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(Dot Dash (l to r): Terry Banks, Danny Ingram and Hunter Bennett)
Dot Dash is a tenured Washington D.C. trio that deftly combines melodic hooks, jangly guitars and angular punk energy to create their infectious brand of retro indie pop.
The band features guitarist/vocalist Terry Banks and bassist Hunter Bennett (both previously of power poppers Julie Ocean; Banks was also a latter-day member of beloved Sarah Records band St. Christopher), along with former Youth Brigade and Swervedriver drummer Danny Ingram.
Their seventh album, Madman in the Rain (The Beautiful Music, 2022), is a solid set of songs from dreamy pop opener “Forever Far Out” to energetic rockers like “Tense and Nervous” and “Everything = Dust,” and on to moody, psych-tinged tracks like “Madman in the Rain,” “Trip Over Clouds” and the surfy garage swirl of “Animal Stone.”
“My bandmates and I always record really quickly, with rhythm guitar, bass and drums done live,” Banks told me in the interview below. “The vocals are overdubbed and I add an extra track of guitar, but we try to treat recording like playing a gig.”
That live energy brings immediacy to this impressive album, adorned by some crucial keyboard work from producer Geoff Sanoff. These 12 tracks collectively conjure ’80s post-punk, new wave and college rock, which is no surprise since Banks counts The Velvet Underground, The Byrds, early R.E.M., Orange Juice and Aztec Camera among his major influences. (Also worth noting that Dot Dash is named for a Wire song.)
But one band made a bigger impression on Banks than most others. “I listened to The Jam so much as a teenager it’s sort of imprinted on my brain,” he said.
I caught up with Banks by email in the weeks following the release of Madman in the Rain.
Congrats on the great new album. It’s been a strange four years since your last release. How did this album come together?
Terry Banks: Thanks! Heading into Spring 2020 we were just about to book studio time to make a new record when the world went on hold, so we postponed making the record. And then… two years went by. Last Spring (2022) we started playing gigs again and now we have a new record out. That’s all I remember!
How did your approach to Madman in the Rain differ from your 2018 album Proto Retro?
Terry Banks: I don’t think our approach differed much. My bandmates and I always record really quickly, with rhythm guitar, bass and drums done live. The vocals are overdubbed and I add an extra track of guitar, but we try to treat recording like playing a gig.
This time, the big difference is that Geoff Sanoff, who produced both Madman in the Rain and Proto Retro, played keyboards on the record and they’re really great and add a lot of color and texture. In places, he sounds like Steve Nieve or something.
Terry Banks: Sure, I like all those bands a lot. I’m not sure any of them are a massive influence on us, but I think London Calling is probably the greatest album ever made and regarding Robyn Hitchcock, The Soft Boys’ Underwater Moonlight is a stone-cold classic. Pat Fish (aka the Jazz Butcher) did some wonderful stuff, to be sure. My bandmates and I are honored if our music makes you think of any of them!
Who do you consider some of your major influences?
Terry Banks: I listened to The Jam so much as a teenager it’s sort of imprinted on my brain, so there’s them. The Byrds and The Velvet Underground also loom really large for me. And the Postcard Records stuff…Orange Juice and Aztec Camera. Early R.E.M., too. I’m sure there are others, but those are the big ones.
What is it about late ’70s and early ’80s post-punk/new wave that captured and held your attention for so long?
Terry Banks: Hmmm… the music just had a lot of dynamics and character. Good energy, short songs, cool graphics. And a ton of variety (often within the same band).
Did you move to England in the ’80s because of your love for that music? What were some of the best shows you saw (or played) during that era?
Terry Banks: Pretty much, yeah. I saw some great stuff. I saw The La’s probably five times. Saw The Television Personalities a few times. Who else? Felt, The Jasmine Minks, McCarthy, The Dentists, Thee Headcoats, and an amazing, little-known band from Liverpool called Kit who always blew me away.
Probably the best show I saw was The Go-Betweens. They were in their Tallulah / 16 Lovers Lane ‘pop’ phase and it was glorious. As far as gigs played, St. Christopher played with some of the Sarah label bands, the best of which was The Hit Parade.
Terry Banks: Well, I saw (the late, great) Tommy Keene open for The Jam when I was in high school. Joining that bill would’ve been amazing: The Jam, Tommy Keene, and Dot Dash—I can see it now. And Chronic Town- and Murmur- era R.E.M. were totally great, so there’s them, too.
If you made me a mixed tape of your favorite songs ever, what five songs would definitely be on it?
Terry Banks: That’s a hard one. Maybe it would be:
Who are some of your favorite contemporary musicians releasing music these days?
Terry Banks: OK, let’s see… some new faves include The Reds, Pinks & Purples, The Nude Party (iffy name, amazing band), Bad Moves, The Beths, 2nd Grade … I’m sure I’m forgetting lots of others.
Any plans to tour in support of Madman in the Rain?
Terry Banks: That’d be great. We play live in D.C. all the time and have made it to Baltimore, Philadelphia, Hoboken, NYC, Boston and a few other places. Hopefully we can add to the list soon.
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