Photo credit: Mike Smith
Singer-songwriters Chadwick Stokes and Brad Corrigan discuss their latest Dispatch album, set for release on May 25.
Through the years, Dispatch laid out the blueprint for roots rock domination for other bands to follow—through only word-of-mouth and file-sharing, independently, without the help of signing to a major record label. The band’s music is amplified with elements of everything from reggae to folk.
Dispatch’s subject matter eventually veered into political territory, and they became increasingly aware of social issues like world poverty and mass incarceration. The band members launched a series of organizations to tackle issues such as poverty and education, given a personal connection to Zimbabwe: The Elias Fund, which assists impoverished countries such as Zimbabwe; The Dispatch Foundation and Amplifying Education, an effort to boost education resources for children. Dispatch also donated proceeds to the Last Prisoner Project and issued ticket sales that benefited other good causes.
One specific concert in particular will live in infamy: Dispatch’s “final” concert at the Hatch Shell in Boston, Massachusetts on July 31, 2004, called “The Last Dispatch,” which became one of the largest indie rock concerts of all time. While only 10,000 to 30,000 people were expected to show up, an estimated 166,000 people showed up—a massive audience, over a third of the estimated size of Woodstock.
Fortunately, the band members got the itch to make music together again, and the hiatus was over by 2011. Dispatch’s eighth studio album, Break Our Fall, drops May 28 on Bomber Records/AWALRecordings, and is available for preorder now. Fans who preorder the album before Friday, May 14 at 5 p.m. ET will gain automatic entry into the “Break Our Fall Sessions” in which they can join a behind-the-scenes conversation about the making of the album, get a chance to engage with the band members directly, and be the first fans to hear some of the new songs played live. Sessions will begin June 1.
Dispatch founding members Chadwick “Chetro” Stokes and Brad “Braddigan” Corrigan (who use their nicknames as solo acts) took the time to chat with DOPE about their new album, overcoming boundaries and surfing.
Your new album, Break Our Fall, will be out on May 28. How would you describe the direction/theme of the new album?
Corrigan: Because we weren’t able to release the record last year, we had to decide if we were going to hold on to it for a year or two, or parse it out and release it bit-by-bit while we’re in pandemic mode. It’s evolved from a pre-tour album that was going to come out, to a larger project that we could revisit four of five songs that Chad and I really had a knack for but hadn’t finished with the original iteration of the album, so Chad and I went back in and recorded and finished out those songs until we have 15 songs, and the plan was to release three songs at a time, five times, and we’d still remain connected with our fans in some way throughout the COVID era.
It’s a pretty broad landscape of songwriting. Chad is mid-40s with three kiddos and has been for quite some time. I’m new to being married and have a six-month-old. I think Chad and I are in—I hate to say it—middle life when we’re in this place where we can look back and see a ton, and we can look forward and see how the decisions we make now impact our kids. I think bigger questions are asked on this record, and taking inventory of all the political shit that we’ve come through and the gun violence that’s still affecting us like a plague.
Many musicians—and creative people in general—describe that writing and performing a song is one way to process pain/trauma. Is this true in your cases?
Stokes: It’s definitely true. A lot of pain comes from loss, from friends and family who have died too young. And it really feels like an attempt at least to connect with whatever is beyond this life we’re here on earth for. I also find comfort in that, but I also find with the stuff that we hold: We’re angry or sad; it’s definitely a way to get that out of our heads, our hearts. It helps in that way, just to let it out as opposed from letting us stew inside. I definitely think there is some catharsis and hopeful communication.
Emily Lazar, who has worked with everyone from David Bowie to Dolly Parton, mastered the album?
Corrigan: We did not work with her closely, but Emily is amazing at adding that final polish to make a cohesive record. Who we really worked with creatively was John Dragonetti and Mike Sawitzke. This is our third record with them. An amazing production team.
Stokes: John Dragonetti is in the band Submarines and Jack Drag. Mike Sawitzke—who is in Dispatch now—was in The Eels for many years, and those two are the production side. But on the mixing side, we have Danny Molad, and that’s how we got to Emily. He’s the drummer in Lucius. Lives in Mafra, Texas. Between working with the three other names we mentioned, that’s good company—nice folks to work with.
In the “Born on Earth” music video, there is some surfing action going on.
Stokes: Oh yeah. Shredding. Getting barrelled. [laughing]
What places do you like to surf?
Corrigan: Wait until you hear all of the amazing places I’ve surfed as the beginner-washed-up-on-the surf boy. Nicaragua is probably the best place I’ve ever surfed. I go down there a bunch with a nonprofit that I work with. The waves are incredible. But Chad and I together have been in very, very cold water on both coasts. We’re just scrappy, love-to-be-in-the-waves guys. As far as good surfers, we’re probably just the ones who get in their way. I’ve surfed in Japan and Australia. Chad and I surfed together in Australia when we went to a really cool festival there. We’ve been in a lot of great water, but we haven’t been barrelled as much as we’d like to think.
Stokes: My little brother—who’s actually surfing now—is quite good. He said, “Why even show you guys [where to go]? There are so many other musicians who surf now.” The water was cold and the waves just weren’t that big today. Willie’s surfing right now in [Rhode Island]. Brad’s a West Coast surfer and I’m an East Coast surfer, but we managed to get along.
Corrigan: We have these awkward longboards. Normally, we’d be on shorter boards.
“I find that when I’m high, I think what I’m writing is really good, but then I listen later, and it’s terrible. I would say listening is brought to new levels, but when I’m actually writing, often what I think seems really good, I get so psyched about it in that moment, but the next day, I’ll listen to a voice memo, and it’s usually disappointing. It goes both ways.” —Chad Stokes
What has changed in the recording mechanics since becoming a duo of founding members? Like, do you record more layers?
Stokes: It really felt like our continuing to play without Pete was a huge wrench and a huge soul-searching moment for the band: Whether to continue. How to continue. How to fill Pete’s shoes. How to honor Pete. It’s been a tough time for Brad and I, figuring out how to continue. For Pete, how to live his life without the identity that we all have been given as teenagers. I think by adding our friends JR, Mike Sawitzke, and Matt Embree, and kind of being more deliberate with our album-making process, and how we choose songs, we came into a chapter that was unlike much of what we’ve done in the past. And that started in 2016. So where you mentioned a duo, Brad and I are the two remaining founding members, it’s still very much a collaboration, not only with JR, Mike Sawitzke, and Matt Embree, but also with John Dragonetti, who has been our producer for the last three albums. It doesn’t feel so much like a duo, although we’ve had to do stuff like this. When we do interviews with the whole band, it’s usually Brad and I doing the talking anyways.
You’ve participated in lots of social issues in places such as Zimbabwe or Nicaragua. Do you feel it’s important for performers to become involved in social justice and have some kind of giveback component?
Corrigan: I think it goes back to your question about how we process pain or trauma or really harsh things that we’ve experienced firsthand. We’re connected to Zimbabwe because Chad lived there for six months and connected really deeply with one particular friend over there. Through that relationship, he had a pretty good sense of how to write the song “Elias,” so that we could remember that one friend and stay connected in some way. I’ve been in and out of Central America and South America for the last 20 years, and witnessing the level of poverty that we’ve seen there, some of the violence is more overt there.
I think Chad and I are always trying to be cautious that we don’t strongarm people who are listening to our music. It’s not us telling people what to think or feel. But I think if we can catch some of that catharsis that Chad mentioned, in a song, personally, but also create some doorway or questions in a song, where other people, if they really want to go a little bit deeper than just listening. Maybe they are able to find a path into Zimbabwe and to be educated on what’s going on there. Songs can be an end to themselves, and not really have an invitation, or they can be a gateway. You can tell when an artist feels like they have to be connected to something, and if they take a stand too soon, and haven’t connected with the community they are trying to support, and what the problems and solutions are for that particular community’s perspective, that’s where I think we fall flat as people of influence. To speak on behalf of someone else is a bit of a mess. But the more the artistic community can authentically connect with community issues, I think it’s awesome.
On a personal level, does cannabis play a role in the brainstorming process or in the studio?
Stokes: I find that when I’m high, I think what I’m writing is really good, but then I listen later, and it’s terrible. I would say listening is brought to new levels, but when I’m actually writing, often what I think seems really good, I get so psyched about it in that moment, but the next day, I’ll listen to a voice memo, and it’s usually disappointing. It goes both ways. Cannabis is good for input, but it’s not so helpful for output. It also makes me a little delusional.
Corrigan: I think it can be helpful in finding influence, really being open and seeing things in a new light, but any time I’ve been under the influence performing or writing, I sort of want this sober connection to the lyric or the chord, or the drum beat on stage. I feel the same way about it as an athlete. If I went snowboarding after a couple of beers, I couldn’t stand it, but I’d rather snowboard completely sober. I like feeling completely connected to [the music] that way.
Stokes: When I smoke weed—especially these days—it’s such an inward journey that I literally cannot carry on a conversation.
Corrigan: Bye, bye Chad!
Stokes: It just holds that place for me now. Back in the day, it was so much easier to be social. We used to have laughing fits. But now, I just travel inward into the eternal.
So many festivals were delayed in 2020 and now. Are you excited about live events slowly trickling back into life?
Corrigan: We’re super excited. Our challenge is trying to figure it out. We can’t wait to be able to play, but at the same time, we want to play when it’s really safe and appropriate to be inviting people to come out. It’s a fine line. I hope there are some one-off festivals that happen soon. That there’s a way to safely play. The virtual thing—which is great—is not so fulfilling. It’s going to feel so good to reconnect with our bandmates and connect that way.
Stokes: Another thing that links inextricably to cannabis and playing live is we’re fully behind the Last Prisoner Project. We did one virtual festival on behalf of those who are behind bars for smoking weed and for marijuana possession. We really believe that weed should be legalized. It’s been nice to know that the music community is rallying that way. Obviously, there is so much more that we can be doing. It’s definitely something that Brad and I really care about.
“Mass incarceration seems to be at the root of social injustice as opposed from all the other issues at the surface. Almost everything touches back to mass incarceration. We’ve done a little bit to tackle domestic hunger over the years. We’ve looked at inequities in education. Most of those issues are connected to mass incarceration. We’re so grateful to the cannabis community and the Last Prisoner Project to be a part of our education process and awakening. We hope that all of us can help to create some reform in our country.” —Brad Corrigan
What has the band been doing lately?
Corrigan: We’re trying to bring the full weight of our band and touring. Anything that we do brings a better understanding of the problem with mass incarceration. The Last Prisoner Project was really helpful to us to have a clear narrow picture, particularly with cannabis, of how horrific our country has been in the way we imprison [people who are involved with cannabis]. We’re in a place in our career when we’re trying to bring some things to light, at the very least. We’re not experts about any solution.
Mass incarceration seems to be at the root of social injustice as opposed from all the other issues at the surface. Almost everything touches back to mass incarceration. We’ve done a little bit to tackle domestic hunger over the years. We’ve looked at inequities in education. Most of those issues are connected to mass incarceration. We’re so grateful to the cannabis community and the Last Prisoner Project to be a part of our education process and awakening. We hope that all of us can help to create some reform in our country.
Stokes: In an article we read, the author was saying that we don’t need reform—we need a whole new system. As long as smoking weed is a crime, or having however many ounces is a crime, it will be punished like a crime. We have to go further back to try to come up with a new system altogether.
What about the Break Our Fall Sessions?
Corrigan: We’re doing some sessions where we are being interviewed by an old friend via Zoom. We’ll have up to 500 people at a time. It’s a Q&A about the album and some of the experience recording it, and then we play a few songs at the end of it.
Stokes: It’s just meant to be a time where we can finally reconnect with fans and create an open forum to talk through the record.