By focusing on what they’re doing rather than what they don’t have, Dexter Grove creates enough music to actually be considered a band.
by Lee Abraham
Size matters. And so do words. To some folks more than others. Take Charley Orlando, guitar player and singer for Dexter Grove. He feels strongly about both. Particularly in reference to the Dexter. "We don’t like the word duo," says Orlando. "We prefer to be called a ‘two piece band.’" No problem. The label works. For just two guys, Orlando and his partner, percussionist Steve Drizos, create a lot of sound. "I find that we have a lot to work with," says Orlando. "That’s why we haven’t really pushed getting a whole band together yet."
Yet? Orlando doesn’t hesitate. "We’ll always do the two person thing," he says. "But we’re starting to write music that we would like to hear other things in. And I think the most important thing is that we are meeting the right people to do that with." For the Dexters, bumping up the band roster would be a major move. After all, over the past five years they’ve built an iron man rep as one of the hardest working bands on the scene, -two piece-, or otherwise. Covering the country from one end to the other, Dexter Grove plays upwards of 200 shows a year. The 1,000 show milestone came in mid November at a gig in Bozeman, Montana. Along the way, they’ve made lots of fans. "There’s some people who come out to see us that would freak out if we started a whole band," says Orlando. "Then there’s others, who are like, when they see us with Jim (percussionist from moe.) playing bass, or our friend Tim playing lead guitar, they’re like "Oh my God!, This is what I’ve been waiting for!"
Orlando and Drizos want the best of both worlds - without giving up either. "We’ve up come with an idea to do a double CD," says Orlando. "One disc willl be acoustic and the other completely electric. That’s something we’ve never done before." Although Dexter Grove has never have been "completely electric," Orlando and Drizos have been known to rock out with their friends, "since the beginning." In this case, the early ‘90s. "We used to hang out with the guys from moe., and the (Ominous) Seapods," says Orlando. "I actually remember playing gigs with moe. at Broadway Joe’s in upstate New York with maybe like fifteen people there. I can’t even imagine that these days."
Prior to Dexter Grove, Orlando was in Doc Apple, a popular northeast regional band which broke up around ‘93. Soon after, Orlando and Drizos began jamming. Before long they were gigging in New York City. Then upstate. "We actually decided to do it in ‘95," recalls Orlando, referring to cross country touring. "We were like, ‘We’re not gonna stick around any more, we’re just gonna hit the road, play music and see what happens.’" Things happened quick. "Once we crossed the country the first time, we were like, we can’t live on one coast if we are going to do this on a regular basis," says Orlando. "So we just kind of looked at a map and it was either Lawrence, Kansas, or Boulder, Colorado ... and we had a friend in Boulder. Plus, neither one of us really wanted to live in Kansas," says Orlando with a laugh.
They made the move in the summer of ’96, and have been on the road ever since. "Between playing and driving, we’re on the road 300 days a year," says Orlando. They like it that way - perpetual motion drives their creativity. "Our whole thing is energy. We’ve never really rehearsed. We show each other tunes during sound check or sometimes at shows. We’ve never repeated a show, or done a tune twice the same way, I don’t think we could physically remember how to do it. Whatever happens in our day, whatever leads up to the show, effects the show. We’re very vibe oriented in that way." And tuning into the vibe keeps the Dexter’s music fresh, particularly as a -two piece- band. Says Orlando, "We don’t feel like we’ve really exhausted it at this point. We’ve kind of found that we keep opening new avenues for ourselves because of the improv we do. Most of our tunes, when we write them, we don’t have endings for them. We just kind of connect them and link them. For me personally, I like to space out... I enjoy wandering around the music and finding out what’s going on with it."
Understandable. There’s a lot going on. "I like to rock, I mean both of us do. We can pull off sounding like a whole band with only two people," says Orlando. "A lot of people who don’t like us look at what we -don’t have-, but the people that like us look at what -we are doing-. We play with a lot of energy. We have to. Both of us are pretty much going 90 miles an hour the whole time we’re playing."
"Steve is not a traditional conga player," continues Orlando. "It’s just that he’s found a way to play the congas that no one has ever done before, as far as I know anyway. I’ve just never heard anything like it. He lays down the fastest, meanest grooves I’ve ever heard. He can actually pull off bass lines and melodies. It’s pretty cool." And then there’s Orlando, who is anything -but- a traditional guitarist. "I use my guitar for percussion sometimes," he says. "I use a bunch of different effects on my guitar, like landscapes of effects to play off of his percussion... it can sound very acoustic, but it can also sound like a keyboard or a bass, or a wave crashing on the shore. It’s music that you can only hear from us. It’s original."
And it’s good. So is business. Although they still handle most of the grunt work themselves, everything from booking shows to hauling gear, life on the road has recently been kind to the Dexters. "I’ve started noticing over the past year or so more booking agents and club owners know who we are. We’re getting gigs alot faster than we used to," says Orlando. Relentless touring has been the key to getting their name out. Good press too. "Being put in the Jam Bands book (the definitive -who’s who- of the jamband scene by Dean Budnick) was huge. There we are with all our friends, icons and heroes, and here we are, only two people. That was actually the first time I was like, ‘Are we actually considered a band?’"
Doesn’t matter what you call them. Or how many people are in the band. Dexter Grove is on the road and making music. "We just go up on stage to have the best time of our lives," says Orlando. "And we try to do that every night. When people are willing to let that happen, it goes really well. We’re having a good time and there’s no reason to stop."