In today’s jam scene there are plenty of bands to see and hear. Oliver Wendell Holmes once made the statement that “you could not throw a stone on Boston Common without caroming on three poets, two essayists and a playwright”. It is all too easy to attribute a similar statement to the jam scene now. Mediocre bands are a dime a dozen but much like The Hundred Point Man Elbert Hubbard once so eloquently described in his essay of the same name, a Great Band is not nearly so common.
After a couple weeks of back and forth phone calls and texting, Chris Houser, guitarist from The Werks, made arrangements for the band to meet with me for an interview at the 8 x 10 in Baltimore, Md. After a hurried drive to Baltimore and a 15 block walk from the hotel I arrived at the start of their sound check.
I love music, but for me a sound check does not nearly qualify as such, however, when I heard The Werks start trading licks I was surprisingly satisfied with my auditory stimulus. This went on for a few minutes until the moment was interrupted by two fellas stepping outside to presumably smoke a ciggie…
One fellow was wearing a heady California Grass Roots cap and the other was wearing a sweater that looked to be of cashmere quality yet worn with a humble sensibility. Both were red eyed and both appeared to be anticipating the evening as much as I. They spoke amongst themselves, occasionally glancing over at me, which didn’t strike me as odd, until I overheard one of them saying, “I think that might be Taco, the guy doing the interview…”
I immediately asked if they were with the band and introduced myself. They then replied in a manner reminiscent of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, not because either appeared silly but due to a Mad Hatter hat pin staring me in the face and also because they replied in stereo with, “Which one?”
“The Werks” I replied slightly confused. The taller gentleman lacking the heady head ware simply said, “Good to meet you, follow me” and quickly ushered me through the door. They introduced themselves as Owen Gray and Donald Roof. Donald is The Werks tour manager and Owen is their booking agent. They quietly whisked me past the stage where the band greeted me with wide toothy grins, something I notch up to a sign of genuine human beings.
After the sound check and much banter between Owen, Donald and I; the band filed into the small green room of the 8 x 10, formally introducing themselves as they passed. Dino Dimitrouleas, the bass player, bounded in, slouching forward as he passed through the door due to his stature. His voice was baritone and full but still welcoming. Chris followed close behind, greeting me as if we were old friends with a smile full of life and an embrace warm and knowing. Rob Chafin, the incredibly talented drummer quietly entered the room, a picture of humility and a voice full of love. A few moments later, as they settled into different chairs around the room, Norman Dimitrouleas sauntered in, the man on the keys. He introduced himself as an old friend and from beneath his long, dark hair there was a twinkle in his eye denoting his status as a veteran rager. He was there to party with Baltimore and I could only hope the crowd could handle the frenetic energy that would soon be pouring from his fingertips…
At what point did each of you realize that this is what you wanted to do with your life?
Chris: For me, it was when dreams that I had had, things that I actually dreamt about doing we had actually started doing, like that first show with Ekoostik Hookah at the Newport.
Dino: That was in 2007
Chris: Yeah 2007, the first time we opened up for Ekoostik Hookah, I realized “Hey this is my work. Let’s do this!”
When did each of you meet; was it in a professional sense?
Dino: We actually all met at the same time which is kind of funny because we actually didn’t start the band at the same time, but there was a battle of the bands for UD Dayton, Ohio and our old band, me and my brother, we had another band before the works and Rob’s band was playing at the event as well…
Chris: and I was just a spectator, I was there to vote for my other buddy’s band The Goods, even though I knew all the other guys except for Rob.
Dino: That was the first time we all met each other and it was really random, we all met at the same time and years later Norman joined the band then years later I joined the band and then it just kind of worked out.
Chris: We had actually started from that night that’s where I saw Chuck, me and our old bassist. We saw Rob’s band, we were about to lose our drummer, they were about to lose their bass player and guitar player, so we saw each other at a party later on that week and said “Let’s start jamming, let’s see what happens.” That’s kind of where The Werks started.
Coming up in the Dayton area, seems evident in your music. You had Bootsy’s Rubber Band, The Ohio Players, Zapp… real funky, ass shakin’ kind of music! But other than that what aspect of your lives while growing up there influenced your music?
Rob: It’s kind of like a melting pot. They call it the heart of it all and it really is the test market of the country. When I was growing up I was listening to all kinds of music, and being immersed in different styles.
Dino: And I think the whole Dayton area has a really unique sound cause there’s other bands that have come up and fallen out or whatever or still playing right now that have similar styles to what we’re doing. It’s just kind of the style of that area. There’s an Ohio jam sound that is out there….we were influenced by it and we apply that influence to our music and we embrace and hold true to it. It’s really cool to know that that’s kind of the Ohio sound right there
Does that push you to be more on point coming from that area?
(Everyone) Oh yeah, yeah.
Chris: It’s not like there’s an instant fan base involved when we say “Oh we’re from Dayton, Ohio”. We had to ya know, try that much harder unlike a band coming out of Nashville, they’ll say “Oh you’re from Nashville”; instead it’s like “Dayton, Ohio, where the hell is that?”
Norman: We invented the airplane man! Give Dayton some credit!
During your shows do you run with some type of Zappa type hand signaling or are you guys just intuitive enough to know?
Dino: It works both ways, depends on the night. There are some nights where we’re feeling saucy and we want to call out changes and we’re wanting to mix it up and Rob will signal Norman or Norman will signal Houser or vice versa.
Chris: Or I will signal to Norman to switch to major or minor, sometimes we’ll both turn around and be like “yep we’re gonna go back”. You just feel it. We have some signals that we still use.
Dino: For the most part it is feel. When we’re jamming we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve played long enough with each other that we can kind of feel where the music is going and what direction we’re taking it and Rob’s doing this and let me see if I can do this and Norm’s doing that let me see if I can play over that. Most of it’s feeling but there’s nights when we feel saucy and want to mix it up even more than we normally do and try to throw some signals out there and really get out there and mix it up.
Because of you guys being in the Ohio area, is that what helped you guys merge so many genres under one flag of a really great, unique sound?
Norman: I think it’s because we all grew up listening and playing different music.
Chris: We all like different aspects of different genres of music and we all take our favorite parts of those different genres and incorporate them into our style. Because it’s what we like to hear that’s pretty much what we’re playing, stuff that we would be listening to that gets us moving
So your music doesn’t adhere to any strict ideology of music like “It must sound this way”?
Dino: We kind of throw the rule book away when it comes to that stuff, ya know we all listen and like types of music between the four of us, and I think the really cool thing about it is that we respect each other enough cause we’re all songwriters. So Houser comes up with a song, or Norman comes up with a song, or I come up with a song, we all respect each other enough even if we don’t particularly like it when they first bring up the song. We’re all open to the idea, we work on it we try to bold it and incorporate our personal influences into it and you’d be surprised how many of these songs come in as one idea, and then by the time we play it sounds completely different than when the person brought it to the table in the first place. It just kind of morphs and grows and we just kind of put our own little flavor on it, which is really cool because ya have this idea in your head for a song and you bring it to the table and then all of a sudden it sounds different than what you expected. Some people would get mad about that but I think we respect each other and like each other enough to the point where we’re comfortable with the song morphing and growing and changing to because we want to play to everyone’s strengths within the band. I think it’s really cool how the music comes together like that.
You guys have definitely sparked a fire it seems. The band is on this meteoric rise on the jam scene at the moment. So far, what do you guys love the most about the jam scene?
Rob: People watching!
Chris Houser: The energy that you get back from the crowds so often when they feel we’re having a good time, you look down and they’re having a good time, that makes us happy. It’s an even better time when it reciprocates. You’re able to come out here and do what we love, and if it wasn’t for the jam scene we wouldn’t be able to do that, ya know. That’s one of the most amazing things about this and that there are so many kids getting down to the music that we’re making…ya know, it’s… extremely encouraging.
I really like the fact that although we’re labeled as like a jam band or like jam rock or whatever you want to call it. There really are no rules to our genre. Ya know we could come and play a pop song or we played a Rage Against the Machine song the other night ya know what I mean? We can do…
Chris: We also did it last night!
Dino: So you know the whole idea that you can expect the unexpected, you can get away with anything when you’re playing this genre. The people, the crowds embrace it too. I love that aspect of this genre, that you’re not pigeon holed into a certain style like “well this is forbidden or that is forbidden.”
Chris: I don’t know so much about the statement “you can get away with anything.” I think it’s more like… everyone is open to experimentation. Like in an experiment you twist the knobs, tinker with the formula or whatever.
Dino: Obviously we can’t play like shit! (laughter)
Chris: It’s relative, you can color outside the lines.
Rob: The main thing about the jam scene is the dedication of the fans. They’re so dedicated and about the music. They have so much loyalty and it’s really cool to see that in today’s fast food culture. You see people that are coming out for the third show this week with us, and that’s really cool too you know!
Dino: I can’t tell you how much it makes you smile when people are like “I just drove four hours to see you guys” and we only had an hour and a half set and they said it was worth it. They’re like “I would do it again in a second!” When you hear that it just puts a smile on your face and it just reaffirms everything that you’re doing out here, it really does.
Any bands or artists out there that you guys dream of collaborating with?
Norman: Yeah actually man, I’d love to collaborate with Ray LaMontagne.
Dino: I like to collaborate with everybody. We played with this band Kung Fu for these last couple shows, and we got to know those guys. They came up and played a couple songs with us last night and I mean, just meeting this musicians we get to hear so much great music because of what we do. We get to see so many great bands and see so many great acts. There’s so many bands out there that you don’t even know about that you see them and you immediately like them and want to collaborate with them, and that’s the thing about this whole scene, this jam scene that we’re in. It’s the collaboration and the camaraderie between the bands and I can’t tell you how many bands we met that are just humble people, ya know so down to earth. They’re doing the same thing you’re doing and they want to play and they want to hang out. It’s really, it’s a very family…if you’re in this scene, if you’re in this genre you’re like a part of the family, and the family feel of it is very amazing to me.
I’m 37 years old and it’s kept me coming back for 20+ years, ya know? (laughter) What is your dream venue?
Rob: Red Rocks for me
Dino: I gotta say Red Rocks too
Chris: Yeah man, that’s pretty good. We’re, uh…
I’m losing a bet right now (laughter)
Dino: I would love red rocks, I would love … I would also love Madison square garden. I mean, in my opinion, if you play Madison square garden, at that point. I mean, you’re done, you have arrived. I mean everyone wants to know when you’ve arrived, it’s when you can play Madison square garden on your own two feet, you have arrived! You know what I’m saying? That venue does not come easy, not at all. (laughs)
What is the outlook for Werk Out 2012? Any definitive changes in the ways that things get quote un-quote “Werked Out?”
Rob: The venue has changed…
Norman: Yeah it’s going to be the new venue this year, Legend Valley, Buckeye Lake, the same place where All Good is held this year.
In your travels thus far, where was your favorite show and why?
Dino: Musically or just in general?
Just in general, where you raged the hardest…
Chris: Bluebird, Bluebird was pretty awesome.
Dino: That was a lot of fun… any time you go out to Colorado, it’s a really good time. We had a really good time out there in Colorado; really every show has a unique story
Norm: Even like strange places like Nebraska, they party, they rage! West Virginia, Morgantown, which was wonderful.
Dino: We love the Cooter Crew! The Coots in Morgantown, WV are so much fun!
Rob: I’ll tell you where we always love going, and that’s Kentucky. I mean whenever we go to Kentucky, those people get crazy down there!
Chris: Lexington and Louisville and Covington, they’re some crazy kids.
Chris: It’s a radical situation like, everyone’s just going crazy. That’s how it was in West Virginia this week. Everyone was off their rockers!
(The interview was interrupted for a safety meeting followed by a conversation about Granddaddy Purp)
Last question, has anyone here had anyone in the crowd yell “Take your pants off?”
Rob: Uh, No! (laughter) There have been people who had sex in front of my drum set.
Chris: There are plenty of people that will insistently talk to you, like they’re expecting to have a conversation with you while you’re playing a song, awkward shout-outs. The worst one is when someone says “hey, can I come up there and sing?” It’s like, do you think that we suck at singing or do you really think that you can come up here and sing?
And even more laughter….
INTERVIEW AND ARTICLE BY TACO