Dustin Blocker of Exit 380 Talks North Texas Music Scene, Losing a Drummer and Cutting a Double CD in Half

For over a decade, Dustin Blocker has led some form of Exit 380, one of the most intriguing local bands. When they first started, Exit 380 was more of a conventional alt-rock act, playing songs that mixed a rural influence into a muscular Stone Temple Pilots vibe.

But Blocker has always proved a restless sort and he has consistently steered the band towards more interesting directions. 2008's The Life & Death of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Stone was an alt-country concept album that showed Exit 380 unafraid to work outside the box.

The band's next project was going to be Cities/Townies, a double CD that would show off both sides of the band. Unfortunately, drummer Bobby Shoes decided to leave Exit 380 last year and the more rocking Cities side of the project had to be set aside. Thankfully, Blocker and crew persevered and finished Townies, a solid collection of country-influenced rock and folk.

Speaking from his home in North Dallas in anticipation of tonight's CD release show in Forth Worth at Lola's Saloon and Saturday night's show at Dada, Blocker talked with DC9 about the trials and tribulations of making the new album and the general state of the area music scene.

With the release of Townies, is it make or break time for Exit 380? Well, we've been around for 12 years and we just keep doing what we do. Our drummer just recently left the band, so we have a new guy kind of filling in. His name is Jody McCauley and he's in the band Secret Ghost Champion. They are big buddies of ours. So we are evolving and looking forward to good things. We are still good friends with our old drummer. Anyone who has come and gone through this band, we have always maintained a good relationship with. The band is really jiving well now.

Is Jody just temporary? Are you auditioning others? We've been auditioning people, but no one had the skill set we were looking for. Secret Ghost just released their record with our label, Hand Drawn Records, so it was a natural fit. I just asked Jody if he wanted to fill in and he said sure. He came in these last two months while we were rehearsing [Townies]. We're basically dragging Secret Ghost around with us and making Jody play two shows a night.

Is the drummer the hardest position to fill within a band? Drummers always seem like they disappear the most. They come with their own agenda. It's like watching Spinal Tap and seeing them go through 20 drummers. It's a running joke, but it's actually true. Drummers are so integral to the sound. Guitarists can change the type of instruments you play, but that rhythm section, especially in rock, can make or break a band. Plus, I want to have someone that I get along with.

You've never had a drummer implode on stage? [Laughs] No, thank God.

You've been involved in the Dallas area music scene for a while. Do the Fort Worth, Denton and Dallas scenes have unique attributes or can they all be considered part of one scene? We started in Denton as a college band. We started getting serious a few years later and we hit all three cities. We'd play Deep Ellum then head to Fort Worth and then head to Denton to play Andy's. All the clubs change and the demographics change. Look at Denton: Two years ago, it was the biggest folk scene ever and now it's more of a punk/house scene. It flip-flops a lot because people are coming in and out. We can play Denton and then not come back for a year and it is a completely different crowd. Dallas and Fort Worth are different. It's interesting that the scenes in all three cities are completely different. Our style has always been all over the board, so we always cater the style we are going to play that night to who we are playing with and the venue we are playing in. We can get away with playing different kinds of venues and it's worked pretty well for us.

And in a college town like Denton, the show times are much later. As you get older, does that become a factor? Yes, that is a factor. We are booked at the Kessler in January and when we were told that we're going on at 10 p.m., I thought, "Thank God." For this upcoming CD release show in Fort Worth, we actually swapped spots with Secret Ghost so that we could go on earlier. Of course, on Saturday, we won't go on until midnight at Dada. We are getting older. We are all in our 30s, early 30s, but three out of the five members are married. You have to deal with it if you keep coming home at four in the morning.

You have children? Yes, my son is just about to turn one.

Hell, you've got to get your ass on home after a show. That's right, I can't just be messing around. That's what I am saying. Just hitting these rehearsals really hard can result in some late nights.

Was the recording process different for the new album? Yes, it was. The guitarist, Aaron Borden, would write the guitar parts and send them to me. I would sing my parts and send them to back to his studio. He got the band to play them off of those demos. We didn't even have a drummer for the sessions. We had our second guitarist, Jeremy Hutch, do the drums for the whole record. Aaron even played some bass. It was definitely a difference experience. I think it ended up making the music way more eclectic than what we were used to. It is more of a focus on the song. We think we put together our best songs possible. We think this record has a backwoods-type vibe. It was a really unique experience not writing together. But not having a drummer, we had to switch the way we did things.

Originally, the album was going to be a double CD called Cities/Townies, but then you decided to split up the release. Why? When we lost our drummer, we had to reevaluate logistically how we were going to do the album. We decided to do Townies first because it was primarily acoustic. We could put the beats in afterward. We recorded so much over the past two years and we finally got down to business this summer and got Townies knocked out.

When will Cities see the light of day? Jody has already said that he would love to cut the new studio stuff with us. He comes from a long line of drummers. He's into either just doing studio work of doing shows or both. It's great to find someone like that. We have to see how much farther we can take the partnership with him. It's especially hard to write rock music if you don't have a full time rhythm section.

It's been a year and a half since your last EP came out. Will it take that long to complete the Cities full-length project? Hopefully not. We started demoing all of these songs in 2009. We did 24 songs and literally half of those were progressive rock and the other half were more country-based. That's where the idea came for a double album. But then those issues with the drummer came and then my wife became pregnant. All of that happened at the same time, so the band had to take some time off. When we came back, the best option was to do Townies

Exit 380 performs tonight, December 9, at Lola's in Fort Worth and tomorrow night at Dada.

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