With a thirteen-date US tour and plans to release a new EP in a few months, everyone’s favorite funk-rock-folk-reggae-roots band Dispatch is gearing up for a busy summer “But wait,” you’re asking, “Didn’t Dispatch play their last show in 2004?” They did indeed, which is why we sat down with Dispatch frontman Chad Stokes to get the lowdown on the reunion, the dangers of calling a concert “The Last Show Ever” and the new middle class of musicians.
OS: So why did you guys decide to get together and play some shows this summer?
CS: I think Pete and I were hanging out. I see those guys every now and then, and we hang out, and it’s always good. I guess enough time had gone by where we just felt like playing again. I guess I personally felt like we got State Radio to a really good place, where it was kind of off and running and out from underneath the shadow of Dispatch. I just felt like I could be in two different bands, and try and make it work. I think it was mostly timing, just time passing and feeling like it would be fun to get together again.
OS: Is that something that’s been difficult—balancing time between State Radio and Dispatch and your other projects?
CS: Yeah, it’s tricky because then you feel like you’re not giving your all to each one. And also, you’re trying to squeeze a semblance of regular life into there, so it is tricky. But with Calling All Crows, the foundation I started, I got a lot of help with that from the co-directors and interns. So that runs really well. We just have a good team, you know, with State Radio and Dispatch, where people really are good at what they do. So it makes it easier so I don’t have to have hours of phone calls every day. There are some things that should go on without me.
OS: You posted a YouTube video suggesting you’ve been trapped underground for the last seven years, but can you give us a little info about what you have really been up to for that time?
CS: [Laughs] I’ve just been doing State Radio. Just touring for eight months out of the year, and recording. It’s been pretty full-on. And Calling All Crows is our women’s rights organization, and we started that two years ago, or almost three years ago, so that takes a lot of time. I’ve been doing “How’s Your News,” which is a movie and a TV show and a band about and involving people with disabilities. So that takes a bunch of time. And then just… a couple of trips here and there. I went out and jumped some freight trains with my brothers with a few months. But a lot of it’s with State Radio. We’ve toured all over and it’s been really fun. Trying to incorporate Calling all Crows, we’re doing service projects before shows and stuff. So it’s pretty busy when we’re out on the road.
OS: You’ve referenced all the charities you work with—how do you feel about music activism today? Do you think there are a good number of musicians promoting change in their music?
CS: I think there’s a bunch of them. They’re not the mainstream musicians, I think the industry is set up so that there’s a much bigger middle class of musicians out there than their used to be. I think there used to be just those who were on the big record labels and those who were trying to make it. Now there’s a good chunk of musicians that are in bands that are making a career out of it, but they’re not necessarily on the radio or on videos or on Conan or something. I think they’re out there, they’re just harder to get to know. But bands like RX Bandits and Michael Foxy and John Butler Trio, these are all bands that are doing pretty well for themselves and they’re also really socially conscious.
OS: So what are some ways you recommend for our readers to get involved in charity work?
CS: Two things. One: callingallcrows.org. We’re focusing on women’s shelters in Afghanistan that offer safe havens for women and also vocational training. And then we’re still really big supporters of Troy Anthony Davis, who is on death row in Georgia and has been there for twenty years. We believe that he never received a fair trial, and his appeal was denied by the United States court, so we’re nervous about his future. We’re trying to get information about him out to the people, so we can all be informed about this kind of thing. We’re against the death penalty overall… Troy is just a great guy, we’ve become friends over the years, and we first heard of him through Amnesty International. It’s just a really great example of why the death penalty shouldn’t exist, because the people making those decisions are all human, and we all make mistakes. It can never be foolproof.
OS: Are ticket proceeds from this tour going to charity as they have in the past?
CS: Yeah, with the Dispatch tour we’re doing a dollar ticket tax that’s going towards education, towards mentoring programs and different education reform programs. We feel like you start with the kids, and then the future can look a whole lot brighter.
OS: Awesome. And there’s also been a lot of speculation that a new album might accompany this tour, is that the case?
CS: I think we just put another video out there called “SquataFriend” and it’s on YouTube. That has some new music in there behind it, kind of background music, but you can hear the tunes. So yeah, we’re working on a bunch of new songs.
OS: So are you planning to release a new EP with the new material?
CS: I think so! We’ll try to get five tunes out before the summer, right before the tour, we might be able to finish them, and then have a more full-length album come out late next fall.
OS: You guys have played a “last show ever,” once or twice. Why do you think you keep getting pulled back in?
CS: I think the quote-unquote “Last Dispatch Show Ever”… [Laughs] I never really liked that name, because I was like, “Of course we’re gonna play again at some point.” But I think since then—so that was like, 2004—I think since then we always knew we’d play again, whether it be once every four or five years, or something like that. We’re pretty careful never to use the word last again, ever since that show in Boston.
OS: It’s funny because that seems to happen to a lot of artists today—they play a “last show” and then put out some new material.
CS: Yeah, I mean it does mean “The last one for a little while.” But it seems like a lot of bands get back together at some point, to some extent.
OS: One last thing: you’ve been called “the biggest band that no one’s ever heard of,” yet you sold out arenas on this tour. Do you still feel like you’re flying under the radar?
CS: Yeah, I still feel like that. We’ll do our tours and they’ll be pretty big, but still if you were to talk to someone from the major labels or MTV or radio, if they’re over the age of 40, no one knows about Dispatch, or seems to care, really. The only waves that we’ve made in the industry are because people are impressed by the numbers that come out to see us. We’re such a fan-driven band that if you’re part of the business, you don’t really know about us unless you’re impressed by numbers. So I still feel like we exist in this kind of other world where it’s the band and the people who listen to the band, and the quote-unquote industry just kind of shakes their heads or isn’t interested or doesn’t believe in it. I don’t know. [Laughs]
OS: I guess having a crazy fan base isn’t the worst thing in the world.
CS: It’s awesome, it’s so cool. I’m so surprised and thankful for the turnout. It’s really, really amazing.
Check out Dispatch’s Web site to see all the upcoming tour dates!