streaming services and the structure of the record industry?

C: I don’t know, the industry is changing so quickly you just have to be quick on your feet. I guess I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to Spotify or iTunes because that’s kind of once removed from my life. It’s really about the live show and being in front of people — so as long as people keep coming to the shows, I don’t care if they get the music totally free and I never get paid a cent. This is real to me because you’re in the same room with people.

D: Everyone’s trying to put themselves in between the music and the fans. It’d be nice if every artist could do what you did, and play people’s living rooms.

C: Yeah, it’d be nice to take away the middle man and have it as straight up as it gets.

D: For DMNDRmusic, we’re really trying to figure out the ethical way to supply people with music, and more importantly connect them with the artists. That’s what really matters because when you make that connection, that person will go and spread your music far more effectively than spotify or iTunes.

C: That’s what my entire career’s been about- just the word of mouth. I hope it keeps rockin.

D: In terms of using this platform that you’ve built to spread ideas. Is it safe to say that State Radio was a massively important outlet for your political messages?

C: Yeah absolutely, State Radio can be political, and physically it was an expression you know? The songs were just so exhausting. The physicality of it is something that I miss. I haven’t played with State Radio in a year but it was a really great outlet. It was great getting to a place where you felt you left your brain, you get into that zone where it’s a pure sense of being — you’re not thinking.

D: The energy of the State Radio shows was definitely electrifying. I think because of my experiences with SR I went into this show pretty anxious to see if you’d make a commentary on the Michael Brown or Eric Garner cases. Given that you were playing in NY, tensions are high, we were in the middle of it all — where was your mind going into the show?

C: I felt glad to be there because of what happened. I felt like we should have done our song “Ceasefire” — I wondered if we’d waited too long into the set to play it. It was something that I felt needed addressing. There’s a couple songs since Michael Brown was shot that have come out of the feeling I had from the lack of indictments with him and Eric Garner — that’s when we started playing that song. I guess we played it first in DC because that also felt appropriate, playing it in the nation’s capital — but also playing NY, just a stones throw from Staten Island where it all went down, I think it’s important that music serves to let people escape but also bring us together. It was important to address it and let it have its place at that concert.

D: Right now young people everywhere are feeling compelled to take action in some way. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my peers go out in the way they are right now. What would your advice be to those going out there and protesting? What is driving the activism and what would you like to see from this new generation of activist?

C: I think it’s so great that even in high schools, people are doing die-ins. I think it’s about the abuse of power and its still so rampant in this country. What’s it gonna take for us to rise up and say that “This isn’t right?” These things happen and we protest and go back to our lives, dealing with our own shit. I just want it to stay on our frontal lobes — I want us to keep thinking about this, keep gathering until we get a satisfying change beyond cops wearing cameras. I think we keep hittin’ the streets until we see that.

D: In your video for “Our Lives, Our Time” you subtly show the dates of major events in history on a billboard in the background. From Seneca Falls in 1848, Occupy in 2011, all the way up to Michael Brown. It’s done so subtly.

C: Sometimes the best protest songs aren’t the ones that hit you over the head.

D: Agreed. So you’ve got your 7th Annual Calling All Crows Benefit Weekend coming up next weekend. Congrats on 7 years going strong!

C: Yeah thanks man. It’ll be a fun show with Lucius opening up and just being back home.

D: I saw Lucius was featured on a song on The Horse Comanche!

C: Yeah they play the girl or ‘girls’ on “New Haven.”

D: Nice and besides Lucius, anything special planned for year 7?

C: Maybe some horns, some more horns. Since we’ll be in Boston maybe we’ll have some friends come up and join us, it’ll become a bit of a circus.

D: Nice, It’s been a long year for you hasn’t it?

C: Yeah it’s been great, I’ve got two kids as well so most of my free time is gonna be spent at home at playgrounds.

D: That’s a great relief from the touring life! Well I’ll let you go, thanks for taking the time to let me pick your brain so early in the morning!

C: Thanks man, it’s great to talk to you and thanks for coming to all the shows over the years. Take care!