MAD Wednesday Interview Series: Imaginary War

jeanne crump interviews Tom Dunphy of Imaginary War, performing tonight at MAD Wednesday at The Downtown in Red Bank, N.J. …

Imaginary War Is: Tom Dunphy — vocals and guitar; Jon LaCarrubba — bass; Brian Sawyer — drums; Levon Syers — guitar and vocals

Formed In: We started playing together in the early spring of 2010. Brian, Jon and I had jammed together previously in a group that never made it out of the rehearsal space.

We’re Based Out Of: We’re from all over, but like many other bands, we make our home in the Hot Dog House on the corner of Main Street and Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park, N.J. We have sort of a love/hate relationship with the town. It’s an amazing place, but can be frustrating at the same time. I wrote a song that we play called “I Hate Asbury Park” that is probably the most scathing thing I’ve ever done.

Any Records Coming Out Soon? We did a four-song EP called Noiseland last year that we’re giving away for free at Right now, we’re working on scheduling more studio time. We work with Pete Steinkopf of The Bouncing Souls in his Little Eden Recording Studio in Asbury Park, so we really have to work around his touring schedule.

Our Sound Has Been Likened To: We’ve been compared to quite a few different bands. It really depends on who you ask. I’ve been particularly flattered by comparisons to groups like Big Star and The Replacements. People often tell us we sound very “’90s,” like The Wallflowers, Gin Blossoms and the like.

You’ve Seen Us Before In Other Bands: Brian, Jon and I all came up playing in the early 2000s pop-punk scene that formed around clubs like the Birch Hill and Krome. Brian was the drummer of a ska band called Day by Day and Jon played bass in At A Glance. I came up playing in Skyline. I moved to South Jersey for college and Levon and I started a band called The White Horse. Before putting Imaginary War together, I had been playing solo under my own name.

Famous/Awesome Bands We’ve Performed With: We don’t play a lot of big bills these days. I’ve been there before and honestly, it’s no fun. Here I’m this 17-year-old kid with an up and coming band, who gets the opportunity to open for a band I love. You end up selling tickets and handing over a giant wad of cash to some sleazy promoter just for the opportunity to play a 20-minute set at 6:30 p.m. as the warm-up for a band who doesn’t really care about you.

I’m more proud of the bands we play with locally. There’s an absolutely incredible collective of local bands coming up in the Shore area.

Pop-Break: How did you become a part of The Downtown’s MAD series?

Tom Dunphy: My good friends Anthony Jude and David Cruse have had a working relationship with the folks at The Downtown for years. I never thought anyone could pull off an original music night at a high end establishment like The Downtown, but they’ve done it. We played one last fall that was so much fun.

PB: What kind of inspiration/ideals are behind the name of your band Imaginary War?

TD: “Imaginary War” is the name of a Jawbreaker song and we took the name from that tune. We don’t exactly sound like Jawbreaker, but we’re huge fans. I liked the name. For us, it was a nod to some of our heroes, but it’s the kind of name that people can hear and interpret however they want.

PB: What musicians or groups have influenced your song making the most?

TD: Like I mentioned earlier, I am a huge fan of The Replacements. It’s impossible for me to understate the impact that Paul Westerberg’s songwriting has had on my own. Like many of my contemporaries, I worship at the altar of Bruce Springsteen. In Asbury Park, we all live and operate in his gigantic shadow. I am also a huge fan of American soul and rhythm and blues, especially the Stax/Volt stuff from the 1960s and early 1970s. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave. This music is legendary and has such amazing roots. We usually play a verse of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready” during our live shows as a nod to my love of soul.

PB:Are you planning any kind of tour in the future, or just keeping it local?

TD: We are a local band, plain and simple. We’re all working guys who play music for the love of it with no delusions about what it means. I’ve seen so many talented friends in amazing bands allow the business aspect of the music industry destroy their love for just playing. We don’t really sell and merchandise and we aren’t obnoxious self-promoters. We write music together and play it to whoever will listen.

PB:What is the most rewarding part of being in this band?

TD: The most rewarding part of Imaginary War is just having a creative outlet to enjoy with friends. We do things on our terms and have a blast with it. What more could we want?

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