Dopapod: Live in the Dream

Raffaela Kenny-Cincotta on October 28, 2019
Dopapod: Live in the Dream

Dopapod dodge a possible breakup thanks to a year-plus hiatus, a stack of new songs and some Barenaked Ladies nostalgia.

The members of Dopapod were just a group of current and former Berklee students when they were booked to play an illegal house party in Boston’s artist-friendly Allston neighborhood. And while it wasn’t long before the local police department paid them a visit, the gig somehow gave the group one of their big breaks.

“Right as we started playing, this party got split up by the cops,” bassist Chuck Jones recalls. “And it created this huge buzz around us.”

In the span of a few weeks, word of Dopapod’s brush with the law spread, and they quickly scored a gig at the city’s now-defunct Harper’s Ferry. For the first time, the band was playing to a crowd consisting of more than just their friends.

“It was the first big gig we booked and it sold out,” Jones adds. “It was filled with people who were so stoked to be there, all based on hype.”

And, thankfully, Dopapod had plenty of talent to support that hype. Between 2009 and 2017, their prog-infused jams and diligent work ethic allowed them to churn out five studio records and two live LPs, all while playing 100-plus shows a year. In 2015, they played a breakout set at Manchester, Tenn.’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival and, during the next few years, Dopapod cultivated a diehard group of fans who would geek out over setlists and travel long distances to see them perform.

From the outside looking in, the state of Dopapod’s union seemed strong but, by late 2017, some cracks began to show. The incessant touring had become too much to bear, and the quartet found themselves at a crossroads—either take a hiatus or break up the band.

“The idea of being a musician in a band—touring, playing music for people every night—is a dream for so many people,” Jones admits. “Even adults dream of joining a band and playing music. Having that dream become a reality, but then becoming miserable and not enjoying this incredible situation that you worked so hard for, is a very scary feeling. That’s when I knew something was very wrong. We realized that we needed to slow down and try something different.”

“Because of the logistics of touring, not the band itself, right?” drummer Neal “Fro” Evans clarifies. “Not the band,” Jones affirms. “Just touring day after day, year after year. It’s exhausting.” “It was like, ‘Woah, I felt like this for almost a decade straight? Oh, my God,’” guitarist Rob Compa chuckles.   “We were lucky enough to realize that it was happening,” Jones concludes. “And we cared so much about this band and each other that we were willing to put the breaks on for a second.” 

Dopapod’s hiatus stretched from Jan. 1, 2018 to April 27, 2019, and, in a real way, the quartet was unsure when, or if, they would get back together. They were spread out geographically, too: Evans and Jones were living in Colorado, Winderman in Philadelphia and Compa in New Jersey and later Vermont. However, through it all, their friendships endured and the musicians stayed in touch both personally and professionally. In fact, less than two months after winding down, Compa and Winderman were already writing music.

“I was going nuts, and Eli was like, ‘Well, come over and we’ll write music,’” Compa recalls. With the pressure off, the pair began penning new songs, including a beta version of “Live in the Dream,” which would eventually end up on Dopapod’s 2019 comeback LP, Emit Time

“The original demo, which I pray to God people get to hear one day, is me freestyle rapping instead of singing,” Compa laughs. “And the lyrics are me rapping about ‘90s bands—in particular, Barenaked Ladies. But then—once we all got together—we turned it into a real song that we would not be embarrassed to play in front of people every night.”

In 2019, a weeklong rehearsal in Denver rolled into another weeklong meet-up in Philadelphia, and Winderman, Compa, Jones and Evans all realized Dopapod was destined for reunification. The band pulled together upwards of 30 new tunes, which they later boiled down into Emit Time, and tried out a more collaborative writing style. Traditionally, Winderman took on most of the songwriting but, this time around, everyone contributed, including Jones, who makes his first addition to the Dopapod oeuvre on Emit Time with the sarcastic ode to youth, “23 Forever.” 

“To be completely honest, I was sitting in my house one day— drinking beers—and I wrote that song in a few hours,” Jones says. “People either love that song or it makes them want to kill themselves.”

“You’re either with us or not,” Compa grins.

One of the lost tunes from the Emit Time sessions—a “super psychedelic and weird” cut called “It”—came out of Winderman’s self-imposed isolation in a cabin in the Catskills. 

“Imagine that, instead of Bon Iver writing lyrics like, ‘I’m sad, and I’m upset about a girl,’ it’s Eli thinking about time travel and space and stuff,” Jones explains.

“I’m surprised we haven’t done anything with that because every time somebody brings it up, all four of us agree that we like it,” Compa muses.

Prior to Emit Time’s release, Dopapod marked their return to the stage with a highly publicized show at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y. They spent a few days prior to the packed performance rehearsing at the TELEFUNKEN Soundstage in South Windsor, Conn.

“That was the first time we’d performed, since we got all back together, in front of somebody other than ourselves,” Evans remembers. “It was a really neat feeling. All of a sudden we kicked ourselves into performance mode. It also made me realize, ‘I do think we’re ready. I think we can do this.’”

But that didn’t mean there weren’t anxieties surrounding the band’s Capitol Theatre debut.

“There were some feelings of nervousness going around,” Jones adds. “I realized there would never be another gig like this. We’re not taking another hiatus. So just walking out onstage and feeling the energy from however many people were out there and genuinely excited to see the four of us onstage together again was very unique. I was appreciative of that experience while it was happening.”

Dopapod eventually released the high-energy performance as Live at The Capitol Theatre, played a number of festival dates around the country and announced an extended fall/winter tour in support of Emit Time, which begs the question: Have Dopapod found the perfect balance between the rigors of touring and their own creative desires?

“I think we’re about to find out,” Compa says tentatively. From early October to late December, following some appearances at the Resonance Music & Arts Festival in September, they will set out on their longest tour since the hiatus, playing gigs from coast to coast. As opposed to their sporadic festival dates this summer, their upcoming run will allow the quartet to explore their improvisational bond and discover deeper grooves. 

“That’s some ice we haven’t broken yet,” Evans says of the Emit Time tour. “Touring is hard, but jamming onstage is pretty sweet.”

Dopapod’s roots actually predate their initial meeting as college students: Jones and Winderman first crossed paths at Berklee’s summer performance program, where they played in an ensemble together.

“Eli was the person who introduced me to Herbie Hancock,” Jones recalls.  A couple of years later, when Jones was enrolled at Berklee as a student, he was handing out flyers on campus, looking for an organist when—in a moment of true synchronicity—he ran into Winderman. The two students started a band called The Actual Proof with guitarist Justin Hancock, who would later find success with Hayley Jane & The Primates. Simultaneously, Winderman formed Dopapod as a duo alongside drummer Michaelangelo Carruba (who now plays with Turkuaz) and, in time, Compa, Evans and Jones joined. After existing as a fivepiece, Carubba departed and Dopapod settled into their current four-piece format. (Scotty Zwang, who now plays in Ghost Light, sat at the drum seat in place of Evans between 2013-2016.)

Throughout their Berklee experience, Dopapod often felt like a square peg in a round hole, surrounded by traditional jazz players and classical instrumentalists.

“We didn’t fit into any particular idiom, which made it harder at first,” Compa says. “Not to claim that we defy genres or anything like that—we’re a jamband, maybe a bit proggy—but that was weird for me at first. Like, ‘I don’t know where we fall into.’”

Taking their outsider status in stride, Dopapod found inspiration from more experimental outfits like Medeski, Martin & Wood and Soulive, and carved out their own avenue in Boston and, eventually, on a national scale. Each individual member also found fulfillment through their side projects—Winderman regularly collaborates with Lotus’ Jesse Miller in Octave Cat, Evans and Jones dig into their hard-rock roots in Mom and Dad, and Compa released his debut solo record, Same Damn Thing, in September. 

“One thing I feel lucky about is that both bands are made up of my closest group of friends,” Jones says. “Eli, Neal and Rob of Dopapod are some of my best friends. But then, in Mom and Dad, I also get to play with Neal again and my friend Ben Larroquette—he and I have been playing music together since we started playing music. That band is a lot heavier, and I get satisfied that way. But, with Dopapod, I really enjoy making people dance and helping them have a good time and feel happy.” 

Compa believes Dopapod’s hiatus allowed him to grow, not only as a musician by sitting in with groups like Soule Monde and Pink Talking Fish, but also as a songwriter with Same Damn Thing. 

“When we stopped the band, I was hardly writing any music at all,” he explains. “I didn’t like writing music. I’m still scared to do it and it’s still something I have to make myself do. It was a challenge I set for myself to write a bunch of songs and make an album.”

All four members of Dopapod are now in a better headspace, with more creative avenues than ever—older, wiser and not taking their unity for granted. The only thing that’s left to do is to plug in and play. 

“I’m excited to make another [album] whenever we have enough songs to do that,” Compa gushes. “I’m already looking forward to that.”

This article originally appeared in the October/November 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more subscribe below.