Jam-band fans have become faithful followers of Phish, moe., Umphrey’s McGee, and countless others since the early days of The Grateful Dead. A jam band’s ability to improvise song after song, night after night, is an unpredictable treat for audiences. Though certain musical elements remain consistent over 10 and 20 years, new segways or intricacies emerge each time the songs are performed.
This improvisational rock has morphed and progressed into subgenres as well, including “jamgrass” (Greensky Bluegrass or Yonder Mountain String Band) and “jamtronica” (Disco Biscuits or The New Deal). Live shows with that unpredictable nature are how up-and-comers get and keep attention, including Boston/New England-based Dopapod.
“I would say about 40 percent of our sets [are] completely improvised—give or take 10 percent, depending on the night and how long we have to play,” says Dopapod drummer Scotty Zwang.
Since forming in 2007 Dopapod has been praised by the likes of Jambase and Rolling Stone—the latter naming them the “best kept secret” of Bonnaroo 2015. They dropped their fifth album “Never Odd Or Even” in November 2014, of which has garnered positive reviews, including from Relix magazine. Dopapod has been making its rounds with constant touring, and one of their next stopovers is in Wilmington on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at Ziggy’s By The Sea (208 Market St.), with opening act The Nth Power.
Zwang joined Dopapod’s Eli Winderman (keyboards, vocals), Rob Compa (guitar) and Chuck Jones (bass) in the middle of their 2013 fall tour. The newest member shared perspective of the band’s growth and journey with encore in a recent interview.
encore (e): It’s been more than a year since you guys released “Never Odd or Even.” Have any new projects started to emerge?
Scotty Zwang (SZ): We have had a crazy year of touring, as we usually do. When we are on the road, we are always working on new material. Some of that material has been performed recently, and others are still in the polishing process. We will be spending a lot more time in the beginning of 2016 finishing songs and writing new ones, which we are very excited about.
e: Like so many musicians and bands out there, you all started young in college—what’s been the most significant growth for you as a band and musically since the start?
SZ: Since dropping out of college and deciding to tour constantly, we have all learned a lot about the music industry and more importantly ourselves. Being a musician on the road is very exciting and a lot of fun, but like most professions it has its ups and downs. We have all learned how to better balance our personal lives and our work lives—at least we try our best. I know for myself, I have also been experimenting with different practice methods and building up my “chops.” Sometimes I feel like I have so much to learn, which is true.
We are all always learning and perfecting our skills. It can be pretty easy to find yourself dissatisfied with your playing from time to time. And that’s completely normal. At least, I’m finally learning that it is normal. Self-doubt can be a real bitch. Pardon my language.
e: Relix reviewer Peter DeStefano described your last album as the “most mature effort yet.” Do you agree?
SZ: As the newest member, it’s hard for me to say without being biased, since it was my first album with the band. As a fan, previous to my tenure with the band, I would have to agree. Even just based on the fact that there are a lot more vocals on the album, and we experimented with different styles and sounds.
e: How do songs come together overall? It’s clearly jam-centric, and I’m just curious how all of your instrumentals typically come together in a cohesive song.
SZ: Eli is constantly writing and helping to spark the create process. We then all come together to give our feedback, and most of the time help with adding something or rearranging parts [and] sections. It’s definitely a process that can at times take some months to finish.
e: How do all of your musical backgrounds and interests influence Dopapod’s collective sound?
SZ: I think that helps mold the sound into what Dopapod is. I grew up listening to punk rock and alternative music. I also played in pit bands for different theaters and performed in musicals. This required a lot of focus and attention to my surroundings, which is actually very important in improvisational music as well. That only went deeper when I studied jazz in high school and for a brief period after. We all have that in common. Although the other guys definitely went deeper into jazz study than I did. I decided at 19 I didn’t want to do that anymore, and I was going to travel the country playing rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t regret that for a second, but I wish I would have continued studying jazz improv.
e: This isn’t your first visit to Wilmington; what’s the vibe or sense you get of the fan base for your music in our neck of the woods?
SZ: I love playing in the Carolinas, and Wilmington is a great city. I love walking around that area near Ziggy’s and checking out all the naval history. And separate from Dopapod, Wilmington was one of my favorite stops I made on my first major tour in 2008, with my old band Code Anchor. We ate at Flaming Amy’s, hung out on the beach and played one of the best backyard parties I have ever been to or been a part of. That was the first time I ate “turkey in a can.” Not sure if that is a Southern thing or not, but it’s absolutely delicious. Look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
e: As 2015 comes to a close, what is in store for Dopapod in the new year?
SZ: We’re going to ring in the new year with some of our best friends, Kung Fu and Turkuaz, at The Palladium in Worcester, Mass. This is our third year at this venue and we are excited for our return with an incredible lineup. Definitely something not to be missed. After that, we are going to focus on new material and figuring out when we can put out a new album. So be on a lookout for new tunes.