Every once in a great while, when the timing is right, great players assemble, the stars align and a great rock record is born. Such is the case with Dunsmuir’s self-titled debut album, which is set to be released July 22 via Hall Of Records and will be released digitally via iTunes only. This powerhouse outfit was born back in 2013 when Neil Fallon (Clutch) joined forces with Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath and Heaven and Hell), Brad Davis (Fu Manchu) and Dave Bone (The Company Band). Over the past few years, this motley crew of gifted musicians have poured their heart and soul into a concept album, which tells the tale of the various fates met by the survivors of a 19th century shipwreck. What was intended as a voyage of scientific discovery, quickly devolves into a struggle to survive the natural world and the supernatural. Offering a wild and satisfying ride both lyrically and musically, the album is nothing short of a heavy metal masterpiece. The LP, a true labor of love by the band members and a testament to the DIY spirit of all involved, the album will be limited to a pressing of 1,000 copies with a signed lithograph poster of the album cover and available only at this location – Click here. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with fellow Maryland native Neil Fallon to discuss his musical roots, the lessons he has learned along the way, what went into bringing Dunsmuir’s debut album to life and what the future may hold for this amazing new musical endeavor.
Let’s start at the beginning. What turned you on to music early in life and impacted you?
I think my dad’s record collection was what got me started. In hindsight, I can say it wasn’t anything exotic. I think it was probably typical of people his age. It had a lot of Beatles, Roy Orbison, Fleetwood Mac and I listened to a lot of that. Later on, when I got into junior high, I got introduced to the bad kid down the street who listened to Black Flag. That was a bit of a revelation. I listened to a lot of that and pretty much anything else I could get my hands on.
Was there a point when you knew music was something you had to pursue?
I knew, at best, what I had to pursue was something creative, whether it be music or something in the arts at any capacity. That is where my passion lies, creating something from the imagination. Music was not something I was schooled in. I think, early on, I certainly joined the band because it was fun. I didn’t have the slightest inkling I would make a living doing it.
I enjoyed watching you as a frontman for Clutch all these years. Who impacted you and what you do in that capacity?
I think as far as bands go and the impact they had on me, I think Bad Brains really blew me away at a very impressionable age, along with [Henry] Rollins. I never really knew what to do with myself and, still to this day, I am a bit self-conscious about it. I don’t envision myself as the frontman who puts his foot up on the monitor and thinks of himself as a golden god. I show up on stage with a great deal of humility but Clutch music is meant to be danced to and I think I just end up doing that by default.
What went into finding your creative voice early on in your career?
Starting out coming from a hardcore punk rock background, I had never tried singing anytime prior. I certainly wasn’t in the school chorus but I listened to a lot of Chuck D and Public Enemy. That may be counter-intuitive but I realized rhythm is something I could do and I had a knack for that as opposed to melody. The other character that kind of split my wig was Tom Waits because his voice at first glance seems very gruff and dissonant but he is a master of the character voice and that is something I have learned a lot from over the years.
Making a career in the music industry is not easy in any era. You have been very successful with Clutch and now you have a new project with Dunsmuir. What is the secret to your longevity as an artist?
One is to appreciate it. I know a lot of friends who have bands who can’t get out of the garage. This band has taken me to places and I have gotten to see things that I never imagined I would. It is the idea of us writing a song together in Frederick, Maryland and kids sing it in Athens, Greece and that will never, ever get old! Also, approaching it as a student has been a big thing. The notice of arriving somewhere or making it is false. It needs to be treated with respect and humility, while always trying to better one’s self.
Let’s talk about this new project. How did the ball get rolling when it comes to Dunsmuir?
Dave [Bone] had said he had been writing riffs with Brad [Davis]. They are out in California and said they were thinking about getting a drummer. I asked him about the music and he said it was pretty metal. Kind of half-kidding, I said, “Well, if you want me to sing on this metal stuff, give me a call.” Then they did. They said they were going to e-mail Vinny Appice about doing the drums. I thought they were out of their minds. I mean, you don’t just e-mail Vinny Appice! [laughs] But that is what they did and they got together shortly thereafter because he lives in California as well. By and large, a lot of this was done over the internet by sending files and me coming up with ideas. I was only with Brad, David and Vinny, face to face, for four days. The rest of it was done swapping files.
How did you initially cross paths with Dave and Brad? Any stories behind how you first met?
I probably met Brad close to 20 years ago when we toured with Fu Manchu. That was a long time ago! It was probably over 20 years ago come to think of it. Dave I met through Jim Rota from Fireball Ministry and they were doing The Company Band together, which I sang on. That is how I met Dave.
Even though you worked long distance, what did these guys bring out in you creatively?
I think the album, by and large if you were to compare it to Clutch, is largely a metal affair. It’s not something I am entirely accustomed to singing on, so it was challenging but at the same time fun to get out of my comfort zone. Being metal, it gives you license to sing about things that I might dismiss for a Clutch song. I know that is not fair but that’s sometimes how the mind works. The other thing was that most of these songs came to be, at least in rough ideas, came to be very quickly and I found myself with a lot of riffs. I didn’t know what to do with them all, so I decided the easiest thing was to come up with a very loose, unifying theme and then write 10 chapters on that theme. Not that it is a rock opera but it does have a bit of a plot arc to it, I guess.
How did you focus on this theme and what can you tell us about it?
If you have seen the movies “The Island of Dr. Moreau” or “Call of Cthulhu,” imagine if you can, around the turn of the century a scientific expedition getting washed ashore on a mysterious island in the South Pacific and finding all sorts of supernatural occurrences. You come to learn that members of the crew are sort of dark horses and try to tap into this darkness they encounter. There are really no named characters, except for one or two, because I wanted to keep it loose so the listeners can put their two cents into it. That is sort of the backdrop of all the songs.
This started in an unusual way. Did you have goals or expectations for the project?
If anything, we wanted to keep it simple. I listen to all kinds of music. Metal is one of them. I think sometimes nowadays, if there is anything I had to criticize about metal is that it is tending to get a bit complicated and heady. I think we all have a bit of nostalgia for the era of Iron Maiden’s first record or early Judas Priest, where metal was kind of more first in the air and not as proggy as some tends to be these days. Like I said, that is all well and good and I love listening to those bands but we wanted to do something that was much more, as Dave describes it, denim.
What were the challenges of bringing this record to life? Any hurdles you overcame along the way?
I wanted to get it done because I did not want to work on the Clutch “Psychic Warfare” album at the same time because that would have hurt both of those albums. I pressured myself quite a bit and I went a bit batshit crazy once or twice but that can be a good thing! The other challenge was more accidental. Right before tracking these vocals, I broke a rib. Singing with a broken rib is a real pain in the ass!
I am sure some songs come easier than others. Which came easy to you and which were the hardest to nail down?
I think the hardest ones were the slower songs like “What Manner of Bliss.” I say that because I am not accustomed to singing on a tempo that is that slow, for the most part. “Crawling Chaos” was hard because it is such a circular riff that it was hard for me to come up with a melody. I just decided to do almost a spoken word approach. The rest of the songs were, I won’t say easy but, more familiar territory for me.
What can you tell us about the songwriting process for this album and how it might differ from what you have done through the years with Clutch?
The process is really getting a riff in my inbox, hearing it and wondering what types of images it will evoke. Then I came up with 10 of those very, very rough ideas. I went out there for four days and we rehearsed these songs and basically got skeletal compositions. They recorded them again in a demo form and then I started putting lyrics down on them. Then they recorded all the tracks out in California and then sent them to me. Technology is great and I am glad we were able to do that but nothing can replace getting in a room with human beings because things can happen much more organically, whereas the way this thing was done presented a lot of challenges and hurdles because if you change your mind about something, you kind of have to start from scratch. If you change your mind in a room with people, you can do it right there on the fly.
Obviously, everybody involved with this project has a lot going on. What are your thoughts in regards to touring the material at some point?
That is a tough nut to crack. I’m looking at Clutch dates for the rest of this year. I know Vinny has his Last In Line thing that he is doing and Fu Manchu has some shows. I would love for us to be able to do some shows but it is hard to see when those stars are going to align. It might be beneficial for us to write another record because, at this point, we only know how to play 10 songs.
That was my next question. Do you foresee making another record with these guys? It sounds like this is definitely more than a one-off.
Yeah. I love making music, as does everyone else in the band. It beats digging ditches! It will be a slow process because, like you said, everyone has their own thing going on but if we can come up with that and one day do a run here in Europe, that would be awesome!
Has there been discussion of where this project may lead sonically?
I don’t think so. I think it is a similar philosophy to Clutch’s where you don’t want to put the carriage in front of the horse and engineer these changes. They should happen instinctively. This record was written and recorded a while ago, almost a year-and-a-half ago. It has taken a long time for it to come out because we are putting it out ourselves. Because of that, I think we are all anxious to do something else but we also have to realize this is the first time people have heard this and it is going to take awhile for people to have time with it.
What are the challenges in putting out the album on your own? Obviously, everyone involved has a name in the business but what obstacles have you faced in launching a new project?
We all have names but the name Dunsmuir is so new to everyone. Putting it out yourself requires a great deal of patience because you have to put up your own money for it and cross your fingers that you will get reimbursed. We didn’t approach this as a money making endeavor. It was a creative endeavor, so we have approached it very conservatively. We are only pressing 1,000 records. It will be available in a digital version as well but we aren’t doing any CDs. Everyone knows, selling CDs these days is like selling water to the drowning; no one needs it or wants it. It will be interesting to see how this does just on vinyl and digital. The other challenge is that we don’t have a manager because we don’t really see the need for that because we are not touring and don’t have immediate plans for another record. We are all kind of splitting up the work among ourselves, as far as the things a manager might do.
You have seen the industry go through changes through the years. What is the best part of being a working musician in the current climate?
It always kind of irritates me when I hear bands bemoan that they have to go on tour to make money because they can’t sell records. Ya know what? That is what it is all about to begin with. Records and all of that is a new thing. I wouldn’t want to be in a young band trying to make an impression because even though the internet is a great way to get new fans, the same thing can be said for all the other bands. There is a lot of noise out there. I also know that because of things like streaming services or YouTube, we have reached a multitude more fans in the past 10 years than we did in the previous 10 when we had distribution deals and were selling records in record stores. I think it is, all in all, a positive thing.
What’s happening in the world of Clutch at the moment? What does the future hold for the band?
We have touring until the end of the year and then I think next year we are really going to start thinking about writing a record. We have been kicking around some riffs, kind of slowly. “Psychic Warfare” only came out last October, so it is only eight months old. I think we are going to start thinking about that over the next three or four months. Hopefully, a year from now, we will have some semblance of an LP to record.
You created one hell of a body of work. How have you evolved as an artist?
I think I have learned to respect songwriting as a craft and hopefully have learned that melody and pitch are not a bad thing. It took awhile for me to accept that. Punk rock and hardcore will tell you, “No. You’re not supposed to do that because that is commercial.” That is kind of a juvenile attitude to be honest. Hopefully, I have learned some of that and will continue to. I have also learned to play a bit of guitar. I’m not going to win any awards anytime soon but that has been an education for me as well.
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as a musician?
I think you have to treat the music as its own reward because if it is treated as a vehicle to get somewhere or to get something, then you have pretty much set yourself up for disappointment. Our music has brought us to great heights and has also got us through times of, I hesitate to use the word darkness, but through lean times. No record label, manager or empty club can ever take that away from you, if you honestly, honestly, honestly enjoy making the music that you make and that is your best asset!
Thanks for your time today, Neil. Thanks for all the hard work you have put in over the years and we can’t wait to see where the journey takes you.
Thank you, Jason. I appreciate that. Talk to you soon.
Check out the latest and greatest from Dunsmuir at www.dunsmuirband.com. Follow their continuing adventures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The self-titled debut album will be released on July 22nd, 2016.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.