When Bon Scott and the Young brothers wrote AC/DC's perennial rock anthem “It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n' Roll)” for their debut album, they were speaking from experience. They had already spent many a night trudging through the Australia bar scene and didn't yet know the success that was in store. No one knows, er, lives, the meaning of the words in that song more than the working local band making constant sacrifices to break through and break out.
Take the five members of San Diego's Dynamite Walls, who know a little something about trying to make it to the top. Since 2005, they've been honing their sound and have garnered a huge Southern California following. In fact, everything about the band says “poised to break.” Melodic pop-rock songs in the vein of Dashboard Confessional and Coldplay that get stuck in your head? Check. Three independent releases (two EPs, one album) that caught the ear of MTV2 and landed them a residency at O.C.'s Detroit Bar? You bet. A manager / producer who's worked with R.E.M., Bjork and XTC? Oh, yeah.
Yet, just because they're suit-wearing pretty boys and their music is catchy doesn't mean the quintet haven't paid their dues. Exhibit A: the “Taco John” story.
“On our winter tour, we drove a veggie-oil / grease bus across the country. When we got to Nebraska, all of our grease was completely frozen,” says singer and guitarist Tom Pritchard. “We went to a pawnshop to see about heaters to warm the grease and were told to go and see ‘Taco John.' He owned some Mexican restaurants and saved all of the grease. We went on a wild goose chase, but when we got to his garage, there was a mecca of 5-gallon barrels of warm grease. Not only did he let us fill our tank, he let us take as much as we wanted. ‘Taco John' probably gave us $700 worth of fuel and got us to Seattle.”
It's that kind of persistence, whether a search for grease or trying to find that perfect musical hook, that drives the band—so they can be viewed as one of the hardest-working bands in the scene. After all, many of the members (along with Pritchard: guitarist Alex Blundell, bassist Allan Bates, drummer Steve Serrano and keyboardist Paul Kimmel) sowed their oats in other bands before forming Dynamite Walls, and it might be that they see the band as their last chance to make it big before the threat of, you know, responsibility kicks in. When they're not rehearsing new songs or playing live shows, they're mailing their album (The Blinding Lights Above) to radio stations and promoting their nomination for MTV2's “Band on the Rise.” Getting to top ain't easy.
“We definitely get some love, but it's hard to get beyond the local shows,” says Pritchard. “And it's not just about us. I feel like [local pop band] Get Back Loretta has got some great fucking songs, but they don't get a lot of radio play. If the local music is good, yet you're still hearing Bush or Alice in Chains, then there's still some work to be done.”
Whatever happens, San Diego will always be the city they claim. And in a local scene where many bands, once they've garnered enough buzz, forsake San Diego and move to L.A. or San Francisco, so they can make that supposed next step, that kind of loyalty is admirable.
“It's great to be part of the local scene,” Pritchard says. “We love playing across the country and telling people that we're from San Diego. You always get a positive reaction when you say that you're from San Diego.”
If Dynamite Walls do make it to the top, San Diego will—much like AC/DC—salute them.
Dynamite Walls play Friday, Dec. 26, at The Casbah and Saturday, Jan. 3, at SOMA. www.myspace.com/dynamitewalls.