Charles Brownstein from Northern Transmissions chatted with Zach Utz from ‘Dope body’. Their topics of conversation included working with influential musician/producer J Robbins to life in the city of Baltimore.
CB: Dope Body was originally formed as a one-off gig, you decided months later to make it a permanent thing. What happened?
ZU: It was what was missing in our lives! Andrew had moved to San Francisco after our one off gig and I suppose Dave and myself kind of thought nothing much would come out of it again but secretly we were probably thinking “FUCK, I wish we could keep doing that”. We moved into a new space in the Copycat building in Baltimore, and Andrew decided to come home (I think because of the band, I hope because of the band) and we started practicing and writing like all the time. We probably wrote our first album (20 Pound brick) in like a week. Now we spend months and months writing this shit, we need to get back to banging out records in a week. I suppose we were younger than and money and life didn’t feel real in the ways it does now. We were “YOUNG, DUMB and FULL OF CUM” to quote the asshole cop from Point Break. Now we is getting old and shit, fuck.
CB: Your latest album ‘Natural History’ sounds a bit more serious then previous releases. Have you turned a new leaf?
ZU: I’m not sure what you mean by serious exactly. The production is definitely more seriously refined, much more refined than its ever been. We are also on a super seriously legit and awesome label now which has been kind of a head fuck, with like serious PR and distro and shit yahhhhhhhh……… So yes, I guess it is a bit more serious. But seriously, our approach hasn’t changed. We are still trying to write weirdly fucked up and quirked out noisy punk jammers. Our songs have gotten longer and our band has gotten bigger (the recent addition of our John Jones on the bass). I was thinking a lot about this recently and I think Natural History was an experiment much as every record has been an experiment for us. We don’t really know what we are doing in the studio beyond knowing how to play the songs really well and grooving with one another. We have been trying to capture our live sound on every record and honestly we haven’t gotten it yet. I think our first tape sounds pretty much like what we sound like because it was literally one mic in the middle of a room recorded to a four track. It sounds like shit. Thats not to say we sound like shit, maybe we do though, fuck. Anyways, our subsequent records have been experiments with digital recording technology and I think some of those experiments have yielded good things and some have yielded bad things. Were still figuring it out. Its a learning experience. I think with the right kinds of “leafs” our next record might sound a little less serious, in the sense that you mean.
CB: You worked with J Robbins on the album (Jawbreaker, Burning Airlines), what was the experience like?
ZU: J is a pro to the core. He is a super talented and amazingly efficient engineer. We actually had like a list and schedule that we stuck to for this record. We were very diligent about getting shit done, and we did get it done. I don’t think any of us have any regrets about working with J. That being said, I’m kind of answering this question with my stock-we actually maybe kind of have some regrets- response. I think with J, we stepped into the epic rock pantheon studio kind of sound. We felt like Gods and J was our Godmaster or something. After it all, I think we have realized we are not Gods and we are kind of Local Baltimore yokels who are kind of weirdos and we should just try to let someone do a little bit shittier of a job recording us because it compliments our vibe a little bit more. If you read this J, don’t take it the wrong way. You are an amazing dude/producer/dad/man/musician/practicing human!
CB: There are some real interesting guitar effects on ‘Natural History’, can you describe for the non-tech people, how you pull some of those sounds off.
ZU: I will disclose some of it. I’m kind of anal about my sound and set up to the point where I don’t want to give away too any tricks. I will say this, treat the guitar like its a joke. Detune all the strings till they are like slack power cables and just kind of smack it a little bit until it sounds like an elephant riding a boulder down a steep hill. Maybe hook up an octave pedal and turn the low octave all the way up and then drop the guitar to the ground kind of like your trying to kill a cockroach with a walking stick, repeat that a few times until you get some kind of discernible rhythm and then make a loop of that. Play it like a drum or some kind of rhythm machine. Fuck notes. After all of that then maybe buy an eventide pitch factor
CB: There are so many bands coming out of the Baltimore area these days. What’s the big attraction to that town?
ZU: Its cheap! Its small! Theres actually a great and diverse scene here. Baltimore will cater to whatever you want. Do you want to live in a shitty warehouse with 2 walls that don’t go up to the ceiling and you can here all 12 of your room mates fucking (at the same damn time) and all for around how much is costs to get 3 oil changes? Baltimores got it! Or do you want a normal row home with 3 floors, 3 bathrooms, 3 rooms and room mates and a nice kitchen for all around the monthly cost of 3 Fender Squire guitars? Baltimores got it! But seriously, the scene here is great. You can pretty much do whatever you want and someone will come and check it out. Its small enough thats theres always a show to play with some bigger local band (Dan Deacon, Future Islands etc. etc.) that a ton of people will come out and be super supportive and find out about your music and ask you to play more shows until you really hone in on what you want to do. Its a great nurturer of talent and it kind of brings your through the ropes until you get your head screwed on straight. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have problems. Theres a lot of crime and it kind of sucks to ride a bike around and theres not much public transportation and theres only like 3 bars everyone goes to so you see the same people all the time and since not much has happened to them since the last time you saw them because they live in Baltimore like you, there isn’t always a lot to talk about. This is probably just my experience, theres always books to read and talk about. Don’t ever get bored!
CB: The before and after pictures on your Tumblr are great, was this a planned thing?
ZU: It was Andrews idea! Its great. I think it really captures our aesthetic as a LIVE band. If we could somehow find a way to capture the essence of what make that photo great in a music video and a record I think we could really be the next big thing (to like 25 people in Essex, Maryland)….All sarcasm aside, its a great idea of a photo! Angel Ceballos, our main bud, shot it. Props to Angel.
CB: Which five albums will always be part of your collection?
ZU: John Jones should really be answering this. I will try to come up with what John Jones list would be. He is a serious record hound. Its ridiculous. Its like he has no money for anything on tour until he sees a record store, what the fuck. Sorry John! Just fucking with you. His list would be like this:
1. Spaceman 3 record
2. NEU! 2
3. After the Goldrush Neil Young
4. Back to the Primitive Soulfly
5. blanking on a fifth album but it would probably be something by the bass player from Can (we think he means Holger Czukay).