When your last show was at the Machine Shop and your next one is a major music festival, chances are you’re no newbie to the game.
Caleb Burger (vocals), Mike Piper (guitar), Hooch (drums), and Adam Subtractum (bass) get to hoist their dirtied shovels again this summer under their flag of Dystopian i in Pontiac, Michigan. These Dirt Fest veterans have some big things in the mix and we couldn’t be happier for them.
Mike gave us a few minutes of introspection. He bantered a bit; a little inside baseball on the life and times of the merch man, how a band is also like a family, and the new EP – a major focus of theirs this year. We recommend a tall, frosty mug of suds in hand as you enjoy the following interview. We will be checking identification, sorry, federal law.
After you finish the tasty read, hit us up on our Facebook or Twitter and let us know your thoughts or even a great micro-brew, we’ll listen to suggestions.
NRR: Thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for National Rock Review’s Dirt Fest 2016, again, coverage. What’s been going on with the band, Dystopian i, so far since we saw you last in Birch Run?
Mike Piper: Thank you, as well, for fitting us in with the hoard of interviews you’ve been working on. After Dirt Fest last year, we decided we were going to take a break from booking shows to work on new material and recording. Aside from one show at The Machine Shop in September that was too much fun to pass up, we’ve either been in the practice room or in the studio.
We’ve also added a website where we compile all of our content and links into one central hub where you can view, listen to or read basically anything and everything we’ve done so far along with a safe, secure and fully functional store where you can buy merchandise and music with any major credit card or PayPal.
We would like to wish a happy birthday to our bassist Adam Subtractum. Here's a picture of him illegally drinking a…
NRR: You guys recently had a certain bassist get thrown under and then had the bus back over him and get him again before taking off for the next show. Are you just a group of musicians or is there a feel of family on and off of the stage?
Mike Piper: First of all, if Adam ever lets us throw him under a bus you can be sure it’ll be on YouTube. Adam is actually a really good guitarist as well as a bass player and he plays in a lounge band called City Scope. He just kind of lost interest playing bass one day and left for a short time to work on that project.
The band has always felt like a family. We fight and argue like family and we look out for each other like family so when Adam left, it was like losing a family member. We tried a couple people out in his absence but it just didn’t feel the same without him. Thankfully we finally talked him into joining back up and we’re happy to say that the band feels like a family again.
NRR: I hear that you guys have an EP cooking. What details can you give me on the new material?
Mike Piper: Yes, the EP is actually “cooking” as we speak and should be delivered in time to release this year at Dirt Fest. It’s a six track EP with, what we consider, our four best songs as well as an intro and a transitional track that Mario Warfield of Myths and Legends (also on the Dirt Fest lineup this year) composed for us.
We wanted to keep it heavy and raw and we made it a point to keep the digital “studio magic” to a minimum and to not stray too far from what we are able to recreate live as humans playing real instruments. We really like the flow of the music and the message in the lyrics and we feel like it’s a good start as something that really defines our sound and us, as a band.
We recorded two songs with Mario and the other two with Matt Dalton who are both awesome producers and fellow musicians. It was a lot of fun working with them and we’re looking forward to doing so on future recordings.
NRR: What’s got to be the most interesting moment of the band’s on stage time since you formed in 2013?
Mike Piper: (Laughing), hands down, at our second show ever. We played a small outdoor festival and our original vocalist, Mike Heil, who is in Five Hundredth Year now, also on the Dirt Fest lineup this year, decided he wanted to wear a strap-on and light it on fire. He and Adam went to the sex shop together and picked up the “prop” and Mike came up with a flame-retardant foam pad to wear underneath.
He wore the sock-covered strap-on sticking out of his zipper for the first two songs and then mid-set he doused it in lighter fluid, set it on fire and proceeded to sing half of the next song with his junk on fire and people went nuts for it. Even if anyone in the band right now were as crazy as Mike is I don’t believe we could find a venue or a festival crazy enough to allow us to do something like that again. I believe we are the only band who has ever done that and I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing but you can find that video on YouTube.
NRR: How does it feel to play a well established festival like Dirt Fest for the third time and when more eyes than ever will be focusing on this show?
Mike Piper: It always feels great to be a part of Dirt Fest. It’s definitely the best place in Michigan to be if you are a local act and we have a great time every year. This year will be an even better year for us considering so many bands we know and work with are on the lineup and so many of our friends and family members have made Dirt Fest a part of their yearly routine.
We also had a great experience on stage, with the crowd and at the merch table last year that we feel like a lot of people are going to make it a point to catch our set this year, which is a great feeling.
NRR: Since you have some posts about new merchandise, how do you figure when a new item is a keeper and when you need to close something out and move on, with merch being a huge investment for most bands?
Mike Piper: Well, we keep track of everything. Every size and style shirt, every can cooler, every dollar spent, and every dollar earned so the numbers will always tell you whether the items you offer are worth keeping around or not. We’ve been pretty successful with color variations of certain designs. If someone doesn’t like one color there’s always another option and we have a few fans who have collected each variation we do and are asking for more colors. Closeout merch gets reduced in price until it’s either donated or we have a crowd to throw it at.
NRR: Tell me about the new video, how was the thought process for figuring out “Parasite Earth” needed the love?
Mike Piper: “Parasite Earth” started out as an experiment. We had just tried and failed at attempting to bring in a second guitarist and chose to throw out the material we had written together, Adam was on his hiatus and we just had no drive left for writing music.
I decided I wanted to try and write a song along to a set of lyrics instead of writing lyrics along to the music the way we had always done it. It was my first attempt at writing lyrics and I chose to write them about how we, as humans, create everything good and bad in society as a defining track for what the band is all about. Dystopian I means that “I” make up part of this dystopian society that we are living in, “I” meaning all of us.
Hooch and I slapped some music around the lyrics and we took it right into the studio. We were really happy with the recording and thought the lyrics were pretty good so I decided I was a video editor and spent like 35 hours learning how to make a basic typography video in Adobe After Effects so we could release the track with a lyric video. We have artists and tech nerds right here in the band so we try to dabble in producing some content ourselves.
NRR: If you were in the crowd after your set, and heard two people talking about Dystopian i, how would you hope the conversation might go?
Mike Piper: Obviously, it would be ideal to hear positive comments and that they enjoyed the set but if not that’d be okay too. I’m a firm believer that any negative comment is usually an honest comment and that you can take constructive criticism from it, if nothing else.
NRR: What can fans expect to see on stage when you hit the stage in Pontiac in a couple of weeks?
Mike Piper: A seven foot tall Scandinavian man with a wizard beard hiding behind a drum set and three other people, one of whom will be screaming and, occasionally, throwing t-shirts. We haven’t incorporated clean vocals and changed our name to “Framing Benjamin” yet so we’ll probably scare your girlfriend just as much as we did last year.
NRR: Are you guys still music fans outside of being on stage, and if so, is there anyone on the Dirt Fest bill you’re excited to catch since everyone plays on the same day this year?
Mike Piper: The obvious, Killswitch Engage. They headlined Dirt Fest the first year we played and they destroyed the crowd with just about every song that anyone hoped they would play. We’re definitely looking forward to Psychostick because they put on a really fun and engaging show and they’re the greatest band in the world and everything and we plan to check out our friends in Myths and Legends, Five Hundredth Year and After the Minor.