Dope: Living with ‘No Regrets’

February 20, 2009

In the decade since the release of their debut album, Felons and Revolutionaries, Dope has experienced ups and downs, seen members come and go. But the man at the controls has never wavered. Edsel Dope’s drive and vision has kept the band not only afloat, but successful. On March 10, Dope unleashes its fifth album, the aptly titled No Regrets, through E1 Music (formerly KOCH Records). They will spend much of the spring on the road with Black Label Society and Sevendust as part of the first-ever Black Label Bash. Calling from a Chicago studio, where he is producing Dirge, the new band founded by former Soil guitarist Shaun Glass, Edsel talked with’s Greg Maki about the new album, the tour, Zakk Wylde (whose unmistakable guitar playing appears on the new single “Addiction”), the band’s extraordinary perseverance and more. I’ve gotten to hear the new album, No Regrets, a couple times, and I have to say, I really think it might be my favorite Dope album yet. From the songwriting, the playing, the production—it sounds like everything has been stepped up a notch this time out.

Edsel Dope: I’ll take it. I appreciate that.

The title, does that refer to how you feel about the band’s career, your life?

I think it’s a bit of both. I’m a big believer in, you’ve gotta make decisions in life and stick by them and you couldn’t be where you are today without yesterday. I’m not disappointed with where I’m at. Certainly, it’s been a different road than I think I probably would’ve predicted at age 21, but it’s been a long, winding road with amazing experiences and a career at this point—it’s hard to not actually call it a career when you’re five albums in and it’s been almost 15 years since you’ve punched a clock and had a real job. Saying all that, through those ups and downs and everything that’s gone with it, sitting here today and putting out another record and actually having a label that’s behind us, a track that’s getting a little bit of heat at radio, Zakk Wylde embracing the band and inviting us out on tour and playing on our record—it’s like yeah, I really can’t say I regret anything that’s gotten me to this point. So it’s pretty good.

There was a longer break between albums this time. What was the reason for that?

I think it was just trying to get a lot of other things done, to producing another band to trying to take a minute to sort of get my bearings on some other aspects of my life. Also, this record morphed a lot. We kind of ended up making two albums. One of them, I think, is gonna wind up being a bunch of material that will wind up going on a solo record that I want to do at some point. This record, it just took us a lot to kind of find the direction of what we wanted to do, and I probably over-obsessed on it a little longer than necessary. It was nice to take the time this time and not feel like we were rushing right off into the studio and then having to rush it right back out.

Like I said, I’ve heard it a few times, but for someone who hasn’t had a chance to hear it yet, how do you think this album compares to the previous albums? What sets it apart?

I personally thought that our previous album, American Apathy, was a great, sort of re-introduction and redefinition of what Dope does best. We’ve gone a lot of different places in the previous four records to this one. We’ve done everything from making heavy, hard rock songs to metal songs to even acoustic songs, and I think that through the course of doing that we really sort of found what we think Dope does best and what we do best as Dope on American Apathy, and I think that this record was taking everything we learned on that record, applying it to this one and then trying to focus more on the band sounding and performing more intelligently. The band, we still have our silly swagger and our playfulness and our campiness that make Dope a fun sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll band, but I think this time we were very intent on making sure that there’s a lot of guitar candy and a lot of—you know, if you’re a kid that plays guitar and you’re going to learn this Dope record, it’s not easy. There’s a lot of fun shit, a lot of technical guitar work and great riffing, guitar solos and lots of really tough drum patterns. That was part of the goal, just to smarten the band up.

Yeah, the guitars—the leads and the solos—really jumped out at me. I was really impressed. You mentioned Zakk Wylde. How did you hook up with him and get him to play on the album?

Zakk has been kind of popping up through our lives the last several years. It seems like we roll out to California and play a show and the show is over and you come out of the back lounge of the bus and there’s Zakk sitting in the front lounge, drinking and partying with your band, and you’re going, “Are you fucking kidding me? Is that really Zakk Wylde on our bus?” He just kind of took to our band. I think maybe it’s that we are sort of an old-school-mentality, sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll band and he digs that about us. But that’s where it started, just meeting Zakk on the road and hanging out with him and him being just a really, really nice dude. We were given the opportunity to play some shows with BLS about a year and a half ago, and those went great. We really bonded with Zakk. While we were making the record, I reached out through our people and wanted to know if he would be interested in contributing, and he was all about it. And I knew this was the song. I knew this was the song that I wanted to work with him on. I had the hook, I had the idea for what I wanted it to be and he was able to really easily help us take it over the top.

I saw in the “Addiction” video you’re rocking the BLS colors, the vest. Did that come from Zakk?

Yeah, it was a gift straight from Zakk. It was like, “Here, brother,” and I was like, man, I’m all about it. I was like, well, for this video I certainly want to represent, and more than anything, I just wanted to pay my respect and how grateful I am for the embracement that Zakk has given to us and the BLS fans across the world who have been hitting us on MySpace and the ones that we’ve played in front of already, and everybody’s really embraced us and our energy. I just felt like that was the best way I knew to show my respect to him and everything he’s done and me being so appreciative of him giving us this opportunity and this stage to show a bunch of people that may or may not be familiar with what we’re all about, to showcase what we do.

So are you looking forward to heading out on the first-ever Black Label Bash?

Yeah, man, I’m looking forward to getting everything done here and heading out on the road where I can be more at peace. Yeah, I’m tremendously excited about these shows. The guys in Sevendust are our old bros. We toured with them a bunch back in the day and they’re one of my favorite live bands to watch. So it’s gonna be terrific, man. I’m gonna play every night, clean up, come out and watch Sevendust, get my drunk on and by the time my drunk is kicking, then the guitar god himself is gonna come out and rock the house every night. Sounds pretty fuckin’ good to me.

Yeah, yeah. I can’t wait for it. Have you been thinking about the set list yet? You’re starting to put together a pretty big catalog of songs.

Yeah, we’re starting to figure that out right now, actually, ‘cause we don’t have a lot of time. And there’s some shows where there’s no Sevendust and we’re direct support to BLS, some other shows where there is Sevendust and we’ve got a little shorter set. We’re also doing some headline dates where we have even longer sets. So we’re just starting to put all that together right now. But yeah, you put out five records and you start to go, man, there’s not a lot of time.

In the new bio on the band, it had some comments from you where you talk about getting the major label deal as “life changing” and then when you had to leave the label it was “a learning experience, a crisis and eventually a relief.” Can you kind of elaborate on those statements a little bit?

Well, the life-changing one is probably self-explanatory. And then, you’re young and you have management and you have all these people in place that do jobs for you and you’re out there touring all the time, and let’s face it, you’re kind of green to the business. And at that point, we got dropped from the major label not three months into our second album’s release. It was a crisis. There went our booking agent. There went our management. There went our opportunity to go out there and tour and support our band. What do we do now? Everybody just kind of split. It was a crisis for a while, and then we were able to sort of sit back and regroup and look at this thing like an independent, small business. OK, now how do we not let all of what I’ve worked so hard for and built go to waste? It was a really hard time ‘cause we had to really go out there and earn it from even more of an underground spot than we had ever been. Not only were we at a point where we had no support anymore, but when you’re a band and you have the push behind you and you have a minimal amount of success and then all of your support sort of runs for the hills, there’s nobody out there really rooting for you to succeed. The business itself is not really set up for that to take place.

Those were the really hard and dark years, but we were able to get through them and we were able to prove to people that we did have value and put out records that progressively sold more than the ones previous and get ourselves to a spot where it’s been six years since we were on a major label and had a real presence in the marketplace, and here it is, we’re back with a presence again and a song on the radio that’s starting to react a little, Zakk is embracing us and a big tour, and it’s nice. Everything kind of comes full circle, but now I’m not young. Now I’m a veteran, I like to say, and the game has slowed down a little. There’s not much you can throw at me that I haven’t seen. So it’s just a good place to be. It feels, like I’ve probably expressed and you’ve probably read, I just feel very humbled by the entire thing and, at the same time, proud of what we’ve accomplished and our ability to continue to do this and have fans and have a band that’s built a career and continues to go out there and support itself.


Over the years, you’ve had a few lineup changes in the band. What affect has that had?

In every record, we end up going through a guy or two. The stability right now is me and my guitar player [Virus]. He’s been in the band for eight years now or so. But every record, it seems like we change a drummer or a bass player. On this particular record, we changed both. I believe the record before we changed at least one guy. It just seems to be the way it goes. It’s not necessarily for any other reason except for typically availability or it didn’t work out with somebody. At the end of the day, the creative vibe of this band really flows through me. It’s nice to have different guys around that can maybe bring whatever they do special to the table. I like the makeup of the guys that we’re working with now [bassist Tripp “Lee” Tribbett and drummer Angel Bartolotta]. I like how this record came out. It would be nice to keep it together for the next one, but I’m not gonna hold my breath on it. It’s very likely that one of these guys will have another opportunity or, shit, maybe somebody will have a kid, you know? You can’t predict how it’s gonna happen. So I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and the guys that are here, if they want stay and if things work out, great. If not, there’s a new avenue and a new door and new excitement and enthusiasm.

What has been the key to your partnership with Virus lasting as long as it has?

I just think we have a very similar approach to music. We’re both super, super dedicated and serious, super hard-working. We’re both very musically influenced in lots of different types of music. Dope certainly has a heavy side; we can get it on with the best of them. But we’re also a very song-structure band—three-minute rock songs and our choruses are very obvious, and me and Virus have a very similar taste in that kind of thing. I think we just see it alike. The guy’s great and we’ve been working together for so long that it’s a fairly easy procedure. It rolls real smooth.

You’ve made quite a lot of videos over the years. For Group Therapy, there was one for every song. What about making videos appeals to you?

I just think that it’s a great way to give people a vibe of what you do. I think that especially today where people are so short, their attention spans are so short, I just think that if you can create a visual to the music, it’s just funner. It always has been for me. Group Therapy, that was the darkest time for us. That was coming off the major label, doing a completely independent venture with an unknown label, and I just wanted to do something artistic and do something special that had never really been done before. So that was cool and that was exciting. I wouldn’t want to do it again; it was a tremendous amount of work. But I’m glad I did it, and I’m glad that people took notice of it.

There was a DVD that collected all the videos, but that’s out of print now.

We just made a very short run of those for tour. We’re actually gonna put out a DVD sometime in the next year. It’s gonna be called A Decade of Dope and it’s gonna have all the backstage stuff and all the best of everything we’ve collected over the years. We’ve never actually put out a Dope DVD, so we’re certainly gonna do that.

So you’re heading out before too long on the Black Label Bash for a couple months. What’s the plan for after that?

We’re looking right now. We’re gonna certainly go back out on the road. That’s what it’s all about. So we’re gonna do this Black Label tour and then see what’s next. But I’m sure we’ll be right back out, summertime, doing something cool.

RELATED LINKS: - The Official Site of Dope

Stephen Jensen