I’m not sure exactly how it happens, but every once in a while I am lucky enough to be such a big fan of a musician that I inevitably become some sort of an acquaintance of theirs, maybe even something of a friend. This is the case with local guitar-slinger Dave Drouin, which made lining up this interview one of the easiest in my short career. In lieu of dealing with publicists, time changes and speaker phone conversations, Drouin stopped by my apartment and over the course of a couple beers, let me pick his brain about his new band Cold Engines and the break-up of his former band that I spent much of my late teens and early twenties traveling around New England and beyond to see.
Drouin, 30, has been tearing through jams playing guitar for the progressive jam rock act the Brew for close to a decade. Coming out of Amesbury, Ma (that’s about 45 minutes North from Allston) they came into my musical hemisphere while I was in high school and unknowingly shaped much of what would become my musical tastes at the time. As I grew up going to a Brew show became constant recreational activity and escape from the rigors of the real world. Even as new musical preferences evolved, I always looked forward to seeing the next Brew show and I came to know many people who felt the same. It’s safe to say somewhat scene developed around them, not only a fanbase, but a tight-knit group of dedicated followers.
Some big names caught word, Grammy Winners, big time producers and promoters, Bruce Hornsby for one, Bobby Keyes (producer of New Kids on the Block) another. Packed rooms gave way to sold out clubs and theatres and opening spots for Gregg Allman, moe. and even friggin’ Michael McDonald. All great for support and exposure, but in the long run may have influenced the band to mold themselves into some sort of adult contemporary pop-rock act they never seemed to be cut out for. As a result, despite playing over eight hundred live shows over eight years, they were never able to make a studio record that matched the greatness of their live act. Frustrating both the fans(me) and later to find out the band too, the wear and tear of road life caused this once “on the brink” band to fizzle out quickly. Not to go out with a glimmer of hope, the announcement of their break up in 2012 cited one last mysteriously shelved album recorded at the now famed Bombshelter in Nashville.
Two years later, after pulling in some of the area’s top notch musicians to back his new project Cold Engines, I got the chance to give Dave Drouin, the once lead guitarist now front-man, some serious Barbara Walters treatment about the break-up of his former band, mingling with the Black Keys and becoming friends with the B52’s . You can check out Drouin’s new band that he’s branded as pure American rock n’ roll for yourself this coming Friday, November 28th at T.T. the Bears in Cambridge
Allston Pudding: You’re from the North Shore/ Southern New Hampshire area which is away from the city, has it ever felt like you’re missing out on being a part of any sort of musical scene or community?
Dave Drouin: I grew up in Seattle, and then I moved to Savanaah Georgia, then I moved to Amesbury, Mass. So I guess I am really kind of a North Shore guy. Only the past six years I’ve been living in Southern New Hampshire. So I am kind of new to New Hampshire, but Portsmouth has a thriving scene and musical community and its pretty great now that even bands like Wilco are coming through to the Music Hall. In the early days of the Brew, we were only a band for a few years when we played the Middle East downstairs, then sold out the Paradise. That was a huge luxury to not have to shlep through the small bars of Boston for those years before getting some real opportunities. I always felt traveling coast to coast though, that the Boston show did feel like home, even if I lived like forty minutes away. That’s a good question though.
AP: Thanks, The Brew from the outside, I guess you could say a fans perspective always seemed like a band on the brink but then you kind of suddenly broke up. Were there any signs that the band was breaking up or was it really just a sudden thing?
DD: Yeah it was sudden, yup sudden. Yeah, there were signs that the time had come. The speed in which we were writing songs as a band was slowing down a lot. It was way too slow for me. I prefer to write every week and not overthink it. I wanted to write about my own life, what’s fucking happening to me, not trying to aim at commercial hits, which is a much slower process. I’m not saying we were really doing that all the time, but I was being edged out in a lot of ways and the pace of what I wanted to make music at wasn’t being fulfilled anymore.
AP: There’s a mysterious last record you guys recorded at the now famed Bombshelter in Nashville. How did that opportunity happen and will we ever hear it?
DD: Yeah we cut a whole album there a year ago this month. It’s still shelved. I’ve heard it.
AP: What was it like recording with Andrija Tokic at the Bombshelter?
DD: It’s a fully analog studio. So it was straight to two inch tape. So there’s no Pro Tools, there’s no pitch correction, no fixing anything. You either be great or be gone. Fortunately we were riding pretty high on some new songs and crushed it. We brought in the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Earl Scruggs’s son, Chris Scruggs, played peddle steel, and then this dude Ryan Cavanaugh, legendary banjo player. We were ballin’ on a budget all around Nashville playing with superstars. Andrija is one of the best producers in the world right now, he did the Alabama Shakes record, the guy has platinum records on his bathroom floor. Tons of gear, tons of good times.
AP: Out of the thousands of the shows you played with the Brew, was there one person or group you guys played with or opened for that has had the biggest influence on you, or developed a close relationship with?
DD: The Black Keys; when we played with them they really blew my mind. That two dudes were making the sound they were making, and the fact that they came over and wanted to talk to me after my set, cuz they played before us then we went on. It was right before they exploded, and I really hadn’t even heard of them at the time.
AP: (laughing at this answer at first I then realize Dave is serious and stop) I thought you were joking. When was this?
DD: Not joking, this was at Moe.Down about five years ago. I couldn’t believe two dudes were filling up a festival crowd sound. It just blew my mind on simple you could make music that’s still effective and that stuck with me huge, and then to watch them explode against a culture where like Ariana Grande and well you know, the fact that these two older garage rock dudes could still fucking put out the biggest album of the year. I just love that.
AP: Did you get to meet them?
DD: Yeah, they loved our set and we got to hang out and shit. So that was a cool meeting, and Michael McDonald too. He was just way too supportive and it was like “wooooah.” The Bruce Hornsby stuff was cool. Playing with Bill Kruetzman (Grateful Dead drummer) on that tour was nuts. It made me want to play music til I’m old, because he’s so old and killing it! I was like “wow you can really just do this until you are seriously old.” So things like that always pump me up. The B52’s, I became friends with their drummer Sterling Campbell and we still stay in touch. He was also in Bowie’s band for years. The support of your heroes, when they tell you you’re doing something right, that’s all the fodder I need to not doubt myself into the ground, because that’s what happens, you’re like I fucking suck.
AP: The new band is Cold Engines, a typical journalist question, where did the name come from?
DD: My songs were piling up and I needed to get my songs out. So I thought about my favorite players and friends in the area that I could get together; Geoff Pilkington from Soul Rebel Project, Amelia Gormley from New Highway Hymnal, Aaron Zaroulis, our drummer with the Brew, one of my best friends. So we got together and got to play in this barn that has a whole bunch of Harley’s in it. The landlord came out with the Bikes one cold day last winter day and said “sometimes it’s really hard to start these cold engines.” And I was thinking of band names at the time and thought it was great. We practice in another barn now that also has a bunch of motorcycles. It’s where I keep my motorcycle.
AP: Does everyone in the band have a motorcycle?
DD: No, everyone loves to ride but we don’t all own one.
AP: Is this new record the music you’ve always wanted to make?
DD: I think I hit the sound I was going for like 70 percent of the way. The sounds in my head made it out though. The band I was in in the past was such an exercise in songwriting that so many people were hearing the songs in so many different ways that it became a tiresome. It was constantly bending a little for each other and the producers, parents, everyone. It was all too democratic, by the time the song made it out it was this watered down parody of itself. In the early days it was a pretty potent band. This band (Cold Engines) tries to get out the rawest truest form of the song. We’re not always trying to change it to get everyone in. Good or bad, it’s a more complete vision of the song.
AP: How is adjusting to a schedule to over 150 shows a year to just a few a month? Is it a big adjustment?
DD: It is. It’s better in a lot of ways because I have a lot more time to write. When I play now I want to play, but before there were a lot of shows where we were playing so much that I didn’t even really want to play, and I get to spend a lot more time with my wife.
AP: Have you been able to book gigs from the relationships you built from playing all those shows across the country?
DD: Yeah, it’s been a huge help.
AP: Along the same page, you used to have a plethora of material to play live, but with only the new songs to work with are you planning on extending these out live?
DD: Yeah they’re definitely extended live. We already have 35 songs, just this week I brought three new songs to rehearsal, and we’ll play these out this weekend. This is why I want to play shows now.
AP: What can we expect to see at T T the Bears on November 28th
DD: You can expect to see a super tight fucking band that’s playing really honest music at a high energy level. Expect to get your socks fucking rocked off, we’re gonna bring it hard.
Press Photos By Dawn Kingtson