Learning to Love the Mistakes & Tearing Apart Prog From The Inside
Bellingham, Washington. Not exactly the first place you might think of when compiling a list of musical hotspots, but that’s exactly where the sludgy, thrashy, and brilliantly dynamic Dog Shredder hails from. And they’re proud of their Pacific Northwest roots, warts and all. Led by vocalist/guitarist Josh Holland, drummer Noah Burns and bassist Jeff Johnson, the band has built on the success of their first EP Boss Rhino, and is set to drop their latest release, Brass Tactics, on vinyl this month. The new record takes what was great about their previous work, and turns the prog-infused intensity up to 11. We recently had a chance to sit down with Holland to discuss the new record, and to get an inside look at the band’s artistic approach.
How would you describe the songwriting process for the new record? Is it a collaborative thing, or you on your own?
I bring a lot of the ideas in, but it’s definitely more of a collaborative effort. A lot of our songs are just lots of parts we just stitch together and then it just works out cool. A lot of the weird stuff is from mistakes that we make when we’re trying to learn these weird riffs and stuff, and then we end up liking the mistakes better so we learn the mistakes and it [becomes] some weird part of the song.
That’s going to be the headline: Learning to Make Mistakes with Dog Shredder.
Yeah, learn the mistakes. Then as far as the more dynamic stuff, like the Boss Rhino stuff and then some of the stuff that we have that’s new and isn’t tracked yet that’ll be on our new record – whenever we get around to doing that – it’s [all] totally involved live. We have a song that was five and a half minutes that’s 16 minutes now, it’s just so fucking jammed out. It’s like, I don’t know, it develops a lot, live. It’s always different.
On prog rock: “The musicianship isn’t really what draws me in. It’s how grand everything is. It’s larger than life and so over the top. I try to bring that into Dog Shredder all the time.”
Let’s also share some good news. You were recently signed to Good to Die Records.
Well, [label founder] Nik [Christofferson] has been coming to our shows since the very beginning of the band and he’s always been a big supporter. He has a blog called Seattle Rock Guy and he started noticing us, he started blogging about us, and we thought it was cool. So I emailed him and thanked him and we started a friendship. Then he approached me a few months ago about putting out a record, but at the time we didn’t have anything to put out – he was just getting started – and so when it came time that we had something to release and an idea for it, he was the first person we got in touch with. He was into it. The offer still stood, so we started hammering out details, cutting the contract – he loved the new stuff – and that’s that.
You guys were previously on another Pacific Northwest label, Made in China, right?
Yeah, we did a 12″ release with Made in China.
Are you familiar with [the band] White Orange? We did a cover story on them last fall, and I know they’re part of that Made in China crew.
Oh yeah, that’s their band. That was gorgeous. Adam [Pike] from White Orange, he actually recorded the new shit, and the old shit, he’s done all that shit.
Let’s backtrack a little bit. Can you briefly explain how the band formed?
Noah [Burns], our drummer, and myself met in college. He started a band about ten years ago called Cicadas and we did some tours – we did one record. I was really busy with another band at the time, so Cicadas kind of got put on hold and then we reformed a couple years later as Dog Shredder with Jeff [Johnson] on bass. We started rehearsing and realized we had some cool shit, so we tried taking the band seriously and people started catching on, and so it’s still rolling.
On incorporating mistakes in their music: “A lot of the weird stuff [on our records] is from mistakes that we make when we’re trying to learn weird riffs, and then we end up liking the mistakes better.”
So for East Coast, non-geographically inclined people like me, who tend to lump in all the Pacific Northwest stuff together – I know you guys are actually from Bellingham, Washington. Which, from our perspective, is really close to Seattle and Portland. I’m curious to hear what the Bellingham scene is like. Is it like Seattle and Portland? Do you guys play the same places, or is it kind of it’s own unique thing?
It’s much smaller, but because of the size, everyone’s a lot closer. I mean – I guess it’s like any music scene – it’s still kind of clique-y, and there’s some competition, this and that, but everyone’s really friendly. They go see everyone’s bands. Bellingham has always been a very, very special place; there’s always been a very high concentration of talent and a very small amount of people. It just keeps rotating through as generations pass. I don’t know what it is about the town, but there’s just always tons of bands here, and the bands are really active.
Is there an active scene within the community, or do you have to travel to Seattle, Portland, Olympia – places like that – to actually get gigs?
We definitely play in Seattle and Portland far more often than we play in Bellingham. There’s plenty of places to play here, and we do play here, but, I mean, we’ve played here so much that people are so over us…and we don’t really blame them. We definitely try to branch out and do bigger things, bigger places elsewhere, but we’re very much missed here – we very much like to tell people we’re from here.
A hometown pride type of thing?
Absolutely. I love this place.
You guys got on my radar with your cover of Yes’ ‘Heart of the Sunrise,’ off their Fragile LP. That was a really blistering take on the song. What drew you to that progressive style of music?
I got into Yes and prog rock when I first went to college, because Noah was really into it. He turned me on to King Crimson, Yes, and then I got really into the ’70s with that Rainbow/Deep Purple kind of sound – that’s been really influential for me. As far as what draws me into it, I don’t know. I think it’s just the theatrics and people get down on prog rock bands because they’re like ‘band’s bands,’ people say or, you know, bands that musicians listen to – but the musicianship isn’t really what draws me in. It’s how grand everything is. I love how big it is; it’s larger than life and so over the top. I try to bring that into Dog Shredder all the time.
I feel the same way. I’m a huge Yes fan, big King Crimson fan, but to me the best thing about Yes is really just Chris Squire’s bass. It’s like proto-thrash before there even was such a thing. No bass players were doing what he was doing at the time.
Yeah, yeah, he’s got cosmic tone.
The whole Boss Rhino EP, which again is where I got into you guys, is pretty heavy but it’s also got some…I don’t want to call them beautiful passages, because that’s kind of a lame word, but is there a certain sound that you guys were going for in the studio on that album?
We definitely tried to make it dynamic. As we’ve gotten older and as we’ve progressed, we’ve been paying much more attention to dynamics, the soft and the heavy. Back when we were younger it was all thrash, all the time, you know, so nasty. So we definitely tried to mix guitar sounds, so it wouldn’t be the same thing for the whole song. I used different guitars – yeah, we were going for something more dynamic like that. With the new stuff [the sound is] much nastier – it’s just way thrashier; it’s another side of the band.
You guys record a lot at Toad House in Portland. What keeps drawing you back to that particular space?
I mean, Adam [Pike] is a dear friend of mine and now of the whole band. I did a record with him in Portland with my last band, and it just turned out great; I trusted him and loved working with him, and we love Portland anyway. That’s pretty much why we keep going back there. We got to track the drums and the bass for Boss Rhino and the new one, which is called Brass Tactics. We tracked those [during] the same session and I just went and redid all the guitars when we realized we were going to put that next group of things out. So I had to go back with [Adam] because he’s the man.
So Brass Tactics is coming out on Good to Die, on vinyl. I was going to ask what we could expect stylistically on this one, but you said it’s a lot thrashier, right?
Yes, it’s a bit nastier. Where the Boss Rhino EP was kind of drawn out and dynamic, and kind of pretty and heavy and everything, this is pretty much all brutality.
Gotcha. So this is basically your Slayer record.
[Laughs] Yeah, you could call it that. It’s really short. We were looking into bands like The Locust for years and like Daughters – bands like that just fucking just…they just get you in a short amount of time, and it’s all in there. So we packed everything we could in the shortest amount time.
So the songs are short – is the overall record shorter, too?
Yeah, it’s way shorter. I think it’s like 15 minutes long.
Let’s get into the gear that you guys are using – I know you were talking about guitars earlier…
Sure. On stage I play through a full stack and use a Soldano Avenger, which is this kick-ass fucking amp company out of Seattle. In the studio I used some Sunn amps, and I think some Orange amps. Then when I went to do the new stuff I just used my live rig exactly as is – I didn’t change anything. I get a little heavy handed in the studio, and with [the new record] I didn’t want to do that as much. I just wanted to play.
Were you trying to translate the live sound into the studio this time?
Yeah, yeah – and fuck, it worked. I don’t know how but it’s pretty cool.
What are you using for guitars?
I just have one guitar; it’s a 1972 Gibson SG.
Nice. Do you have the one with humbuckers or the P90 version?
There’s humbuckers in there, Bare Knuckle I think they’re called, that I threw in there. It’s got this crazy Bigsby unit on it, kind of like a whammy system, that I never use…
The Bigsby tailpiece with the swinging arm?
Yeah and people always like that – like to look at that.
I dig it. It looks kind of out of place on an SG, but somehow it just works.
Yeah, and the cover plate fell off, so you can see all the springs and gears and all that stuff in there. It’s a pretty cool guitar.
On their new sound: “Where our previous EP was drawn out and dynamic, and kind of pretty…this is pretty much all brutality.”
If you had to choose one piece of gear that you just couldn’t live without, would you say it’s the SG?
You know, I think the one piece of gear I couldn’t live without is probably my Boss Super Shifter pedal. Yeah, I don’t have an insane effect pedal rig live, but I have a few that I lean so heavily on now that everything’s kind of developed around those things.
What’s on the pedal board right now?
I’m actually looking at it right now. I’ve got the Boss distortion pedal, tuner, I’ve got a Boss DD-7 Digital Delay, Boss DD-3, and the Super Shifter.
That’s pretty simple, pedal-wise, but you’re able to get some pretty cool tones out of that setup.
Yeah, thank you. I’ve honed it over the years.
Let’s get into the live show. For someone reading the mag who maybe isn’t as familiar with Dog Shredder, take us through a typical show.
We usually start with something quick and thrashy to get everyone’s attention. Then we try to get a flow into the more improvisational bits – like in “Boss Rhino” there’s some improv. We’ve got the song called, “Dog Shredder,” which is my favorite song – we don’t have it tracked or anything – and that’s really hard hitting riffing and then there’s this really cool, pretty improvisational bit in the middle, and then it kind of builds back up and then we end with that. It’s really cool – I think it’s really cool, anyway.
What does the future hold for you guys? What are the creative goals for Dog Shredder?
We’re going to do a new record – we’re going to do a full-length record – this year, [that's] our plan. We’ve got material for it and we’re going to start testing it out live when we start doing all the promotional stuff for Brass Tactics. So we’re going to save up our cash, track it, and then hopefully release it – obviously – and then tour for it, and tour for Brass Tactics.
Is there anything else we should know about the band or about your artistry?
The music is pretty serious I guess, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously – like aesthetically, you know? Take most metal stereotypes, they’ve come and gone, and people just dwell, and dwell, and dwell on scenes and things like that; we’re just trying to create our own. Some people don’t like it and that’s fine with me.
That’s a very metal attitude to have.
Well, we’re called fucking Dog Shredder, how serious can our band be?
Photos by Cassandra Lindquist