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Early Blues Interview

Ruben Dobbs (guitar, slide guitar & vocals) and Joey Mitchell (upright bass & kick drum)

 Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Swampcandy at Bangor on Dee Blues & Real Ale Festival 2013

I met up with Ruben Dobbs and Joey Mitchell on their UK tour at Bangor on Dee Blues & Real Ale Festival.

Alan:    Are you both from Maryland and what are your first musical memories?

Yes both from Maryland Joey Mitchell grew up on Kent Island a water town and Ruben Dobbs grew up on a farm.

 Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Ruben:  My first memory of music was when my mother and I moved away from the farm for a couple of months when I was 5 and this friend of mine had pissed his pants; his father was a violent alcoholic and I heard his father beating him mercilessly while through their neighbours open window blared Afternoon Delight by Starland Vocal Band and to this day that song is very creepy to me.

Joey:    Growing up I had a next door neighbour who was 3 years older than me and really into 80's and early 90's metal and hard rock bands. Him and his brother shared a room and there beds were across from each other. He would put on bands like Skid Row, and Alice In Chains and we would jump on the beds listening to it. From the opposite end of the spectrum I'd run errands with my mom when I was around 5 or 6 and she would always listen to soft rock stations. I heard a lot of Michael Mcdonald, and the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack as a kid.

Alan:    Did you come from a musical family - is there a long musical heritage?

Ruben:  My Grandmother and Uncle Bill took it seriously. She preformed with her sisters at the USO during WWII and wrote all of the school musicals for her children. I owe her credit for everything.

Joey:    My grandmother always gave piano lessons and is a music teacher at a Preschool. I never took advantage of that when I as younger. That's really about it.

Alan:    Did you always want to become a musician?

Ruben:  Since age 11 once I found the right instrument.

 Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Joey:    Music had always been a really important part of my life but I didn't get my first instrument (electric bass) until I was 16, after that it was all I wanted to do. I found a guitar in my attic when I was about 12 and went out and bought strings for it but the neck was so warped it was impossible to play so I just left it for 4 years. 

Alan:    How did you get started in music?

Ruben:  My Grandmother insisted I play an instrument at age 5.

Joey:    I really loved the sound of the bass. Really it was the Alice In Chains song "Would?" which opens with a bass riff. That tone just grabbed me. I went out and bought a squire p-bass and a song book that had that song in it. 

Alan:    What kind of material were you playing in the early days and who were your heroes?

Ruben:  Hendrix, Zepplin, Cream, Jane's Addiction, Pink Floyd.

Joey:    I started playing 90's punk songs, NOFX, Pennywise, Lagwagon etc. I was also really into Incubus (Dirk Lance), Rush (Geddy Lee), and Yes (Chris Squire). 

Alan:    You play blues, jazz, old country, bluegrass, gypsy jazz, folk, rock and everything in between; do you have a favourite music genre?

Ruben:  It is extremely dependent on my mood so the answer is not really.

Joey:    I don't know if you could say favourite genre but jazz is really where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. It's the one that gets me to that mental state while playing where everything else drops away and the instrument starts to play itself. If I could only listen to one artist for the rest of my life it would be Bill Evans. He always had the most incredible bassists too, Lafaro, Gomez, Johnson.... 

Alan:    What music style influences your creative ability the most?

Ruben:  1920-30's Mississippi Delta Blues.

Joey:    Really everything. I feel like the best Swampcandy gigs happen after I've spent the day practicing, and it doesn't matter too much what, jazz, classical, pop, whatever.

Alan:    Tell me a little about your musical journey so far prior to forming Swampcandy, the bands, gigs and albums along the way.

Ruben:  My first real band (Fungo Bat) I was trying to push boundaries a lot of linear writing grunge meets Zappa. My second was (Feed Bag) a more song oriented attempt at a grunge sound. Then came Dingleberry Dynasty. That was Zappa like comedy rock skit/opera. Finally (Burn The Fields) commercial hard rock. It became more about what we looked like than the songs we wrote. Snoop Dog was looking to sign us. I just lost my stomach for it and wanted to get back to the real reason I started playing in the first place so I quit and went head long into Swampcandy as a solo endeavour until Joey came along .... now it's a band.

Joey:    I've done everything I possibly could. I've been a part of rock bands, acoustic cover duos, jazz groups, pop bands, country bands, Americana bands, wedding bands. I did orchestra in college. It all has given me something. The pop country band for example was one of the best as well as off the wall decisions I've made. It was never a style I was personally into but I gained to much from it. I learned a lot about song form and hearing chord progressions. That band also introduced me to Brian Forte who I still play with constantly in another band back home called Mixed Business. The main songwriter from that band, Jen Van Meter, introduced me to Ruben which got me started with Swampcandy.  

 Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

Alan:    When and where did you first meet and what inspired you to get together as a band?

Ruben:  I went to see Jen play at a local bar after our band (Eighty1south) split up. She had been doing gigs with Ruben and he happened to be on this particular one. I had just started playing bass drum along with my upright bass with another group and I thought that the direction I was going in would work well with what he was doing. I approached him initially just to get some extra gigs but it quickly turned into something more. 

Alan:    Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?

Ruben:  Everything that catches my ear. I love music and bands for so many different reasons even stuff I hate I like aspects of and it all influences me.

Joey:    My playing has been heavily influenced by John Paul Jones, Ray Brown, Scott Lafaro, Dave Holland, James Jamerson, and whoever else I've transcribed. I've never really written alone, I'm always overly critical of my ideas. When I'm writing with someone I can't really explain it. Ideas just come. 

Alan:    Looking back on your career so far, what are your fondest memories?

Ruben:  The fist time playing in front of a large audience when I was 13. Writing Producing and Performing a Rock opera. Our first UK Tour 3 years ago and Recording our last Album.

Joey:    The festivals have definitely been the most fun shows to play. Silopanna in Annapolis was a definite high point. It's been great touring all of these places that I would otherwise never know or see.  

 Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:    What guitars/bass/drum kit do you play and which is your favourite?

Ruben:  Luna Resonator, and Gretsch Synchomatic arch top.

Joey:    With this band I play a 1944 Kay 5-string upright. Usually I just run direct with my fishman DI if the system has subs. If not I have an Aguilar DB 410 cab and a GK MB800 head that I'm really happy with. My kick drum is a percussion plus. It's a super cheap drum that I got when I traded my friend a skateboard ramp for his drum kit. I put some Evans EMAD heads on it and it sounds great. 

Alan:    Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?

Ruben:  I write a lot so those all mean a lot to me but I guess "If you see my baby" is the one that made us become a band so it carries a bit more weight in my heart.

Joey:    "If you see my baby" definitely shows off a lot of our tempo and groove shifts. It evolved over time into something we're really proud to perform.

Alan:    You mainly tour the US with (thankfully) some trips over the water to the UK, how healthy do you think the blues/music scene is in the UK compared with the US?

 Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Ruben:  Apples and Oranges. I think it is healthy in both areas but I think the audiences look for and take away different experiences from festivals.

Joey:    It's hard to compare for me. I'm not sure how blues sits popularity-wise in comparison to other forms of music in the UK. It's evolved in the US into more of a rock feel, i.e. White Stripes, Black Keys. From what I've seen it seems that there has been a little more appreciation for what we do in the UK. I think that in order to be successful you have to have a fan base that reaches out beyond fans of blues. Hopefully we're doing that too.  

Alan:    Tell me about the making of your fourth and latest album 'Midnight Creep/Noonday Stomp": mainly originals with some covers; where was it made; who produced it; any guest appearances?

Ruben:  It grew legs and started to run away with us we recorded 1/2 in a barn and the other half in a Mansion... Honestly it is a long interesting story and hard to explain there is an entire documentary made about the making of this album. will take you to it. 

Alan:    How do you see the future of live music?

Ruben:  People will always seek authenticity I think live music will be around as long as humans can bang on something and make sounds.

Joey:    I don't think recorded music can ever replace the experience of being there. If you're putting something out there worth seeing people will be there. 

Alan:    You are now coming to the end of your UK tour then it's back to the States, what are your future plans / gigs / tours / albums?

Ruben:  The entire East Coast 2 to 3 times a year. Record a new studio album straight away from June - August. Get as many festivals as possible.

Joey:    Get the new album done. Hopefully we can get that recorded in the next 4 or 5 months. We're just trying to grow right now. More tours, festivals etc.  

Alan:    When are you coming back to the UK?

Ruben:  I only know one thing for sure we will be back at the Bangor on Dee Real Ale and Blues Fest. As soon as Pete Evans gives us a date we will book as many shows as we can in and around it..... we haven't even left yet and we can't wait to return.

Joey:    We'll be back next year. This time was 2 weeks, next time hopefully we can double that. We love it here!



CD available from their website:

Check out Midnight Creep Documentary:

Check out Swampcandy on YouTube:

Remainder of their UK 2013 Tour:
Wed May 22 08:00 PM
The Commercial in Wrexham
Thu May 23  08:00 PM
The Lord Nelson in Hythe, Hampshire
(this gig in place of The Hanger Farms Arts Centre gig)

Check out Swampcandy at a gig near you, they are a mighty fine band
  -  Alan white,


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Text (this page) Copyright 2013 Alan White, Ruben Dobbs and Joey Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.
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