Years ago, I had a running joke with a group of friends in a band. Whenever something stupid happened, I'd be quick to quip, "This is 'part two' of your VH1 Behind The Music episode." That is to say, one guy dropping a ketchup bottle would become the reason behind my buddies' musical downfall and failure--funny because it's a lot less of a big deal than, say, Leif Garrett's drug-fueled crash-and-burn or Milli Vanilli's backing tape going haywire in concert.
Since then, I've done the joke to death, and I think it's time to retire it. No, not because it's stupid (that's never stopped me before), but more because I've recently witnessed a band's "part two." And in the case of Day of the Double Agent, it's not funny stuff.
After forming little over a year ago, the Dallas art-rock group whipped up serious momentum without an album, a booking agent or even a Web site. Its pedigree was the stuff local rock dreams are made of, with members of illustrious '90s bands like Comet, Captain Audio and Bedhead, and the results did their past bands proud and then some.
Day of the Double Agent
As their concerts grew in size, I sat the quintet down for a couple of interviews in which issues of trust and anxiety came up (see "Dallas Hates Art Rock," July 28), but the band was content with that imbalance and uncertainty. Really, they seemed to feed on it--their combined tension was audible in spacey songs like "Formidable Enemy" and "It's The Drugs," where pianos, harmony vocals and layers of pedal-effected guitars swelled up like a water balloon.
But only months after our interview, the concerts have stopped, and the only remnant of the band is a DotDA MySpace page full of cryptic notes; its "influences" list now includes bits like "the tragedy of drugs" and "spoiled brats," and the page headline simply reads, "Band closed for repairs." After sending a message to the account to find out what was going on, I received a phone call from singer/bassist/drummer Kris Wheat, which was surprising, since he'd famously stated in our last chat that he didn't even have a phone line.
"The songs are mine, the direction was mine, but I wasn't allowed to tell anyone that I did it," Wheat said in a long, emotional conversation about frustrations with nearly every facet of the band. His objections were many and varied, from legal accusations to concerns about previously recorded sessions to a crumbling trust in his bandmates, but to Wheat, the central theme appears to be control.
"Regina [Chellew, singer/guitarist] wants everyone to be the leader of this band, everyone, and it doesn't work that way," Wheat said. "Even the Beatles didn't work that way. When I was in Bedhead, we never had an argument about musical direction--we knew our place in the band. In DotDA, no one knew their place, except Noa [Lothian, keyboards]. And me. I wanted Regina and me to be the leaders of the band, but Regina refused to take that."
Wheat shoots himself in the foot a few times, saying things like "I'm a communicator" only minutes after telling me that he'd often stop calling band members when they got into fights. I called guitarist Daniel Huffman for perspective on the matter, and after initial reluctance ("I really don't feel like dragging stuff out"), he opened up.
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"Sometimes during practice, it was very difficult getting through even a single song," Huffman said. "Someone would throw a temper tantrum, start yelling, flying off the handle. Another problem with the band is flaking--people just not respecting time or their lives, showing up three hours late or not showing up at all. People and drugs and flakes equals dead band. [Kris] said he was gonna get his life together...get his head in the right place. I think that's great, but I've also heard it before."
Though Wheat and Huffman's stories differ on many points, the one consistent part is the band's current hiatus. At DotDA's last meeting, Wheat insisted upon a six-month break. The big question is, will one of Dallas' best bands reform come April 2006?
"For now, it's over for me," Huffman said. "In April, I'll be much more open. I want my friends to be healthy and well and sheltered and live happy lives, keep their teeth in their head. Whether we're in a band together or not."
Said Wheat: "DotDA is not going to break up because DotDA is me." He wants to continue the project, whether alone on an eight-track or working with a new group of musicians. "It'll always be Noa and me, and if Daniel wants to play on recordings, that's fine. I love Daniel, but right now, he's really upset with me, because I haven't been able to talk with him. But these five people are never going to play together again."