Dishwalla is best known for their alt-rock hit “Counting Blue Cars” – you might remember it from the lyrics “Tell me all your thoughts on God / ‘Cause I would really like to meet her”. This was off their 1995 debut album Pet Your Friends, which sold over a million copies. They released several more albums over the next decade.
Dishwalla’s drummer, George Pendergast, is also the co-founder of the Rockshop Academy, which has been fostering Santa Barbara’s next generation of aspiring musicians since 2009 through afterschool sessions, summer camps, and more. This interview, done by email with answers received on 3/24/14, was for a preview article for the 4/5/14 benefit concert for Santa Barbara teen Sam Osterhage. Be sure to join the Team Samo Facebook page for updates on how Sam is doing, and information on ways to contribute to his health expenses.
Jeff Moehlis: The upcoming concert is a benefit for Sam Osterhage, who is part of the Rockshop Academy family. Can you tell us a bit about the Rockshop Academy and Sam’s involvement in it?
George Pendergast: Sam O is a part of Rockshop Academy as a student and also is Rockshop’s first ever Youth Advisory Board member. His mother Judy came on board as a board member and all of his friends were in my program. Because she had to be at Rockshop so often Sam accompanied her to several board meetings. He became my go-to youth opinion. When the board members would put together an event I would look to Sam O to make sure it was “teen” cool and not just grown-up cool! He then wrote a grant to help fund a program to bridge generations through music. He’s a great guitarist and helps teach the younger Rockshoppers. He’s that kid that all the other kids hug when he comes in the room.
JM: It’s cool that Jeff Bridges will also be playing at the benefit concert. I gather that he has been a long-time friend to the Rockshop Academy – is that correct?
GP: As far as my relationship with Jeff goes, he’s a friend to all youth music programs and supports so many things. We first met when he came to see his niece Jamey Geston play at Rockshop’s first showcase in 2009. Most recently we worked together putting a group together for No Kid Hungry. Several Rockshop students and Jeff did “Lean On Me”. It was a great experience and he’s very generous with his time and these types of events. His guitarist Chris Pelonis has a son named Christian who is a Rockshop student as well.
JM: Dishwalla has been touring quite a bit recently. How has that been going?
GP: Touring with Dishwalla has been such a great time. I think for the majority of some of the markets we’re hitting these people haven’t seen the band in 15 years. Some really diehard fans are coming out and singing along to the songs that weren’t hits. We have a different connection with the audience than we did back in the day. We seem to be inviting the crowd to be a part of the party instead of playing at them. I’m finding the crowd cares more if you can really play than any mystique or smoke and mirrors. We’re extending parts of songs for longer jams, playing parts differently and most of it impromptu, which for the Dishwalla guys is very different.
JM: What are the future plans for Dishwalla?
GP: Dishwalla is currently writing and working on some 20th anniversary stuff. We have more shows coming up with our generation’s biggies – Collective Soul, Tonic, and Vertical Horizon, and we also have Eric Burdon’s 70th Birthday bash in Ojai.
GP: I think the good, bad, and ugly were all versions of whatever had been ugly about the business, but with a playing field leveler that allowed the consumer to screw the artist and the label at the same time! We had all of this demand for false imaging and need for a story instead of just great songs. Where are you from, what do you wear, what are you angry about. It was weird. We were these not too bummed guys from a nice town who weren’t spoiled but had pretty good lives, so to be some angst out 90′s alterna band was a stretch. Scot [Alexander] said it best once when he said we wrote a pop song – that’s what’s alternative about us. Look, almost any song that made it to radio is a pop song, we just weren’t afraid to admit it.
JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
GP: Advice for aspiring musicians is always the same. I grew up in a drum shop. I worked there from the time I was 13 to record deals, and then came back to buy it in my 30′s. Living in Santa Barbara I met people who had great financial wealth and they still had a sadness in their eyes. They would say to me, “Whatever you do give this everything you’ve got”. I learned from them that if you have a passion and don’t go after it, even if you fail, then no money in the world can fill that void of not pursuing your passion. It’s not an easy life but if you have a true desire to go for it make sure it’s with 110% of everything you’ve got. That way, make it or not, you know you did your best.