The four members of the Big Dopes began recording their new album, Destination Wedding, with an “almost stupidly cliché” retreat to a cabin in the woods, explains lead singer Eddie Schmid. They took two weekend trips during the late summer months of 2019 to “live in the songs,” experiment with found sounds and just have fun — seriously.
The band prioritizes serious play and playful seriousness. “I want it both ways," Schmid says. "I can’t help it.” And while the pandemic led the bandmates to focus on the more detail-oriented, professional side of advancing their project, they didn’t want to lose their convivial essence. Instead, they turned to friends in the Denver music and arts scene for help, growing a Big Dopes community.
“With this album, we graduated from the bedroom recording to the studio recording,” Schmid notes. Destination Wedding will be released on Friday, November 5, and Big Dopes will play a release show at the Broadway Roxy on November 13.
Big Dopes started as a side project in 2016, when Schmid met bassist Justin Catanzaro at an open mic; the two bonded over long existential discussions and soon started collaborating musically. Their duo became a trio in 2017 when Ricky Brewer joined the band as a stand-in drummer for a one-night gig; he’s been their “temporary drummer" ever since, Schmid jokes.
Multi-instrumentalist Paul Simmons joined Big Dopes in 2019 after producing the group's debut album, Crimes Against Gratitude.
Schmid began to think differently about the potential of Big Dopes during the pandemic. His main project, dream-pop band Oxeye Daisy, broke up, and some of the members moved to Los Angeles. In the meantime, Catanzaro and Brewer also left, moving to Grand Junction and Rockford, Illinois, respectively.
But Big Dopes stayed connected through Zoom sessions, during which the bandmembers discussed ways to further their project. And in November 2020, with their cabin demos and a couple of new songs in hand, they went into Denver's TBC Recording with producer Mark Anderson (Paper Bird, The Still Tide).
Recording Destination Wedding was a bright spot in the depths of the pandemic winter, Schmid recalls. It was something to look forward to, and a tonic for the “general day-to-day malaise” and “maelstrom of life changes happening all at once.”
But the album's lighthearted sound reflects nothing of the times, instead bouncing between ’60s-era chord progressions and numbers that stay true to the band's better-known ’90s alt-rock vibe.
Schmid notes that the ’60s influence, though unanticipated, was a natural result of growing up with parents who listened to oldies stations and had a shrine set up to the likes of the Beatles and Rolling Stones in their basement. And while he’s aware that dipping into well-known genres results in some elements that are familiar, he says that Big Dopes' aim was to stamp its own identity onto tracks and “let that shine through more than anything.”
Schmid's writing can be a bit obtuse, but the style lends itself to playful poetics such as a scene in “Distant Friend” where he describes a child needing to tell jokes to receive Halloween candy. “A little extra when you stick the landing,” he sings. “You can stop me if you’ve heard this one before.” Despite the tongue-in-cheek edge, the song ponders the miles between the singer and his “distant friend.” It’s a reflection of Schmid’s longing for connection and the reality that many people he cares about don’t live in this city.
Schmid, who moved to Denver in 2015, says that he’s still finding his footing in his relatively new home. During the pandemic, he's spent a lot of time contemplating his place here.
He approaches the same topic in different ways on songs such as “Aimee Avenue,” which cites a poem from The Ballad of Baby Doe — an opera based on the Horace Tabor family's rags-to-riches-and-back-again tale. “I’m drawn to these stories; I want to learn more about it,” Schmid says. “I don’t want to be just another transplant.”
“I live by the University of Denver, where all the college kids are, and where they’re all doing their college thing,” Schmid explains. “I’m not that kind of person anymore, and I don’t want that right now. It feels so recent and so long ago.”
The song mixes nostalgia for the past and appreciation for the present, including a deep sense of gratitude for the Denver music community. Despite the limitations of the pandemic, Big Dopes made an effort to include friends and fellow artists in the creation of Destination Wedding. Whether it was Simmons’s parent, Alayne Simmons, playing saxophone on the record, or Jake Cox, Tiana Graves and John Treash helping with visuals, or even recording in a professional studio, the band was happy to nurture a greater circle surrounding its music.
“For the longest time, I thought DIY meant you had to do everything yourself,” Schmid says. “If you’re not doing it all yourself, then you're a failure. That’s a false belief.” Instead, he replaced the idea with “deciding it yourself." For example: “You decide who helps you and who you want to include with the album."
Staying true to their priorities, the Big Dopes musicians will continue to create spaces for people to meet each other, work together and have fun. It's how they like to play their concerts, too. "Preparing for a show," says Schmid, "is like planning a party."
Destination Wedding will be available on Spotify and Bandcamp on Friday, November 5. Big Dopes will play at Lulu’s Downstairs in Colorado Springs on November 12, at the Broadway Roxy, 554 South Broadway in Denver, on November 13, and at Surfside 7 in Fort Collins on November 14. Visit the website to find tickets.