Since The Dopamines got serious about spreading their Pop/Punk message to the wider world, the Cincinnati trio has notched some impressive accomplishments: their Soap and Lampshades EP and eponymous full-length in 2008, a trio of split 7-inches, Cincinnati Entertainment Award nominations and a relentless out-of-town touring ethic. Their excellent sophomore full-length, Expect the Worst, is slated to drop at the end of the month in both vinyl and CD formats, and local fans can grab a copy at Friday’s release show at the Southgate House.
The Dopamines should be basking in the glow of the spotlight, but it seems as though the band is coping with a lack of respect that would have made Rodney Dangerfield edgy.
“We’ve done a decent amount of interviews but we’ve never done one in our own city,” guitarist/vocalist Jon Lewis says over beers at the East End Cafe. “We play enough for a local band. We’re just as much a local band as we are what could be considered a national band.”
“We used to play way more, but the more we’ve been doing (out of town shows) the less we play Cincinnati,” bassist/vocalist Jon Weiner says. “But we just did three shows in April. We do a lot of stuff under the Cincinnati radar, a lot of basement shows.”
Lewis and Weiner fully realize that their concentration on out-of-town gigs naturally translates to a lessened local presence. The fact is that The Dopamines — which also features the double-clutched, eight-armed drumming of Michael Dickson — are in this for the long haul.
The Dopamines began four years ago when Lewis and Weiner, then with Black Tie Bombers and Ukraine Crane (Lewis in both bands, Weiner in the latter), developed an interest in Pop/Punk and discussed assembling a separate band in that vein. The trio officially launched in late 2006 with BTB drummer Matt Hemingway.
“The Dopamines started really lightheartedly as a party band,” Weiner says. “Which we pretty much still are, there’s just serious stuff around it.”
Operating with reduced expectations has meant every benchmark The Dopamines reached has been an unintentional but greatly welcomed event. Without concrete planning, the band recorded a demo and booked their own tours. Things have fallen into place ever since.
“There’s been no real goals,” Lewis says. “We weren’t like, ‘We have to do this by this time.’ Luck brought us in this direction and we’re facing something we could take advantage of, and we did.”
“Sometimes I think the worst thing a band can do is try too hard,” Weiner says.
Without overthinking the process, The Dopamines have evolved from a self-described “bad Ramones party band” into a Pop/Punk outfit that nods in the direction of Green Day but clearly creates from a unique perspective.
“All the bands we’ve ever been in have been Punk bands,” Weiner says. “We just decided to focus on a specific style with The Dopamines, more simple, poppy Punk songs.”
“The Ramones was a good foundation to start from,” Lewis says. “Now I think it just sounds like The Dopamines.”
Expect the Worst is the best evidence of that particular point. A perfect blend of the band’s Pop melodicism and structural simplicity combined with adrenalized Punk abandon and confrontational energy, the 13-track disc barely cracks the 25-minute mark. Still, Expect the Worst — co-produced by Less Than Jake’s Vinnie Fiorello and longtime band friend Matt Drastic and released on Fiorello‘s Paper Plastick label — is as fleshed out and well-rounded as albums clocking in at twice that length.
“I feel like originally we wanted it to be more aggressive,” Weiner says. “But as a result I think it ended up being a little bit poppier than previous stuff we released. The lyrical content is significantly more melancholy than the first record.”
That lyrical ennui is likely a product of Lewis’ prolonged unemployment during the writing phase of Expect the Worst. The flip side was that Lewis’ suddenly open schedule allowed The Dopamines to tour more than they ever had before, but Lewis’ financial fears bubbled to the surface while he was writing.
“It’s all a little darker,” Lewis says. “You can’t write about things that don’t come naturally. What’s come naturally as the band has progressed is less about masking stuff and more flat out real shit.”
Lewis and Weiner are comfortable with the idea that Expect the Worst is The Dopamines’ most mature work to date. At least as far as their age and experience is concerned.
“The first record we put out, we had just barely been a band,” Weiner says. “Since then we’ve toured the entire country and Europe, so it’s the whole maturity thing. Even though we’re completely immature.”
“There will never be anything mature about this band,” Lewis says with a laugh. “All we do is make fun of each other and each other’s songs and get drunk.”
THE DOPAMINES (www.myspace.com/thedopaminesohio) celebrate the release of their new CD Friday at the Southgate House with Till Plains, Mixtapes, The Frankl Project and Vacation. Get show and club details here.