Kevin Norris

Interview: Edson Choi of Dusty Rhodes and the River Band

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Dusty Rhodes and the River Band have long established their legacy as one of the premier live acts to emerge from Orange County. Guitarist/bassist, Edson Choi, of the psychedelic, folk outfit recently caught up with us to discuss the struggles of making their soon to be released Self-Titled album, leaving their label, and the hardship the band has endured in the past two years. The band recently took home the award for “Best Live Band in Orange County” at the 2010 OC Music Awards. What does the award mean to you personally?

Edson Choi: I think it’s safe to say, on behalf of the whole band, the best thing about winning that live award was because we have been playing in Orange County ever since we formed, so to get recognition from our peers and to have everyone be very gracious to us and to be recognized by fellow Orange County bands that we have played with was the best part. We had never been nominated before, so to be nominated and to win was really special for us. Not because it’s so prestigious but because these are people we have been playing shows with and have been coming to our shows for years.

SCMT: What about your live shows do you think contributed to you guys winning the title?

Edson: I feel it’s partly because when we get up there everything becomes clear. We bicker a lot but we are all really good friends, but once we get on stage everything feels right. So we just feel the freedom of playing together. I guess that energy comes across and it’s contagious because we’re not up there trying to look cool, we’re just giving it all we got. So there’s that and also because Dustin [Apodaca] is a very flamboyant frontman. He goes off on speeches; he adds a very charismatic approach to our live shows. He is the central figure so most people when they leave they at least remember the guy with the fro, which is cool.

SCMT: You have a new album projected for April. What’s it current status (release date, title)?

Edson: Right now it’s Self-Titled. We were supposed to release it at the end of this month [March] or in April, but we’ve had some things to work out with our label [Side One Dummy], which we currently left. But definitely by May. So if I had to say something official, late April or early May would be our target.

SCMT: On the band’s bio it says, “‘Palace and Stage’ was the natural progression from your debut ‘First You Live.'” How would you describe the progression the band has taken from “Palace” to your upcoming one?

Edson: When we first started we were a folk band, but because our whole chemistry is based on our live set we started adding guitars and things that were a lot more aggressive. By the time we recorded First to Live, it was our first real recording with the full band and big orchestrations. Then when Palace and Stage came out we kind of wanted to dial that back and keep the songs a lot leaner, not to have so much stuff going on. We wanted to have just good rock songs that were simple. Then with this next one that’s coming out we feel that it’s a better progression because now it’s a balance between orchestrated parts that are epic. But also at the heart of it captures part of our live vibe. Actually three of the tracks were recorded live. The first half of the CD is very epic and the second half is a lot looser. So I feel we have come full circle.

SCMT: Was there a specific theme the band was aiming for with the new album?

Edson: We definitely didn’t plan on a theme but in retrospect when we listened to the album from top to bottom there was definitely a theme of struggle and banking on a slim chance of triumph. This album was shaped on a lot of difficulties that we have been facing for the last year or two, which was separating from our label [Side One Dummy] and our manager and just being on the road most of the year. We want to progress as a band but we felt with this last year we hit a plateau. So when we started gearing up for this one it sort of became a theater for struggle. The first song, “Branch Dividends” is really kind of an angry song that is set in a folk, psychedelic atmosphere. Then the next song is about really going for what you want even though it’s a long shot. Every song after that always has the same sort of conflict. So conflict and hardship and progressing through life, it’s definitely a struggle album, feeling like the odds were against us.

SCMT: So overall it holds a very personal message to you guys?

Edson: Yeah, definitely. See we’re on our own now, without a label. In the last six months we separated from our label, but the divorce papers are still in process. We’re “officially” still on Side One Dummy, but not really.

SCMT: You recently reworked “Dear Honey” into a creepier, slower version. Was there a specific reason for its re-release, maybe a chance it’s going to be on the new album?

Edson: It is going to be on the new album.

SCMT: You have also been working on a short feature film to correspond with the new record, what is that going to be like and exactly how does it correspond with the album?

Edson: With Side One Dummy we were commissioned to do a DVD and with that DVD we were going to make a Dusty Rhodes movie and for the soundtrack we wanted to include some our best songs and some new songs. But we wanted to fashion the old songs to fir some of the moods we were going towards into the movie. But because we separated from Side One Dummy we kind of had that project fall apart. We were in the middle of recording the soundtrack and midway through recording we were like “f@$k it, we’re just going to treat this like we’re making a soundtrack to a movie that might not ever come to pass.” We’re going to make the soundtrack anyway.

SCMT: With the new album on the horizon and the search for a new label under way, what else do you guys have booked in your schedules? Is there chance of a tour or festival appearances?

Edson: We’re planning on a national tour in the summer.

SCMT: Headlining or in support?

Edson: We’re supporting another band. We’re just looking for a tour where we can hop on with a more known act, where there’s no pressure to draw. But we definitely want to tour and support this album for the rest of the year and hopefully get picked up and get going on our own headlining tour later this year.

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