The Dopamines seem to have become quite popular during the last couple of years, but I’ve noticed that people like to give you a hard time, whether it’s making up rude names for your band, throwing things at you when you’re playing, or just generally acting as if they don’t like you when it’s obvious that they do. Why do you think that is? Do you invite that sort of abuse, or would you prefer to bask in unalloyed adulation?
I have to confess that when I was a boy growing up in Michigan, we were taught – brainwashed was more like it – to think badly of Ohio, our neighbor to the south. You could buy legal fireworks there and drink 3.2 beer at 18, but beyond that, we believed, the place had nothing at all to offer to the world.
That, of course, was long, long ago, before Ohio started churning one great punk rock band after another, before, in fact, punk rock bands even existed. Could I ever have imagined that the state I’d spent my youth looking down on would one day become a virtual Mecca for awesome music?
So it was probably fitting that when I began putting together The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore, I found myself awash in Ohio bands, so much so that I could have filled the entire comp with them and renamed it The State That Ate Larry Livermore.
I didn’t end up doing that, but still wound up with more bands from the Buckeye State than anywhere else. Of those bands, none was more inevitable than the Dopamines, who’ve been tearing things up and making a mighty ruckus around the country for several years now. The Dopamines have a well-won reputation as a party band, and for leaving a trail of destruction, heartbreak, frustration and despair in their wake, but at their core they’re just a trio of happy-go-lucky, fun-loving, responsible and respectable young Americans who represent everything that is wonderful and admirable about our nation’s heartland. Right? Well, maybe, sort of. Why don’t I just let the guys speak for themselves? I sat down with Jon Weiner and Jon Lewis, the Dopamines’ dueling frontmen, and here’s what they had to say.
Jon Lewis: We have definitely invited plenty of abuse. I think what happened is early on we started messing with the crowd. Granted the “crowds” were smaller and usually in a basement, so it was more like poking fun at your friends. Jon W and I would bust each other’s balls a lot on stage too, and do stupid shit like throw beer on each other. And what ended up happening is that at a festival like Insubordination Fest, where all our friends would convene, the same thing would happen, just with a larger crowd, most of which were friends. I think once videos started surfacing of these shows it became synonymous with our live set: make fun of everyone and each other, and fuck around instead of concentrating on playing well. Nowadays, it’s snowballed into pretty much a friendly battle between us and the audience. We love it, but Jon W gets bummed when his new bass strings get ruined by beer. Shit is expensive.
Jon Weiner: We used to invite it way more than we do now. There is definitely a time and a place. I've had plenty of split open foreheads from being hit with shit. I'm okay with it, though; at least we know everyone is having a good time. I suppose all the throwing shit stuff came from us primarily playing house shows and DIY shows with more of a "party" vibe when we started out. Not that we don't play shows like that anymore, but it just became this thing where our shows were as much a party as anything else. I'd rather our shows be full of people falling down and missing most of their clothes while having a huge smile on their face than it be some serious jock shit doing ninja kicks.
Even when you’re in a band that people routinely cite as one of the best new bands of the last several years, the money doesn’t exactly roll right in, does it? How do you get by during the gaps between stadium tours and million-selling records?
Jon L: Jon Dubbya is a bartender at this awesome bar called Japp’s that is prohibition-themed, and serves time-appropriate mixed drinks. And he looks damn sexy while doing it. Michael works at awarehouse, and I work at an architectural firm where I wear ties on Tuesdays.
Jon W: Haha, yeah. We've never really made a fucking dollar, and the times we have had any money it's gone right back into the band, or paid someone's water bill. People get this notion that since you can sell out a small bar show every once and a while, and a few hundred records, you're doing all right. Nope! I bartend six nights a week at two different bars, Jon Lewis is an architect (essentially he’s the only one that's done something with his life other than be in this band), and Michael is currently working third shift at the warehouse moving shit around. I spent the first five years of my twenties primarily focused on being in this band. Now things are different. In fact, that's almost exactly what the song on The Thing That Ate Larry Livermore is about.
Okay, seriously, do you guys find that economics is one of the main obstacles to having a life that is basically about making music? Or are there other factors that are equally or more important?
Jon L: Gas prices and oversaturation of “touring” bands via the internet.
Personally though, I think it’s also being scared of committing to a gamble. We’ve gained an audience over the years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a decent living can be made out of what we’re doing. It takes a TON of sacrifice and hard work, and a lot of sacrifice was made to get us to this point. I don’t want to get too deep into the subject, but our song on the comp basically lays it all out.
Jon W: Yeah, it’s probably the only reason that we aren't on the road all the time. That and family. There are kids on the way now! That comes before money. But yeah, we've always struggled financially, some of us to the point of not having a place to live. I won't name names, though, even though we have no pride.
How do you see your relationship to the Copyrights? Some people claim you sound a lot like them. I don’t hear it myself, but do you see them as a source of inspiration or, for that matter, someone to steal song ideas from?
Jon L: We love the Copyrights. I would consider them pretty good friends of ours. I think here and there in the beginning we sounded like them a bit. But as time went on we’ve certainly increased the gap between similarities. There are a few exceptions, though. On Expect the Worst there’s this song called “3244” (the basement song) that when I wrote it, I wanted to offer to the Copyrights because I thought it sounded more like an anthem they would come up with. I’ve talked to Adam about it once or twice, but I can’t remember if I ever actually offered the song to him. Not that they need me in the first place, they write laps around our dumbasses. Interestingly enough, “3244” was inspired from a Rocket From the Crypt song. Go figure.
Jon W: Yeah, we don't fucking sound like the Copyrights. We have a lot of songs that don't even repeat parts. If you think we sound like the Copyrights, you don't understand song structure. That said... the Copyrights are one of my favorite bands, and we were very influenced by them when we started this band. Whenever we hang out together, it's something we're always joking about. It's the reason we did a split together, too. It's never bothered us, though. Bands have influences. Get over it. We just happen to not have a bunch of pride and try to act like we're changing the world with our dumb songs. I always wanted to sound exactly like Pinhead Gunpowder. I guess that never worked out.
Even though in real life you guys are – or at least appear to be –as upbeat and happy-go-lucky as canbe, your lyrics and music often seem to be coming from a darker place. You’ve expressed similar sentiments in a number of interviews I’ve read. Who are the real Dopamines: fun-loving pranksters and cheerleaders for the new punk generation, or angst-ridden prophets of 20-something doom?
Jon W: Haha. Honestly, for the last couple years we've certainly had some hard times, but they're first world problems. We've always found it easier to write about the bad shit. I suppose it's therapeutic, too. I can't write a song about being happy (I think Lewis pretty much agrees). I'm just not good enough to do that. I'd rather write about a problem or something negative. It's just sort of what we've focused on. That said, we're all doing all right. I would like to say "fun loving pranksters" before anything else. We have a shit ton of fun, probably to the point of it being unhealthy, and there's never really been another goal.
Jon L: When we’re all in a room together, we’re just 3 dudes drinking a lot and making each other laugh. I think we all have something to hide, though, in terms of how we’re feeling on a day-to-day basis. It’s just easier to write about what’s getting you down. And people definitely react to it so it’s more incentive to stay on that path lyrically. Sometimes a posi song sneaks in through the cracks, and that’s because for the most part, we’re a happy bunch.
Who’s the “sensible” or “mature” one in the band, the one that makes sure things get done, and who’s the crazy, irresponsible one that makes sure things are fun or at least chaotic and unpredictable?
Jon W: We kind of all take on our own roles. On the road, Jon Lewis is probably the most sensible one. However, we all have moments when we're completely irresponsible. Up until we had a roadie that could drive, we’d try to have one "Sobermine" every night so we'd be able to responsibly leave the show we’d played (you can imagine how well this worked). There is always at least one Dopamine each night that manages to get completely blotto and keep things interesting. Mikey Erg (tour guitar) is included in this as well. Sometimes just one of us is left to load out gear and we're all pissed at eachother for a couple days. I dunno, it's nothing Dillinger Four haven't been doing for a couple decades.
Jon L: Jon’s the mature one. Jon’s the crazy one. Michael is either depending on the situation.
Both of the Jons write Dopamines songs, right? How different are the types of songs you come up with? Is one of you more upbeat or downbeat than the other? More into the classic three-chord punk thing or more into experimentation?
Jon L: I think the best way to describe it is that someone brings in a riff, and we all experiment with it. “Business Papers” is a direct result of that relationship between the three of us musically. Michael might argue that we pigeonhole him a bit on drum stuff, but on this song everyone did what they thought was the best possible idea for this song. Jon wrote amazing bass lines, Michael wrote amazing drum parts.
Jon W: I probably write the more "classic" sounding stuff. Jon Lewis is actually a brilliant songwriter; he often has more thought out lyrics and structures. Thanks for being the good one, dude. He also has probably written 75% of Dopamines songs. I average like 3 songs a record. And there’s a handful of tunes we've written together, too. I just don’t have confidence in that area. I scrap a lot of shit.
How long can you ride this Dopamines juggernaut? Are we likely to see the 50 or 60-something Dopamines being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame? I mean, it’s located just up the interstate from you guys, right?
Jon L: I think what we decide this band should be (in terms of activity) will determine how long we stay together. Right now we’re trying to figure out how to do this while keeping all of our personal expectations satisfied. If we can accomplish that, then we’ll never stop playing as far as I’m concerned.
Jon W: We'll probably break up soon. Ha ha. We can't do shit anymore; literally every single band decision is a struggle, whether it be financially or time-wise. We'd like to never split up, and I don't think we will, but we're definitely doing some hiatus stuff. And yeah, we're perfect for the Hall Of Fame, we're mediocre as fuck!
So what’s this whole “Midwest” thing about? Why are so many great bands coming out of there? Cheap rent and not a lot else to do?
Jon W: Yeah. Shitty winters, cheap rent. I dunno. The Midwest is a great area to be a touring band. You're ten hours from just about anywhere, and you can live somewhere for 200 bucks a month. There's like six good bands from Cincinnati, they just happen to be doing cool shit, I guess. Minneapolis and Chicago have more or less always been amazing cities for music.
Jon L: Hops, barley malt, yeast, and indoor water parks.
What do you think you’d be doing with your lives if you weren’t musicians?
Jon W: I would have finished college, something that I will now never do. Other than that, I don't know. I'm a bartender and I play in shitty punk bands; that’s honestly the only two things I’ve really learned how to do in my adult life. It's safe to say I would have a much easier life right now if I weren't a "musician." And put that shit in quotes, because I’m not really much of a musician.
Jon L: I think we’d be doing the same things we are now.
Did you listen to old school East Bay bands when you were growing up? If so, which ones, and do you think they influenced you, either in your style of music or the way you operate as musicians?
Jon L: I used to listen to Slipknot and Korn. Like for real. I’m not allowed to answer questions like these.
Jon W: You're kidding, right? I have the entire back of my right arm covered with the cover of Kerplunk. That's the reason why this band exists. Pinhead Gunpowder have written songs that honest to god have kept me alive. Crimpshrine, OpIvy... it's my entire life.
What’s the best thing and the worst thing about being part of the “punk rock scene?”
Jon W: The best thing is that I’ve made friends from all over the world who I know I could call at any time and they would have my back. It's something 98% of the world will never have. It's beautiful. I wouldn't trade anything for that. Sure, we're all dickweeds and fuckups, but it's perfect. The worst thing is probably the way punk has made me look at the world. I'm trying to get better about that, though. Way more good than bad. It's all about friends.
Jon L: The best part is the friendships I’ve developed over the years with people from different places and backgrounds. Without being a part of the “punk rock scene,” I wouldn’t ever have met all those awesome people. Worst part? Leather jackets.
And if punk were a club or an organization that it was possible to resign from, do you think you ever would?
Jon L: No, but I’m sure I’ll be thrown out in due time.
Jon W: Nope. I'm fucked.