Pop-Break Live Journal: The Clydes and The Dunwells at The Saint

brent johnson talks about the experience of his band, The Clydes, playing with up-and-coming U.K. group The Dunwells …

This is out first-ever ‘Pop-Break Live Journal,’ in which which we ask band members to write about their experiences performing in concert. We begin with our managing editor, Brent Johnson, who is also the lead singer of New Brunswick, N.J., alt-rockers The Clydes. Below, he tells us about the group’s first time playing with a national — and in this case, international — band, The Dunwells. Special thanks to Peri Sokol for photos of The Clydes.

The Clydes: guitarist Brian Johnson, drummer Vinnie Quaglieri, singer Brent Johnson, bassist Andrew Lord Chandler
Photos: Peri Sokol

A few days before the show, I saw the tweet.

The Dunwells! Have arrived. 1st LA show at Hotel Cafe stunning…great songs played w/ everything they’ve got…so much fun to root for em.”

Suddenly, I got very excited.

See: The man who wrote that on his Twitter page Feb. 28 was Cameron Crowe. You know, the director of Say Anything, Singles and Jerry Maguire. The guy who started his career as a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone — and went on to write an Oscar-winning movie about it called Almost Famous. Yeah, that Cameron Crowe.

And the band he was raving about was The Dunwells — a up-and-coming group out of the U.K. … that my band, The Clydes, was soon about to open for.

A few weeks earlier, we got an e-mail from the manager of The Saint in Asbury Park, N.J. — one of the storied rock clubs in the most storied music city in our home state. We had played a few shows there and drew a good crowd and good reception. He said it was time we opened for a national act.

The Dunwells were a great place to start. They play melodic, harmony-drenched songs that mix rock, folk and country. They were building buzz. They were on the same independent label, Playing In Traffic Records, as Grammy winners Los Lonely Boys. They were from Britain — the mystical land across the sea that produced The Beatles, The Who, David Bowie, The Jam, Oasis and Blur. And most impressively to us, they were produced by John Porter, the former bassist of Roxy Music and the first producer of The Smiths — two of the bands we idolized the most.

Cameron Crowe’s tweet cemented it: This was a big show. And this is my account of what it’s like for a band to experience one of their first big breaks …

The Clydes opening for The Dunwells at The Saint in Asbury Park, N.J., on March 6, 2012

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
7 p.m.

I arrive two hours before our set — if only to take in the atmosphere. The Saint is one of those glorious rock clubs that seem to be disappearing these days. The music is all original, the walls are lined with band stickers, the bar is to the left of the stage and above it are posters of the artists who played there when they too were starting out: Cake, Incubus, Josh Ritter. Ben Folds Five, Guster, Ivy all played here, as well. It’s a place that fosters exciting new music.

In the 10 months The Clydes have been together, we’ve accomplished much: writing two dozen songs, releasing a pair of singles, attracting a devoted following, playing to packed crowds every night. But in the days of illegal downloading, pop-saturated radio and dwindling record labels, it’s harder to get noticed. Playing The Saint gives you the confidence to press on — to know that rock music still has a place in the world.

That’s what I’m thinking as I load our equipment backstage. Just then, a few of The Dunwells walk over to shake my hand. They’re from Leeds, England — and their accents remind me of Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange — only instead of white pajamas and suspenders, they’re wearing tan-colored jackets and skinny jeans.

It’s their first time touring the U.S., and apparently, the trip has been a doozy. They tell me they’ve spent the last few days in a van, driving from Albuquerque, N.M., to New Jersey. To you, it might not sound like fun. But to me, it sounds like rock ‘n’ roll.

9 p.m.

Our equipment is lined up on stage. We’ve tuned our guitars. And the MC introduces us: “Please welcome The Clydes from New Brunswick, New Jersey.” I race through all the usual feelings I get seconds before I strike that first chord: eagerness, pumping adrenaline and the hope that no one forgets a note. There’s no place I’d rather be.

The Saint has installed something new this time: a red curtain that slowly rolls open to reveal the bands for their first songs. We see a bunch of Clydes T-shirts in the crowd. We begin to rock.

The fans cheer when we introduce a brand new song, ‘The P Harvest.’ They sing the background vocals to our latest single, ‘Daddy’s On The Milkbox.’ In our 45-minute set, we don’t miss a beat. It’s our best show yet.

10 p.m.

One of the things that helps keep original music alive is the camaraderie you forge with fellow up-and-coming bands. You need to form a community — to book shows together, to lend support, to offer advice. It’s like working through the minor leagues.

On this night, our fellow openers are Earthman, a solid New Jersey band with a sound that at first might seem ancient: the crunchy grunge that bands like Alice In Chains brought to radio in the early 1990s. But watching them, you’re reminded of a time when rock music ruled the charts. You lament that’s no longer the case. You hope that soon will change.

Earthman. Photo by Kristen Driscoll.

11 p.m.

It doesn’t take long after the curtain opens on The Dunwells to see why Cameron Crowe loved them. They begin their set with ‘Blind Sighted Faith’ — the title track off their debut album — and it immediately rings out with impassioned vocals and an urgent melody. All five members sing — led by brothers David and Joe Dunwell — and at times they sound like members of a church choir clutching acoustic guitars. Even live, everything sounds pristine.

Their songs are pretty good, too. ‘Hand That Feeds’ is anchored by a snake-like guitar riff and a thumping beat that keeps building. Their first single, ‘I Could Be A King,’ is as catchy and anthemic a rock song with a banjo can get.

The Dunwells: Joe Dunwell, Jonny Lamb, Rob Clayton, David Hanson, Dave Dunwell
Photo: Ami Barwell

12 a.m.

The best thing about opening for a signed, national act is talking to them after the show. We learn of the cool venues in England to play. We learn that even though we hold Britain in awe for its music scene — a place where original rock bands still top the charts — British musicians find that America is the place where music is embraced the most.

We learn that they’ve been together for two years. And we’re reminded a year ago, they were probably a lot like us — always inspired to write new songs, always looking for a new venue to play always trying to get the right people to hear our music.

They tell us that the next day, they’ll play New York for the first time. And they’re excited. They’re eager to see the buildings, all the sites people from our area take for granted.

Hopefully, we’ll feel the same when we make our London debut.