It has been so long since Dishwalla was “Counting Blue Cars” – a little more than six years – casual radio listeners may think the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based rock quintet fell off the face of the Earth.
Bassist Scot Alexander says they did anything but.
“We’re still going strong,” he said recently. “It’s just unfortunate that our second record (1998’s ‘And You Think You Know What Life’s About’) came out right like two weeks before they announced to the world that Seagrams was purchasing PolyGram. (A&M was) able to put whatever money they had left into artists like Sheryl Crow and Blues Traveler, but they forgot about bands like us.”
That’s hardly a way to treat a promising new act that cracked the Top 15 with “Counting Blue Cars,” logging 48 weeks on the pop chart, and topped Billboard’s modern rock tracks list (It also was Billboard’s rock song of the year). The group’s debut A&M album, “Pet Your Friends,” sold more than 1 million copies.
That’s major labels for ya … which makes it all the more satisfying for Alexander, vocalist J.R. Richards, guitarist Rodney Browning Cravens, drummer Pete Maloney and keyboardist Jim Wood that they are back on a fledgling label, immergent, with a new LP, “Opaline” (released April 23). The album debuted at No. 192 on the Billboard 200 chart on May 11; an accompanying DVD was released simultaneously, and the first single, “Somewhere in the Middle,” is quickly impacting at radio.
“We’re so happy to be where we’re at,” Alexander said. “We’re so thankful. Immergent has put out a couple of artists, and it really makes its money from doing DVD-Audio discs. They’ve done like Sting live and Radiohead, No Doubt. That part of it does very well; it’s called 5.1 Entertainment Group, and so it’s basically us and two other artists on immergent. They’re putting all their focus into us, and that’s the way we like it.”
Though Dishwalla hasn’t dented the charts since its debut in 1996, it didn’t completely vanish. They performed at Woodstock ’98 and contributed tracks to three film soundtracks, including the smash “American Pie.”
Hard-core fans kept abreast of the band’s whereabouts through its Web site.
“That’s been our main means of communications with them, through our forums page and our news page,” Alexander said. “But I bet, for the most part, that people have wondered what happened to us. We spent a long time writing songs, trying to figure out what we wanted to do with this record, because we knew it was going to be a very integral turning point in our career.”
“Counting Blue Cars” – with its poignant refrain “Tell me all your thoughts on God” – exposed Dishwalla to a wide audience (and still to this day), but as always with breakthrough hits, people expect another one just like it.
Alexander, though, doesn’t have anything bad to say about “Counting Blue Cars” and the high expectations it brought.
“It’s been pretty much positive for the most part,” he said. “It’s got us out there, it got our name out there. It was ASCAP’s song of the year for two years in a row; it was massive. It gave us a career, and we’re so thankful for that.
“Do we feel like we have to follow it up? No. We’re just trying to write the best songs we can. We’re not chasing that hit at all.”
For “Opaline,” Alexander says the group strived to make it deeper, more emotional and more cohesive than their first two albums.
“That’s why we spent so long on it,” he said. “It was all about getting the right songs together. The recording process wasn’t that long, but we just put a lot of work into songwriting, and the producer we hired, Gregg Wattenberg, who had just come off doing the Five for Fighting album, songwriting is his forté, and that’s why we hired him. We knew that aspect needed to be of the foremost importance.
“In terms of sound, it’s more like the first record. The second record was much darker in tone and feel. ‘Opaline’ is probably a bit more pop, but at the same time, it’s more mature than the first record. We’re older, and that happens.”
The group recently kicked off its U.S. tour with an in-store appearance in its hometown. It will play multi-act festivals and headline gigs throughout the summer.
ON THE WEB: www.myspace.com/dishwalla.
BWF (before we forget): The Dishwalla album discography – “Pet Your Friends” (A&M, 1996); “And You Think You Know What It’s Like” (1998); “Opaline” (immergent, 2002), “Santa Claus Lane” EP (2003), “Live … Greetings From the Flow State” (2003), “Santa Claus Lane II” EP (2004), “Southeast Asia 2004” EP (2004), “Dishwalla” (Orphanage, 2005).