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Good Ol' Dogwood

Dogwood, the beloved late-'90s/early-'00s Escondido punk band, plot a return to the stage

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    Jered Scott
    Dogwood (Kemble pictured) at one of their 2017 reunion shows. (Photo by Jered Scott)

    Lately, San Diego music fans have been deluged with a barrage of upcoming area tour dates by everyone from Kendrick Lamar and Slayer to Jack White and Elton John. If you were into San Diego punk at the turn of the century though, a different show announcement might've grabbed your attention: Dogwood make a return to the stage on March 24 at Brick By Brick.

    For the unfamiliar, the Escondido punk band rose through local ranks in the late-'90s and early-'00s, and eventually signed to Christian rock label Tooth & Nail Records, where they went on to release four studio albums between 1999 and 2003 (along with a 2004 greatest hits compilation).

    During that time, the band's lineup changed (most might remember Sean O'Donnell on guitar, Josh Kemble on vocals, Jason Harper on bass, and Russell Castillo on drums) but they made their mark around the country and were one of the biggest bands in the San Diego scene. While they never officially called it quits, members went on to do other things. In 2017 though, fans were treated to two official reunion shows in San Diego and Ventura on Jan. 13-14.

    Now, it seems like the allure of the stage beckons again, as Dogwood (featuring a current lineup of Kemble, Harper on guitar, Josh Hagquist on bass, and long-time touring drummer Andrew Montoya) is back at it -- at least for two live performances (aside from the San Diego date, they're playing Anaheim's Chain Reaction on March 23).

    Kemble and I spoke via email about the band's upcoming shows, history and future plans. (Photos by Jered Scott)

    Dustin Lothspeich: A little history first -- when did Dogwood first start playing together and who were the original members?

    Josh Kemble: 1994, Escondido. The guys started writing songs in 1993, but never had a singer. They asked me to join in summer of '93, and when I joined, we were named "Half Off," inspired by a clearance sticker at a Ralph's grocery store. Josh Hagquist, Jayce Molina (of Split Second, Spell Toronto, Loach), and Billy Nichols were the musicians. Turns out there was another band called Half Off, so we changed to Dogwood after a few months. Russell [Castillo] joined on as our drummer in late 1994 or early 1995, I believe. Hagquist went away to college, so we recruited Bill Kerbein to play bass, so then he was on our first full-length record, "Good Ol' Daze."

    DL:Aside from last year’s official reunion, when was the last time you guys had played a show?

    JK: It had been a very long time. I feel like it was in 2006. 

    DL:How did these upcoming shows come about? Who’s idea was it?

    JK: A friend told me that our long-time friends (and old labelmates) No Innocent Victim had a date on hold, and how fun would it be to do a show together? So I said "maybe." I believe this conversation took place back in early September 2016. So fast-forward to April 2017, Jason (Harper) wrote a song and showed it to me and I said, "Let's record this and put it out on a compilation or EP!" After I finally did the demo, we talked about figuring out a way to play it live (the challenge was that Jason wrote it and played bass and guitars on it), and that led to booking the weekend ... We wanted to just book a couple of fun shows with some friends' bands who are reuniting for that particular weekend (both No Innocent Victim and the Beautiful Mistake for the March 24 show). Should be lots of good times with our friends from way back in the San Diego music scene. 

    DL:Are there any specific reasons why the band is reuniting? Why now?

    JK: Since "Dogwood" had an official reunion show with MxPx and Five Iron Frenzy last year, the two shows coming up are not reunions but a mixed lineup of Dogwood musicians past and present, including some surprise guests in our set. So it is a reunion of this particular lineup, but last year I would say, was the actual reunion, since Sean (O'Donnell) and Russell, along with Jason and myself, had not performed together in over a decade!

    Unfortunately, that reunited group of guys won't play together in March, as neither Sean nor Russell can do these two dates we have booked. As far as "why now?" Because technically this is our 25th year of playing music, albeit with different lineups in the band -- but overall being alive and around musically and such. Seems fitting to do something for a 25th year, yes? Music is my artistic outlet, and lately I've been learning a lot more about music from my very own kids, so we get to play together. Maybe someday, I'll be in their bands. [laughs

    DL: Any reason you chose to do the shows at Brick By Brick?

    JK: Particularly, it is two-fold. I go see a lot of hardcore/punk/metal shows there, so it is one of my favorite local venues. Secondly, I have known one of the owner/operators there for a very long time. He asked me if we'd want to perform with No Innocent Victim if/when they got a date booked, so my answer was more of a strong "maybe" instead of my usual "hard pass" when asked to perform.

    Last year, we performed at Birch North Park Theatre which, of course, is called the Observatory now, to a sold-out crowd and needless to say, that was very rad. While I do love the big shows, I have always totally had some of my favorite times performing around North America in basements, 200-capacity venues, and such -- places where I would have no problem hopping offstage into the crowd of fans/friends and being able to see every single person while they sing along. There is a time and place for a Casbah-sized crowd, and a time and place for the 80,000-person festival crowd. Not that we've ever been that huge, but, you know.

    DL:Is there a particular memory that stands out from your guys’ heyday? Anything specific you’ll never forget?

    JK: Many, many great times! Crossing the Canadian border is not as easy as one might think, especially without passports or any other legal documentation. In this particular instance, the Canadian Border Services agent on duty said they were going to "mutilate" all of our merchandise. I slyly offered him a free CD and shirt for his daughter, and we made it out alive. Same tour, I got to teach a host family how to make fajitas out of a freshly hunted/processed caribou. Insane flavors!

    More fondness: Snowboarding in Steamboat, Colorado before a huge show was the ride of my life. Performing to a sold-out crowd at SOMA (Metro Street location) two days after I got out of the hospital and my arm was in traction was scary. People were trying to throw heavy objects at my Robocop-looking arm, those cretins!

    There are tons more things to share, but I can wrap up like this: We have always had a good time being in the San Diego music scene, we've made a lot of friends across genres, and hopefully not too many foes along the way. We have been honored to receive a couple of San Diego Music Awards, and we've been stoked to share the stage with some awesome bands. It was cool to pass the torch to the new generation of bands not too long ago. Very proud to hear and to see music from our region go international, which in turn keeps that torch lit for more musicians (and groups like us) to stoke the flames a bit. 

    DL:Are you guys planning more shows in the future, or perhaps writing new material? Anything else in the works?

    JK: Sort of "yes," sort of "no." As Dogwood? Most likely not, unless something crazy comes up for us and it is an offer our core lineup would be remiss to deny. That said, at the two shows, we will be playing Dogwood songs from every record, including hits, plus some of the "lesser played" tracks. I think it would be a great way to honor the talent and songs those two gentlemen/scholars have written and recorded, and ultimately to pass along the torch to this new era of music. A blank canvas if you will. 

    Not saying it is a R.I.P. Dogwood or farewell, because you never know (but really, most likely no more Dogwood). But just in case those two can't or won't perform with me as Dogwood again, I'll be over here, doing this new band -- yes, there is something in the works!

    Dropping this info right here: I feel that "Saint Didacus" as the name is a proper change for this era of our music. This is the name of the patron saint for which San Diego was named after, and I have always been a fan of well-done Catholic imagery, artistic stained-glass windows, seven-day candles and the whole style of artwork surrounding the saints. We may cover some random Dogwood songs here and there, since we'll have at least two or three different era members, but there is going to be new music for sure. Not a lot of dates on the calendar for booked shows yet, as I haven't even started spreading this news about the transition...but things are in the works. [Listen to the new Saint Didacus song here]

    As far as the style of music is concerned, it's not set in stone as a "punk band" by any means, but we all know I'm a fan of hard, fast, loud, and well-thought out songs with thought-provoking lyrics. Doesn't mean I didn't go see the Flaming Lips or Dinosaur Jr. though. To be fair, I also like to play the ukelele, so don't pigeonhole me, bro.

    I hope you'll come see us, and follow along with this new progression.

    Dogwood play Brick By Brick on Saturday, March 24, with the Beautiful Mistake, No Innocent Victim and Bossfight. Tickets are available here.

    Dustin Lothspeich books The Merrow and runs the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.