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Something from nothing

Dropsonic's ongoing declaration of independence

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Ask Dropsonic guitarist Dan Dixon what's new with the band, and the self-depreciating musician typically says "nothing." But keep prodding, and Dixon might just relent and start listing more recent accomplishments than most bands amass in a year.

"We're on a label based in Michigan, finally getting some airplay in other cities and on both 96 Rock and 99X," he says. "We're gonna be touring a lot this summer; we have a new member and a box set of albums for sale."

Dixon and bassist Dave Chase formed Dropsonic in 1996. Aided by Brian Hunter on drums, the trio has remained a fiercely independent and prolific unit. "I can't think of another local band -- on our modest level -- with three records out," Dixon says. "Well, the Rock*A*Teens -- but that's all Chris Verene."

The new Belle is Dropsonic's first project for the Michigan-based 54-40 or Fight! label. And in keeping with President James K. Polk's famous declaration, the determined little label has done an impressive job in getting the word out about the band. "There's a great ad in Magnet to promote this album," says Dixon. "I mean, I read Magnet, so that's pretty incredible. They are getting us out there, and we haven't even started the tour yet."

The album was recorded and written in the band's small rehearsal space at the Precinct, the former police headquarters near the Masquerade. "We could have put a lot of money into going into the studio with David Barbe or somebody, but we decided to just do it ourselves," Dixon says, adding that the advantages of recording near home were obvious. "If we had gone to a studio, there'd be a whole day wasted if we didn't get anything. Here, if we just get a drum track -- or nothing -- recorded in one day, it's OK and didn't cost us anything."

As it happens, Dropsonic's leisurely recording pace was suddenly increased by an impending deadline. "Back in December, I told Steve [Brydges] at the label that I wanted it to come out in April of this year," recalls Dixon. "He said, 'Well, it needs to be done by the first of February.' I said, 'Shit, I'm not even halfway done with it yet.' So I spent a month doing nothing but working on the record."

Dixon finished the album on time, and he was glad to be rid of it. "I kept thinking how crappy it probably was," he says. "I couldn't even think about it without thinking it needed to be re-recorded or re-done in some way."

Dixon says he distanced himself from the project by blocking it out of his mind. "We did some shows, but we didn't include the new stuff; we saved that for the CD release show."

When the disc came back, Dixon -- finally far enough removed from the material -- was pleased by what he heard. "It's different from the last album," he says.

Indeed. Far from commercial, Belle's beauty lies in its brief kiss and lingering aftertaste. And with angular approaches like the catchy single "Stolen," Dropsonic is in no danger of going mainstream. "We couldn't commercialize if we tried," says Dixon.

Much of Belle chimes with an alluring, muscular rock-guitar crunch. Historic musical references are apparent but not overtly presented. "I always say everything's been done," says Dixon. "Then something like [Radiohead's] Kid A comes along. But Belle is not an opus. Since it's a half-hour long, maybe you'll want to hear it again."

With the addition of former Marcy and Sugarsmack guitarist Calvin Florian, the newly expanded Dropsonic has issued a limited-edition box set that includes all three of its albums, including The Big Nothing and the band's rough-hewn debut, Sleep With the Fishes.

"I think the straightforward rock works the best for us," says Dixon. "The more direct stuff makes people react the most. Whether they like it or not, it causes a reaction."

Dropsonic's Belle is available at local record stores and at www.dropsonic.com.

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