Exclusive Interview with Scotty Zwang of Dopapod #SensibleVibes
Dopapod has become a force to be reckoned with in the music scene; with their relentless touring for over a year and genuine interaction with fans outside of their sets, this band gains new followers everywhere they go, and it’s easy to see why. The quartet’s distinct sonic fusion of classic and contemporary sounds evades categorization. They’re a metal band with funk and soul embellishments, a progressive rock band with electronic influence, a jazz improv group with a psychedelic aura. They’re a clever mixture right down to their palindromic name.
Scotty Zwang is the newest member of Dopapod. From Sonic Spank to Greenhouse Lounge to his side project with Todd Stoops (Kung Fu), BangBang, Scotty has been drumming his way through the scene for years. His energy fits seamlessly into Dopapod; each member is so complementary to the other, culminating in an electrifying stage chemistry and an amped audience. Sensible Reason spoke to Scotty the day after their charged late night set at Gathering of the Vibes. We sat listening to Joe Russo’s Almost Dead as we talked Dopapod, Scotty’s audition, punk rock, and more.
Sensible Reason: You guys played with Stanley Jordan last night. He’s so amazing! Are you pretty familiar with his music? And you had Todd Stoops & Adrian Tramantano from Kung Fu on stage, too. Did you all rehearse before? How did that work?
Scotty Zwang: We’ve all known of him for a while. The guys studied at Berklee College of Music, so they know a lot of the jazz guys through school and just growing up. And my father’s been a big fan of Stanley Jordan since the ’80s, so it was a really cool experience. It’s great to see him in this scene of music at these different festivals. When we found out about him being the artist at large for Vibes, we decided that we would email him immediately, and he got back to us pretty quick. We sent sheet music to Stanley and it was a little bit different because it was from the original demo that Eli, our organ player, wrote. We sent him that plus the song because the arrangement’s a little different.
SR: You just joined Dopapod a little under a year ago. How did you find out about the opening, and what was it like to audition?
SZ: I’ve been a big fan of Dopapod for a while. I’ve always wanted to be in a band of that sort that can mix up all different genres. Not that I haven’t played with plenty of talented musicians, but to have that caliber of musicianship from each member was just something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve been in the electronic scene for a while. I was at Electric Zoo in New York City, and I love the music, but the scene was just not necessarily for me. Just getting a little older, it wasn’t what I was looking for, and on that day I decided I was going to try and find another project and stay with Greenhouse Lounge. Jay Rogovin, who was my old manager from Mr. Bugsly Presents and C3 Management, was looking at a text message that said, “Do you know any drummers in the area? Dopapod needs a drummer.” And I happened to be there, so it was a right place, right time kind of thing. I got a phone call shortly after the auditions saying that I had the gig temporarily for 6 weeks of tour where they needed a sub drummer and then it ended up staying full time.
SR: Awesome. Not having a heavy improvisational music background myself, would you say most of Dopapod’s music is improvised? How do you all communicate on stage?
SZ: We get that a lot. I would say as far as the time within a set, say a two hour set, about 40 minutes out of two hours is improvised.
Sometimes verbally… Chuck, the bassist, and I have a talk back mic system. He has a microphone that runs right to my in-ears and he can talk to me. Originally it started off as a safety net for me, but he used to do it with their previous drummer, when in the middle of an improve part he just wanted to change something up, and for the rhythm section to link up in the best way possible, it’s just easy to have a talk back system. Otherwise, a lot of it is just eye contact, and if not, also just listening to each other. And if there’s some tension or whatever it may be, we try and follow it. Sometimes it works great, other times it doesn’t.
SR: The band incorporates a ton of different genres, so I’d imagine you’d have to have experience with rhythm in a lot of different styles of music.
SZ: When I first joined, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes or drifting too far away, especially in the improvisation sections. Over time I learned there really is no wrong style of playing within the band. If it seems right to go with your gut. Every once in a while you fall flat on your face, but when it works, it feels really good, and between the band and the audience there’s just a really good chemistry.
SR: Is this your first Vibes? What makes it stand out from other festivals?
SZ: This is not my first Vibes. When it moved back [to Bridgeport] in 2006, I came here for the first time just for the day though I illegally stayed throughout the night, but it was just an incredible experience. I’d heard stories of Bridgeport and even walking here from the ferry station, you can see that it can be sketchy at points, but as soon as you get in here, it’s incredible. I came back in 2012 to see some friends and worked for a few bands – that’s how I originally got into this scene, teching and being stage crew for a bunch of different musicians and bigger bands.
The scale of Vibes is definitely bigger – it’s larger than most other festivals we do. But also the family vibe. Everyone looks out for each other and it’s controlled – in a good way. I love this place a lot; it’s close to my heart.
SR: Do you have experience with music production as well as teching?
SZ: I don’t have much experience with production, but I’ve done some DJ sets here and there. I have a project with Todd Stoops from Kung Fu & RAQ called BangBang, and I do a lot of our remixes. It’s very electronic, but with live drums and live keyboards. I control all of the laptop presequence stuff.
SR: What kind of influences would you say it has?
SZ: Anything electronic. The idea was to play electronic music and to step away from everything else we’ve ever done. We’ve been in rock bands and funk bands. At the time, I was in an electronic project, but it’s kind of all the other styles that I wasn’t tapping into with that, like drum ‘n’ bass here and there, house music… when we first started it, dubstep was big so we went with that for a little bit. But we haven’t played in so long that the next time we play, it could be a completely different situation.
SR: When did you start playing drums? Were you in a band in high school?
SZ: I got a drum kit when I was around 8 or 9 years old. My father was a musician, so fortunately he decided that a little kid having a loud instrument in the house was an OK idea, and it just picked up from there, so I’ve been playing for the last 18 years. The first band I had was in middle school, but I advanced throughout high school. Those were heavy metal but mostly punk rock. The post-punk era of the ’90s had a big influence on me, and just playing fast and loud was very appealing to me. Maybe it was the ADHD growing up [laughs], but it was the only thing I could ever focus on completely.
SR: Did you grow up mostly listening to punk rock then?
SZ: I listened to everything my parents listened to, so Allman Brothers, Steely Dan, and all that kind of ’70s rock era stuff. Then eventually, in the early ’90s, I tapped into some of my sister’s music and what was on MTV and all that stuff, so Nine Inch Nails, 311, Stone Temple Pilots… and it just expanded throughout the years.
I love all music, so I have little periods a year or 6 months of listening strictly to something. I’ve always wanted to play in front of people ever since the first time I did it at like a 5th grade talent show, so I did pit band music and when I was 13, I’d play at theaters and get paid a candy bar or whatever it was to play these shows. It was different stepping stones in my life. Then finally I got into a lot of improvisation, first through Phish, then in high school jazz band.
SR: So I have to ask: How has it been to be the new guy? Do you get shit for being the new guy? [laughs]
SZ: I’m always the new guy in some sense! [laughs] When I joined Sonic Spank and was playing in the Philly music scene and traveling around for a little while, I was the new guy because they’d already had an established band before that. Then I joined Greenhouse Lounge, which had a bigger fan base in the south, and I was the new guy in that band. And I’ve joined this band and have been fortunate enough to sit in or even play a show with Conspirator or whoever it may be, so in some sense I’m always the new guy, but I hope I’m ending that trend with Dopapod.
Thank you Scotty for the great conversation! Photos by Kathryn Korcz of Faces of Festivals.
Catch Dopapod on their fall tour – Tour dates here & below: