Cincinnati’s The Dopamines bring old spirit and a new maturity to 'Tales of Interest'

The Dopamines return with their best album to date.

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click to enlarge The Dopamines - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
The Dopamines
It’s been a momentous seven years since my last official conversation with Cincinnati’s The Dopamines. The band won a 2011 Cincinnati Entertainment Award, released its third album, 2012’s blistering, blustery Vice, and did two European tours. Bassist Jon Weiner partnered with DAAP Girls’ Stuart MacKenzie as owners/operators of the Northside Yacht Club, touring guitarist Josh Goldman became an actual member, vocalist/guitarist Jon Lewis got married and both Lewis and Goldman became fathers. Now the band is about to release its fourth and best full-length, Tales of Interest, and, given some of the above, the musicians have backed away from their road-warrior status, limiting performances to a few local shows (though touring is set to pick up this month following the album's release).

“All you have to do is play for a half hour, everyone expects you to play wasted, so here’s free beer and a couple of bucks to spend on other nefarious things,” Lewis says of the live routine of late.

“How else do you party and still get paid a little bit?” notes drummer Michael Dickson.

It’s been almost exactly five years since Vices, but its follow-up has been in progress almost that long. The gap was lengthened by everyone’s day job schedules, particularly those of engineer Lewis and serial employee Dickson, and while The Dopamines’ previous albums took weeks to create, the recording of Tales of Interest stretched out over a year, the longest the band has ever deliberated over an album.

“After Vices, we toured with Teenage Bottlerocket, and after that I started writing shit,” Lewis says. “The songs were being written, we were just a little less active. I started writing demos differently; I was doing it all — programming drums, putting on guitar tracks and doing vocals at my house.”

With Goldman’s 2013 arrival, there was a shift in The Dopamines’ internal dynamic. While they had long employed a second touring guitarist, Goldman became the band’s first actual fourth member (as well as the first to join the band in the studio). And while most of the new songs had been written, Goldman’s effect on the band was palpable.

“It was more of an impact on the fact that we buckled down and actually did it,” Lewis says. “Josh really was a champion for ‘You gotta do this.’ There was always such a lack of consistency in getting together and Josh was always reminding us that we should be a band. We started getting together more often, and the second half of the album snowballed from there. I would say there was like a year’s worth of solid work put into the album, on and off. And it was the least I’ve been involved as far as songwriting and lyrics. (Weiner) kind of took the bull by the horns on this new record, which is why it’s our best one. But everyone stepped up; you can hear everyone putting their own shit on it.”

The time The Dopamines took before going into the studio and their deliberation once there has paid a tremendous dividend in the sound and structure of Tales of Interest. The album is sonically amazing, even as it retains the band’s signature passion and raw fury, all in the service of some of the best songs in its catalog.

“This is probably the most prepared record we’ve ever done,” Dickson says. “The other ones, we’d get the songs done in a couple of months and go, ‘We gotta record right now.’ This one had time to evolve and solidify itself, where the other ones weren’t done before we took them out of the oven.”

Beyond friendship, encouragement and being a great guitar foil for Lewis, Goldman also provided a home for Tales of Interest. He started his own label, Rad Girlfriend, six years ago in his native Dayton, Ohio and has released a number of full-length and 7-inch records for a variety of artists. He would have put out Tales of Interest even if he hadn’t been a bandmember.

“As a fan and friend of theirs before joining, the thought of The Dopamines not putting out another record and doing stuff was unacceptable,” says Goldman. “It would have been a heartbreak. It may sound corny, but I’m honored.”

“Boo!” Weiner catcalls. “Nerd!”

In an effort to reduce the honor, Lewis announces that he has several hours of video footage from their last tour perpetrating what he describes as “total debauchery.” From his account, they are not Zeppelinesque golden gods.

“It’s not like there’s a bunch of other people, or hot chicks — it’s literally us, alone in the middle of nowhere, drawing on each other with Sharpies,” Lewis says. “Screaming and throwing beer bottles at each other.”

Ever the fan, Goldman responds, “Still, definitely worth a watch.”

As for the album’s title, Lewis’ own nerd-dom comes to the fore; it’s a reference to an episode of his favorite TV show, Futurama. And when the album is praised as a perfect summer release, he self-deprecatingly notes, “I hope seven or eight other people think so. It’s the blue ’82 LeBaron summer record, where the seal coat is chipping off and all you can see is the flat color.” But when the “breakthrough” concept is suggested, he reveals an interesting perspective.

“That’s kind of a buzzkill, because I don’t really want to do anything,” Lewis says with wry weariness. “If this record did real well and it forced us to make considerations in terms of activity, it’s kind of a bummer. I wish we’d written this back then. Every new thing is the best you’ve done, but this one feels open and raw.”

“It sounds like professional musicians wrote parts of these songs,” says Dickson. “It’s weird.”

Obviously, The Dopamines would accept success if it came along; maturity dictates they would simply have different definitions for that elusive outcome. Weiner sums up the band’s decade-long run thusly — “For 10 years, we’ve been professionally maladjusted, degenerate garbage humans. I’m 30 now, so I’ve essentially spent one-third of my life being an idiot in this band.”

“I think it’s more fun to look back on all that shit than it was experiencing it,” Lewis says.

“The stories could definitely be a small book that no one would want to read,” Weiner says, “and would make my mom never talk to me.”

THE DOPAMINES host a release party for their new album Friday at Northside Yacht Club. More info:

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