CULTURE- BUZZBOX- Regrouping: American Dumpster's new blood
American Dumpster's status as the only contemporary band featured in the 2006 Charlottesville music documentary Live From... The Hook suggested a bright future for the popular sextet, as did the heavily Springsteeney debut album, Rumor Mill, they released last spring. Recent turbulence within, however, has compromised the band's stability and forced them to regroup– without some key members.
"I've struggled with the question of whether the band needed to break up entirely," says songwriter and frontman Christian Breeden.
Accordion player Betty Jo Dominick recently left the group, making her the second musician to leave since the fall. At issue was management: guitarist Andrew Ewell's parents, Ian Day and Lucinda Ewell, have played a very active role in the band ever since they agreed to front the money to produce Rumor Mill, including booking decisions that Dominick didn't always agree with.
"We still don't make any money, and we've had some really lame away gigs the past couple of months," sighs Breeden. "We're still at a place in our career where we don't have a tour bus and we're playing rooms that pay only a few hundred bucks."
Dominick's husband, Steve Riggs, played bass for the band until he quit in November. Dominick held on, but shortly thereafter stopped traveling to the more far-flung shows. Both had been core members since the band started, and eventually asked the other members to choose between the musicians and the managers.
Day admits that not everything has gone as well as he'd have liked: "We're all green as far as the management business goes, but I think we have a really strong future," he says. "We have a lot of festivals that we've been invited to and are paid well for, and that doesn't come easily."
Breeden was unwilling to boot the management pair because of their dedication: "I've had my moments of doubt, but overall the amount of work they've done is a testament to their right," he says.
The album wouldn't have happened without their support, Breeden adds. "They pretty much took out a second mortgage to do this for us. When somebody serves up that much faith, it's very endearing."
"It's about what you could buy a house in Belmont for," sighs Day.
"Bands evolve; that happens sometimes," he continues. "They [Riggs and Dominick] were never fired; they left on their own."
Breeden says another source of stress was the issue of writing credits for the last album; he was not inclined to split them with the other band members. "There were some trust issues that started to hurt," he says. "If we do start making money off the album, then it becomes an issue. Right now, all we share is debt."
Dominick's recent departure means that she hasn't yet been replaced– Breeden remains undecided about what to do, but he says he'd be interested in experimenting with horns. Riggs has been replaced by local bass legend Houston Ross, who also juggles gigs with bluesman Corey Harris. "Right now, American Dumpster is kind of a priority," he says.
Breeden already notices the effect Ross has on the rest of the band, especially drummer Warren Jobe: "He plays a little more loose and free. I think if it hadn't been for the boot camp Warren had to go through with Steve, Houston might encourage him to go a little too far off the deep end and swing a little too hard," says Breeden. "But Steve whipped him into shape; Warren has a little room to move, but he knows better than to go into deep space with it."
Al Hinton books music for Uncle Charlie's out in Crozet, one of the band's favorite venues.
"I think that's probably their home turf," he says. He's been able to watch these changes unfold bit by bit, and remains optimistic.
"It's definitely rearranged the band to a degree, but I still think that Christian is the heart and soul of American Dumpster. They're irreplaceable," he says. "However, Houston is an extraordinary bass player as well. It's a little different than it was, but I think it all sort of revolves around Christian. I still think there's something extraordinary in store there."
The new lineup will soon have a chance to hone its skills: the band is set to start a weekly Tuesday night gig at Saxx Jazz and Blues Lounge beginning on March 20. Breeden is also looking forward to writing for the new ensemble. "Houston is bringing some great stuff to the songs off Rumor Mill," he says, "but the first chance we get, our rehearsals need to start looking to the new material."
American Dumpster at Uncle Charlie's Friday, March 16 ($5, 9pm) and at Saxx Jazz and Blues Lounge, Tuesday, March 20 ($5, 7pm).