Blaine Dillinger, guitarist of HIRIE, debuts new music [Interview]
(5/7/20 Atlanta, GA) A couple months deep into the COVID-19 pandemic and artists are continuing to uplift our spirits with new music. I had the pleasure of speaking with Blaine Dillinger, guitarist of HIRIE about his recent creative endeavors including a new album with Shrub called "Back to Earth" which will be available on your favorite streaming platforms on May 15.
How has the quarantine affected the band? Any setbacks?
BD: Honestly quarantine has been a roller coaster with me. We went from missing a couple of festivals to all of a sudden I lost 90% of my income, naturally going into panic mode. I shifted gears to the perspective of what I'm gaining and NOT what I'm losing. I reverted to teaching which was my main source of income before touring with HIRIE full time.
Has there been a silver lining to quarantine? Such as needing downtime, etc.
BD: I've been at home working on myself, spending time with my girlfriend, connecting with family, and people I don’t always have a chance to catch up with. I've been taking advantage of technology for personal gain. I've created a live stream hang called 'Coffee with Blaine'. I make a french press and chat, there is no promotion just chatting on Facebook live with friends and fans. Guest appearances are happening more frequently, recently I've had Jenny, the merch girl for HIRIE jump on and chat with me. Beebs from Beebs & Her Moneymakers recently was another guest star on my live chat.
What kind of lessons do you teach?
BD: I teach music lessons, mostly guitar. I have taught bass, ukulele, and piano for about 17 years now. I teach at private schools, private lessons, toddlers, and online since the inception of Skype. What's nice about Skype is you can record the lesson and revisit the session.
Are you also a teacher for BackstageMusic Lessons?
BD: Yes, I am a teacher for Backstage Music Lessons. It was founded by Kevin Offitzer, drummer of Stick Figure. He's invited me and additional artists to teach fans. They are currently shifting their focus towards online lessons and people can reach out to them for online lessons with me or several other talented musicians.
That's cool, I bet its a special connection with your fans to learn how to play with their favorite artists.
BD: It is so cool. Learning how to play guitar when I was younger if I wanted to learn how to play like that person--I’d either search for a teacher who could play in that style. I would also find a VHS or DVD of them teaching or playing and then trying to figure it out from there.
As YouTube came around, lessons became easier and easier in the style of a person but nowadays because of the technology of video conferencing calls I try to take lessons once a year from a guitarist that I enjoy.
Once you pass the "oh I play guitar" kind of stage, there are so many different skill sets involved in how you play. A jazz guitarist is going to think and approach the guitar instrument than a rock guitarist. A new school fusion guitarist or someone who mostly plays hip hop lines would play differently from one another. It is cool to be able to dive into the specializations to be educated from people who either pioneered a playing skill or are the best in their field.
Who has been your favorite artist that you've taken lessons from? What genre of music was it?
BD: I had a lesson about a year and a half ago now, maybe two years ago. This guy named Josh Martin who plays in a folk band called Little Tybee. He is known for playing the guitar like a piano. He plays it with both hands instead of strumming the guitar. Unlike heavy metal guitar players where it's about playing super heavy or fast passages, he's taking chords and putting out melodies. Martin approaches it somewhere between a piano and a drum. I'm still digesting it. I've been incorporating it in all of my playing ever since. There are examples of me playing that way on the latest HIRIE record ‘Dreamer’. My new single has some of those techniques. These playing techniques are also incorporated in the new Shrub album that is about to debut. I've had other lessons with guitarists and being on tour and able to pick their brains watching them play on stage. I'm always trying to learn something new.
You previously mentioned your band Shrub, let's talk about your latest album. Who have you been collaborating with when not touring with HIRIE?
BD: While I was playing with HIRIE for the most part, we've been so busy it's kind of hard to work on other projects other than HIRIE (which is awesome). I've always wanted to be involved with a project that I could focus on. I enjoy being able to dive into the material and give that one thing my all. As things been getting better such as us figuring out how to live on the road, it helped us with time management giving myself more time to work on other creative endeavors.
The Shrub collaboration is a reggae hip hop blend, I co-founded the band back in 2010 with Jay Shawberry who's based in Ohio. We did an album together along with additional tracks that would eventually be on their next album. At that point I moved to California. Shawberry reached out to me 2 years ago saying "Hey man, I'd love to put out another album with you, I miss collaborating". We eventually ended up creating an entire album worth of music and then slowly putting it together. Since the quarantine happened we finally had the time that we could finish it. Its been a couple years in the making but the last few months the process has sped up. I'm excited about it, “Back to Earth” will be out on May 15.
The new album “Back to Earth” features Matt Benoit, drummer of HIRIE, he’s played drums for the entire album. Benoit has also worked on the production. Bassist Andy Flores is featured on a track, as well as Chris Del Camino and Andy McKee, who is the horn section of HIRIE. Chris also incorporates beat boxing flute on a track. Mike DeGuzman of Passafire laid down keys on a couple tracks. There's cool guest stars on the album, I've been excited to be able to work with all these guys. In addition to that I've been working on solo music, all the weird stuff that's trapped in my head that doesn't get a chance to get out.
The solo project you're referring to-- is that a part of Shrub or a completely different project where you have other musicians fill-in?
BD: Correct. This solo project is called Dillinger's Hired Guns. I just released my first single "Witchduck" two weeks ago. Primarily I'm known for playing reggae music but this allows me to incorporate a bunch of different styles. The last one was very progressive-rock with jazz elements, there wasn't much reggae to it. The next tune is going to have a reggae-rock bass feel to it. I have another single that is in the genre of meditative music, I've been working with a bunch of different artists to guest on these tracks. For now, it's all instrumental.
Have you had any studio time since quarantine? Is everyone separately recording their parts and then blending it?
BD: Yea, since quarantine everything has been virtually done. Matt Benoit is working on this project with me and does all the drum work. For the first three songs he recorded live drums in a studio session. Since then we haven't been able to get together so we've been bouncing ideas back and forth.
Once we’re content with the tracks it gets sent off to another guy who mixes and masters it. Lastly it gets sent to Jason Jay who's been doing artwork for the songs. Not only is he a phenomenal musician, but he's a great graphic artist. All the artwork is a comic book style, I'm digging it. It is nice to focus on these projects in my spare time because when we get on the bus it's going to be the same idea. It’s great to work out the kinks now when there's plenty of time.
I'm curious to know if other artists will follow suit in the future regarding virtual recording. It's common for artists to record when they're touring, but sometimes not everyone can be in the same room. Now that we have all this technology at our fingertips, its a matter of finding out what works best for each musician.
BD: If you want to think of it like that it's kind of a blessing in disguise. Not to discount any of the atrocities that have happened with the pandemic, but being able to make the best of the situation is crucial. Some positives come out of this as long as we maintain our mindset. As well as being cautious and weary, how we approach things to not put anyone in danger.
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