Pop ‘stache recently sat down with Dave Collis, founding member and lead singer of Chicago-based noise rock band My Dad, a week before its show on April 10 to celebrate the release of the band’s new 7″ record, Mouth Bleeder. Over vegan pizza at the Boiler Room, Collis talked about what it’s like to play in a band with three drummers, what he enjoys most about the touring life, and the story behind the band name.
Pop ‘stache: So you’re originally from Philly, right? When did you move to Chicago?
Dave Collis: I moved here in September 2010 to go to Columbia [College Chicago] and major in audio design and production. I just finished there in December.
P’s: How was the transition from the Philly music scene to Chicago?
DC: I like Chicago more, because I think the bands have to try a lot harder. If you’re on the East Coast, you could go to New York, you could go to Baltimore, you could go play a show in Connecticut really easily, but with Midwest bands, you end up playing these small shows in tiny towns in Northwest Indiana or in the middle of Michigan, and sometimes it sucks, but overall, it’s awesome.
It’s almost like these bands in the Midwest have to drop these preconceived notions like, “Oh, man, why aren’t we playing New York or Los Angeles?”
P’s: You think there’s less entitlement and maybe more hustle involved?
DC: I think there’s more hustle. I notice a lot more Chicago bands wanting to tour all the time and putting everything into it, more than I saw with Philly bands. In Philly, I noticed with some of the bands I interacted with there, a syndrome of no desire to really tour, just needing to go up to New York every so often.
P’s: How did My Dad start?
DC: The project was just me for a while, when I started the band in Philly. The first show was just me, a second guitarist, a bassist and two drummers. None of those people are in the band now, and we played under a different name. That was in 2010. And then I did nothing with it for a while. I started it up again in early 2011 with some other musicians, and it started to solidify around September/October 2011. Aaron Sheehan joined the band around then to play bass. He’s from New Jersey, and I’ve known him since high school. He moved out here for school around the same time I did. We were just playing music together a lot and finally I asked him to be part of My Dad and he has been ever since.
We had a different drummer for a bit that year until our drummer Nnamdi Ogbonnaya joined at the end of 2011. We were just a trio for a bit, and I was recording the full-length by myself, because that first full-length, Stunts, was ten songs, and we were only playing five of those songs live around then. I was already recording the album while more people were joining so I just played everything on it myself. On five of the songs, I recorded two drum tracks on each song, so we decided to do double drums at the release show too. We had Brendan Smyth play drums at that show in March 2012, and it sounded really cool. The double drums was only supposed to be a one-off thing, but it sounded great, and Brendan was really down to play with us, so I asked him to join, and he’s still in the band too.
We also asked Brennan Zwing, my current roommate, to play fill-in drums for us when Nnamdi was busy playing with his other bands, until we played a show where all three drummers showed up and we decided, at that show, to try it, and it sounded really good. We’ve had three drummers since. Occasionally Nnamdi is gone, and sometimes Brendan is gone, or Brennan, but we know that at least we’ll always have one drummer no matter what. It’s very nice to be able to confirm for shows knowing that if I hear back from one of the drummers, we’re good to play, and if we hear back from more, that’s even better.
P’s: Do you guys ever get grief from venues because you have so many instruments to set up?
DC: Sometimes, but we’re very easy to work with, sound-wise. We don’t demand much at all. I basically say, “Whatever you think works best, do it, here’s what other venues have done for sound” and that’s it.
P’s: How do people react when they find out you have three drummers in your band?
DC: Overall, people are really excited about it, because it’s really loud and intense. Our drummers are talented, so they’ll play off each other. It’s not just three drummers playing the same thing over and over. We do get really funny online insults about it sometimes though.
After one show, some guy on Twitter called our three drummers “a circle jerk.” That was really funny.
P’s: Just meaning what? It felt self-indulgent, or…?
DC: Some people think it’s a gimmick, and I’m not going to lie—in a way, it sort of is. I mean, it’s a spectacle—maybe that’s what I mean. It’s kind of like KISS. I don’t really like their music, but all of the lights and explosions and the costumes—that was a really cool gimmick. People obviously remember that band for their makeup. Once they took off their makeup, people stopped caring.
P’s: Are you saying that if you didn’t have three drummers, you wouldn’t get the same kind of reception from people?
DC: Probably not. I think it’s definitely cool to see, and it makes the music, which could be written off as emo, or post-hardcore, or noise-rock, something different. It gives it a weirder edge that keeps me interested and excited about the music. I think that the people who do like our band agree. It’s only been a couple times where people have been critical about our shows or maybe hate the name…
P’s: Really, they hate the name?
DC: Occasionally. We’ve been on The A.V. Club a couple times, and the common comments from readers is usually: “They picked the name so that people would talk about them.”
P’s: Like it’s another gimmick?
P’s: Why did you pick the name?
DC: I picked it because the bassist and I were going to start a different band called My Dad a while ago, and we thought it was really funny to be like, “Are you going to see My Dad tonight?” or “Did you hear that new tape from My Dad?” It was as very dumb joke we just continued.
P’s: What does your dad think about it?
DC: He thinks it’s funny. It’s not like I say anything bad about my father in the songs—so, as long as it’s not a bad thing, he doesn’t really care. He’s supportive.
P’s: What has the reception to My Dad been like when you’ve played shows in other cities?
DC: Overall, better than in Chicago. I like Chicago a lot, but usually it’s just our friends coming out to those shows and every show we’ll maybe get a couple new fans. We’re just trying to play shows with touring bands and friends we really like when we’re in Chicago, so when we’re on tour, I think we get better reception than we do when we play here.
P’s: Do you like being on the road?
DC: I do. Sometimes you’ll be surprised at the reception you get. On our first long tour, we played Athens, Ohio, a small college town. It was a fill-in date, because we were trying to do Cleveland and we couldn’t get anything there, and I didn’t want to play some dumb bar show to no one. These two dudes in Athens kept hitting me up asking us to come play there, so we did, and the kids at the show went nuts the entire time. They bought over $100 of merch from us, which really helped us on tour. It was one of the shows I wasn’t expecting to be that great, and it was one of the better ones on the tour.
It can definitely be frustrating after a while, because I’ll miss my friends, or my girlfriend, or my cat. When you wake up in the morning and know, “Oh, my clothes are here, my shower’s here,” you greatly appreciate that comfort when you wake up on the couch, or usually on the floor. You might have your towel, or maybe you forgot your towel—I’ve lost towels on tours before. It’s difficult trying to stay clean and not sleeping regularly. I really like it, but it definitely is strenuous and tiring after a while.
But what I also like about touring is that it can surprise you and you can get wonderful support.
P’s: You’re a lead singers who screams. Is that hard on you physically?
DC: It’s not that bad, after a while. It sucks for a bit.It’s not like I’m just yelling in general, it’s kind of about how I have a specific vocal melody in a song, but it’s delivered in a more intense way, because I think my voice is really goofy and wouldn’t sound good trying to sing those melodies, singing. So it’s self-consciousness, plus, I just think it sounds better that way.I used to get really worried that when I would go on longer tours that my throat would get kind of fucked up, but I try and take really good care of it. Eat better on tour, you know. Vitamins, and all that.
P’s: What’s your writing process like?
DC: I try and write stuff that excites me, first and foremost. For certain people, they might write songs with people in mind, but I try and write stuff that I think is really cool, or that I’d want to listen to. I do my best to make that apparent in my music. When other people are excited about it too, it’s really flattering, especially since my efforts in making music aren’t based around, “Everybody love me! This is your hot jam right now!” I know that the music I make isn’t something a lot of people are going to like, just because it’s not normal, poppy music. I know friends of mine like our band, and I know other people we’ve played with like our band a lot. I’m not saying that people hate us. But there are definitely a lot of people who don’t like us, and definitely a lot of people who won’t like us in general, because we don’t have that kind of mass appeal.
But because we don’t have that mass appeal, whenever there are new people who like us, it’s just really nice to hear. It makes all the effort worth it.