Welcome back to another edition of Indieterria, where we discover new and exciting music. After speaking to the wonderful Nic Evennett two weeks ago and receiving many nice comments regarding the interview (including a praise from the legendary musician and radio DJ, Tim Robinson himself!), today we will introduce you to a 4 piece outfit from Worcestershire that plays rock and blues better than the cowboys from the American West.
Dharma Bums are incredibly nice folks and it was a privilege to talk to them. If blues, country and a jazz fusion is your thing, you cannot miss them! Please read on.
Welcome to the Wild, Wild West Midlands
Inspiration works in mysterious ways. Sometimes you are not even interested in making music and you end up forming a genre defining band with your school mates or friends living on the same street. Or you could be a professional musician, for years struggling to find same minded people to play with. Luckily for us, all members of Dharma Bums were in the right place, at the right time and clicked together immediately. Their instant communication, understanding of one another and simple joy of working together can be heard in their every song. It was a pure pleasure to listen to their EP entitled “Nothing to lose blues”. Vanadian Avenue took The Bums leading outlaw, Kevin Wrench to the nearest saloon to discuss their previous musical experiences, love for blues and their new material over a bottle of finest whisky and a game of cards.
Kevin Wrench – Vocals/Guitar
Dave Shuter – Lead Guitar/Harmonica
Jon Green – Bass
Thomas Paine – Percussion
Your biography mentions that Dharma Bums were formed in 2015 yet all the members have been active on Worcestershire music scene for years and were involved in several different projects before. Tell us how did the band start and introduce all the members to our readers.
Kevin Wrench: Dave Shuter (lead guitar/harmonica) and myself initially started playing together early in 2015. Dave’s wife lived just up the road from where I grew up and after chatting to her on Facebook one evening, Dave and me got together and instantly hit it off. We shared an appreciation for blues and in particular, Robert Johnson. Dave had never met anyone, who was as keen on Robert Johnson as he was before the two of us met. Dave & his wife performed in a function band together for a number of years but they hadn’t gigged for quite some time when we first met. Dave’s patience has really helped me improve my own playing. He’s one of the most easy going and nicest guys I know.
I’ve been interested in making music for years but could never quite find the right outlet to pursue it. I’ve never been a particularly confident performer and as a child, I was painfully shy. It has taken a number of years and a bit of effort forcing myself out of my comfort zone in order to get to the point where I feel happy performing or sharing my music with anyone. Some time ago I had guitar lessons and played on and off for years but never really considered writing songs myself. I had some singing lessons around 2009 and did ABRSM Grade 5. The popularity of Michael Buble at the time coupled with my grandfather’s influence. He was a big admirer of Frank Sinatra and led me to collaborate with a couple of local pianists. Together, we performed mainly swing/jazz covers at local restaurants.
In 2013, I was approached by a producer friend about writing some songs for a solo project. Unfortunately, that project never quite came to fruition although I may re-record the four songs I wrote at some point in the not too distant future. Essentially, that meeting was the spark that ignited my passion for song writing. I also appeared in a couple of musical shows at the Rose Theatre in Kidderminster; that was where I met our percussionist Thomas “Tom” Paine. Two years later, while volunteering at The Civic Hall in Stourport, I organised a monthly music night called ‘Live Local’ which featured a variety of local artists. As well as being a rewarding experience, it also ended up being a massive inspiration as I was bowled over by the amount of talent in the local area and that ultimately inspired me to seek out some musicians to start a band myself.
Our drummer Tom has been a member of two local amateur dramatics groups for a number of years. In fact Tom`s whole family are members of both Kidderminster Operatic & Dramatic Society (KODS) and Carpet Trades Musical Theatre Company (CTMTC). Tom plays a variety of instruments and joined us around November 2015. He had never played the cajón before he joined us and slowly but surely, we’ve discovered more & more things that Tom can play which has greatly added to our overall sound. Only last year he was bought a banjo as a present and learnt several songs on it already. Tom grew up in a family where performing is second nature. He is a very gifted and versatile musician.
Out of all of us, our bass player Jon Green has had the most experience in terms of being in bands, he’s played in several different bands since the age of 14, ranging from Rock to Crust Core Punk. A couple of the bands Jon has been involved in previously have been signed to record contracts. Jon is also a multi instrumentalist who plays the bodhrán and recently started learning the violin to bring something a bit different to our sound. Jon has performed all over the UK including London and even toured in the US. Jon’s daughter Ellisha Green is an extremely talented singer/songwriter and Ellie has also performed with the youth section of KODS, which is how Tom and I met Jon as he was often involved helping out backstage.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered by this point we combine a variety of very different backgrounds but we all share a passion for making music.
Right at the end of 2017, Dan Mathew joined us on percussion. Dan is also the drummer for The Bug Club who are another great local band and already he is proving to be a tremendous asset to our line-up. He has given the new songs we’re currently working on a much more dynamic sound.
“The Dharma Bums” is the title of the 1958 beat generation classic novel written by Jack Kerouac. It is also the name of an American garage band that influenced many pre-grunge groups in Seattle including Nirvana, Hole and Green River. What inspired you to take on that name as well? How are you going to distinguish yourselves from your American counterparts?
Kevin Wrench: That would be down to me. “The Dharma Bums” is one of my favourite novels and I’ve loved Kerouac’s work for years. He was a pivotal figure in the Beat Generation of the 1950’s counter culture which was very much a forerunner to the psychedelic 1960’s. It influenced some of my favourite artists including The Doors and The Beatles. My partner and I travelled quite a bit in our early 20’s and on our travels we visited Morocco and stayed in Jack Kerouac’s room in Tangier. Jack and Alan Ginsberg stayed there for a couple of years writing. In fact, I popped the question to my partner Sarah in Jack’s room when we arrived there!
After I chose the name, I realized that quite a few bands had used it. I did do a bit of research before picking it, but must admit, I didn’t realise that the other Dharma Bums had reached such a wide audience. I’m sure though if they truly are “Dharma Bums” they won’t have any issues with us using the name too and our sound is very, very different to theirs.
You have just released a video to your song “Ballad of El Chivato“. It was directed by twice award nominated film maker Nick J. Townsend of Weak13 and shot in Bewdley. Can you tell us more about working with Nick and the story behind the song’s lyrics.
Kevin Wrench: Working with Nick has been an absolute pleasure. He’s a lovely genuine guy who’s passionate, full of creativity, enthusiasm and he’s been on the local music scene for as long as I can remember. Not only did he produce a fantastic music video for us, but he’s also been incredibly supportive and has been very generous with his wisdom and experience which has been invaluable. I wrote “Ballad of El Chivato” while on holiday in Tenby with my partner and our daughter. It was raining one day so we were limited as to what we could do. We stayed in the caravan and I wrote a song. I’d been reading a book called “To Hell On A Fast Horse” by Mark Lee Gardner which is about the American West Outlaw Billy The Kid. I’ve read many books about the Old West, particularly about Billy The Kid and I’ve always loved songs that tell a story so that’s exactly what I tried to do with this song.
Dharma Bums use a mixture of blues, jazz, country and rock and rock to create their unique sound. Slap Magazine described your music as “cool” while Ryan’s Gig Guide called it “unique and vintage”. What is the audience reaction? Do they like it?
Kevin Wrench: Audiences tend to respond really well to our music. We’ve picked up some lovely supporters (feel reluctant to say fans) who really seem to appreciate the blend of influences we draw on. As we’re still building our repertoire of original material, we tend to play a mixture of covers and originals at our gigs at the moment, covering artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Hank Williams, Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Prince or The Soggy Bottom Boys. We’re writing more and more original songs though, so over time we will increase the number of originals we play and most likely not play as many covers. As I’m sure many other bands will testify, you’re never going to please everyone. There’s been one or two gigs where people drunkenly shout “play Summer of 69” or “play some Bon Jovi” not that there’s anything wrong with these songs/artists but they’re just not to our taste; but for the most part we get a great reaction wherever we play.
“Ballad of El Chivato” is promoting your latest EP entitled “Nothing to Lose Blues” released in July 2017. The 5 track EP was recorded in Stourport and mastered in London at the famous Abbey Road Studios. It must have been quite an experience to work with Sean Magee a Grammy winning mastering engineer of The Beatles, Rush, Deep Purple and Public Image Ltd.
Kevin Wrench: Since we started gigging, every penny the band has earned has gone into an old biscuit tin and has been accumulated to pay for recording, mastering, producing a video and paying for our CDs to be printed. We feel it’s better to create memories like visiting the legendary Abbey Road Studios, rather than taking a quarter share of gig money and then having to contribute towards these costs anyway after we’ve spent the money. Obviously, visiting Abbey Road wasn’t cheap, but it was paid for entirely out of the kitty and is an experience that none of us will ever forget. All four of us stayed together in London as well as our time in the studio, we had a great time.
“Nothing To Lose Blues” features a wide array of local musicians including George Alan on trumpet, Chris Yates on piano and Matt Worley on banjo. The EP cover was also designed by an established contemporary artist, Craig Simmons. For a debut record, the guest list is simply impressive. Was it hard to bring so many creative minds to the same project?
Kevin Wrench: When I first thought about starting a band, I always imagined the line-up being flexible and being able to work as a collective melting pot of various creative minds able to operate across a variety of genres. This was a very romantic notion for an amateur band and I’ve since come to realise that it’s important to have a strong bond amongst the core members of a band. That’s not to say that we can’t invite other local musicians to make guest appearances and I think our next record will be very similar in that respect. I met a lot of musicians while organizing ‘Live Local’ at The Civic in Stourport and I made a lot of friends in the local music/artistic community. I’ve become quite cheeky and not afraid to ask others to be involved. We never tell people what we want them to play, we invite them to play because we know that they will bring something of themselves to our recordings. We were blessed on this first recording to get George, Matt and Chris on board, they are all extremely talented guys and we hope they will be involved on our next project. We also hope to invite several other local musicians to be involved. Craig Simmons is an incredibly talented local artist and luckily for us, he is friends with Tom. We think he did an awesome job on our artwork and we very much hope to be able to work with him again on our next release.
Rumour has it that you are beginning to work on a new material. We heard that you have wrote a protest song called ” Sell Your soul”. Would you like to elaborate?
Kevin Wrench: (laughing) I don’t wish to give too much away just yet but yes this is true. Like many people, I’m a little concerned by the emergence of certain “leaders” in the last couple of years and wanted to write something that communicated this concern that I know I’m not alone in feeling. We’ve already discussed with Nick Townsend about a possible video for “Sell Your Soul” and we’re quite keen to get it out in the public domain as soon as we can. I know some people don’t like it when musicians incorporate their political opinions into their music but I think it’s difficult not to sometimes as it effects us all and our opinions are just as valid as anyone else’s. We’ve also got a couple of bluesy numbers and a pirate shanty inspired folk song which will appear on our next record.
Dharma Bums has just been confirmed to perform at WolvesFest in Wolverhampton on 16-17th of June 2018. Where else can we see you playing live? Any coming up shows to look out for?
Kevin Wrench: Our calendar is filling up quite nicely at the moment with new dates being added regularly. We’ve not pursued too many gigs in this early part of the year as we wanted to focus on writing new material and also we wanted to give our new percussionist Dan chance to settle in. We’re playing at The Swan in Stourport on 1st March and at the Cock & Magpie on 14th April. We’re currently arranging dates with many of the venues we’ve played at over the last couple of years, so if people wish to keep up to date they could check out our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/dharmabumsuk.
And finally, a question that has to appear on every interview: where do you see yourselves in 5 years time?
Kevin Wrench: Wow, that’s a big question! I see us being maybe 2/3 albums further along with a lot more of an established fan base and maybe even having travelled to America to possibly have used a studio over there for mastering and with a bit of luck picked up a few gigs while we were there. I’d also like to have done a couple of mini tours in the UK, maybe also in Ireland and I’d like to have gigged in London. I’d also like to think we would’ve had a bit more airplay which seems to be the most difficult thing to acquire, particularly if you fall outside of the mainstream musical spectrum. The ultimate aim would be able to give up the day job and focus full time on music. I don’t think any of us are naive enough to believe we’ll achieve fame and fortune but there are plenty of musicians out there who are not household names but still manage to make a good living from their music.
Dharma Bums can be found online at:
Articles about the band:
You can purchase their music here:
Amazon Music: https://www.amazon.com/Nothing-to-Lose-Blues/dp/B0742979NT
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