Interview by T.S. Oldman – www.fistfulofwords.com
It’s both fitting and laughable that the debut album (Inhibition) from LA based rock group Dot Hacker was released (yesterday via ORG Records) in the same week that the Marvel super hero super-group movie Avengers premieres to fanboys around the world. Calling Dot Hacker a super-group would probably engender some thinly veiled snark: Super-group designation a reserved for famous persons from different, already-famous musical acts join forces. None of the Dot Hacker members are famous in their own right. Therefore, Dot Hacker is not a super-group.
And while I promise I’m not going to insult any of the Dot Hacker guys by comparing them to Thor, I will say that this band of musicians’ musicians might be more deserving of the term super than you would originally think.
Comprised of Eric Gardner (drums), Josh Klinghoffer (lead vocals and guitar), Clint Walsh (guitar) and Jonathan Hischke (bass), Dot Hacker formed in 2008. And since that time, the group has played a whopping ten shows. Ten. In four years. The main reason the group hasn’t performed more is that the group members, separately, have been touring and recording with other wildly successful groups like Beck, Gnarls Barkley, PJ Harvey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Butthole Surfers, and Broken Bells. Call me crazy but that’s an impressive touring list for a group of guys that decided to joins forces and save the world start a band.
But perhaps most notably, frontman and driving force behind Dot Hacker Josh Klinghoffer currently serves as the guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And while Klinghoffer’s association with RHCP certainly lends itself to some degree of musical followership, the entire group’s work on Inhibition serves as notice that Dot Hacker should and will play more than ten shows within just the next few months.
With the album release yesterday, Josh Klinghoffer was gracious enough to sit down with me to talk about Dot Hacker’s journey, Inhibition (tonally-layered, dark rock that wavers between spare, reflective tunes and straight forward guitar driven tracks), album art, superpowers, and the live energy for their latest live show.
How has it been balancing time between your current guitar gig with RHCP and pursuing Dot Hacker?
Josh Klinghoffer: It hasn’t been terrible because there hasn’t been much on the Dot Hacker front until the last month or so with the album coming out. We did a show about a month ago. It was supposed to be right before I started going back to playing with the Chili Peppers after we had that unexpected break due to Anthony’s foot. So we did a show at the Troubadour in mid-March and at the last minute, Flea realized he’d planned on going on a school camping trip with his daughter. So we scooted Chili Peppers rehearsals up a week and that put [rehearsal time] in the same week as the show I’d booked with Dot Hacker.
So that was a little funny. It was the first time I had to do Chili Peppers rehearsal on Tuesday, Dot Hacker show on Wednesday, and back to Chili Peppers on Thursday. And I’m so thankful to be in two musical situations with different groups of people who I love dearly. I’m really lucky that I have that.
But it is interesting because it’s not like going from being the guitarist of two different bands. It’s like singing and putting yourself out there in an emotional way that I’m not necessarily used to [doing] because I haven’t done that much [before]… Really, we’ve only played about ten shows in the history of the band. As it happens that [show] at the Troubadour was the first one in about two years. So as the band gets more of a live identity, I think [leading the band] will be pretty easy because it won’t feel different. I always feel like myself when I’m onstage, but there’s a difference between playing to a huge room and being on one side of the stage to playing a smaller room and being in the center of the stage. I enjoy it and I actually enjoy how crazy different that is.
How would describe the energy of some of the live performances with Dot Hacker?
JK: I love playing with those guys. I think the thing that made it quite obvious to the four of us that we should pursue doing this and build a band out of it was that we do sort of play well together live. [Clint] introduced me to Eric the drummer and I introduced the two of them to Jonathan the bass player. And so it was like “Hey, how’s it going? Nice to meet you.” And then we just started playing and you didn’t have to say anything else. It was really obvious. So the fact that we’ve only been able to do ten shows (scheduling being the reason why) is a little sad. But because of the limitations we’ve had, I think it makes for an even more interesting kind of chaotic but beautiful energy. Because we’re so excited to be [playing together], we really want to make the most of it.
Where I’ve spent tons of time bemoaning the fact that we never get to [play shows], I should be more aware that because [of our lack of shows], we really make each one special. But we will definitely do a lot more in the future.
Not to nail down specific dates, but do you have any idea when Dot Hacker might be on the road this year?
JK: Nothing scheduled as of right now. But in the Chili Peppers, everyone’s got families but me and they don’t want to be away from their family for too long. So it’s basically two weeks on, two weeks off. It’s never longer than two weeks at a time without a break. I can and will be booking Dot hacker short little tours (four shows at a time). There will be that so sure this year. Hopefully, as soon as possible.
What’s it been like with Dot Hacker’s journey from 2008 to this album coming out four years later?
JK: Again, I’m so thankful that [the album] is able to come out. It’s always been my dream to have a band (a band with your friends like your band when you are a kid). And it never really happened for me and I spent my 20’s touring with already established bands or artists I loved. And that was great and I loved it but after a while I started feeling like I was hiding and not focusing enough on my own vision.
So, I think the change in Dot Hacker (in my mind) it was always something I wanted to focus on fully because the band was started before I started playing with the Chili Peppers. And obviously me joining up with [the Chili Peppers] and the other [Dot Hacker members] doing the various things they all spend their time doing… it’s at times put Dot Hacker on the back burner. But thankfully, the record is coming out and we’re all grateful to the guys at ORG for seeing something in it and being able to see that it’s worth putting out and getting the [into] existence because [the album] could have just died and been a record that lived in our iTunes only.
I guess it’s changed in the sense that because enough people believed in it and enough people want the band to have an existence in the future, we all feel a little more confident in it. And for me it’s something I just know I want to do. I’d be writing songs and singing them regardless. But I want to play with these guys and everyone is committed to doing that.
One glance at the Dot Hacker Facebook page and anyone can tell that you have a engaged following, especially for a group that’s had so few shows. What would you say has led to such a passionate, growing fan base?
JK: I don’t know. Hopefully, [Dot Hacker] resonates with people just because the music sonically and emotionally speaks to them. I think me being involved with the Chili Peppers and with Jon Frusciante on records that we’ve made together, [has played a role]. The Chili Peppers and Jon have really devoted, in tune fans that feel connected to the band or Jon specifically. When I was younger, anything that the [musicians] I loved did, I would know every single thing about the people they did it with, and who they were friends with, and who they spent their time making music with. I think my relationship with the Chili Peppers in the past and now has allowed people to know who I am and look for music I’ve done just because of music I’ve done with John.
Obviously, it’s not all the Chili Peppers but they are a band with a huge presence and people are looking out for things that are related to them. There are people that say “I saw you with PJ Harvey. I’m so glad I was able to find out who you are.” I think the fact that I’ve been out there on tour for over ten years and so have the other guys in Dot Hacker with different bands that they worked with. I think it’s the kind of band [made up of musicians] who people have wondered “Who’s that guy?!” about.
I was doing these amazing touring jobs and always doing it with people I loved and respected. I’ve never worked with someone I didn’t like. Never had to do a tour I didn’t like. I’ve always been lucky. I’ve just worked with people I think are great. I was in this amazing situation: in these amazing cities around the world and doing something I had always wanted to do (playing music). But I was still somewhat miserable sometimes wondering why I never had the time or why I never had the people around me to facilitate finishing a record. I chalk it up [a mixture of] of laziness, lack of confidence, [lack of] money, and needing to survive. Really, at the end of the day, I was hiding a bit. And once I decided to take it by the reins and form this band, that all started to change.
And I’m so thankful that this record is coming out because it could easily be looked at as a Chili Peppers side project. If we were to put this record out and then release another record [shortly afterward] that would be our second record but it would look like our first. I’m so happy that this first thing, which very much sounds like a first thing to me, [exists]… But just the fact that it’s a pretty honest account of where the band was… I’m so thankful for it.
Recording with such experienced musicians who also happen to be your good friends, can you describe your writing sessions as a group?
JK: As I’ve said before, this band is really good jamming together. We can really come up with stuff on the spot. We can almost come up with too much stuff to look at and remember. There were a few songs like “Believing” that Jonathan’s bass was just a [line where] we all went, “Remember that thing two weeks ago?” That song was based solely out of a jam. There’s a couple like that. A lot of [the songs] are things… I had for a long time but never really finished because I was always of the opinion that if you’re gonna play [a song] in a band with a couple of other guys, it seems silly to finish it. I’d rather have them hear it and have it be their own as well and come up with the idea and the arrangement and feel one with the piece. For example “IdolIdleIdly,” I remember writing in the backstage area of a really beautiful theater in Stockholm, Sweden , in 2005 when I was on tour with Bark (Gnarls Barkley). I came up with it there. Remembered it. [Then] recorded it. And then one day at rehearsal with [Dot Hacker], I started playing it, and Jonathan jumped in and the others jumped right in. So, usually [song writing] would come like that. I would just start playing something… Usually, it just organically took shape.
I have to ask about the album cover. What was the inspiration for that?
JK: Literally, we considered the book closed on [the album] October 3, 2009… nine days before I started playing with the Chili Peppers. We sort of wrapped it up and did a little home mastering. From then until we met with the ORG guys to put it out in the middle of 2011, [the record sat there]. There were two full years of it sitting there [and] we all weren’t quite sure what the identity of the record was.
That painting was a painting a friend of mine had done and given to me. It hangs in my house. And my relationship with her goes hand in hand with the journey of this record. Now for the other guys, I think they aesthetically liked the painting and they liked how simple and beautiful it is.
The title track is a big and spacious tune that builds and builds. Why did that song get pegged and the album title?
JK: Similarly to the painting, we had had such a distance between when we finished it and when we were thinking about putting it out. “Inhibition” was something that was done towards the end of the recording process. And at the time, certain [members] in the band were on tour with other people. So [recording] was fractured at the time. That was a song I had kicking around for a long time actually and it summed up (to me) the journey [we] had taken to form the band, finish the record, and put out the [album]. [It captured] my own stupid inhibitions about filling [a lead] role in the band. I remember when the song was finished; it was talked about as some of the other [guys’] favorite song on the record.
I had to get over not wanting a song title to be the album title. But just because of that, I remember how long I’ve had [“Inhibition”] and how many stages it’s gone through. I remember almost getting in a car accident writing lyrics to it on the freeway between Sacramento and Nevada City year ago. It’s kind of gone through a long journey itself and it reminds me of the band and the record. The fact that the song exists at all [rather than being] forgotten or thrown away at all is a real, amazing feat.