Guitarist Rob Compa of Dopapod lives for making music. Recently, Dopapod announced fall tour and brand new album, MEGAGEM, due out October 27 ahead of the group’s planned year-long hiatus after seven years touring extensively. Live For Live Music’s Rex Thompson got the chance to chat with Rob to get some insight into Dopapod’s future plans over the next few months as well as what we should expect from his performances at Brooklyn Comes Alive next weekend with The Road Goes On Forever—a tribute to the Allman Brothers Band, featuring Bernard Purdie, Eric Krasno, and members of moe., Snarky Puppy, and more—and Pow! Pow! Power Trio!—,a special supergroup paying tribute to classic rock power trios composed of Compa, Dopapod bandmate Chuck Jones, and Kung Fu’s Andrian Tramontano.Check out the interview with Rob below!
Live For Live Music: Let’s start with the new. Dopapod has a new album on the way. Is it all mixed down and ready to rock?
Rob Compa: We recorded it over the winter and have gradually finished all the little bits and pieces of it. We just released the cover and announced the title, MEGAGEM. It’s coming out soon and will be out in the next month or so before we leave on fall tour. We actually recorded enough music to warrant another album coming out sometime next year. We just ended up with too much music for one album, so we are just gonna make two!
L4LM: It has to be nice to know you have a whole other album in the can.
RC: Yeah, it is gonna save us some hustle, for sure. Making an album is a stressful thing. It’s fun to create music, but you can start to look forward to it being finished after awhile. It’s a lot of work.
Check out the first video from Megagen, “Please Haalp,” below:
L4LM: Which side of the “Save the new material for the release” versus “Start playing the new songs as soon as they are written” debate do you fall on?
RC: In the past, we always just played them before the album came out. This time, there are a few that we haven’t really played live for a couple reasons. Some of them don’t translate as easily to being played live. That said, we are a live band. Usually, the second we have new music, we bring it to the shows. It really helps, especially when you are writing sets and trying to give folks something new every night. The album is secondary to the live show for us. We are usually ready to play songs live when they are ready.
L4LM: Does this mean that songs from the album you have ready for next year we’ll hear on the road as well?
RC: Yeah, definitely. If you listen to recordings of us from the last couple months, you definitely can hear some of those songs. Some of them we have only played once, and a few not at all—yet. Some of those weren’t us playing the whole song, though. There were times when it was us just jamming, and we threw in some of the stuff.
L4LM: Dopapod is a tight knit band with heavy improvisation at its core. Does that set-up make things like sit-ins easier or more difficult?
RC: Hmm. I guess I am the one of us who is usually the most skeptical about sit-ins or guests. I worry, but almost all of the times I end up really enjoying them. We do like them, but sometimes it can be a lot of hard work, especially when it’s a lot of folks at once. The more people there are, the more moving parts. You can’t have everyone playing at the same time and doing whatever they want. One the other side, when I get a chance to sit-in and play with other people, I love that. I think those kinds of situations make me a better player. It gets me out of my comfort zone and gives me new things to say musically. It’s a breath of fresh air.
L4LM: You mentioned being influenced and inspired by the people you play with. Who were some of the musicians who helped shape your sound when you were starting out?
RC: It went through an evolution. When I first started playing, it was basically whatever was on the radio. It was the late 90’s, so a lot of alternative rock. Then my dad bought me the White Album for Christmas and I became a Beatles addict like everyone else does. The really big ones I got into later on were Pink Floyd and Phish. David Gilmore is still my favorite guitar player. He’s just so melodic and powerful—Floyd was my obsession in high school. Then, like a lot of people in our scene, I became a huge Phish head. That’s still a love of mine. And personally, for me at least, a lot of jazz guitarists. Any jazz musician really—Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderly, Ella Fitzgerald. I love that style of music, and I really love country guitar. I could probably name you a million of those cats I like.
L4LM: When you were playing as a kid, did you have the typical rock star fantasies of playing in front of a million people?
RC: Sure, I think everyone has those. But honestly, I was kinda more realistic about it. It was fun to imagine, but I was never like “I gotta have that! I’m gonna go after that and nothing can stop me!” I was never like that. At one point in my junior year, I was looking at going to college and studying English and writing. I knew it was kinda unrealistic to dream of being a professional guitar player so I figured maybe if I worked at it, I could be a writer for a guitar magazine or something. So yeah, I had those thoughts, but I really tried to not get my hopes too high. But it was definitely fun to sit in my room and jam “Comfortably Numb” and imagine playing to a giant stadium. Nothing wrong with that.
L4LM: Pretty sure people who don’t even play guitar have had that fantasy. I do like to hear that someone was trying to be honest with themselves at the same time though.
RC: Our bass player, Chuck Jones, had some wonderful advice from one of the professors at the Berklee College Of Music. He spoke about the difference between hope and expectation. If you see yourself getting to a goal, hoping that your band gets to a certain place, with hope, you can still be happy with whatever ends up happening. But if you expect something to happen, then you leave yourself wide open to being let down. That mindset—that something is definitely coming to me and I deserve it and I am going to get it—is a kind of trap. A good way to be a saner, happier person is to aim as high as you can, but be happy wherever you end up. It’s hard to keep that childlike enthusiasm under control. Human nature, I guess.
Check out this ripping “Super Bowl” from the Peach Music Festival featuring The Blend Horns and Adrian Tramontano on percussion!
L4LM: Let’s talk about your involvement in the artist mix-and-match festival Brooklyn Comes Alive coming up. You’re stretching out away from Dopapod with the Pow Pow! Power Trio!. Can you let us in on the secret origin of that project?
RC: Well, I have always wanted to play in a trio. Up until now, I have played with Dopapod, and we have the big Hammond organ sound, which is awesome. With that big sound, I don’t always have to play. I can just sit back and let Eli (Winderman) do his thing, and there is all that great interaction. But I also really like the concept of a trio, and I have always wanted to play in one. The core concept is a tribute to power trios, but we can play whatever we want. I think we’re billing it like we are because the name is just so good. We’re gonna just play what we feel and see where it takes us. It’s the most fun that way. That’s our plan, plain and simple.
L4LM: Who were some of the trios that inspired this desire to be a part of that concept?
RC: The first one that comes to mind, one of the most sorely under-rated bands ever, is the Wayne Krantz Trio. He is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. He’s a really cool dude, and I was just fortunate enough to have a couple Skype guitar lessons with him. He dropped some heavy knowledge on me. He has this band with Tim Lefebvre, who plays bass with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Keith Carlock, who drummed with Steely Dan and John Mayer, I believe. That is just one of the most unique and inventive improvisation bands ever.
L4LM: In your mind, is there something about being limited in the amount of music you can make that inspires creativity?
RC: Exactly. If you limit your options, then you are forced to come up with things that have never come up before. It’s like, you’re out in the wilderness and you are given a toothpick, an anvil, and a screwdriver, and you are forced to make something with the tools you have. That kind of pressure cooker definitely forces you to find new things. That is another reason I wanted to play in a trio. I hope it forces me to play differently. That’s my main goal.
L4LM: You’re slated to sit in with the Allman Brothers tribute. Was their brand of syrupy southern rock an influence on you?
RC: Oh yeah. They came a little later in life for me. Fillmore East is some of the best recorded live music ever. Duane (Allman) and Dicky (Betts) are just textbook examples of good guitar playing. And then there is the whole family of talented musicians that shoot off that band. Of course, you start with Gregg Allman, Duane, and Dicky, but then you have Oteil Burbridge, one of the most profound bass players ever, on down the line. There is just an endless list of top shelf players from one band.
L4LM: The music the Allman Brothers made, with their army of players, seems the opposite end of your interest in being part of a trio.
RC: That is the great thing about music and life, really. You can like two completely different things for two contradictory different reason. I can like the Allman Brothers because they have so many players, so many colors, and so many great songs. On the flip side, I can like the power trio because it is so raw and stripped down and leaves so much to the imagination.
L4LM: As a veteran of the Brooklyn Comes Alive experience, what do you think of the artist mix-and-match concept behind the event?
RC: It’s super cool. I hadn’t encountered anything like that before. Just a ton of musicians on a lineup and then creating a bunch of bands that may only exist that one time. It’s almost like a two-day jam session. It’s kinda like someone is playing with action figures only they are using musicians instead. They have some of the best musicians anywhere, and you get to play with them, learn from them, and just watch them do what they do. So great.
L4LM: It’s going to be a special weekend. Well, we appreciate your taking some time to chat with us and can’t wait to see you play both ends of the musical spectrum at Brooklyn Comes Alive.
RC: You’re welcome! See you all soon!
[Photo: Bradley Cooling]