Interview: Dave Sweetapple

It's just really exciting that all this stuff has come together and for me it's old hat, it doesn't mean as much, but to be able to see kids that can actually go and take part in this and not have to spend all the money on regular day passes or whatever, it's a really great opportunity.

In a few weeks’ time the City of Tilburg opens its doors again for thousands of music fans, as their beloved Roadburn Festival starts again. Months and months of planning have gone into organising 4 days of music, art, exhibitions and much more. Alongside this years’ Artist in Residence Earthless, 8 more bands from San Diego will come over to perform various gigs and collaborations as part of the San Diego Take Over. This includes not just bands and live music, but also pro-skateboarding demonstrations, photography, graphic art, and videos. In other words, this is a Big Thing, and it took a lot of organising and planning to make this happen. I spoke to Dave Sweetapple from Tee Pee Records and Outer Battery Records about the San Diego Take Over to find out more about this event.

 E&D: Hey Dave, first of all, have you been going to Roadburn a lot?

Dave: Yeah, first time I was there was in 2008 when one of my bands played there, and then we played again in 2012, which was both with Witch. And then I think I’ve been every year since then. So, yeah it’s weird because I’m going to Tilburg every year it’s almost like going to a place where I grew up. It just feels so familiar. There’s a group of people at Roadburn who have become like family. The whole Norwegian gang led by Grutle and Harald, a postman from Liverpool named Will, a barista from Liverpool named Glaysher. It’s like these same people and we go to the same bar every year for the best time of catching up.

E&D: I actually tend to call Roadburn Festival my annual pilgrimage.

Dave: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. You meet all these people again, even when you go to the local kebab shop they’re like “Oh you guys are back again!”. You just get to know everybody, it’s so weird. I don’t know any other place like it.

E&D: So, tell me about this year’s San Diego Take Over, which I believe is one of your ideas?

Dave: Yeah, I’ll give you a brief history of the whole thing. Walter and I have been talking about it for about three years now. There was a group of bands on Tee Pee from the mid-2000s, Earthless, Graveyard and Witch. Those 3 in particular became quite close and toured together quite a bit. Witch did some East and West Coast tours with Earthless, Graveyard did a European tour with Witch and they came over to the States and toured with us here. We had all been at SXSW together a few times. From that point on we all just kinda connected somehow. So, the first time Witch played Roadburn was in 2008. We were touring with Graveyard and Earthless met us up in Groningen at Vera, and we came down and played at the same time. From that point on I stayed friends with the Earthless guys and then they started introducing me to a lot of the San Diego bands, where I used to go quite often.

The first band was Harsh Toke, and it’s funny now seeing those guys as the almost grandfathers of that scene, because they were quite fresh and young at the time. And now you’ve got bands like Petyr which have 22, 23-year olds in the band, and they’re like the newer band on the scene. So, it’s really strange to see the whole progression of that scene. I remember playing in San Diego in 2009 and Mike from Earthless was saying “Man I’m really sorry, I wish you guys hadn’t planned to play here, because it’s such a dead place. Nobody gives a shit about rock music, there’s nothing going on here.” Now shows happen every other day. They happen at house parties, they happen in every single venue and bar you can think of. Oceanside in particular where a lot of these bands are from. So, I got to meet the Harsh Toke guys, and then from that the JOY guys came along, and the Sacri Monti guys, and off of that are all the other offshoots, like Petyr, Arctic, Pharlee, Red Octopus, and there are 2 new bands playing this year at Roadburn that don’t even have records out yet. Pharlee, which is Figgy from Harsh Toke’s band, and then there’s Volcano, which features members of Harsh Toke, JOY plus other guys.

E&D: There’s a huge link with the pro-skating world as well?

Dave: Yes, it’s all tied in to the pro-skating thing, so I think this is what made it slightly appealing to Walter. We were supposed to do this last year, in 2017. So, in September 2016 Walter came with me out to San Diego, and we ended up going to Oceanside where we were just going to talk to Earthless about making this thing happen. At that point they were still on Tee Pee [Earhtless is on Nuclear Blast now]. Due to a couple of unforeseen schedule conflicts sprung on us that night, the whole thing got scrapped. Walter was just beside himself, as he had travelled the whole way from his home in Utrecht to San Diego, and now it was all falling apart. This is when I suggested to not let it all fall apart and make the most out of it, and prepare for 2018. So it’s been that much time in the making. And I don’t think Walter really got the whole concept of the lifestyle that exists out there in San Diego. I brought him up to Oceanside and we went to Figgy’s house, where he met and these dudes that were hanging around, such as pro skater Colin Provost some the dudes from Petyr. Walter was just like a kid in a sweetie shop, there’s no way he was exposed to a situation like this before. The way they live, and I said yes, it’s a lifestyle. They drink, they smoke weed, they practice in a homemade soundproof room in the house, they’re pro-skaters, and it’s just a constant state of party.

So, we ended up meeting 2 of these guys for lunch, and one of them, Lannie Rhoades had done a ton work in the skate world, for Thrasher, skate brands, etc, and now he’s the video director for Volcom. With him was BB Bastidas, who is a graphic artist that does a lot of skateboard art and did the day poster art for the San Diego Take Over. Then there’s Lannie’s younger brother JT Rhoades, who’s a photographer for Thrasher, Transworld, and a bunch of these skate mags. JT’s been saying to me that he’s been wanting to cover more of the rock world, and I’m like “okay, we got an opportunity here.” Walter has 30 huge frames and if we get him the artwork, he will print all this artwork. It’s a split up between BB’s artwork, of all the stuff that he’s done relating to the bands, and then there’s all the JT photos of these same band members skating and playing their music. So, that stuff is going to be throughout the 013 venue. We’re presenting a whole lifestyle thing with it. They have skateboard deals, sneaker deals, they own a sock company collectively, which is called Psockadelic. So they’re doing a special Roadburn sock, for this event. They’re bringing over like 300 pairs, plus other stuff. It’s funny as BB who did those posters is also the main art director for the sock company, he came over to Roadburn 2 years ago, never heard of the festival before and he was blown away. He couldn’t believe this whole family vibe thing that exists there. So, he got really excited about it and couldn’t wait to be part of it again. And what luck, Walter meets him, falls in love with him and Lannie. The 013 Venue decided to propose a grant to the Dutch government, we’re gonna see if we can get all the flights covered as there’s 24 people flying into Amsterdam from San Diego. 

E&D: So, the Dutch government is actually sponsoring this event, it’s not all coming out of the Roadburn budget? 

Dave: They essentially agreed to cover the majority of the band’s flights. Roadburn is doing their normal guarantees for the bands, all the bands get paid, they’re all housed, meals, etc. It’s pretty incredible how they managed make this all come together and make it work. And the Dutch government, which is actually a type of arts council called Performing Arts Fund NL together with Brabant C agreed to the grant application and paid for flights, which is just incredible. 

E&D: So let me get this straight, the Dutch government is actually paying for a bunch of San Diego stoners to come over to the Netherlands to smoke weed and play music?

Dave: Hahaha, yeah I guess that’s a way of looking at it.

E&D: Will there be some skate demos as well, as you got all these pro-skaters coming over? Will they bring their boards with them?

Dave: Yeah. I don’t know how much you know about the whole skate scene, but in these bands there’s 5 actual full-on pro-skaters, they have deals with shoe companies, boards, and they’re actually making a living doing this. And it’s with some of that extra cash that they came together and created the sock company and some of the apparel companies. They’ve amazingly grown to a recognisable size in the fashion world and they’re all based in Oceanside. Like Brixton Clothing, you see that stuff everywhere now. So, the city of Tilburg has given Walter full access for Friday and Saturday to the Ladybird Skatepark which is attached to a venue called Hall Of Fame. So they have it set up so there’s a stage there, all the backline is provided by the regular production at 013, and they’re having shows at the Hall Of Fame, but also in the skatepark itself. At this point it’s just 4 bands in the park… JOY, and Petyr, Harsh Toke and Arctic. But all those guys are bringing their boards, and we’ve told the affiliated skate companies that if they have any guys who are at the semi-pro level in the vicinity, even if they’re in like Antwerp, Amsterdam, or wherever, have them come over and we’ll get them day passes and they’re gonna go and skate while the bands are playing in the park. The connection of Lannie from Volcom, he’s coming and videotaping a whole bunch of this, and we’re showing a half hour video by him, which will be on a loop in the Roadburn and it’s all these guys skating with bits of music layered in.

The cool thing of the shows at the skatepark, they will be open to the public. It doesn’t matter if you have a ticket for Roadburn or not. That’s the way they made it with the city and the city is promoting this thing as a chance for anyone to meet some really famous pro skaters. And they happen to be playing music. So, bring your board, skate and you’ll be skating amongst the pros basically. 

E&D: That’s a brilliant idea, as each year a couple of thousand people decent upon Tilburg to take over a huge part of the city, and for the locals to be involved and actually get to see some of the bands playing at the festival without having to buy a ticket is a great idea. It will be awesome for the local kids who will be able to see some great live music in a very cool setting. 

Dave: It’s just really exciting that all this stuff has come together and for me it’s old hat, it doesn’t mean as much, but to be able to see kids that can actually go and take part in this and not have to spend all the money on regular day passes or whatever, it’s a really great opportunity. 

E&D: How much are you still connected with Earthless now they’re signed to Nuclear Blast?

Dave: They have moved on as Earthless the band, but I think as people we will always be close. All three are like family to me. I will always be connected to them somehow. When they were on Tee Pee we were in constant contact due to label stuff and touring, etc. I would quite often go out and tour manage small tours with them and it was a lot of fun. But now that they’ve made the jump and they have a new manager, so there’s no need for my involvement anymore. But I’m still tied to it to a degree, and they’ve got a whole new thing going on. 

E&D: Their new album is a big surprise to me with the shorter songs, more traditional rock and even including vocals and I love it and I can’t wait to see their new stuff live. It’s a bit different, but very good.

Dave: Yeah for years they just wanted to keep so it was just the 3 of them, Mike, Mario and Isaiah, across the front of the stage, and there was no leader as such. But I think there’s only so far you can go doing that kinda thing over and over. And by having Isaiah do the vocals on this stuff it’s opened up a whole new world I think. 

E&D: Can you tell a bit more about the other shows Earthless is playing at Roadburn this year?

Dave: They just finished a U.S. tour this week with Kikagaku Moyo (and Jjuujjuu), who are on Guruguru Brain Records from Japan. Coming up there’s a Euro tour starting in early April, leading into a finish as Artist in Residence at Roadburn. Kikagaku Moyo moved to Amsterdam, so it was Walter’s idea to get some kind of East / West jam going. He had me contact JOY and Sacri Monti to see about getting all the guys all on the same stage together. I’m very curious to see because you have Gabe from Harsh Toke and Zach from JOY, if someone starts to play the bongo, those two could come up with a song instantly! I mean, they can work a song around anything. And obviously Earthless is the same, so the outcome could take many turns and who knows where it will go and eventually end up.

E&D: Do you think they’ll just plug in and see where it goes, or will there be some structure to it that they’ve pre-organised?

Dave: I heard they’ll just plug in and try and make it work. But I did arrange with Walter to get a practice space for several other things that are gonna happen. There’s a couple of collaborations that are going on. I asked Isaiah from Earthless and his wife Camilla, they play in Golden Void together, and she’s gonna be there, so I’ve asked those two if they can do a collaboration jam with Sacri Monti and Brenden from Sacri Monti was excited as hell. Isaiah was his guitar teacher when he was a kid. So, they’re getting together and doing a set of that. And Scott Heller, is gonna play with JOY. So, each band has asked if they can get a quick rehearsal in and Walter has arranged it that we have a practice space for them. 

E&D: I’m personally really excited to see all these collaborations and jams as the genre itself is made for these kind of shows really. 

Dave: I know a lot of times they’ll get a bass groove going with the drums and the guitar will start to follow it. This has happened at some of the shows that I’ve seen of those guys. But all of the bands pretty much have songs, and any of those songs can break off at any second and become their own jam as such. And they all hate the term “jam bands”, and whatever, but a lot of them were actually influenced by Earthless, so there is that element where they’re all used to it.

E&D: Thanks a lot for talking to me Dave. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

Dave: It’s been a long time coming, and we’re all really psyched to get over there together. There are 2 other bands playing at Roadburn who are on Tee Pee. Comet Control from Montreal play at Cul de Sac on Friday and Mirror Queen, which features Tee Pee’s owner on vocals and guitar, is also at the Cul de Sac on Thursday. 

Oh and this is my last final thing. Walter who you’ve met and is quite reserved. The time we went to California to talk to the bands in 2016…I had rented a car and we were staying in San Diego proper, and we were out cruising around doing things and Walter had never heard the word ‘cruising’ before. So, we pull up to a stop light in San Diego, and it was one of these big main avenues, and it’s like 3 lanes down and 3 lanes up, and it has these huge, 100 feet tall palm trees along the whole road right down the middle. We pull up to the light, and Walter is like “Wow, California!” And he’s looking around, so I say to him “Dude, you want a real California experience? Just roll your window down. So, Walter being confused rolls down his window and I roll mine down. I’d queued up ‘Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love’ by Van Halen, and as the lights change green, I stomp the gas pedal and car lunges forward as the first note kicks in and he jerks back with the force. It was like a 10 year old boy who had seen tits in a Playboy for the first time. He was like “Yessssss!!!!!”, screaming with his two hands up in the air. And he totally got California.

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