Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dreaming Bull

Gabe Rowland and Nic Capelle of Dreaming Bull



At Altadena Ale House

2329 Fair Oaks Ave., Altadena 626-794-4577

At first glance, it may seem like Nic Capelle and Gabe Rowland, the founding members of Los Angeles-based band Dreaming Bull, are complete opposites. Drummer Gabe, an L.A. native, is a fiery ball energy who barely stops to take a breath in between stories of his various escapades throughout the city over the years. Guitarist/vocalist Nic hails from Perth, Western Australia and is just as animated as Gabe but in a slightly less frenzied way. Although their musical backgrounds are quite different, their shared passion and dedication to the craft show that they're definitely cut from the same cloth.

"What is so exciting about collaborating with Nic is that every time we sit down together, something absolutely fresh and new comes out because we're two completely different people. I'm Mexican-American from California, and he's Australian-American," Gabe shares. "You always know that the unexpected is going to hit you in the most giddy way. That excitement is almost like opening a Christmas gift because you don't know what you're going to get when you start unwrapping a song." 

The pair first encountered one another several years ago in Chicago, where Gabe was living at the time. He had just started an electronic project with his wife, and their first gig was opening for Nic's London-based band.

"We had a really fun show. All these guys with funny accents came on, and it was like that '80s commercial where your hair is blown back. It was insane, and everyone was shaking their asses," Gabe remembers. "By the time they were done, we asked them to stay at our house since they were on tour, and we've been family ever since."

"We kept in touch, e-mailing and throwing ideas across to one another. Then Gabe came to play drums on a tour with that particular band," adds Nic. "From there, a brotherhood formed, and we decided to get our own project going."

it was then that the parameters for the sounds that would eventually become Dreaming Bull's began to take root: gospel, old R&B (the Coasters), soul (vintage Little Richard), New Orleans (the Meters) and what Gabe calls "the bacon," the sound you get when you fist set a needle down on a record. Gabe would send Nic a link to an obscure song he liked, and Nic would send back the beginnings of a tune (a baseline, vocal) inspired by some part of that original song. Then, they would take turns adding more layers until it began turning into an actual composed track.

"Nic would always fully realize the song because he's a genius engineer. He always refined everything in a mathematical, engineer way. I was just putting ghetto wildness on it, and he would tame it," informs Gabe.

"We rein each other in, in that respect. The place that it starts is always a raw, 'we don't give a fuck about what's popular at the moment' kind of thing, but we make sure that it's catchy as hell because it's important to us that it gets stuck in people's minds, that it has all of the elements of those old records that we're all so fond of that make you say, 'They don't make music like that anymore.' We want to take a bit of what we love from those old eras and bring it into the future in a digestible way," continues Nic. "The band that recreates old songs to a T, there's merit in that but there's also a sense of 'they did a good job, but it still isn't as good as what it used to be,' so why weigh yourself down trying to replicate what was done before. Take the bits that are relevant, re-purpose them in the now with a slight twist."

This is something that Dreaming Bull has succeeded in on their recently released self-produced, self-titled debut album. They two musicians take me to their favorite local watering hole, Altadena Ale House, to talk about their rich musical histories, Dreaming Bull's L.A. birth and the album.

Dreaming Bull at Altadena Ale House
 It would be easy to pass right by the bar if you didn't know its address; its unremarkable exterior resembles an office front. Once you step inside, though, you immediately realize why so many in the neighborhood call it their "Cheers."

"This is where Nic and I come to take a break. Is my wife watching the kids? Yes. Is your wife at work? Yes. OK, I'll meet you at the Ale House," Gabe says.

"For me this area feels the closest to home, living right next to the San Gabriel Mountains. We go hiking twice a week since we live close to the trail entrance near JPL, and the climate is closest to Western Australia. I want to be in a hub of music, that's why I left Australia. There are a lot of bad vibes that come with L.A., but it was all blown away when I got here because we're not in Hollywood, we're in our own oasis, close to the mountains," explains Nic of his new homebase. "Pasadena is steeped in musical history. Universal Audio, which makes the soundcard and all the plugins I use, their factory is in Pasadena and a lot of musical equipment companies have been based in Pasadena. It's a testament to the good energy in this area – it's rich in heritage, and I'm glad to be here."

A wide selection of craft ales is another bonus Los Angeles can add to its scorecard where Nic is concerned.

"They have wicked IPAs here at the Ale House, and it's very unassuming. Gabe always strikes up a conversation with whoever is next to him," Nic comments, before telling me what's in his pint glass. "This is the Indica India Pale Ale from Lost Coast Brewery. It's great. I am actually an IPA fan and have been since I came to the states."

"Nic means 'beer' in Australian," jokes Gabe.

The drummer is always quick to chime in with a hilarious or sarcastic one-liner, but he is always serious when it comes to his music. In fact, he becomes downright reverent when talking about a musical epiphany he experienced five years ago.

"I was at Jazz Fest and all these amazing artists were playing, but I could not pull myself away from the gospel tent. Someone would say, 'You have to come, Santana's playing,' I said, 'I have the spirit, and I'm not going anywhere. I can't leave.' It was a really pivotal moment for me, this is what touches me, along with the rawness and essence of punk rock, the truth that punk rock tells. If there was a band that could say what punk rock says lyrically like Exene Cervenka but sounded like some rare Al Green shit, they would be the greatest band in the world."

"I did have a similar experience seeing Groove Armada. On record they're a duo, but I saw them with a full gospel vocal backup section, drums, guitar and bass. It was one of the most powerful gigs that I saw, with the essence of all that gospel flavor. I was in a hip-hop band where I used to rap when I was younger, and I realize now that a lot of the samples I was using were actually gospel samples," Nic confesses. "There was definitely a bit of that influence back then, perhaps it was subconscious. I used to listen to my grandpa's records a lot, and he had loads of blues and jazz: Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker. My mom's a painter, so the creative gene is in me."

Gabe's older brother turned him on to bands like the Rolling Stones, Prince, Cheap Trick and the Clash.

Nic prods Gabe to tell me one of his favorite stories, which also involves that same brother.

"My brother, cousin and I drove from Claremont to see the Who at the Coliseum. We stopped in Pomona to get a 24-pack of Coors Light, and as we're driving off, this guy stops us and asks if we want to buy this ginormous brick of Thai stick. 'It's worth $350, but  I'll sell it to you for $40.' We said, 'We only have $10 each, and we're going to spend the night in front of the Coliseum to see the Clash and the Who tomorrow. We have to eat and make it back home.' 'You're going to go see the Who? Buddy, when they play 'Baba O'Riley,' you remember me,' the guy said, and he gave me the huge brick," Gabe laughs. "We roll to the Coliseum, I'm 14 and look like a suntanned Eddie Van Halen. My brother was a comedian, and there was a point around 4 a.m. when 100 people were around him laughing as he was making fun of everybody. He said, 'And Eddie Van Halen over here can't hold his shit.' I started laughing so hard that I started throwing up at the same time. All of a sudden everyone was laughing so hard at me."

Eventually Gabe found his way to Rush and Led Zeppelin before one album changed everything.

"When I was 15, this girl I was in love with was going to see X, so I went and bought Under the Big Black Sun. The first song was 'The Hungry Wolf,' and I was completely blown away," he recalls. "I was completely into punk rock after that. I joined a punk band when I was 16, starting touring with them at 18."

While Nic always sang in rock bands while he was in high school, he was also in hip hop and rap, as he mentioned earlier. This led to an interest in music production and a job at a radio station doing promos. He lived in Sydney where he started learning piano and then guitar then moved to Berlin and then London, before landing in Chicago and crossing paths with his future Dreaming Bull cohort.

When Gabe was 23, his band Momma Stud was signed to Virgin and toured with acts an eclectic array of acts, including Al Green and Nirvana. The drummer became a fixture of the L.A. rock scene in the mid-1990s, hanging out with Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and frequenting the infamous jam sessions at Canter's Kibitz Room. Later he started a trip-hop band, Guadalupe, that opened for the likes of Morcheeba and Fiona Apple before morphing into the Peak Show. Gabe co-produced an album on Atlantic with Mario C. (Beastie Boys) and Jack Johnson, and during this time he was also called in to audition for Beck and , more importantly, Fear, a band he loved as a teen.

"Gabe has all the stories," Nic proudly states. "He was entrenched in the L.A. music scene in its height."

"My band was the first to do a residency at the Echo. Guadalupe was one of the first bands to do a residency for months at a time at Viper Room," lists Gabe, who has sat behind the drumkit with Moby and John Cale. "I got to play all of The Record and More Beer with Lee Ving singing at me three feet in front of my bass drum. These are the reasons I moved back to L.A."

While Chicago is an incredible city for the arts and will always be special for bringing the two together, after three winters it was time for Gabe to return home last year. Although he's lived all over the city – Silver Lake, Echo Park, Venice Beach, Highland Park and Koreatown – Gabe fell in love with Altadena while spending time at his best friend's (Addi Somekh, one of the inventors of the balloon bass) home studio in the neighborhood.

"Nic always knew he was going to come [to Los Angeles], too, so I went out and got us a gig. I called him in December and said, 'We have a gig Feb. 18 as Dreaming Bull at Lexington Social Club in Los Angeles,'" Gabe remembers. "He arrived in January, and then we found a bass player [Matt Littell]. Then, I said, 'Hey, wifey [Kristen Rowland], do you want to do backing vocals,' and he asked his wife [Natalie Capelle]. We always had it in mind that it would be an all-guy band, but once all of us got in a room, it was magic."

'Magical' is also a word Nic uses to describe Dreaming Bull's writing process lately.

"Collaborating through email is good and has worked for us up until this point, but there's a magic from being in the same room together and creating something from scratch," he says.

"Since we've been out here it's been magic. Our manager, Gia DeSantis ("Request Video"), brought radio DJ Jed the Fish over to a rehearsal. He walks in and says, 'If I turn around when you guys play, don't be offended because I told Dave Navarro [the same thing] when I first met him because Jane's Addiction's first album is just like Led Zeppelin's first album, and I think Dreaming Bull's first album is just like those two records. They are not a band, they are piece of fatass magic that comes out of the speakers, and I don't want to ruin that image. So If I turn around, don't get upset.' We start our first song, and this is what we get: [Gabe stands up and starts flailing his body around like a maniac]. For 35 minutes, Jed absolutely loses his mind."

"The energy he gave us was as if we were playing Rock in Rio in front of 85,000 screaming people," Gabe describes. "It catapulted us into a magical world that I don't think any of us in the live band have experienced before."

"It really did. We all had goosebumps. On paper it sounds daggy as hell, but in the moment, it was electrifying. That's all we ever want really, is that reaction from crowds because that's what keeps you going."

Dreaming Bull's self-titled album is currently available. They perform July 31 at the Federal Bar in Long Beach and Aug. 22 at the Mint in West Los Angeles. For more information, visit

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