The first thing Lawrence Grivich does when sitting down for an interview with his bandmates is to pass around a half-full bottle of tequila.
He’s not an alcoholic, even though it’s the middle of the day, nor is he drunk. It’s a put-on. A prop for a photo shoot. But the interviewer he’s passing it to doesn’t know that.
Grivich breaks into a sly grin when the interviewer politely declines a pull, which is when Grivich reveals it to be tap water, not booze.
“Aw man,” says Grivich, the guitar player for the six-member Denver hip-hop act Air Dubai. “It was just for the photo shoot!”
Air Dubai is enjoying a quiet moment in the backyard of the south Denver house where most of its members live. But given their bursts of heavy touring over the last year, the one-story structure looks barely lived-in, with no apparent furnishings except an acoustic guitar, a couch and a coffee table littered with half-eaten takeout Chinese food and a half-smoked glass cannabis pipe from the photo shoot earlier in the day.
The quiet won’t last.
After a four-year hiatus since its last proper album, Air Dubai is preparing its first release for Los Angeles-based Hopeless Records, “Be Calm,” which is set to drop on July 1.
Before that, the band is joining acts like Breathe Carolina, Less Than Jake, Boulder-bred 3OH!3, Yellowcard and dozens more on the 20th Vans Warped Tour, the annual cross-country cavalcade of mostly-punk bands.
The tour, which kicked off in Houston on June 13, spans 40 dates and finishes in Air Dubai’s hometown at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Aug. 3.
“We’re very lucky for that because we’re probably just going to be so tired afterwards,” said singer Jon Shockness, who founded Air Dubai in 2008 with rapper and high school buddy Julian Thomas.
It’s not the longest that Air Dubai has gone on a single road jaunt — that honor goes to last winter’s tour with Jake Miller, which consisted of 42 dates across November and December. But instead of driving themselves around the country, the guys will live in a tour bus this time around.
“Alex (Brahl), our manager, knows (Warped Tour founder) Kevin Lyman, which is how we got hooked up with it,” says drummer Nick Spreigl. “We almost did it last year but we wanted to wait a year and get a little bigger from touring.”
It’s working. The band has played road dates with Miller, K.Flay, Bad Rabbits, Marianas Trench, SOJA and others over the past year between trips to Los Angeles to finish “Be Calm” — which was originally slated for a 2012 release and held back so Air Dubai could fine-tune and re-write many of its 13 songs.
MTV.com premiered the punchy, synth-driven single “Afterglow” earlier this month, adding to a wave of exposure over the past few years that has included numerous local music-scene prizes, a song on the “Jersey Shore” soundtrack and tunes played over the loudspeakers at Hollister stores nationwide.
Most of “Be Calm” would sound right at home in those contexts. From the agreeably bouncy “All Day” to the would-be club bangers “Hit the Dark” and “Lost Tonight,” or the hyperactive, skittering “Nighttime,” the album offers a sampler of the band’s aesthetic within a familiar framework: Thomas’ sandpapery flows, framed in most intros and choruses by Shockness’ souful vocals, and backed by sharp beats, buzzing keys, Taylor Tait’s pliant bass, and heavily treated guitar riffs.
Air Dubai occupies a rare space not just in Denver but nationally. The band’s sound isn’t abrasive enough to stand comfortably next to many punk or garage-rock acts — even if that’s where a lot of its fans come from — but not so smooth that its music would fade into the background of the average car commercial.
It’s a pop-oriented hip-hop band on a punk and alt-rock label, which mirrors the odd-fit dynamics of Air Dubai’s Warped Tour booking.
“I do feel like they’ve branched out a little bit more and included some stuff that maybe wouldn’t have worked in the past for them,” Thomas, relaxing behind a pair of dark sunglasses, says of the Warped Tour. “I know there’s one stage completely dedicated to hip-hop and electronic music.”
Being the only hip-hop/soul-oriented act on a punk rock label isn’t all bad, either. Stylistic outliers aside, Air Dubai likes the family-oriented feel of Hopeless Records.
“They’ve got money and firepower, too. It’s not just some dude in his garage making CDs,” Spreigl says. “We always saw ourselves on a major label before that, like going more in a pop, Top-40 direction, but stylistically and creatively (Hopeless Records) wants us to do what we want to do.”
That’s a plus, but following the label’s advice has also been a bumpy learning process.
“Last year we were doing a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t normally do, just kind of taking the lead of the label and assuming they know what’s best for us,” Shockness says of touring with bands that don’t reflect Air Dubai’s aesthetics. “But we were a band for four years before we got signed to Hopeless. This year is about remembering who we are and trusting ourselves. We have a lot of brain power here with these six people.”
“It’s just crippling to try to be anything other than a band that enjoys writing music together,” Ray says, nodding toward Air Dubai’s close-knit personal and professional relationships.
With blogs and indie music fans in their crosshairs, Air Dubai is hoping the release of “Be Calm” and the exposure from the Warped Tour will allow them to find a discerning national fan base that genuinely appreciates its hybridized, live hip-hop/rock sound — minus any mass-audience pandering, and maybe with some real tequila this time around.