Interview with Dawson Scholz of The Ongoing Concept

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Photo via Jerry Graham Publicity

When you think “Do It Yourself,” you are probably thinking about self-promotion, self-production, and self-release.  However, sometimes doing things yourself also can mean making it yourself, as was the case with The Ongoing Concept‘s second full-length release, Handmade. In one of the most unexpected and delightfully surprising moves in the contemporary scene, The Ongoing Concept broke ground when they announced they had physically handmade all of the instruments they used to record their latest record. 

From cutting down trees, finding the perfect angles to shape a drum head, and writing a solid follow up to their debut, we caught up with vocalist and guitarist Dawson Scholz to get the inside scoop on all the handcrafted work that went into bringing about Handmade.

What was the mindset going into writing and recording Handmade?
We are always changing so I feel our mindset is never consistent, but I know we went into it wanting it to be something other than a Saloon 2.0. We wanted something raw, something from the ground up, and overall, we wanted something that was a concept without it being a typical “concept album” that involves some sort of lyrical or story type theme.

How did you plan to follow up after Saloon was so well received?
We didn’t really know to be honest. Saloon was years in the making. It felt like our life’s work and to follow up with any debut album is tough. We spent months and months writing. We weren’t going to submit an “OK” album so we were prepared to take longer than expected to get the record done. If we weren’t happy with the product, we weren’t going to release it.

What have been some other major musical influences you guys have had?
It might sound really cliché or even stupid to say this but for the past two records, my major musical influences hasn’t been music at all. I found that what influences me is not the music itself, but the drive, branding, or just the overall influence the artist who releases that music has on the culture or scene at that particular time. I have always wondered how certain songs become songs or even records we listen to for years and years after they are released and how others become a fad for a particular month or year. There is a way certain bands have captivated people with their records. They have made them works of art, something beautiful, something you think back on later and still go, “Wow, this album is still great.” I look at bands like Underoath, Bring Me The Horizon, or even Brand New. I don’t really even listen to these bands, but they have become huge influences of mine because they have left a huge imprint of what music is today. 

So for this album you guys actually handmade the instruments you used to record with. What inspired this action?
We have always been a “do it yourself” type band. We are drawn to doing things we never thought we could do. We have always been into concepts (as our name kind of states). [Laughs] I love concept albums and how they bring about a story or an idea into something whole. I wanted to do a concept album, but I didn’t want to do an album that was a story or some lyrical concept that unfolded throughout ten songs. I wanted something beyond the actual music itself. I was looking up building a guitar one day and the whole handmade concept hit me. It seemed impossible at the time to pull something like that off and I think that in itself is what inspired me.

Do you guys have a background in wood shop or did you learn how to do all of this for the project?
We have built our own guitar cabs and stuff but no, no wood shop background class at all. Kyle [Scholz, vocals and keys] does a lot of construction so I guess that helped a lot. Most of it was trial and error though. It was a bit nerve-racking to be honest.

What was the most difficult thing you guys had to make?
Certain parts of the building process were a one chance don’t mess this up type deal, most notably the part where we routed the edge of the drum shells. Kyle had to do a ton of math and very articulate cuts to get that very fine slopped edge the drum head sits on to create the resonance of the drum shell. Messing that up would’ve meant the drum shell was basically not useable anymore. Kyle is kind of a genius so a lot of that went over my head and I have no idea how he accomplished it.

How many trees were cut down in the process of making this album?
Just one. It was a fairly large tree. We actually have a lot left over which we may use to make some cool little pre-order incentives!

What led you to want to do a video documentation of hand making these instruments?
In this day, people want proof of everything. Saying we built it all from hand is not good enough. We just wanted to actually show that all this happened. Also, there is a lot more that goes into making an instrument that can’t really be explained without some sort of visual. We wanted to show everything, even our mistakes.

You guys have such a fun album cover. What inspired the image you guys chose to use for the album?
Thank you! We tried out a few different album covers but ended up with that one. We were kind of wanting to go back to the classic rock type records. We feel bands have strayed away from album covers that incorporate the band itself. So many classic rock albums are iconic for that. I thought it would be a good way to promote the whole handmade concept.

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What would you say are some of your favorite tracks on the album and why?
I think my favorite songs would be “Unwanted,” “Amends,” “Soul,” and even “Melody.” I feel those songs are our most poppy and mature songs so far.

Can we expect the return of a banjo on any of these upcoming tracks?
Ha! No, you won’t unfortunately. The banjo fit “Cover Girl” but there weren’t any songs on this new album that fit having a banjo again. Maybe you will see it again but we won’t put it in another song unless we feel it actually fits.

Do you guys have any music videos currently planned in support of Handmade?
We have two in the works right now. Be on the lookout for them!

This is your second record with Solid State Records after previously releasing two independent EPs. How has the transition been from self-­releasing your work to having a label been the last few years?
Having a label behind you makes it much more of a business than a hobby. A lot more money is involved. Releasing those two EPs felt much more like a fun hobby than an actual job.

You guys have an upcoming tour with Dayseeker that was just announced. How are you guys preparing for those shows?
Kyle is actually getting married here in the next couple weeks so it’s been a bit hard to prepare. I think you can easily expect to see us play a few songs from the new album though!

What sets a show with The Ongoing Concept apart?
I feel we bring a really fun and memorable show. I don’t want our band to be that cool movie you saw in theaters but wasn’t quite good enough to pay the $10 to see it again. I feel each member brings something different and we try to keep the audience guessing.

Describe The Ongoing Concept in one word.
Ongoing.

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