Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Interview: Dispatch disassembles, rebuilds anew with latest album, tour

From left Mike Sawitzke, Brad Corrigan, Jon “JR” Reilly, Matthew Embree, Chadwick Stokes will perform at Live Oak Bank Pavilion on Saturday. (Photo by Mike Smith)

With a return to touring this summer, Dispatch has made a fresh start — not only in a new album, “Break Our Fall,” but in the band lineup.

Though not initially what Chadwick Stokes or Brad Corrigan intended for the band, both outcomes have been for the better, they said during a joint interview in June.

Dispatch’s three original founders — guitarist/singer Stokes, drummer Corrigan and singer/bassist/guitarist Pete Francis — have endured difficult times before and hoped this go round they would emerge stronger than ever as a trio.

But it wasn’t to be, as Francis, who battled depression and struggled with life on tour, left the band in 2019.

It’s definitely the hardest decision we’ve ever made as a band but also the most right,” Corrigan said.

Corrigan and Stokes decided to move forward after considerable efforts to make things work for all three bandmates. A “renewed excitement” existed in 2015 and 2016 on tour, Stokes said: “That winter, Pete hit some lows that he had never experienced before.”

Stokes and Corrigan said they tried to find a solution and attended hours of therapy with Francis. Dispatch even toured without Francis for a bit, hoping time away from the road would resolve the issues before finally restructuring the band.

“It just proved to be very complicated, very hard for all of us, but for Pete also to come to the realization that the road is not a healthy place (for him),” Stokes said. “We really tried to navigate that all as friends and partners.”

In moving ahead, Stokes and Corrigan decided not to look for a new bassist. Instead, Dispatch is now officially a duo, but with two long-time touring band members, guitarist Matt Embree and percussionist Jon “JR” Reilly. Mike Sawitzke (The Eels) also joined after having co-produced the last three Dispatch albums. The five-piece unit has worked together in the studio and on tour.

“I think consciously we weren’t just going to kind of replace Pete because that’s impossible,” Stokes said. “So it was more of a thing where we pivoted toward this kind of thing, and it was slightly different.”

The recently released “Break Our Fall” debuts the changes. Yet, it’s not the album Stokes and Corrigan initially planned to release.

They actually went into the studio with Sawitzke and co-producer John Dragonetti (the Submarines) in January of 2020, emerging with a 10-song album that was to be ready to release ahead of a major summer tour.

But as Stokes and Corrigan listened back, they weren’t sure it lived up to the potential they hoped for. When the pandemic hit a short time later, they decided to put the album on hold.

Looking back, Stokes and Corrigan say having the tour get canceled due to COvid-19 was a blessing in disguise. No longer did a rush to release the album — flaws and all — coincide with a tour. Stokes, Corrigan, the producers and bandmates could take time to tweak the existing material. Stokes wrote new songs that turned “Break Our Fall” into a 15-song release.

It hit the shelves and airwaves last year and has been greeted as one of Dispatch’s best albums in a career that dates back to 1996, when Stokes, Corrigan and Francis set out on their do-it-yourself path. Over the first six years, the trio released four full-length albums, toured extensively, and by 2002 had become arguably the biggest band in rock that most people had never heard of. 

Within the band, tensions and musical differences festered, to the point its band members needed a break from each other. They announced an indefinite hiatus to pursue other projects.

In order to give fans a proper goodbye, Dispatch scheduled a hometown farewell show at Boston’s Hatch Shell for July 31, 2004. It drew 110,000 fans, stunning a music industry that was largely unaware of the word-of-mouth following developed, as the band’s music spread across early file-sharing websites like Napster and LimeWire. The group also gained a reputation as a stellar live act.

The popularity was further confirmed in 2007 when Stokes, Corrigan and Francis reunited for three concerts at New York’s Madison Square Garden to raise money to fight famine and disease and support social justice and quickly. All three shows sold out.

But it took nearly four more years before the trio decided to reunite officially and create a 2011 self-titled EP, followed by a full-length studio album, 2012’s “Circles Around the Sun,” supported by a major tour.

Then came another hiatus. 

In 2015, Stokes, Corrigan and Francis convened for a meeting to define a future path for Dispatch. The trio decided Stokes would assume the role of lead songwriter and started work on new music. The band released two albums — 2017’s “America, Location 12” and 2018’s “Location 13” — both of which came from the same recording session, before reluctantly parting ways with Francis.

“Break Our Fall” retains the signature mix of upbeat free-flowing folk and rock, but adds new dimensions to the established Dispatch sound. One example can be heard on “The Legend of Connie Hawkins” — recounting the story of a star basketball player who was railroaded in a college point shaving scandal that falsely tarnished his reputation. It’s an epic, multi-faceted track, complete with dreamy, psychedelic sounds and strong pop hooks.

“May We All” is a concise and punchy tune that shows a power pop facet not as strongly pronounced within the Dispatch sound.

Still, “Break Our Fal” continues the band’s tradition of remaining relevant to current issues, particularly in the realm of social justice. For instance, “May We All” references movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter, as well as George Floyd. “Promise Land” weaves together commentary on racism (with a stinging reference to former president Donald Trump), corporate power and climate change.

“There was no shortage of lyrical, protest topics,” Stokes said. “I think ‘Promise Land’ was a bit of a reflection of that.”

Dispatch finally is touring in support of “Break Our Fall.” The first outing is a co-headlining run with O.A.R. Dispatch will play a shorter-than-usual set that’s likely to favor back catalog material over songs off of “Break Our Fall.” That will make crafting set lists a bit more of a challenge than when Dispatch headline their own shows.   

“It feels almost like a festival set, like whenever we’ve had festival sets, just trying to pack as much as we can in,” Corrigan said. “So we’ll be doing something similar to that.”

Dispatch and O.A.R. will perform at Live Oak Bank Pavilion on Saturday, with gates at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $27.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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