brent johnson chats with guitarist Scott Romig of rock band Dexter Freebish …
Dexter Freebish can lay claim to something few other rock bands can:
Their own flavor of ice cream.
Visit Thomas Sweet Ice Cream in the college town of New Brunswick, N.J., and you can order a concoction of vanilla, chocolate, caramel and peanuts called “Dexter Freebish.” Never mind that none of the group members attended Rutgers University there. Or that their hometown is 1,725 miles away in Austin, Texas.
“We’re good friends with the owner,” guitarist Scott Romig explains — but more on that story below.
Other people may know Dexter Freebish for a different reason. They broke onto alt-rock radio in 2000 with the hooky hit “Leaving Town” — culled from their debut album, A Life Of Saturdays, released on fabled Capitol Records, home of The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
But creative differences led Dexter to part ways with Capitol shortly thereafter. They soldiered on independently, releasing another record before taking a seven-year hiatus.
Now, they’re back with a third album, Shine On, and are preparing to play live again. B&B’s Brent Johnson spoke with Romig over the phone about the revival.
B&B: What was the impetus behind the new album?
Scott Romig: When we kind of put the band on hold back in 2004, we weren’t even sure if we were going to come back and start playing together. It wasn’t because of any personality issues. The whole music industry at the time was in such a state of flux, we sort of felt we were broken-hearted. We’d been through the ringer so many times on the business aspect, we were just like: We need to do something else for a while.
So we did. Most of us started having families and kids. Then, a couple years ago, we naturally gravitated towards talking to each other — ’cause we’re all great friends. We started writing, and before we knew it, we had a new record.
And we wanted to try something sonically a little different. We grew up in the mid to late ’80s, really loving the British and Irish bands that were kind of being imported into America. Duran Duran, U2, Echo & The Bunnymen — stuff like that. This was the first record we hadn’t had to please the record company with. We didn’t have anyone else guiding our creative process. So it was like: Let’s just do what we want to do. And that’s what we did. So that’s why there’s a lot more of a dance element to this record than others. A lot more keyboards.
We wanted to have fun with it. We figured: If we’re gonna do it, let’s do something we’re proud of and that we’ll love. I think it’s the best one we’ve put out to date.
B&B: Your band arrived at a time when the record industry was changing — with Napster exploding and music going digital and online. Did you feel that it was unfortunate to break at that time?
SR: The timing was really bad. (laughs) And it was completely out of our control.
It’s really fascinating. I think 20 years ago, there were not near the number of band and singer-songwriters and artists there are today, because of the technology and the cost of it made it so prohibitive that only people with a decent amount of talent could actually
participate and have a shot. But now, you buy a Mac, and it’s got Garage Band — which is basically studio-grade recording — and you can make a go of it. Which is super cool. But it also means there’s a lot more competition now.
B&B: You mentioned how you were inspired by U2 and Echo & The Bunnymen on this record. Did you go back and listen to their albums, or did it happen more organically?
SR: It was much more organically. It wasn’t a process of going and listening to a particular song and saying, ‘That’s the sound!’ It was much more kind of just trying to embody the feeling that those records evoked for us when we were teenagers.
B&B: What were the records you listened most to as a teenager?
SR: I started out at about 13, 14 really into Eddie Van Halen. It was a massive Van Halen phase. And I was really into Duran Duran. So it was kind of two worlds colliding. I had kind of a hard rock thing I was into, but also kind of a new wave thing. At the time, you were pretty much in one camp or the other. (laughs) I was straddling both worlds there.
Then, I remember the first time I saw the video for ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ by U2 — the Red Rocks live version. And I got full body chills. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is like the coolest band ever.’
B&B: Your Wikipedia page says you guys named the band after a roller coaster at Astroland amusement park in Houston. True?
SR: It was called Dexter Freebish’s Electric Roller Ride. For us, coming up with a band name has probably been one of the biggest struggles we’ve had as a band. Simply because, there are so many bands out there that took all the good names. Once a band has established itself in more than one state, they kind of lay claim to that name, even if it was 10 or 15 years ago. So it’s really hard to come up with a great name. I think we were just hanging out one night, and somebody yelled, ‘Hey, what about Dexter Freebish?’ And it was kind of like, ‘Well, we don’t have anything better.’ (laughs)
B&B: So how did a band from Texas end up with an ice cream named after them in New Jersey?
SR: That’s a funny story. We actually met Mike (the shop’s owner) when we were signed with Capitol Records. His cousin was actually our A&R guy at the label. We just became really good friends with Mike and his wife. He was like, ‘We love you guys! I’ll do whatever I can. I’ll name an ice cream after you guys.’
B&B: Ever eat it?
SR: I have. I was up there a couple years back and I want by the shop and had a taste of it. It was great.