Air Dubai has high hopes for new album, “Be Calm,” exposure from 2014 Warped TourBy John Wenzel | June 25th, 2014 | No Comments »
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.
Heâ€™s not an alcoholic, even though itâ€™s the middle of the day, nor is he drunk. Itâ€™s a put-on. A prop for a photo shoot. But the interviewer heâ€™s passing it to doesnâ€™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.
â€śAw man,â€ť says Grivich, the guitar player for the six-member Denver hip-hop act Air Dubai. â€śIt was just for the photo shoot!â€ť
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 wonâ€™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, â€śBe Calm,â€ť 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 Dubaiâ€™s hometown at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Aug. 3.
â€śWeâ€™re very lucky for that because weâ€™re probably just going to be so tired afterwards,â€ť said singer Jon Shockness, who founded Air Dubai in 2008 with rapper and high school buddy Julian Thomas.
Itâ€™s not the longest that Air Dubai has gone on a single road jaunt — that honor goes to last winterâ€™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.
â€śAlex (Brahl), our manager, knows (Warped Tour founder) Kevin Lyman, which is how we got hooked up with it,â€ť says drummer Nick Spreigl. â€śWe almost did it last year but we wanted to wait a year and get a little bigger from touring.â€ť
Itâ€™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 â€śBe Calmâ€ť — 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 â€śAfterglowâ€ť 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 â€śJersey Shoreâ€ť soundtrack and tunes played over the loudspeakers at Hollister stores nationwide.
Most of â€śBe Calmâ€ť would sound right at home in those contexts. From the agreeably bouncy â€śAll Dayâ€ť to the would-be club bangers â€śHit the Darkâ€ť and â€śLost Tonight,â€ť or the hyperactive, skittering â€śNighttime,â€ť the album offers a sampler of the bandâ€™s aesthetic within a familiar framework: Thomasâ€™ sandpapery flows, framed in most intros and choruses by Shocknessâ€™ 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 bandâ€™s sound isnâ€™t abrasive enough to stand comfortably next to many punk or garage-rock acts â€” even if thatâ€™s where a lot of its fans come from â€” but not so smooth that its music would fade into the background of the average car commercial.
Itâ€™s a pop-oriented hip-hop band on a punk and alt-rock label, which mirrors the odd-fit dynamics of Air Dubaiâ€™s Warped Tour booking.
â€śI do feel like theyâ€™ve branched out a little bit more and included some stuff that maybe wouldnâ€™t have worked in the past for them,â€ť Thomas, relaxing behind a pair of dark sunglasses, says of the Warped Tour. â€śI know thereâ€™s one stage completely dedicated to hip-hop and electronic music.â€ť
Being the only hip-hop/soul-oriented act on a punk rock label isnâ€™t all bad, either. Stylistic outliers aside, Air Dubai likes the family-oriented feel of Hopeless Records.
â€śTheyâ€™ve got money and firepower, too. Itâ€™s not just some dude in his garage making CDs,â€ť Spreigl says. â€śWe 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.â€ť
Thatâ€™s a plus, but following the labelâ€™s advice has also been a bumpy learning process.
â€śLast year we were doing a lot of stuff that we wouldnâ€™t normally do, just kind of taking the lead of the label and assuming they know whatâ€™s best for us,â€ť Shockness says of touring with bands that donâ€™t reflect Air Dubaiâ€™s aesthetics. â€śBut 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.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s just crippling to try to be anything other than a band that enjoys writing music together,â€ť Ray says, nodding toward Air Dubaiâ€™s close-knit personal and professional relationships.
With blogs and indie music fans in their crosshairs, Air Dubai is hoping the release of â€śBe Calmâ€ť 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 â€” minus any mass-audience pandering, and maybe with some real tequila this time around.