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By: John Sturm

Dorje are (as someone recently said) one of the UK’s best kept secrets. But it seems that this is going to change over the next year or two. After the outstanding success of their EP Catalyst, the band are in a sweet spot now where they are pulling in the numbers at gigs as well as getting more notice from “the industry”. Currently winding up their tour in support of Catalyst, John Sturm caught up with the band before their show in Cardiff for a chat about social media, the financial implications of touring, influences and a question of biscuits.

(((o))): How important is social media for bands old and new?

Ben Minal (BM, drums): It’s vital. The way the people consume information and media and interact with things they’re interested in has changed. If you don’t reach them in a way that they are now behaving, then you’re not going to reach them. How many people read a physical copy of Kerrang versus following an online blog about music?

Rob Chapman (RC, vocals and guitar): I started YouTube simply because I played a gig in London, that cost me the fuel to get there, the parking ticket I inevitably got when I parked, hours of blood sweat and tears…. and 5 people turned up to see a band that was really, really good. Then I realised if I made one video, it didn’t cost me anything and it was available forever for the entire world.

(((o))): How do you find the balance between public and private life. Where do you draw the line on what to include?

Rabea Massaad (RM, lead guitar): Personally, I think you draw the line at political views; religious views…. even so much as dietary views. The way people react to your opinions can be quite negative. It’s primarily music, gear, tour related. Anything to do with the band. And then people can’t really complain and if they do it’s because they’re being awkward. We’ve all been caught out by saying things on our pages that people have a go at us and in the end it’s not worth it.

RC: We have a following, which is a brilliant, brilliant, awesome thing to have and obviously it’s given us a career, which is a fantastic thing to have. But sometimes it gets a little bit difficult…. like when you get marriage proposals or death threats or all sorts of horrible things that we get. But the other side of it that you manage to chart and EP get to #1 for 3 days [in the UK iTunes Rock Chart] with zero marketing budget, zero advertising budget.

(((o))): Talking of iTunes, do you think there is shift back to the album as a whole product or are people still only interested in the individual track?

RM: I would say that EPs are more popular than ever right now. For bigger bands as well.

Dave Hollingworth (DH, bass): I think the age that we live in, with social media, is that fans expect regular content, quickly and constantly. There is a lot more involved with putting a full album together, not just in terms of making the actual album, but everything else that has to be done to do a proper actual album release; it takes a lot longer and arguably you’ve got a much more refined product at the end of it, but generally fans want stuff all the time… and a lot of bands do EP and singles quite often and albums every few years as that’s what fans probably want at the moment.

(((o))): Do you think that will have a negative impact on the creative process or your desire to write? This idea of consistent content.

RC: Well, the concept of “album” was an industry label thing. Bands released singles and EPs and they created and released and created and released…. it was natural. And labels wanted to find a way of monetising that.

BM: People’s attentions spans are shorter than ever, so if you’ve got 10 tracks it’s better to split it into two releases and then you can put a whole cycle around it. Gig around it, make videos around it. It makes more sense.

(((o))): With regards to attention spans, do you limit yourselves when writing to the shorter song or do you just write and see where it goes?

DH: Writing a good song is just as rewarding as writing the stuff that is more self-indulgent. Writing a song is more of a band/collective thing to do.

RM: We all love bands as well as musicians and virtuosos. It’s like an unspoken thing, that there is an expectation that we’re going to be writing a song that is going to be on an album or EP. That it lasts between 3 and 5 mins and its gonna have a chorus and climax…. we don’t discuss that it though, it’s just how it ends up  

BM: Dorje is kind of a fusion of different bands and influences, but all of those bands have songs. Most of the writing comes from Bea and Rob in terms of riffs but it very quick evolves into a song structure.

RC: We tend to throw away the rulebook quite a lot. For example, we wrote a song 2 weeks ago, which we playing on this tour, verse 2 is not even really a verse and I really enjoy that about Dorje. We’re not really a A-B-C-A-B-A band sometimes it’s more of a Z-X-B-1-A… for example, with ‘All’ [track from the band’s EP ‘Catalyst], Bea said to me ‘this is a song, this piece of music isn’t about solos or great riffs, it’s a song’ and I was wondering how people were going to take that from us, because a lot of our followers are really into the guitar thing or the bass thing or the drum thing….

RM: We’ve definitely evolved into that. In the time it’s taken us to get to this EP, we went from ‘well were a riff-rock band that guitar fans are gonna like because of the loads of riffs’ to now, where it’s about a band that writes cool songs that don’t have to have solos in. You know? That everything is important. It is still guitar heavy but it’s not just about that anymore, I think it’s really important that every element of the song or the music is memorable.

BM: There’s loads of different approaches to writing. There’s stuff that’s come from grooves, from bass parts… but we’ve been together for so long that we can hear a riff and it’s so quickly becomes a song, there’s such an understanding musically and a communication there, that it very quickly becomes a Dorje song. It becomes the sound of Dorje.

RC: I have to say, the one thing about Dorje is that we find writing very easy. We write and we have a song really.

(((o))): It’s been quite a journey to get to this point for the band.

RM: The 3 of us [Rabea, Ben and Dave] have played together for about 10 years. We were in a band together [in Yorkshire] and we tried to do the full-time job and band thing, rehearsing 6 nights a week, not gigging as much as we wanted. It kinda wore us down. I think Ben was the first one to snap and go ‘I want to move down South, I’m gonna go to ACM and get a degree, I’m just fed up of doing this now’ and I went ‘well what’s gonna happen to the band?…. well I’ll move down there as well!!’ and Dave said ‘well I’m moving to!!’. So we all moved down and went to ACM, moved into a house together and after about 6 months I was working in a pub where I met Rob.

(((o))): How did that first conversation go?

RM: He came into the pub I was working in and I thought ‘I swear I know this guy, I swear I know his voice’ and then it clicked that he was the guy from YouTube. At that point I’d already seen a few of his videos and something in my mind said ‘ask him if he wants to jam’ so I did…

RC: Yeah, I was well up for it.

RM: ….so he asked what kind of style so I told him my influences and he said ‘I love all those guys, let’s have a jam’ and that turned into a conversation about getting Ben and Dave involved, very quickly.

RC: Initially we were The Rob Chapman Band but I really hated it and I never wanted to be that guy. So I phoned the guys up one day and said ‘can we just be a band’ and we became Dorje.

(((o))): Who was the one artist or band that had the biggest impact on you?

RM: Nuno Bettencourt. There was a solo that he did in Rio de Janerio that I downloaded on Kazaa and it was a 7min video, crappy VHS quality, but that video was like… ‘that’s it, that’s what I want to be’.

RC: Chris Cornell and Joe Satriani. Just mind blowing.

DH: Stanley Clark’s School Days album. My Dad had bought me a bass and I didn’t really play it I didn’t think it sounded very cool but that album just changed everything, if you can do that with the bass…

BM: When I was younger Vinnie Colaiuta and Terry Bozzio… It wasn’t until I got into System of a Down that I started playing heavier. But it was Incubus that actually made me want to be in a band. José shaped my sound…

RC: That’s a really good point because different influences make you want to be different things, like Joe made me want to be a guitar player, Chris made me want to be a singer and Metallica made me want to be in a band.

RM: Exactly, it was Incubus and Karnivool that made me want to be in a band.

(((o))): So what’s in the future for Dorje?

RM: It’s impossible to know! All we know is there will be another record to put out…

DH: I imagine there will be lots of touring.

RM: Yeah, lots of gigs and hopefully in different territories. Luckily we charted in 14 different territories and we hit the Billboard 200 in the US which means hopefully we can do Europe, Australia, the US…

RC: We have been offered an American tour but there are some financial implications and considerations for us to think about.

(((o))): On that point, is there a value in taking on a tour that is not financially beneficial but will help publicise the band, that gets your name out there?

RC: Well that’s the thing; we all need to eat…. if you spend a month on the road, you can’t work and then you can’t make money to pay rent, pay your bills. So you try to find a balance. Promoters are interested in us, but it’s about getting the right kind of deal, letting them know that we do pull a crowd, that YouTube hits have turned into real people at venues

(((o))): Final question: if you were a biscuit. What one would you be?

RC: I would be a Party Ring because I’m party at the front, business at the back, I’m crunchy on top…

RM: …and a ring piece

RC: …and I’m a ring piece

[Laughter]

DH: I’d be a really, really dry gluten free, very pale looking, slightly mouldy digestive.

BM: A Hob Nob!

RM: A Wagon Wheel. Because they’ve got a jammy centre and I’m pretty jammy as a person…

BM: …and once a month you’re really irritable.

[Much laughter]

RM: I don’t get it.

RC: What he’s saying is that you’re a woman and you have period.

RM: [To BM] Oh fuck off….

[Even more laughter]

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