One of the lesser-known bands that made it onto the bill for this year’s Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival tour was Lincoln, Nebraska’s Dirtfedd. The band formed in that city in 2002 but caught little attention outside of their region until being discovered by Clown from Slipknot several years later. That meeting led to the writing and recording of their debut album, The American Nightmare in 2009. Three years later, Dirtfedd is currently on the Sumerian Stage at the Mayhem Festival along with other bands such as Upon A Burning Body and I the Breather.
Dirtfedd drummer Brock Wettstead took time out at the Chicago Mayhem Festival show last Saturday to answer a few questions. The remaining Mayhem tour dates can be found here.
How does a band from a relatively remote place like Lincoln, Nebraska make it onto the bill at the Mayhem Festival?
Well, I’ll tell you. We acknowledge our relationship with one of the most powerful dudes in the world of music, and that’s Clown from Slipknot. And Slipknot’s from Des Moines, Iowa, and we’re from Lincoln, Nebraska, and those two cities are three hours apart from each other on Interstate 80. So it’s like, we’re basically in each others’ backyards. Neighbors. Western Iowa, eastern Nebraska.
So did you establish yourself in your local scene before…
Yes. Because what happened was we started in 2002. So we’ve been together for ten years. And we were slammin’ it out for six years.. finally in… well, six years, whatever. In 2007 he heard about us through some people, through some friends he had. He actually came and saw us play in Omaha, which is the midway point between Des Moines and Lincoln. He came and saw us play and we’ve been friends ever since. He’s been putting his back out for us, since day one. And so we’ve been trying to get on this festival for the last three years and we finally got on this year. John Reese, who runs the festival, he actually checked us out and liked the band.
So before that happened, did you anticipate becoming a national act? How did the band operate and what were your plans when you were starting out?
Well we started in 2002. And to be honest with you… We worked really hard, but we weren’t overly serious about it. We practiced our asses off. And we played shows, like, two, three times a week, as a local band. Anywhere that would let us play. So we were just really passionate about it, I would say.
But you weren’t necessarily careerists.
Yeah. Once people started taking notice, we instantly started to fine tune it and started to pay more attention to our stage presence and our music writing and songwriting abilities, working on song structures, I mean seriously I was just saying that I think that’s something that metal’s kind of lacking is songs, like, songwriting. Like, we’re not out to write the next Nickelback radio song, but I’m saying that if you write a good, heavy, emotional song, people are going to latch onto that. And that’s what I think bands need to concentrate on is songwriting.
So why do you think that’s not emphasized in metal?
I think that it’s just because people want it here and now. Right now. People just want…
That immediate punch.
Yeah, they just want it and it’s just like, they want it now and they want it raw, in your face. And I mean, I love metal and I like all the bands that are on this tour, but a lot of the bands are starting to sound the same. And the answer is to focus a little more on individuality and trying to be themselves instead of trying to sound this way or that way.
What do you think it is about your band or your sound that made you stand out and caught people’s attention?
I think it’s, our sound is more of a… Groove. You know, what drew people to Pantera back in the early 90s was the groove that made them, and I think that our stuff is, we try to write our music more groove-oriented, and we throw our little bits in here and there and lyrically, it’s a lot of crowd participation stuff. You see people involved, that’s what we try to do.
You mentioned stage presence, and one thing I noticed while you were playing was, you’re not all wearing all black. Did you not get the memo?
Oh, I know. I know. We didn’t get that metal memo. We were kicked out of the metal club.
Um, that’s one thing we do pay attention to is…
Is that intenitonal though?
It’s definitely intentional, to not wear f—ing black and camo shorts…
But you’re wearing black right now.
Me, and there’s two of us that wear black shirts. But we have a rule that we don’t wear all black. That’s our rule. No all-black.
As a music journalist, I think it’s important to ask people about everything except for the music.
Exactly. I love it. I love it. And so we make a point to try to look kinda unified without looking cheesy, and also it’s like going up there trying to look like we’re from the Midwest, so we wear Midwestern shirts and we’re not trying to look like we’re from L.A.
So is Dirtfedd a full time job for you or do you have day jobs to support yourselves?
Well, in this day and age, not too many bands get the chance to do this full time. So, yeah, we have jobs.
Is this your first big national tour?
It’s not the first national tour we’ve had. Not the first. But it’s the biggest.
How many albums have you recorded?
As a signed band, just one.
Where was that recorded?
The American Nightmare, that was recorded in Omaha, Nebraska and Clown produced it. It was recorded in ARC studios.
How would you describe your band’s sound to someone who hasn’t heard you yet?
I’d say it’s heavy rock. I don’t really ever say that it’s metal. I’d say it’s more heavy rock. We are heavy, but we’re rock. We’re not metal. We’re not blastbeats, breakdowns. It’s a bit of a variety so it’s heavy rock, it’s got a groove. If I was to compare us to anyuone it would be, say, Pantera but without the crazy guitar solos.
What’s it been like playing the Sumerian Stage?
Uh, Sumerian Stage, it’s sponsored by Sumerian Records which we’re not a part of at all. And we were lucky to be added to that stage.
It’s a very small, kind of intimate environment it seems. That kind of feel, where you can get really up close with the fans. What’s that experience like?
It’s great. It’s nothing that we’re not used to. We’re used to playing small club shows and having people right in our faces so it’s kind of like, at home for us. We’re not used to big stages with the big barricades and stuff. So it feels a little more at home for us.
So, I’m wondering about your fan base. Would you say that playing Mayhem Fest, you have an established fan base nationally already or are you playing a lot of shows to people who aren’t already familiar with you?
Um, it’s definitely, nobody knows who we are. I mean, our album was released worldwide in 2009, but it was very low publicity, very little backing. So it was released but not many people know our album. This tour is definitely exposing us to the entire country for the first time. We’ve been growing, really, around the Midwest area pretty much.
Where does the band name Dirtfedd come from?
Uh, I don’t really have a cool story for that. We were all sitting around, drunk, and we thought it sounded cool. Actually, our singer was like, “I want Dirtfedd!!” And we were like, “Alright. Cool. Sounds good!”
It kinda fits for a band from Nebraska.
Exactly. There’s the whole cornfed thing, there’s the whole underground thing. Being from Nebraska, you’re underground, the whole underground dirt thing. It just had this feel of, like, underground dirt thing… But we did find out later that, I don’t know if it was someone’s grandmother but she said in the 30s during the Depression kids, like, apparently kids would, like, eat dirt. And get sick and die. And they were considered dirtfed.
It’s a little morbid, but we didn’t know about that until after the fact. So I can’t say that’s why we named our band that.