By Dave Herrera
By Jesse Livingston
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Donovan Welsh and Bryan Knoebel came together over a blow job.
"True story," says Welsh, Dork's bassist. "In 2001, I used to live at this house that was just crazy, and Bryan ended up at a party there. I had just bought a guitar that day, and he was playing it. He was screwing around and played that blink-182 song, 'Blow Job,' and I was actually upstairs receiving one at the time. It looked like it was planned. It was totally embarrassing. It was loud as shit, too. The house wasn't that big. So Bryan left his number on the fridge with a note that said, 'We should jam sometime.'"
They did, and soon founded D.O.R.K. -- despite the fact that Welsh didn't even play an instrument, and Knoebel was busy pursuing a finance degree at the University of Colorado. "He took it a lot more seriously right away than I did," Knoebel recalls. "And it just took off before I knew it."
Within six months, the two had entered the studio with Welsh's fifteen-year-old neighbor on drums, and emerged with Rock Out With Your Cock Out, a rudimentary twelve-song demo that exposed the players' definite lack of proficiency. With that disc barely out of the box, they added Schuyler Ankele on guitar, Dylan Martinez on vocals and Wade Brewer on drums and began performing live. By late summer 2002, the band had played dozens of shows -- but its members still weren't much in the way of musicians. Particularly the timekeeper.
"The truth of the matter is, he was awful," Welsh says. "There's no other way to say it. Our first fifty shows were absolutely horrendous. It was fifty to the show, August 30, 2002, and I remember thinking while we were on stage, 'This is the worst shit ever.' He was way too into the rock-and-roll thing, and not into practicing and learning how to play. Even though I hadn't been playing long, I practiced my ass off to make sure I didn't suck -- and I didn't want anyone telling me that I sucked."
But what Welsh and his bandmates lacked in skill, they made up for in sheer audacity. After reading Donald Passman's All You Need to Know About the Music Business, Welsh, the son of New Jersey entrepreneurs, contacted the author, who directed him to Dina LaPolt, a high-powered, New York-bred, L.A.-based attorney. LaPolt agreed to represent the young band, but only after D.O.R.K. proved its mettle -- first by retooling Rock Out (dropping two songs, recording two new ones and reissuing it as One Up), and then by going on tour. The members bought a van, and Welsh picked up copies of Book Your Own Fucking Life and The Musician's Atlas and booked their first cross-country jaunt, which lasted two months. When they reached L.A., they met with LaPolt, who didn't pull any punches.
"She saw us while we were on tour with that shitty drummer," Welsh recalls. "After the show, she says, 'Walk me to my car.' Outside, she says, 'I like the band. Fire the drummer. Has he ever had a drum lesson?'"
As dreadful as those early shows were, they helped build the group's character -- and fan base. The bandmembers recognized that they wouldn't make it just on bar gigs, so they started playing with high school bands, which brought out the crowds. At the same time, Welsh started exploring innovative marketing techniques. At one of its warehouse shows, for example, the act gave away a pair of blink-182 tickets. Before long, D.O.R.K. was drawing very well.
In June 2003, the act was in Los Angeles recording Furious George when Welsh's father and Knoebel's grandmother passed away within days of each other. It was an awful time, Welsh remembers, made worse by a producer who wasn't up to par. "We had to leave, come back, leave, come back, which was costing us money," he says. "There was this tension and not being happy with the record but trying to let someone else lead because he has so much more experience, which he did. In actual recording time, we were only there for eight days. But he didn't budget the time correctly, and it started to feel like he was milking us for the money. So I ended up organizing the studio sessions after that, like, 'We have this much time and this much money, and this is what we're going to do.'"
A month after those sessions, made closer by adversity and still fueled by audacity, the members of D.O.R.K. drove nine hours to Las Cruces, New Mexico, with one goal in mind: to meet Kevin Lyman, founder of the Vans Warped Tour, and plead with him for a chance to perform. Although they didn't even know what Lyman looked like, Blair bumped into him by chance. For whatever reason, Lyman heard the boys out and ended up offering them a slot that day.
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