Let me set the scene: freshman year, Flagler College, fall 2001. Class registration was still done on paper; we used the internet, but not in any way that resembles our reliance on it today. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify weren’t even ideas yet; Napster had recently shut down. We were surrounded by music discovery, but it depended almost entirely on who you roomed with and whose burned CDs you could borrow.
I don’t remember who gave me a third-generation copy of Dispatch’s 1997 album Bang Bang, but I do remember this: “The General’s” antiwar lyrics felt revelatory in the wake of 9/11. The hopeless romanticism of “Two Coins” and “Out Loud” served as the perfect antidote to indie rock’s growing irony. And when Dispatch attracted 166,000 fans to their 2004 farewell show in Boston, well, it just reinforced everything we’d come to love about the fervently DIY band.
I still have that beat-up CD of Bang Bang, and though it doesn’t play the way it should anymore, Dispatch co-founders Brad Corrigan and Chad Stokes Urmston laughed–“We’ve heard that more than a few times”–when I related my sad story. Then, they gently steered our conservation back to Dispatch’s current status as one of the most politically active rock bands anywhere.
Folio Weekly: Enough about the old days. How has this current summer tour gone so far?
Brad: It’s been really fun. At the beginning, we rehearsed for a week in Denver, played Red Rocks, and then spent a day on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation getting to know [support act] Nahko & Medicine for the People. That was a cool way to open things up; a lot of times on tour, you start moving so fast that you never get to know people’s names. Now we’re thinking, “Why doesn’t every tour do this?”
Last year’s album America, Location 12 felt intensely relevant, and new material like “Dear Congress, (17)” is even more outspoken. How important is that to Dispatch’s mission, and at what point in your career did it become paramount?
Chad: Definitely. Each show has an activist village with info about gun reform, mental health, the indigenous story and voter registration. We always try to use the music to get people activated. At the beginning, I was writing cloaked songs in that vein. To me, “Here We Go” was a protest song, even if it wasn’t overt. It wasn’t until we were a little older that we felt we could actually do something besides just write tunes, though. When we reunited in 2007 for the Zimbabwe concerts [three shows at Madison Square Garden that sold out immediately without marketing or advertising], that was the moment we said, “If we’re going to do this, it’s gotta be for something.”
Brad: Now it feeds the music in a more overt way. It also feeds our desire to want to tour. It’s a lot of fun, but I would feel strange being up on stage, playing songs and then saying, “Good night.” The hope is that you’re entertaining people while also inviting them to come along on a journey where we’re all trying to learn more about how we can hold our government accountable and how we can hopefully change our government in the coming years. That’s now part-and-parcel of the experience.
Chad: The new tunes help a ton. If that creative current wasn’t still flowing, it would be really hard for us.
That current didn’t flow for more than a decade, as the band took repeated hiatuses after 2002. What had changed by 2012, when you released Circles Around the Sun?
Chad: We have a new system where we’re really honest with each other. To me, Dispatch is still about the different angles that Brad and I bring to the table. We have such a nice working relationship that it’s almost, like–
Brad: The shared brain.
Chad: It’s really helpful to have that sense of being teammates together. If the band is tight and we’re pushing forward artistically, that’s the most important thing.
Is the success as important now? And did your DIY history play a fundamental part in what you’ve achieved?
Brad: Yes and no. We dreamed about playing these big venues without having any idea what it would be like to climb the ladder and get to them. I love that we’ve done it in an independent way. We could have gotten there sooner on someone else’s ladder–
Chad: Or with someone else’s money.
Brad: –without being ready for it, appreciating it, or feeling that sense of ownership in it. Our accidental and intentional path was to make sure that anyone we worked with was someone we could really trust. We had to build the right team and trust the process to get where we got. Now, 20 years later, we can look back and say, “Wow.”
Chad: Our timing was interesting. We almost caught the end of the critical MTV Golden Age mass. But as we were building our fanbase, the internet hit, and that was the great equalizer. We almost didn’t need those record companies that were courting us around 2000. We’ve always wanted to be out in front of the wave as much as possible, because we do have that creative control around the business–we can think outside the box. What can we do that would be funky? Unfortunately, a lot of the funky things we dream up–like, doing a barge down the Mississippi or playing nothing but reservations on an entire tour–cost a lot of money.
Brad: Our managers are, like, “Sure, you can do that. Do you not want to be paid next year?”