Hounding For More! The Dog Apollo Proves They Can Work and Play

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to being a working band. Even more if the members all work “regular” jobs. It’s tricky to reconcile all the pieces, but for the guys in The Dog Apollo, it’s all part of the grind.

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“Trying to play shows out of town and plan ahead, it’s hard,” says Chris Rudasill, lead vocalist, guitarist and the band’s primary songwriter. “I work nights, so knowing ahead of time when the other guys can practice, I can accommodate my schedule.

Rudasill works in the service industry and is the only member who works nights. Bassist Vitaliy Morgun, drummer Joel Bernkrant, and guitarist Paul Paxton all have day jobs, which is challenging when the band rolls back into town at dawn. They recently completed a short weekend tour through Gainesville, Jacksonville, and Tampa and got home at 4am. Come Monday morning, three of the four members had to report up for work.

The biggest thing we run into is just coordinating to get on the road and play shows in and out of town,” says Bernkrant, who does graphic design work for a marketing company in Jacksonville Beach. “When we get the opportunity to hop on bigger shows, we have to turn some stuff around. It’s a blast. You don’t even wake up tired after that. You’re just stoked from the night before.”

When the Dog Apollo plays June 16 at Jack Rabbits with the Atlanta-based band Star Bender, it will be a chance to recharge and play new songs from the band’s upcoming EP for family, friends, and fans. The EP is slated for a fall release and the band will shoot a music video for the track “Levitate” with producer John Shepard, whose has previously developed projects for such networks as MTV, HBO, Fox and CBS.

“It’s always like a reunion, having people you love and family and friends from your hometown, people you work with or went to school with,” says Rudasill. “It’s a pretty eclectic group to see in a room at the same time. It’s incredible to be able to share your craft with everyone from your life.”

The Dog Apollo has performed with such recognizable bands as 21 Pilots, Weezer, Cage the Elephant, Fall Out Boy, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Silversun Pickups, Alt-J, Young the Giant, Psychedelic Furs and Bloc Party. “I get hungrier for it every time we play with big bands or a big festival. It doesn’t seem as far away,” says Rudasill. “Opening for 21 Pilots and then seeing what they did just like a year later, is incredible and attainable. It makes us want it even more.”

The band underwent a complete overhaul since first coming together in late 2012 including a total lineup change. Nearly eight years later, Rudasill is the only original member.

He says going through the trials and evolutions as a young band helped eliminate all the extraneous bullshit and refine the direction as a business to reach that next level.

The Dog Apollo

“I’ve seen a lot of changes from both the inside and outside perspective. We’ve started carving out a niche that everyone is good in outside of music, so everyone in the band can hit the ground running. It’s a beautiful thing.”

“We’re trying to build a brand with the band. We’re treating it like a business, so we’re trying to get the groundwork in place, so we have good contacts regionally. The goal is to expand that with different venues and build a fanbase, so we can get out and do that,” he says. “Right now, it honestly comes to making sure the money is there. It makes more financial sense for us to work and get out and play when we can. I like to think of the term ‘building the steam with a grain of salt’.”

Part of the building process includes not just what they write but how they write. Since the inception of the band, Rudasill handled the songwriting responsibilities on his own. With the new lineup came a renewed sense of freedom to work outside the comfortable zone.

“It’s a muscle. When we first started, I had never really written anything before. The beginning of the band for me was the beginning of any sort of artistic endeavor,” he explains. “As a group, I think we’re all sort of kicking out ideas in the studio, things I wouldn’t even think of, you know? So, it’s good to have. Having these years to strengthen that songwriting muscle has brought better equipment into the picture–it’s brought better musicians into the picture. The vehicle that we are now isn’t the vehicle that we started as. We’re always feeling like we are getting better, so, for me, that’s exciting. We’ve got new wheels on the car, so to speak.”

Bernkrant, who joined the band as a full-time member a year ago, first saw them play in 2015 and remarks on just how much the dynamic has changed since then. “Chris kind of is the Dog Apollo. He is and has been the main songwriter for the majority of the band’s existence. Now he’s got Paul and myself like to push him a little further. Paul is a huge wealth of knowledge. He’s a former member of the band Crash the Satellites, and he’s done a lot of things locally indie-wise. Paul is just a different songwriter. He’s got a great ear for it,” he says.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes from both the inside and outside perspective. We’ve started carving out a niche that everyone is good in outside of music, so everyone in the band can hit the ground running. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Rudasill has taken off with booking, lining up the band’s most recent weekend tour and establishing new contacts through the band’s growing network in and around the city. Bernkrant uses his marketing skill-set to build the branding vision. He is also developing the art for the new EP to be released in September. “With the songs we have written now, I’m trying to think what that is visually going to look like by the time we put the record out in September,” he says.

Lisa Thomas-Paxton and Tim Hall with Jax Live have played an instrumental role in the band’s success. “Obviously with Jax Live, they provide a lot of great insight. Tim provides a lot of great direction. Lisa might as well be part of the band. She’s more valuable than the other members. She’s our fifth member,” says Bernkrant.

“The goal is to get this thing up and running on our own and less about getting signed and being a slave to a label. Jacksonville is a tough town to market to musically because it does take a little extra work to get people to come to shows. But we sold out Jack Rabbits for our album release, and that was a blast. It was just awesome to be able to play the record from start to finish. From having the perspective of being behind the band all the time, Chris puts the same amount of energy into every show which is like a billion percent. That energy transfers over to the rest of the band.”

Says Rudasill, “It’s far easier playing for a larger audience than a smaller audience, as far as keeping the energy up. For me, that’s the challenge. If can play a killer show for like two people, especially if they don’t give a fuck about it, and still come out on top, that’s a good place to be mentally. It’s like Rocky when he’s punching the meat bag.”

About Liza Mitchell