Picture this: You find your way into the popular, local club of your town. It’s a Friday night; the club is bumping, your favorite band is headlining, the crowd has an immaculate vibe, merch is stocked to the nines, the people look good, the alcohol is flowing – There is much pain in the world, but tonight? Not in this room. You find your way to the front, sit through an opening act or two, and then this next band you hadn’t heard of before starts setting up.
They have a saxophone player in place of a lead singer. ‘Okay, sure, maybe some John Zorn worship with these guys’, you think to yourself, as you recognize they aren’t without the casual line-up of guitar and bass as well as a drummer to boot. But, this one dude is upfront and present with a saxophone, and a pedalboard to run it through that’d make even the shoegaziest of shoegaze bands cry.
You expect avant-garde jazz, maybe some funky stuff; Perhaps they’ll be like Primus and do some wacky metal-ish jams, even? Maybe this is one of those experimental noise bands? Before you have any time to ponder further, they begin their set. Before you know it, you’re greeted to maybe some hints of all the above and more. Congratulations, you’ve just been graced by the aural oddity that is Dumb Waiter. Your life, at least musically, may never be the same. But that’s totally fine!
Dumb Waiter are Keith Paul (bass), Nathaniel Roseberry (drums), Nick Crider (guitar), and Tristan Brennis (saxophone). A collection of undoubtedly seasoned musicians and close friends, the quartet, as the people they are on and off stage, are quite down-to-earth and beyond pleasant to chat with. With music as seemingly complex and finessed as theirs, it would be hard to imagine them being anything short of interesting people, in general. But, of course, you likely end up asking yourself…what is this band all about? According to Keith, ‘The band is a group of friends making noise without overthinking or forcing the process too much. We never set out to make a specific type of music, what comes out is just natural musical conversation between punks with a lot of personal tastes.’
Certainly, with being a mere group of friends with no direct stylistic goal or rubric to their craft, Dumb Waiter’s ‘musical conversation’ is definitely one we are all invited into. A round-table one of sorts, if you will. But Dumb Waiter’s style is not at all without its influences, nonetheless. With such a unique sound to their performance, you simply have to wonder – What are these guys listening to? Where do they get their inspiration from? Does anything even specifically influence this kind of melting pot of sounds?
Keith: ‘Nathaniel and I are heavily influenced by the NYC band Candiria in our approach to composition. We don’t sound like Candiria but the spirit and cerebral quality of their music definitely continues to inspire risk taking in Dumb Waiter and a disregard for traditional song structures. The bands people think we sound like are usually not ones that we actively listen to.’
Nathaniel: ‘Bands in the ’60s and ’70s like King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, and Weather Report’s used song structures and movements that inspire our writing. In the ’80s, bands like Napalm Death began collaborating with NYC avant-garde jazz artists such as John Zorn. These collaborations created new groups like Painkiller, and we began to see improvisation work it’s way into the heavy rock music scene. John Zorn’s Naked City might be the whole reason we exist…one of the first bands to utilize saxophone in a metal setting. Overall, my biggest influence for Dumb Waiter is ’90s NYC jazz fusion hardcore Candiria, they absolutely changed my life. Candiria created incredibly unique musical sounds and fused impossible ideas seamlessly.’
If you’ve already had the pleasure of hearing or seeing Dumb Waiter prior to reading this article, it’s likely you’d know of their latest-greatest release, Gauche Gists. The album dropped June 24th, spans just under a half hour in duration, and features what I personally believe to be some of the group’s most focused and atmospheric work yet. It seems like there’s a large presence of prog metal elements as well as shoegazey, almost dreamscape-like hazes throughout much of the album, especially on the front end. Having no shortage of their usual avant-garde vibe also present with Gauche Gists, with an abstract-esque album art covering what the band describes as essentially an abstract, usual writing process. ‘Nick can explain the album title best. Gauche Gists was written in a new rehearsal space and the room probably influenced the vibe some,’ Keith says of the album title and setting used in the process of recording the album. ‘The process was generally the same, four people arrive with various riffs and ideas and allow each other the freedom to take it wherever feels right.’
Since their conception in 2012, Dumb Waiter have not shied from this abstract writing process in the least. As Keith points out above, it appears the band’s approach, when fragmented, is likely a lot more simple than people such as myself may initially speculate. Quite frankly just friends coming together in a room and sharing their ideas and molding it together in the amalgam we’ve seen in previous releases such as Is This Chocolate?, Tsk, and now Gauche Gists. It is clear the band’s chemistry must be on a tight-knit level to have worked so well together for a decade or more now.
From the time I was lucky enough to first discover the band, much of my intrigue and recorded exposure came from songs featured on their 2018 HECK EP, as well as 2016’s Cancel Christmas. The instrumental madness of tracks like “Darn”, a nearly 7-minute ride of dissonant bliss and hazy melodies, as well as the iPhone-commercial-worthy, almost breakbeat-style track, adequately titled “Medical Commercial”, carefully found their way into regular rotation as I educated myself on the band. At the time, these were two of their latest releases, outside of the 2015 live-recorded performance at Audiotree and their debut album, Is This Chocolate?, and while the production quality on those three studio efforts might vary mildly, there was no shortage of proggy, math-rock focus throughout much of each of them.
“Vegan Mustache Jazz” was not only one song I instantly recognized as a good summary of the band by way of audio, but the track’s character also shows a good example of this band’s know-how on keeping an instrumental song concise, interesting, and fun from start to finish. It’s also worth noting that the band has managed to only continue to increase their dynamic, even with maintaining solely instrumental timbre. 2020’s Tsk saw the band headed in a slightly more melodic-driven direction, in my opinion. The metal moments are grittier, less focused on being heavily distorted or even totally fast-paced, and more about the dynamic and overall tone set within the music.
Additionally, what the quartet accomplishes with melody and effects, having a shoegazey, dreamy tone that somehow also reminisces a vocal-less King Crimson sort of love affair, almost makes you happy there aren’t any vocals present. Again, the emphasis on accents, mood-shifting, and overall progression of the song’s dynamic definitely work as highlights for the band. If I had to summarize Dumb Waiter with one word, it would be it: Dynamic.
It’s also remarkable to consider the amount of work accomplished by this group within a relatively short time-span. Even with about three years between Is This Chocolate? and Cancel Christmas, to have about four full-length records, one EP, and a live album with Audiotree, all within just under a decade’s timeframe, is quite the herculean stride for virtually any band. Gauche Gists, to me, is a primal point for the band. Having no dither in quality, and in fact enhancing all the beloved qualities about the band, as I expressed in a previous passage talking of the album.
While I am still learning and sitting with this one, I believe two of my key tracks from it, currently, are “Eavesdropping on a Crisis” and “Descending the Same Broken Ladder”. Both entail a big focus on what I love about Gauche Gists stylistically, as well as the band; simultaneously a metal headbanger, melodic math-rock meditation, and atmospheric, lightly reverb-soaked wonderland. It’s practically a cesspool for all things music nerds of every wake can appreciate.
Of course, in this decade span of the band’s existence, and prior to the happenings of 2020, it was previously difficult to foresee any roadblocks for a band so productive and of their own mold. Unfortunately, as we all know and remember, 2020 presented one of the most difficult and devastating hardships for the music industry likely ever felt in history. The impact of the lockdown could never be overstated, even with the varying degrees in which it may have affected different people. The shadow of its implications and the challenges it presented were mutually dire to all.
Many aspects of virtually every level of society never truly returned to their full, flourishing state once recognized pre-pandemic, despite relentless efforts to rebuild what was lost. As with other artists, Dumb Waiter were no strangers or exceptions to the nightmare of navigating a world in peril while still pursuing their passion. But what did this world, both during lockdown and in the aftermath, look like for them, specifically?
Keith: ‘At the time we masked up and did our best to be safe when meeting to write material. The extra time allowed us to really focus on music videos, our side band GAAWK, and lining up a strong plan to release yet another DIY effort. It doesn’t feel too different now except that some great promoters in Richmond never returned post-pandemic.’
Even as we, as a whole, stagger to return to any semblance of a ‘normal’ life, it’s great to hear that collectives such as Dumb Waiter push on, delivering a fine example of what sticking together through thick and thin can really do for those who are passionate and remain vigilant in their efforts. Even if these efforts involve weird, noisy, avant-garde jazz metal jams that are too ‘scary’ for you to show to your Youth Group on Sunday. Dumb Waiter are hardly even a musical act or even a ‘performing art’ in my opinion. They are more of an experience.
They are an artistic meditation on soaking up all that is around you and using it as paint to make something bigger – A manifestation of combined, fragmented influences or ideas, be them small or big, deep or shallow. A portrait painted of true passion and ‘doing what you wanna do’. Dumb Waiter are, in fact, artists. But is there any particular thing they’d actively like to be remembered for other than what can be left to interpretation of them?
Keith: ‘I hope the most identifiable aspect of the band is an overall will to do your own thing and not play by the rules. We’ve often heard that describing the Dumb Waiter sound either makes you sound pretentious or like a total idiot. After 10 years of grinding in this band I too still sound silly trying to explain what it is to a stranger.’
If you’ve not felt the itch to delve further into Dumb Waiter by way of any minor discoveries made of them prior to reading this, this is usually where I’d probably say ‘I can’t help you’, but that would be absolutely counter to this entire article. So I will say this – go in reverse; Pick up a copy of Gauche Gists, spin it about 69 times (nice), and then work your way through the band’s discography. If that doesn’t quite do it for you, next time you see their name on a flyer, get out to that show nearest you and be present for their set. I assure you that by that point, even if you don’t totally find yourself to be a ‘fan’, you’ll walk away with a sharp appreciation for what this band does.
I could say so much more about this band and the impression they have left on me, personally, but for sake of keeping the article concise, I’ll try to summarize as best as possible. I discovered them during one of the last beloved Richmond, VA’s Strange Matter venue’s shows ever, which was part of a showcasing series of various local names. It isn’t exactly rare that I walk out of a show curious about a band, even a local show, but the particular kind of amazement garnered over Dumb Waiter is something, as with others who had not heard them before either that night, that lingered on and quickly won them some new fans.
Experimental, against-the-grain minded, melodic masters; A band that metalheads and indie kids alike could likely agree on. Any time I have seen them live since that 2018 show, their appeal always holds similar or same water in the way of leaving a positive impression on the crowd. This is a band that is not just going somewhere, but definitely taking us all with them. I will leave you, the reader, with this quote from MetalSucks, also found in the band’s bio of their Spotify page, as a closing statement that I think accurately describes the audible wonderland they are:
‘This is a band that isn’t pushing the envelope so much as they’re shoving it right over the side of a goddamn cliff. If you’re tired of the same old same old, then Dumb Waiter absolutely MUST be on your radar.’
Be sure to keep up with all things Dumb Waiter via their Facebook, Instagram, Bandcamp, Spotify, or elsewhere! Best to get to those 69 (nice) playthroughs of Gauche Gists in, post-haste! Certainly no time to waste in catching up with and following along the journey of a band of this caliber.