Dogwood Singer Josh Kemble Reflects on God-Inspired Punk Rock, San Diego, & the Band Never Calling it Quits [INTERVIEW 1]

Justin SarachikJul 02, 2015 04:27 PM EDT
Facebook: Dogwood

Just in time for Throwback Thursday, BREATHEcast is taking a look into the past with Christian punk band Dogwood as we had the chance to catch up with front man Josh Kemble.

Dogwood was in their punk rock heyday from 1996 to around 2004 and in that time released eight albums, a greatest hits, and a live album.

The band began to wind down as the music scene started changing and they noticed the crowds getting smaller for punk rock shows.

"When we were slowing down that was when some of the screamo and mixed hardcore and metal stuff started getting really popular. Most of the bands were doing that...probably 90% of the scene," he said.

As their popularity waned a bit, Dogwood thought they could "just pass the torch...we'll gracefully bow out."

The band was always around to have fun, make music, and spread a positive message. They were not about to self-destruct or struggle in coming to grips with perhaps the final chapter of the band.

"I think we just never really did an official farewell tour or breakup and we also haven't played in a really long time. Some people said it's over but we never actually declared that. It's kind of an unspoken, rode off into the sunset type of thing. There's that mystery of reunion or another show," said Kemble.

The last Dogwood show was in October of 2011, and prior to that they were not really active, playing shows sporadically. The last album was 2003's Seismic and then a greatest hits album, Reverse, Then Forward Again, in 2004.

Punk had also shifted from its California skate/west coast and hardcore roots to more of the pop punk scene of things. Band's such as Good Charlotte, Blink182, Sum 41, Simple Plan, and Yellowcard began to dominate music and the mainstream along with the heavier acts. "We were never in that category necessarily, maybe a couple of songs, but it was never really our preferred style."

Dogwood was one of the most true to capture that west coast sound in the Christian realm of punk. On the other spectrum, there were band's such as MxPx, Slick Shoes, and others that were a bit more poppy and not really as evangelically message driven. Dogwood always maintained the same sound, and always had something important to say while keeping the sound everyone loved.

"There were similarities in all those Christian punk bands, but there's really only a few that you would see their stuff on a snowboarding video or something. I don't want to do that poppy stuff, I wanted to rage a little bit. I think it's fair that you acknowledge that genre because I got my start watching those videos of skating and surfing, and saying 'I want to do that'," said Kemble.

Traditionally punk is very rebellious, and very anti everything. Other topics are about girls or high school. However, most Dogwood songs are about a relationship with Jesus, scripture, or something positive.

"We were born out of that [Christianity] because we started out of our church together...we were writing about the issues within the church, divorce or father-daughter relationships gone wrong, even church relationships gone wrong."

They used everything they saw around them as a "vehicle" for the songs on the record. "All the songs definitely had a Christian or positive message but the songs were not, 'Hey you need to get saved', it was more like, 'Hey, here's real life people in church that are still struggling with the same things that people who don't go to church are'."

The band would also take stories and characters from the Bible and create allegorical narratives in punk form which was pretty original considering the biggest complaint about punk is its simplicity and things sounding the same.

(Photo : Dogwood)
Josh Kemble center

Their creativity and quality helped them have good crossover appeal from non-Christians and even non-Christian bands. They received positive feedback outside of the Christian market playing in skate parks and festivals. Dogwood mostly played in clubs and churches and was able to fit in wherever they went.

Kemble also credited the strong San Diego music scene for being a diverse place where everyone is accepting. "There was definitely some haters and people who thought we didn't belong, but I guess we kind of showed them through shows and music...maybe we feel the same way about the government but we are just saying it in different ways," he joked about the sometimes angry attitude of fellow punk bands.

It was that very same San Diego love, in the form of P.O.D., which helped Dogwood get their first record deal with Rescue Records. Kemble said until this day he speaks to the guys in the band and they are all still friends. Dogwood's first tour was with them, and they definitely became close. Dogwood's Russell Castillo was even featured on P.O.D.'s "Punk Reggae Jam" track on Payable on Death Live.

From Rescue Records the band transitioned to Tooth & Nail Records, and that's when things really took off for Dogwood.

Stay tuned to BREATHEcast to read part two of the interview with Dogwood's Josh Kemble tomorrow, where he talks about being on Tooth & Nail, his favorite albums, and getting the band back together.

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