MEB Editor Jason Gardner recently caught up with Tom Patterson, drummer and vocalist of indie-punk rockers Slingshot Dakota. They discuss the details of the band’s latest album Dark Hearts, the joys of performing live, the advantages of being a two-piece band, and much more.
You guys did a couple off-Fest shows at the 2012 edition of The Fest, one of them being the Jeremy Records show where you guys filled in for Suis La Lune and then the generator show. What did it mean to you guys to be on there even though you weren’t officially a part of the Fest?
Any time anyone thinks of us, even if it’s just for a one-off show, it’s very humbling. It just feels really great. It feels good to be wanted. People are stoked on our music. I feel bad for the warehouse show because a lot of people came out to see Braid, and we played and the cops showed up. It wasn’t our fault the cops showed up, but I think people were bummed they didn’t get to see Braid.
I was surprised at how many people showed up to that.
I thought that maybe there would be 50 people there, and once we started setting up and mobs of people started coming, you know, it was very exciting. I didn’t feel nervous at all. [laughs] I think a lot of people started freaking out. It’s like, the cops are going to come. It’s a 100% sure thing. It’s just when they’re going to show up. But it was cool.
It was the first time I had been to Fest, so to be at something like that was awesome.
Years ago, when The Fest was in was in its more infant stages, that stuff happened all the time. Shows going on until four o’clock in the morning, or going on all night until people are waking up at seven or eight in the morning to go to shows. So I thought it was cool that they brought it back.
Last year, you did a Kickstarter to help replace your van and to help fund Dark Hearts. How did the support you received through that hit you guys in the stressful situation of not only trying to finish the record, but not having the ability to tour at the time?
It was pretty overwhelming. Carly [Comando, keyboardist/vocalist] and I, we just did it as an experiment just to see what would happen. We saw other bands doing it, and some of the ways other bands did it was kind of icky. I don’t feel like they offer people enough incentive to give money. They were asking for a lot of money for nothing in return really. The way we set it up was more of a webstore on steroids. Like let’s offer really, really cool stuff and have people pay just a little bit more than they normally would. But it was an experiment. I don’t know if I would do it again, only because after Amazon takes their cut and Kickstarter takes their percentage and then you have to pay for all the merch, you’re not really left with a lot of money. It was a cool experiment, and I was glad we didn’t get a lot of backlash. I was kind of nervous about that. At the time, some of friends and our friends’ bands were talking trash on Kickstarter, and I thought people would say poorly of us. I think we approached it in a way that we didn’t look bad, but it did help us out a lot. We had no vehicle to tour with. We sunk a ton of money into our previous two vehicles. People emailed us and said, ‘We really want to help.’ That was great. To hear back from people, it was very reassuring. It allowed us to step in to the studio. We had no label. Maybe one label had expressed interest in putting out a record, but they had no budget. They couldn’t give us any money to record with. To do the Kickstarter, it allowed us to do things more comfortably. We could go into the studio and bang this out more comfortably. We can take some time off of our jobs and really go at it.
I know you were talking about working on the record for a long time. Aside from that, did it ever seem like the record would take longer than it did or perhaps never get done based on the amount of time you took working on it?
The Kickstarter really pushed us to get in to the studio sooner, because there was that added pressure. Like, people gave us money, now we have to have something to show for it. Carly would have really felt bad if we got this money and got a van and didn’t go into the studio. We would have felt really guilty about it. It was a good thing, it was a good push to go into the studio and finish a lot of the songs we had started writing. Recording and finishing the songs was pretty long overdue, we just hit a lot of roadblocks in going up to heading in to the studio.
How do you feel Dark Hearts captures the progression that the two of you have made as musicians since Golden Ghost?
To start with The Golden Ghost, we were really new at being a two-piece. We felt like we had to prove something. Looking back, I don’t know why. I think we felt a lot of people were really hanging on, like what are they gonna do? We lost Jeff [Cunningham, guitarist], now what’s going to happen? We had to prove to ourselves that we could make it happen and make music as a two-piece. We had a really good reception to The Golden Ghost. People were stoked on it. The pressure was off and we talked a lot about writing new stuff. We were like, we can do whatever we want. We listened to a lot of different music. We were very open to exploring new stuff and not feeling like we had to prove anything. That’s kind of how we approached the new music. We experimented more. We also had gotten a lot of people, I try not to use the term ‘fan base,’ but our fan base broadened past the DIY punk scene. We had gotten a lot of people who were into different styles of music, and same regard to growing up, we started getting into different styles of music, and I think that reflects on the record – experimenting with our sound and stuff like that.
As far as the recording process is concerned, can you tell me a bit about once you got in to the studio, who you recorded with and how that affected the overall process of being able to knock out the record?
We knew we didn’t have a huge budget. Our budget was small. Like I said, we had no label that was offering any money, and we didn’t expect them to offer us any money. We knew we had a certain time frame we could record within, and we couldn’t go to a really big studio or anything like that. Luckily enough, we knew of a studio that was only 15 minutes from our house. The guy running the studio is a piano player and he was involved in our local punk scene throughout the ’80s. He was in a bigger punk band in our area during that time. He’s a really good recording engineer. He had a baby grand piano in his studio and a bunch of different keyboards, and he knew how to record those instruments. A lot of studios that we were looking at, they didn’t have pianos and I didn’t know if they had any experience in recording that stuff. Dan knew exactly what he was doing and he had the equipment. His price was perfect. It just worked out great and we were really stoked on that. We didn’t have to go somewhere and budget out money for lodging and food, we could just stay at home and support a local business and be comfortable with the person that was recording with us as well.
As far as Dark Hearts as a whole, is there something that people will in particular take away from this record, whether it be from the two of you as musicians or the message of the lyrics or anything like that?
The whole scheme of the record is about experiencing loss in your life and what you can do yourself to turn that around and how you process those emotions and how you move on from that. A lot of the songs deal with death. A few of our friends passed during the time of the writing of the record, and it’s just like, who’s next? We’re kind of just throwing our hands in the air and wondering what’s going to happen. Learning to deal with that and kind of get out of that negative frame of mind where you’re not thinking in a negative way, but in a more looking forward way instead of looking back. So I guess what we’re hoping people get out of it is not burying yourself in your emotions, like go through the grieving process, but not thinking negatively all the time. Taking what you learned from that person that passed or you lost in your life and taking away what they gave to you. The positive things that you learned, and then add that to your life experience and showing that to other people, like love, positivity and happiness. Just being a real person and spreading that to people. I think that’s the most important thing.
I know especially on a song like “Good Year,” the lyricism really hits home even if you’re not completely familiar with what the song is exactly about.
Well first of all, personally with the songs I have a lot of emotional attachment to, and not just our music but other people’s music, I like the general vagueness of it. You can get what you need out of the song. I really like that, and I like that people who we talk to, they get their own piece from it. They can relate the song to aspects of their life. I think that’s really cool. It’s good that Carly wrote lyrics that aren’t specific. That’s really great. In the community we’re involved with, the punk community, a lot of people don’t believe in god. They don’t have a religious belief system. So, a lot of people, it’s harder to find peace in loss. In traditional religion, it’s like that person went to heaven and they’re with god now, and that gives a person a sense of peace. They’re in a better place. But when you don’t believe in religion, you’re like, crap. [laughs] What do I do now? This person is gone from my life, and there’s no hope. I think that’s kind of the way our lyrics are going. Trying to find peace within loss. Surrounding yourself with people that you love and finding peace within loss.
This next question, you’ve probably gotten a thousand times so I’m sorry that I have to ask it.
Are you gonna ask when Carly and I are going to get married?
[laughs] That’s the number one question.
Do you feel like only having two people in this band now makes it easier to work through things with the writing process and the touring process and the everyday band stuff?
One hundred percent, most definitely. Way easier. You have like one other person to pass ideas through. To pass merch designs by. And the fact that we’re in a relationship is major, because we live together, so we can talk about band stuff whenever we want. We can pause band practice and then come home from band practice and say, ‘You know that music idea, I processed it a little bit more and I think we should change this.’ It’s cool. Definitely way easier. There are also drawbacks to it. We are together all the time. So, we have to make an effort to have our own time from each other. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. The negative list is extremely small. I don’t think there really are any really. We’ve been a band and a couple for so long that we’ve ironed out any really negative aspects. Plus we really like being around each other, so that helps.
Andy here at Mind Equals Blown says he feels the same energy seeing you guys that he gets when he goes to metal shows. Any response to that?
We love playing so much, that when we get up to play a show and we’re in front of people, we just want to give everyone a hundred and ten percent. We’re singing and playing songs that we worked so hard on and that we really love. We love all of our music and we want to share that with people. It explodes out of us. It gets pent up inside and we just let it all out. It is our main love in life. Playing music is what we love to do. Whether it is in front of one person, which has happened, or in front of 500 people, it’s still going to be the same no matter what. We’re just going to give it our all and go nuts. The second part to that answer, there’s nothing worse than going to a show and seeing a band play and thinking while you’re watching them, ‘I could be at home, playing their record on my record player and it would be the same exact experience.’ Why play live if you aren’t enjoying yourself? I’ve seen so many bands, they look absolutely miserable. People are playing money to come see you. Why do it if you don’t like to do it? It makes no sense to me. The third part to that answer, is we grew up in the punk and hardcore scene, and that scene is based on pure emotion. Every since I was a little kid playing, every show is a cathartic moment in my life. Your problems and everything you’re stoked on and everything you’re bummed on is coming out at once.
So you’re going to be on tour through a good portion of April and beginning of May with a handful of bands. Can you talk about your anticipation for hitting the road again?
It’s been awhile since we’ve done the full U.S., so we’re stoked to get back on the west coast and play. I think it’s really cool the way that Greg from The World Is…, he’s booking our tour this time, and we’ve never had anyone book our tour before. He threw out an idea of regionally getting different bands involved. And I think that’s great – we get to meet new bands and make new friends. So that’s really exciting. I’m sure they’re going to bring out their fans who’ve probably never heard of us. We look at tour as going on vacation. It’s just always a blast, even if the shows are terrible. It doesn’t matter. It’s a life experience. I’m really into traveling and meeting new people, and the show could be a complete bust and it would still be cool.