Rob Compa of Dopapod: Making it Up as They Go
Apr 27, 2017 04:00PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Photo by Dani Brandwein
Dopapod is what most people call a “jam band”, but that moniker undersells the utter talent these musicians possess. You aren’t going to find the same four cords that make up virtually every pop song in the last half-century with some indistinguishable electronic sound thrown in for the hook. Instead, the music of Dopapod is immense, intricate, innovative, and invigorating.
This four-piece band formed out of Berklee College of Music in Boston and includes Eli Winderman on keyboards/vocals, Chuck Jones slapping the bass guitar, Neal “Fro” Evans on drums, and Rob Compa playing lead guitar while contributing to vocals as well. Dopapod began playing shows as an instrumental band but later branched into adding lyrics. They have since released a total of five albums with no intention of stopping anytime soon.
“I did notice that once we added lyrics we started to have more fans and play bigger shows. That could be because of the lyrics and catchier songs, but could also be the hard work of touring starting to pay off.”- Rob Compa
Over the past four years, Dopapod has played over 150 shows including numerous festival appearances at Wakarusa, Summer Camp, Electric Forest, Camp Bisco, Peach Fest, and Gathering of the Vibes.
Dopapod is known for composing music live, onstage. It takes an incredible amount of musicianship to play as a cohesive whole on the fly and that is exactly Dopapod’s specialty. Hearing them find their footing and queue into a jam is as exhilarating as the song progresses almost like a story.
A Dopapod show is a unique experience and worth attending even if just for the spectacle of it all. Dopapod will be performing at Baltimore Sound Stage Saturday, April 29th, 8 p.m. Tickets are $14.30 in advance and $16.50 day of show.
I’m interested in Dopapod’s origin. Could you elaborate on how the group met and what prompted forming a band?We all went to Berklee College of Music in Boston and met there. Chuck Jones, our bassist, and Eli Winderman, our keyboardist, actually met while in high school at a Berklee summer camp.
I personally met Eli in a reggae assemble at Berklee. It’s kind of funny, our first gig together was something as different as reggae music. Dopapod started as a duo that I joined, followed by Chuck, and finally Neil Evans came along later, starting on percussion, but eventually moving to drums.
Dopapod’s songs sound large, complex, and often meld various genres into one. What is the song-writing process like when composing a piece like this? Is it a group effort or individual?There is no “one” formula. If there was, we’d have way more songs. In reality, every single song is different. Sometimes you do have those moments where everything just works and a song comes together like magic. However, most are tough to work out.
“Superbowl”, which is a song coming out on the next album, took a year of writing and moving pieces around musically before it was finished. But, then again, I think there is a lot of truth to the old adage; “is a song ever really done?” because you could always change it somehow. Our approach is to do the best we can and work our butts off until its good enough.
Usually a new song starts with Eli. He will produce a demo and play out the idea on keyboard and I’ll write the lyrics. Then, when we aren’t touring, he will drive to my apartment and we’ll write stuff together during the day. Sometimes it comes together and others times it isn’t good enough and we never play it again. We could write ten songs and maybe two of them are keepers. The trick is recognizing the keepers.
Dopapod has released five albums so far. As a band, is it ever difficult to write new and original music together after creating so much already?There is deep well of creativity and material in us, you just have to find it. Which has never been easy for me. I’m not a natural writer or an idea man and honestly, I just like helping the band out by playing guitar. Writing new music/lyrics isn’t something I work at every day, so it’s often very difficult. But, sometimes I get lucky.
For example, Eli wrote music for the song “Picture and Picture” on our last album. I don’t like to write songs about normal things because that’s too boring for me. I was really nervous that my next-door neighbor might have been a serial killer at the time, so I wrote about that. The time from the pencil hitting paper to a complete song was ten minutes. It was a break through moment.
Breakthrough moments are funny to me because they are like two steps forward, one step back. I can wake up one day and have a hard time song-writing. Then, I’ll have a breakthrough moment like I mentioned before. The next day, it will be just as hard to write a song as it was two days prior. It comes and goes, but always seems to be an arduous process.
One aspect of a live Dopapod performance that fans love is the on stage improvisation. How do you communicate with each other musically while improvising live?The funny thing about music schools is that they teach music differently. Luckily, we all went to the same school and were taught the same way. Musically, we speak the same language. That combined with performing together for so long, we know each other’s habits. We can anticipate things like chord progression and solo’s reliably. We also have hand signals to help with changing chord progressions as well. It isn’t a perfect system, but I like it that way because it’s fun to work it out on stage.
Recently we started using talk-back mics. This way we can just talk to each other to coordinate a jam in a way the audience can’t hear. But, I’m not a huge fan of that because it’s distracting and takes away the imperfection, which is my favorite part. It may sound corny, but I love that we know our instruments well enough to talk to each other through them on stage and have that be part of the show. I guess it is like a Spiderman thing; “With great power comes great responsibility”. We have to be careful not to over-rely on the talk back mics.
Dopapod is coming to Baltimore on the last stop of a 26 show tour. How do you bring so much energy to each show night after night? Do you ever start to burn out near the end?Oh yeah, you burn out. You know how distance runner’s experience a runner’s high? Our playing gets like that once we have been playing for so long and the performance can benefit greatly from that. Others times it sucks playing tired and honestly that can affect our performance. I feel sorry for the fans when that happens, but I never want to pretend to have fun. Instead, I try to go and figure out what it will take for me to actually have fun on stage. But, it’s hard on the nights where what’s fun is sleeping seven hours and you want a pillow more than a microphone.
Do you have a favorite musician that you would like to jam with on stage, but haven’t gotten the opportunity?Oh there’s a lot man. Like dream scenario, I’ll say Jimmy Herring of Wide Spread Panic. He is an amazing guitar player that I admire. I’m also a big Phish fan, so anyone of those guys would be cool.
I’ve read you guys have played music festivals like Electric Forest and Camp Bisco. What is the experience like performing at a large festival vs. a smaller venue, like Soundstage in Baltimore for example?They are very different. Festivals are a world wind experience. You show up and it’s just hectic. There’s people everywhere and you only get maybe half an hour to set your equipment up. Playing for bigger crowds is fun, but we have to play abridged versions of our songs. However, I suppose that is better because the crowd is more likely to be seeing the band for the first time, so the sample platter is better for them than the all you can eat buffet.
Conversely, at a local venue you get plenty of time to set up. We usually play two sets, so it’s nice to have plenty of time to stretch out and really provide a unique experience for the fans that came out to see us.