Taken literally, “garage rock” is a nonsensical term. Many of the subgenre’s most recognizable standard bearers are blisteringly talented musicians, far removed from the shambolic, amateurish ne’er-do-wells one is likely to imagine playing in a garage band. And some of these groups’ best records are delivered with polish and even finesse, refined documents of guitar-forward rock ‘n’ roll.
So what is it exactly that binds this wide spectrum of energetic misfits? Charleston’s Scott Dence seems to have a solid grasp on the elusive answer, getting after it as he describes a performance by his band, Dumb Doctors, at last month’s Summer Shindig, the annual outdoor blowout at the Royal American in the Holy City.
“We had all kind of technical difficulties,” Dence recalls. “And it didn’t really go very well. But at the same time, I was just like, ‘F#!k this, man, I’m just going to be as crazy as I can possibly be. On that lineup, a lot of those bands weren’t going to jump off the stage and sing a Ramones song. I think at one point I sang a song from Hair, the musical.”
“I like that. I like seeing bands where you’re like, ‘Oh s#!t, what are they even doing now?’”
Dence and his Dumb Doctors, a solo recording vehicle that grew by fits and starts into a full-on band, embody this ideal on their new self-titled cassette, swirling with chaotic energy, merging classic rock swagger with meaty stoner grooves, and punk volatility with earworm hooks. The production is lovably fuzzy, but the musicianship is top-notch — which isn’t to say that this is any kind of studious affair; the players sprint headlong through each song, cutting with a sharp edge, thriving under the pressure to get everything right in one live take, part of why Dence enjoys working with a four-track tape recorder.
Dence has been recording voraciously as Dumb Doctors since 2013, starting with a series of smaller efforts he calls “Bandcamp singles” before issuing larger collections. But this latest project was the first time that the live band recorded all together, heading down into their leader’s basement studio — dubbed the Dumgeon — each Sunday for a month to knock out a handful of tunes. But to get down all the parts with just four tracks meant playing each song all together, all the way through, allowing sounds to collide and mingle in the room.
“We ended up cutting a lot of the songs live,” Dence explains, “which is really the way that they used to do it in the `60s, the Stones or The Beatles or whatever, they would record parts live just so they wouldn’t lose the sound quality on the tape. And that was sort of my inspiration for this one. I talked to Chris Wenner from [Columbia’s] Seaboard Studios, and he was telling me, ‘All you need is four tracks. You could do whatever you want to with four tracks. You just have to do it live so you don’t lose that quality.’”
These days, Dence is encouraged not only by the cohesion of his band, but also the fact that a wealth of similarly South Carolina minded groups — for instance, Columbia’s explosively psychedelic ET Anderson and Charleston’s slanted and enchanted Secret Guest — are finding traction. He remembers a few years back, when such adventurous garage rock didn’t really draw, obscured by an alt-country boom and the shadow of the nationally ascendent Charleston duo Shovels & Rope. But while he’s glad to see his style of music gain more attention, he’s adamant that his own creations retain their weirdness — something he feels is missing from many artists enjoying national acclaim.
“I like outsider music,” Dence says. “I like music that isn’t something that most people like to listen to. … I even get really sick of new garage rock. New garage rock it doesn’t have that same sort of edge to it did 10 years ago, like when I listened to the first Ty Segall record or whatever The Black Lips were doing or Thee Oh Sees. It seems like that style has become so pop-y. And I know I’m guilty of it, too.”
“I want to continue to be weird.”
Where:New Brookland Tavern, 122 State St.
When:Saturday, July 8, 8 p.m.
With:Debbie and the Skanks (headlining), Gringo Star, National Television
More: 803-791-4413, newbrooklandtavern.com