Washington, D.C. is known for many musical styles, especially punk rock and hardcore. Combining the “in your face” energy and aggression of this genre with the melodic sounds of indie rock, DOT DASH are quickly making their own marks in this historic music market. Singer/guitarist Terry Banks and bassist Hunter Bennett, teamed up with two of D.C. hardcore’s founders, guitarist Steve Hansgen and drummer Danny Ingram. However, despite their impressive resumes, their music speaks for itself.

We had the opportunity to chat with Banks about the band’s latest album Earthquakes & Tidal Waves, as well as how they find balance to their aesthetic of melodic and energetic music.

I heard that you are a big fan of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. How have their songs inspired what you created for DOT DASH?

We don’t really do things as a pastiche, but there are definitely some songs that are inspired. The song “Rainclouds,” which is the third song on our new record definitely felt like it has a “velvetsy” spirit to me. I think it’s kind of bogus when bands go around broadcasting that “this song is like this band,” which is really for the listener to determine, and it probably shouldn’t be a goal to sound like someone else. A lot of what we do is a sort of fast, jangly pop thing, and that song has got a little bit more swagger. It felt more like VELVET UNDERGROUND to me. Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong.

Another song on the new record called “Tatters,” which is the fifth track, is inspired more by a “byrdsy” kinda thing. But also it might have a velvetsy feel. Again, it’s all up to the listener. I think it’s more telling what other people think about it, or if indeed they think anything at all (laughs).

Your backgrounds range from indie rock to hardcore. How did DOT DASH become a thing, and what made you gravitate toward post-punk?

Our bassist, Hunter Bennett, and I were in a band called JULIE OCEAN, which preceded this band, and we made one album that came out on in 2008 on a label called Transit of Venue based out of Philadelphia. We existed for about a year and a half until the other guitar player moved away, and we sort of called it a day. But Hunter and I didn’t really do music for a while after that. We just sort of laid it down and hung up our tools, I suppose. I had known Danny Ingram, our drummer, a little bit through other friends, and I reached out to him about trying to play music together some time. None of us ever really pursued it.

But then in 2010, about a year after JULIE OCEAN ended, Hunter and I decided to give it another shot, and we reached out to Danny, who was also on board. So we went for it. So far we have four records, and on our first three, we had a different guitar player named Bill Crandall, who was the “lead guitar player” in the band. He left after our third record totally amicably. He felt like he had done his thing, and then Steve Hansgen came in.

Danny and Steve definitely come from a hardcore background. Steve was in MINOR THREAT, GOVERNMENT ISSUE, amongst other things, and Danny was in YOUTH BRIGADE and lots of other early D.C. punk bands. I don’t think Danny is really into that kind of music that much, although ironically he was a part of it as a youngster. Hunter didn’t play in any of those bands, but he loves that kind of stuff. Personally, hardcore doesn’t really mean anything to me. I like the energy and directness of it, but I have always been into more melodic music. The only kind of hardcore band I was ever into was a band called DAG NASTY. They were on Dischord [Records]. but I don’t think they were really a hardcore band. They were kind of more poppy.

Can you tell me what your song “Rainclouds” about?

Some of the songs are definitely, line-for-line about something, but a lot of the songs I write are inspired by something from the past or the typical fodder that people write about, such as affairs of the heart (laughs), and the passage of time. It’s usually a stream of consciousness, and I try to use everyday phrases and conversational terms and string it together into something that sounds cool and universal. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. That song sounds like it is really poignant and is about something, but it really isn’t. But maybe that’s good. I doubt “Louie Louie” is about anything in particular. It just sounded cool, and I think that’s good. I can get down with that.

In March 2015, your band released your fourth album Earthquakes & Tidal Waves, which as you mentioned, has a lot of energy. Was the album title an intentional reflection of that?

The title is a lyrical snatch from the first song, “The Winter of Discontent.” It just seemed like a good phrase for an album title. So I wouldn’t say the two are related, but we enjoy playing music that is fast and intense. Sometimes I think i should try to come up with some slower, more meditative stuff, and “Rainclouds” isn’t like breakneck. The other song I mentioned, “Tatters” is a little more gentle, and the last song on the record, “Sleep, Sleep,” is definitely kind of broody.

But the fast songs are the most fun to play, so I think we air on the side of speed and intensity just because it’s fun.

What was your experience like working with Mitch Easter at Fidelitorium on this record?

It was really great, and I know by band mates would tell you the same thing. We all really loved it, and if we are fortunate enough , if the stars align, to make another record, we would absolutely go back to Mitch. I use the term loosely, but he was a little bit of a hero of mine way back in the day. He produced the early R.E.M. records and lots of other great bands. He had his own band called LET’S ACTIVE, which was really interesting, and he worked with tons of bands in the mid-80s that were doing this poppy guitar thing. A lot of them weren’t really like the stuff we do, which is a little harder and more rocking, but I like a lot of that mellifluous, harmonic pop stuff.

While Mitch Easter is hardly a household name, in the context of left-to-center American guitar pop, he’s almost an iconic figure. It was really fun to hang around and make a record with him. The Fidelitorium is like a really professional studio. It’s like what you think of studios when you are 10 yeas old. It’s pretty amazing.

How do you feel like your band stands out from other D.C. bands in the music scene?

Gosh, I don’t know. We’ve played with bands around here and opened for touring bands, but I’m not sure. If we do, I think it would be in the eye of the beholder. Whether it’s in relation to D.C. bands or not, I think our stuff is a little bit idiosyncratic in that I think it’s poppy and melodic, but it’s also fast and in your face. I sometimes think of us as a powerpop band, which I’m kind of glad we’re not. When I hear a recording of us, or a video someone has on their iPhone, it’s pretty full on.

We might be too poppy for people who are more into angular, avant-garde stuff, and we’re too rocking for twee indie pop people. But it’s cool. You just gotta follow your heart.

You recently played a few shows TOMMY KEENE, who does play some powerpop. How was that experience?

TOMMY KEENE is in a similar vein as Mitch Easter. Tommy is another iconic figure in my life, and I know my band mates think the same. I’ve heard them say as much. He’s been in L.A. for a long time, but he is actually from D.C. Back in the 80s, in the olden days (laughs), he was a local hero. My favorite band in high school was THE JAM, and I saw him open for them at University of Maryland. It was the first time I had seen him, and I was like, “Whoa, who is this guy?” I think he signed to Geffen Records and moved to Los Angeles and has been out there since, but he has kept the faith and keeps doing his thing. I’ve seen him a bunch of times since then, and he’s great. He just put a new record out.

He’s kind of like THE RAMONES in that he does his thing. There isn’t really a progression. He just has his own aesthetic, and I think he does it really well. Maybe we have that same kind of thing where we aren’t trying new styles out on every record. We just follow our own path.

What is next for DOT DASH?

On Friday, September 25, we are playing with a band called ASH from Northern Ireland. We played with them at DC9 the last time that they toured the U.S., and it was kind of a funny show. I think every Irish resident of D.C. was there. They are really, really big in the U.K., and they have sold about 8 million albums. They’ve had a couple number one records, and they are really awesome. It was really fun to play with them, and we are really excited to play with them again at Jammin’ Java.

Then the next Friday, October 2, we are playing at Comet, which is in Northwest D.C. You probably heard about the documentary Salad Days. It’s been doing really well, and it has been viewed internationally. The filmmakers Scott Crawford and Jim Saah are now releasing it as a DVD, and on October 2, there will be a DVD release show that Scott invited us to play. That should be fun.

We play a lot, so I think more shows will eventually come in.

As your band has gotten older and more experienced, what are some tips you have for younger musicians just getting into it?

We’re definitely older, but I don’t know if I would claim experienced. I think some bands, or people who want to do music, are intimidated by the process. I think you just gotta get out and play, and I think that sounds ridiculously cliché. But if you want to do it, you have to play your own music. I’ve seen cover bands I liked and thought they were a lot of fun, but it’s one of those things where you have to build the bike while riding it (laughs). You just have to jump into it, just like anything else. You can’t wait for the perfect moment, or you will never get anywhere.

I’m not saying we have gotten anywhere. We just do it for the enjoyment and modest rewards, as well as the fun that comes along with it. It’s very much a labor of love. Don’t worry about the details, and just see where it goes.

For more updates on DOT DASH, be sure to “like” their Facebook page, and check out their new album Earthquakes & Tidal Waves on the Bandcamp page, as well as through their record label, The Beautiful Music.

Joe Fitzpatrick

Joe Fitzpatrick

As editor-in-chief, Joe is very passionate about promoting music and culture in Virginia and DC. A resident of Fairfax, Joe enjoys going to shows, checking out local breweries, and trying new foods with his girlfriend Alex.