music (2006-51)

Extraordinarily Normal

Local band Dishwater Blonde keeps it real

by Leah E. Willis

Dorothy was a waitress on the promenade/ She worked the night shift/ Dishwater blonde, tall and fine/ She got a lot of tips/ Well, earlier I’d been talkin’ stuff/ In a violent room/ Fighting with lovers past/ I needed someone with a quicker wit than mine/ Dorothy was fast

The lyrics are from “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker,” a lesser-known song on Prince’s 1987 album, Sign of the Times. It’s a song about a woman who appears ordinary, but who has a surprising influence on a particular man. It’s also the inspiration for the band name, Dishwater Blonde (DWB).

Though DWB has existed in some form or another since 1999, its music is still as hard to summarize succinctly as it is easy to dance to. Lead singer and guitarist Davis Mitchell calls it “’80s hip hop, rock, soul, gospel, R & B.” “All wrapped up in a funk blanket,” adds bass player/vocalist, Robby Mathis. Friends for 10 years, the two co-founded the band, laying down the original demo tracks with drummer Gerald Ware.

Also on DWB’s roster of groove-makers are Cozmo Hollaway, guitar; Nakia Davis, vocals, percussion and in-house diva; and Mo Melton, keys. Currently, they’re working on their third album, as yet untitled, to be released in the first quarter of 2007—they hope. It’s a challenge getting everyone together for rehearsals and recording when they all have full-time jobs outside of the band. And they couldn’t be anymore salt-of-the-earth: Mitchell is a custodian, Mathis is a bank manager, Hollaway works with urban at-risk youth, Davis is a restaurant manager, Melton works at Wal-Mart, and Ware is the ministry and outreach coordinator at his church.

In fact, the majority of them are Christian, and that plays a huge role in their motivation and song-writing. However, their approach is not evangelical so much as an expression of who they are as individuals and what ties them together as a family and as a band. As Mitchell puts it, “The overflow of your heart is what comes out of your mouth. God has given me the heart to go out and share my experiences, to share what he has done for me and for us (the band). But it’s not always that way. Sometimes it’s just a two-chord funk jam. People may think that it’s spiritual, or they may just think it’s fun to dance to.”

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between talking to these guys and any other band with “mainstream” appeal is that DWB tends to use the word “blessed” where others might say “lucky.” Explaining the group’s bond, Mathis offers, “We share this common thread: We’re all very, very blessed, even outside the band.” Yet, they rely on each other’s differences, Mitchell says. “I need [Robby’s] optimism, he needs my drive, we need Nakia’s humor, we need Cozmo’s enthusiasm, we need Moe’s heart just to get there sometimes, we need Gerald’s focus. We all bring strengths to the table.”

Their unusually palpable chemistry has lead to opportunities for DWB to share the stage with legends such as Victor Wooten, Bootsy Collins, Freekbass, Kurtis Blow, Morris Day and the Time, and Delbert McClinton. They have also played Bonnaroo, placed in the John Lennon songwriting contest, and been offered the opportunity to record a live concert DVD in front of 3,000 or so people. (They agreed. Look for its release in the upcoming months.) 

With all their industry success, Mitchell holds that he is most satisfied by seeing the band’s energy reflected in a live audience. He recalls a show in UT’s Presidential Courtyard: “It was a defining moment for me as a musician. I went to UT years ago, and I’m not sure if I would have listened to me back then, but those kids out there knew every word of every song we were singing. I thought, ‘These kids are out here rapping and singing as hard as I’m doing.’ To see people personalize the message, to see their enthusiasm, that’s the best part.” Comparisons by fans and critics to Prince, James Brown and Justin Timberlake, while understandable, fall short of the electric, booty-shakin’ grooves that DWB’s live shows are famous for. The positive energy at a DWB performance is inescapably contagious; it’s easy to understand Mitchell’s affinity for audience interaction.

While DWB believes it’s on the path to something more, the band is happy where it’s at. “Of course we all dream of the day when we can sustain ourselves with music. We keep waiting for doors to open, talking to people, sharing our heart and experiences. The natural evolution of it, it will open the door. We’re getting a whole lot of life experiences right now that translate into songs,” Davis explains, then laughs, “But I wouldn’t be as good a janitor if I was a full-time musician.” Mathis agrees: “Not everyone gets to do this. We’ve had an incredible run. If it all ended tomorrow, we’d know we’ve been very blessed.”

Who: Dishwater Blonde w/ Jaystorm