By Kyle Cornwell
Dikembe is an emo punk quartet from Gainesville, Florida. The group consists of Ryan Willems (Guitar), Randy Reddell (Bass), David Bell (Drums), and Steven Gray (Guitar/Vocals). They have released two EPs and three studio albums since 2013. We got to speak with lead singer Steven Gray about the band’s return to their DIY roots, their brand new album Hail Something, and what the Provo scene should know about embracing a DIY aesthetic. This is part four of our Up The Punx Series, where we examine the Provo Emo/Punk scene, how to improve it, and how it compares to other thriving scenes across the US. For part three, click here.
Tell our readers a little bit about Dikembe. Who are you, how did you form, and how would you describe your music?
Hi, I’m Steven Gray I play guitar and sing! I met Ryan in high school, and being in the same city for college made it so we became sort of inseparable. When we met David, it was sort of gravy from there. We all just gelled. Our band completely changed lanes when Randy joined. We had this instant chemistry and wrote Mediumship not long after that. Randy was also a huge inspiration for our band ethically as well. He has a very straightforward outlook on bull–, so through touring with him we realized, “Oh sh– he is right. F– everything let’s just rock.”
As for our music, I think it has definitely changed in the 5-6 years we’ve been together. We went from playing this sort of emo-pop-punk hybrid, because that’s what we loved in college. As we got older, we started discovering the old punk and grunge records we now listen to constantly. These influences have morphed us into this weird grunge-y punk band. I say weird in a good way. I really like our band.
What were your goals as a band when Dikembe started?
Ryan and I started Dikembe so that we could play shows. Our older band, Wavelets, was split across a few cities in Florida, so getting together to play was nearly impossible. Mix that with the fact that there was some weird drama between some of the members, and there was just no reason for Ryan and I to sort of not branch out. I actually originally played drums in the band. I was horrible, but we did write “Tony Kukush” when I was still playing drums, technically. We always just wanted to play shows.
How would you define “do-it-yourself” in today’s scene, and was the DIY mindset something you thought about as a new band? Is there another term you would prefer to use to describe this way of doing things?
DIY is a tricky phrase. To me, DIY means taking charge of your art and only working with people who have an honest connection to the music. Most of the time, the people who REALLY care about your record are the people who helped make it. Releases should be a labor of love. Your art should make you feel invincible, and the best way to accomplish this feeling is to surround yourself with encouraging and like-minded individuals. DIY ethics take the bull– business aspect out of music. There is a sense of freedom that is unbeatable.
How would you say that DIY has changed from a couple of decades ago?
The first and obvious answer is: the internet. Booking tours is unbelievably easy now. Make a route, send emails, get in the f–ing van. That’s it. Putting out music is also easy. Record some songs, put them on the f–ing internet. We have this unlimited access in our community that was unheard of when talking on the phone was the best way of communicating. I know the deal with a venue before we get there. Kids know what we sound like before they head out to the shows. It’s insane. I used to read magazines to find out about tours and records. Dark times.
The second, and sadder, way DIY has changed is the advent of this mindset that the “industry” aspect of music hasn’t changed. People still follow this formulaic, prehistoric record label format. Label gives you money, label owns your art and rights to do whatever they want with it. This system was born out of the idea that in order to be successful, you need to put up a bunch of money for various reasons, and that without that money, a release is not legitimate. Money is a large part of the equation, but it shouldn’t be. Work with people you love. Pool your resources. Don’t let promoters make you sell tickets to play shows. Have confidence in your ability to create and perform. Don’t let money navigate your existence.
A little more than a year ago, you self-released a fantastic record, Ledge, and your new album, Hail Something, was released on July 12th. What were some of the things that brought you back to self-releasing material?
With Ledge, we had the four songs and LOVED them. It was this thing like, “We want people to hear these songs right away! They rule!” This excitable attitude was dashed to the rocks when we started shopping it around. Not one person was excited enough about the songs to just say, “Yea! We will put this out! It’s really good!” Instead we were met with, “You should write some more and do another LP!” That wasn’t what we wanted. We didn’t want to wait until the songs were stagnant to let people hear them. We had the songs. We were ready to go. We were fortunate enough to have some money to put up for the records. So we just said, “F– it. Let’s do it ourselves.” We did, and it was awesome!
When shopping the demos for Hail Something, it was a similar experience. We knew we wanted to record it ourselves, because we did that with Ledge (and everything else we have ever done) and we felt that we were getting better at recording. We just needed some money for gear. My instruments don’t work. I borrow equipment to play shows. I figured, “Hey this record is good. Maybe I can get some new stuff to play on the record and then live I can sound good as well.” We wanted the sound of the recording to do the album justice. But as soon as money came into the equation, everything went to sh–. It really caused us to take a step back and say, “Why do we make music?” The answer is we do it because it’s the only thing that makes sense to us. We don’t want to be rich, we don’t want to be famous. We want to make art that people can relate to on our own terms. I don’t want anyone to tell me what to do about my passions because they have more money than me. F– that.
So we took everything into our own hands, and Death Protector Collective was born.
I should probably add that I am not discrediting the people that work hard in our scene. Some labels are legitimately good people releasing music they care about. Some booking agents only book bands they care about. Same with managers and TMs. Those humans should be reveled hard in our scene.
What did you hope to accomplish when you went back to the DIY way of doing things?
Honestly we wanted to remove the bull– from making music. Worrying about label stuff adds an extra layer of stress that can really deter bands, especially younger ones. If you can send emails and go to the post office, then you don’t have to answer to anyone. As I said earlier, this is a really freeing concept. I don’t think about money anymore. I focus on making music I love and making connections with people. It’s great.
So you’re releasing all of your material and some extras through the Death Protector Collective. What is Death Protector Collective, and where did the idea to release through it come from?
Death Protector Collective is our version of a label. We work with like-minded people to promote music we love. It is basically our way of sharing resources with the scene. We have no focus on profit.
What are your plans for the Death Protector Collective and future releases?
Right now we are just focusing on Hail Something, but eventually I hope to help younger bands get their names out. If Hail Something does well, I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t use any excess money to promote and release music from bands I love.
Some friends ofReach Provo are starting the large task of assembling a DIY collective for punk and emo bands in Provo, Utah, hoping to promote and cultivate a new local punk/emo scene. How would you compare that with the Death Protector Collective’s mission?
That’s great! I think it’s similar to DPC in that it has this grassroots, revolutionary feel to it. This sort of realization that no one gives a sh– about your band/scene as much as you do.
If there is one thing you could tell yourself when you started recording Ledge, what would it be?
Pay attention to how much more fun you have with this record. Burn your wallet. Be alert. Be alert be alert be alert be alert. Get help.
Looking back at the past year, what are some of your favorite moments from the DIY process?
Recording Hail Something was the best time I’ve ever had making music. We had a seance before recording to try and reach the previous owner, Bill, and DPC paid for the ouija board. AKA we bought a ouija board and f–ed around. It was great.
I would definitely say the realization that the whole label system is prehistoric and obsolete was one of the greatest moments of my life. Not to discredit all the labels that have helped us in the past. We would be nothing without them, probably. But times have changed. A bigger wallet and a good taste in music doesn’t mean you should own someone else’s art. If labels don’t adapt they will die.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming months?
TOUR WITH SLINGSHOT DAKOTA. They are like the parents who let you get f–ed up on vacation. I am anxiously anticipating the release of Hail Something. I went to the brink to make it and I hope people enjoy it!
Also my daughter will be walking soon, so that rules.
Are you guys planning on coming to Utah any time soon?
We played there once. Not a lot of people came but I whooped a dude at Magic The Gathering at the merch table and Wu Tang played for free across the street and we couldn’t find Brian from Weatherbox for like eight hours. Your state is wild. Randy described this show by saying, “Everyone could’ve gotten a table at Chili’s without calling ahead.” That’s pretty spot on.