Besides their unusual name, Salty the Pocketknife has another characteristic guaranteed to spark the curiosity of most people – Dustin Diamond (Screech from ‘Saved By The Bell’) on bass. It certainly prompted me to put their self-titled cd on the top of the ‘need to listen to’ stack of promo discs. But seconds into the first track, it became apparent have that Salty’s music is powerful enough to overshadow this pop culture connection. The songs are complex and challenging, with interesting tempo changes and edgy arrangements. This isn’t a case of an actor trying to make it as a pop star… Salty is very much a BAND, and a unique one at that.
The group is comprised of Diamond, drummer Evan Stone, guitarist Scott Ireland, and vocalist Rosebud (Scott and Rosebud were previously in Bug Guts, and Evan also drummed with that band). In a phone interview, Dustin and Evan told us more about the project…
Your debut album came out a few months ago, but what was the time frame leading up to that?
Dustin: “We’ve been together for about 3 years.”
Evan: “Yeah. I think in 2000 was the initial meeting. We got together at first just to feel each other out, and then we immediately started writing at that point. I think that was in the summer. And then we took about a year to finish writing the tunes. There was a big gap in between, due to where people lived. So we would try to get together every weekend and do like 8-hour rehearsals a day.”
Dustin: “Evan and I are the backbone of the band. We’re the brainchilds of the project. And the idea was to have the same authors telling different stories. In essence, Evan and I are the core of the band, what makes Salty Salty. Different guitar players and singers being put into each tour and album would take the core sound of Salty and give variety to it so that it wouldn’t get old. In essence, we’re making the canvas and then allowing the singer or guitar player to paint on that canvas. Because we don’t have solos … we’re not really a solo band. We incorporate songs that are heavily influenced or sometimes fully written by that collaborative effort. Either by all four of us, or heavily influenced by the guitar player or singer.”
Evan: “Like in this case, Scott and Rosebud … a couple of the tunes on this record came out of a Bug Guts record that I recorded on about a year or so before Dustin and I started working together.”
How would you say that the band has changed and evolved, from the initial rehearsals to what we hear on the CD?
Evan: “I think it’s been a pretty good growing process.”
Dustin: “When you play with someone a long time, you begin to have an unspoken language. You know where the other person is going to go. Jams tend to become more cohesive and more song-like.”
Evan: “You definitely get that sense of reading each other’s minds after you play for 8 hours a day on weekends for a year. As far as writing goes, we definitely tuned the songs and cut the fat as time went on. The end result, what you’re hearing, is hours and hours and hours of throwing stuff away. Chiseled and chiseled to get to that point.”
Dustin: “There’s definitely a lot of messiness that melts off the more and more you play.”
Evan: “With the tunes, there’s a whole lot going on in that 3 or 4 minutes.”
Dustin: “They started off as 3 or 4 hour tunes! [laughs]”
Were you doing live shows are you were writing/recording the disc?
Evan: “Yes, we were.”
Dustin: “We were going around and playing. A stage feel is totally different from a studio or practice room feel. But to push the album, we haven’t done a tour yet to support it. We’re looking to do that in 2004.”
You mentioned that because of distance you only rehearsed on weekends … did you do anything like use the internet to exchange musical ideas between sessions?
Evan: “Well, we all recorded each session on mini disc. So everyone had their own copy of it. So when we would get back together the next week, we would take notes and say ‘we should try this, or try this….’ So it was a real collaborative effort. When we were writing these tunes, we were all in the mix. Which is a really tough process sometimes, when you have four people trying to write one song. But it helps when everyone is coming together, and hearing the stuff done the previous week, and coming into it with their ideas. After you write a few songs together, you tend to get a feel for what works.”
Dustin: “But yet, being that we’re making the canvas … basically, anyone who Evan and I play with … even though it’s a new learning curve, the feel is still there. And the bond that we have as the rhythm section makes all the songs continually get easier and easier to gel. Then it becomes of process of how fast the learning curve is for other players.
How long have the band members been involved with music?
Dustin: “I’ve been involved with music for about 22 years, I just never pushed it. I started learning classical guitar from my dad, and moved to electric guitar. In 1994 I picked up the bass and never turned back. Music has always been there.”
Evan: “As far as Scott and Rosebud … they have only played music I guess for their whole lives. For me, it’s the same. I’ve played in a variety of bands and kinds of music, from Maynard Ferguson, playing big band music, to Toni Childs playing pop stuff to blues bands, reggae bands, singer/songwriter stuff, to new age music.”
Do you currently have other projects going on, or are you completely focusing on Salty right now?
Evan: “There’s other things going on as well. I have other things that i’m working on. I’m doing some producing, and working with a few different artists. Sometimes I go on the road with different people. but I’m hoping that Salty The Pocketknife will take up a lot more time.”
Dustin: “Besides the TV and movie career, and my stand-up career, an effort like this band really requires a lot of attention and a lot of nurturing. It’s not something that you can have as a back-burner project. Especially when creating the tunes. Evan is gifted in his ability to not just be a great player, but also to convey that to other people, to teach them. Which is why there’s such a demand on his time. For me, playing and writing is enough. Trying to teach someone else how to do it is beyond me at this point. There’s different projects that I have planned, there’s different projects that I am starting the ball moving on, but nothing at the moment is happening musically besides Salty. I know that in all of my future endeavors, Evan has earned top spot in terms of drummers that I work with.”
Dustin, what impact does the fact that you’re well known as Screech from “Saved By The Bell” have on the marketing of the band?
Dustin: “You try to guide, but you can’t really control how people are going to react. A lot of morning radio people, all they do is play the ‘Saved By The Bell’ music and talk about ‘Saved By The Bell.’ But yet, these people at home, are they the people who are going to get and understand the music? Probably in most cases not. I think that art is subjective. I don’t think my music has anything to do with my acting. The only thing that could be tied into it is performing … I’m a performer, and I’m most comfortable on stage. But portraying the character that someone wrote is one thing; my music is coming from me. It’s something that no one can knock me down for. Television is good money. So if I get a film where I’m going to be a guy who’s a complete moron or a complete idiot, that’s fine. You play the character, you make your money, you do a believable job, and that’s great. But with music, there’s really no money in it unless you’re at the very top. Doing music that’s more along the lines of Frank Zappa and Mr. Bungle, it really is a testament that we’re doing it because we like music. And I’m playing music because I have to. It’s not a choice anymore, and I think Evan feels the same way. If I was on a desert island but off from the rest of the world, then I’d still be playing music.”
Evan: “And having Dustin in this project, it’s helpful in terms of getting notoriety and getting people interested in it. But we didn’t set out saying ‘oh, we’ve got Dustin Diamond and this is our ticket to success’ and set out to write pop tunes. We’re doing the music that we love. The type of music that we do wouldn’t see the light of day for many bands. It wouldn’t get on top of the pile on the program director’s desk or the record executive’s desk. So it definitely helps get the foot in the door, but as you can see we’re still on an independent label, on college stations. It’s cool.”
Dustin:“Think about it this way. Russell Crowe, he’s an A-list top actor. He has a band and MTV and a bunch of other places turned him down. Kind of sloughed him off from getting any videos played, any music played. And yet, this guy is doing safer music, and stuff that is more likely going to be more radio-friendly than the stuff we’re doing. He’s not doing odd time Mothers Of Invention-types of stuff. If he can’t do it, me being on a Saturday morning show is definitely not something that’s going to help the music. It’s interesting, but beyond that, the music has to stand on it’s own.”
Had you been actively looking to get involved with a band when you met Evan?
Dustin: “Well I was always starting projects or trying to start one. It became frustrating. It’s like, ok, you’ve got a 16-year-old kid who likes Metallica, so he picks up a guitar and learns Metallica songs. The type of music is all he learns how to play. Let’s say he becomes very proficient at it. Then he’s a very good metal guitarist. That’s fine. But yet the type of stuff I’m into like Trey Spruance or even Zappa himself can play anything from speed death metal to flamenco to jazz. They cover all spectrums. They’re not one-trick ponies. And to find people who can do that … to find one person is hard enough, to find many a lot more difficult. The hardest member of the band to find is the drummer. And so finding Evan was sort of a gift that fell onto my lap where I had to say ok, I’ve got to jump on this. So I pestered Evan for a long time about getting a project started.”
Evan: “Right, and I took my phone number out of the book and disconnected my AOL but he still found me! [laughs] I was in four different projects at that time, my plate was full. The idea of starting another project was too much. I had to make a decision. First of all, could Dustin handle this if we decided to do it? I had no idea what he could play like.”
Dustin: “Evan was apprehensive because he wasn’t sure if it was going to be a waste of time. I think what ultimately was the deciding factor was that we both like the same type of music and impact that it has on the audience. The way it moves us is the way we want to move the audience. And so Evan suggested getting together with Bug and Rose, who he had done Bug Guts with. We all got together, and Salty was became formed.”
What made you chose Sonance as your label?
Evan “They didn’t turn us down! [laughs] A major label is not a good choice for us, considering the type of music that we’re playing. Like I said, we’re not trying to be a pop band. We realize that the type of stuff we’re doing is not the kind of thing that charts on commercial radio. So an independent label made the most sense. We had to weed through the ones that we thought were cool and forward thinkers, that weren’t going to bury us. We needed to find a label that was going to make us their baby, so to speak, to take a chance with the music and realize the potential. That’s a big issue for an artist, to have the stuff seen or heard. Again, there’s no grandiose thought that we’re going to be the next MTV stars.”
Dustin: “The thing that kind of bugged me was that one of the first labels we send it out to, maybe the first, was Ipecac, Mike Patton’s label. Being such a Mr. Bungle fan and a Faith No More fan, to be on that one would be great. I don’t know if they listened to it or just weren’t looking, but they sent a letter back say declining it. A very polite decline, but it was kind of a bummer as it’s a label we’d like to have been attached to.”
Evan: “I’d like to be attached to any label who is willing to give you the time and effort, and willing to put their resources behind you and do a good job of getting it out there and making it work. These days, a record company is really just a glorified bank. These guys are dumping money into a product…”
Dustin: “I wouldn’t say it’s a bank so much as a really snazzy marketing company. That’s it.”
Evan: “But they’re throwing you money, the major labels anyway, a boatload of money to these artists who think ‘oh, this is gonna be great. I’m getting million-dollar advance’ and they spend tons of money making the record, and on the producer, and getting musicians and the whole marketing thing. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, these artists have to sell at least a million records before starting to see any of the pennies coming in. That’s why Dustin was saying that there’s no money in music. It’s true, unless you’re in that top percentile.”
Dustin: “If everybody recoups before you see a penny, you might have gone platinum once or twice, depending on your deal, and maybe have received nothing. And that would suck, to say ‘I have the number on hit and have made $20.”
Evan:” That’s the other thing about being on an independent label. It’s a smaller operation, you’re dealing with fewer people, and it’s more of a family atmosphere. If I have a problem, I can talk to the CEO of my label. I don’t have to go through channels. Which is kind of cool.”
How has the website, and use of the internet in general, been working out for the band?
Evan: “It’s the most amazing invention. Well, I think the most amazing invention in history is the printing press, but I would say that the internet is right next to that. As far tools of communication go … my god, you can talk to anyone anywhere. On our website, with the stats I can see that it’s being looked at by people all over the world. Countries I’ve never ever heard of before.”
Dustin: “Countries Evan can’t even spell.”
Evan: “Exactly! But as far as a promotional tool goes, it’s unreal. I’d been hitting 1000 individual people a night when I was doing it hardcore in the beginning. With the grassroots stuff, I was doing in the beginning, I was sitting there for hours every night individually emailing people to promote the band. And because Dustin was on a show that was shown in so many countries, they’re curious too when they see it. They’re like ‘oh yeah, I remember him.’ And in some cases, the show is still playing, like in England. We’ve done no advertising over there, but looking at the stats, England is right up there. They’re checking us out.”
Dustin: “Right now, our worldwide promotion is the internet and word of mouth that comes out of people looking us up on the internet. ‘Hey, I checked this out last night …. the guy from Saved By The Bell has a band … you should check it out.’ – that kind of thing. While that’s not the biggest publicity out there, I’d be happy if 100,000 people buy our albums every single time we release one.”
Evan: “Yeah, it would be amazing. Success is different for different people. Already, in my eyes, this band is a success because of what it’s generated, the noise it’s generated. It’s a cool thing to say ‘this is my art, check it out’ and have people check it out. You get emails and it’s a beautiful thing. You’re connecting to the world.”
Dustin:” I guess you have to have a negative, and on the flipside, every time I sit down at my computer there’s a new problem! Like today, it’s ‘cannon connect to pop sever.”
Evan: “Or you can’t log onto AOL because they consider you a spammer. I would sit there for 8 hours promoting the band and then one person complains and they’d shut me down. And then I got bulk emailing rights. I’m going to have to write a book sometime about how to legally advertise your band on the internet because I’ve sent out probably well over 200,000 emails easy in the 3 years that we’ve been doing it. When you go into a web site, like for a label, you might see 50 people you can email. So I’d email all 50. Why not?”
Dustin: “The thing is that with this type of music, 1/2 the people are going to love it, 1/2 the people are going to hate it. Maybe not even those ratios. But regardless of how it’s slanted, even if only .001% of the world population likes it, that’s a huge thing. With, what, 8 billion people or so on the planet. That’s a lot of people who could dig your music. There are so many bands out there, and so many one-hit wonders, so much to absorb. There’s so much .. none of us within the life hear every tune written. And yet, this band has reached so many ears already. It’s due to the internet that we’ve been able to reach the scale that we have.”