It was a frigid night in March, but the crowd was thick at Bernie's Distillery. They were about to experience one of Columbus' best-kept secrets: a relatively new but talented band called Wetshade.
Wetshade has been around less than a year, but the band is already gaining a following. Led by singer/rhythm guitarist Tariq Jalil and lead guitarist Josh Dodds, the band also includes Eric VanWagner on bass and Sean Perkins on drums.
Jalil and Dodds began playing together about eight or nine months ago in a band called Clockwork, but they found out that there was already another band with that name. In order to find a name that wasn't already taken, Jalil, an English major, turned to literature, and he got the name "Wetshade" from a William Blake poem. The band has gone through many personnel changes in its short history, but Jalil and Dodds are the core.
Their music has a unique style, with a sound that exhibits the influence of Bob Mould (Sugar, Hüsker Dü), Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and many other diverse styles. As Jalil puts it, they are are "just trying to do straightforward guitar rock." Dodds says he is heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, and Jalil idolizes Bob Mould. "We have groups that have influenced our music, and groups that we love. I mostly listen to groups like the Smiths, New Order, Jane's Addiction, the Cult, R.E.M., and stuff like that, but, I don't know, what influences our music is probably something entirely different."
Currently the band is trying to find the time and money to record an album. Meanwhile, they have been playing as an opening act about once a month around the campus area--and they often upstage the headlining band. Each time they play a show, they give a list of the songs they are playing to a few members of the audience and ask them to write comments about each song. Between those written comments and verbal ones, the band decides which songs are good enough to keep playing, and possibly to put on an album, and which songs are merely mediocre. "The one thing I detest in life is mediocrity, and if we ever come to the conclusion that a song is just midline, then we get rid of it," Jalil said.
As they get rid of the mediocre songs, they add new ones. "We're constantly writing songs. We try to add at least one or two new songs every time we play." They play almost exclusively original material; the one exception is their final song in every show, a rocking cover of George Michael's "Father Figure" by way of School of Fish. The song takes on a totally new sound, and in this style it is a fitting finale.
Their goal? "We'd like to be big," Jalil says matter-of-factly. "It's more or less an unrealistic goal nowadays, but I think the one thing I've done is I've been able to measure other groups that are very successful right now, and just judging by their music and the way they write songs, I think, just studying that, I think we could do equally as well." They don't want to be too big, however. "I mean, how many people want to get as big as Metallica or U2?" Jalil asks rhetorically.
"I think as far as commercial success is concerned, I think most people use the lyrics or the melody first. We're trying to go against that," he says. "I think the music should come first. It gives a good strong backbone for the song and adds even more to the lyrics if you approach it from that standpoint, instead of trying to make the lyrics make the music stand out."
Lyrics are important, however, and Jalil addresses them in a somewhat unusual way. "I try to address it first of all in a very unisex attitude, where the word `you' is used a lot.... That's always been very important to me. Being the silly English major that I am, I've always tried to maybe write one thing about a relationship and sometimes have a political connotation as well. I have some things about Israel and Palestine... and they're talking back and forth, talking about their relationship together--the hatred and the love and the things that they've shared together. It's really kind of silly, but you've got to do something...."
Dodds began playing the guitar when he was nine. "My dad was a hippie," he says, "and he had a band when he was younger, and they got pretty big around Ohio.... When I was growing up he still had guitars around the house. I just started picking them up and learning to play."
Jalil, on the other hand, didn't start playing until he was a freshman in high school. "I think since I was in high school and I didn't have any other output, I thought guitar was a great way to do it--a great way to console myself. I really didn't have that growing up."
They want to be able to make a career with the band, but that isn't the most important thing for them. "I'm not doing it to make a living," Jalil says. "I'm doing it because growing up as a child I think music helped me a lot. Music really got me through some hard times as far as social isolation, or, you know, anything, hatred towards other people. I mean, music is a great outlet, and if I can accomplish that for people then I'll be happy."
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