Gainesville’s Dikembe want you to stand still in the muddy waters of our human experience. They also want you to wear a goddamn mask. Punknews contributor Ida V. Eskamani spoke with band members Steven Gray, Randy Reddell, and Andy Anaya on their 2020 album Muck and what’s ahead.
Nearly ten years since the release of their debut EP Chicago Bowls, Dikembe’s Steven Gray, Randy Reddell, Andy Anaya and David Bell have collectively lived several lifetimes of milestones, grief, and absurdly ridiculous tour stories. The past twelve months alone featured Covid19 hospitalizations, $1,500 in pandemic-postponed Rage Against the Machine tour tickets, and somehow, a blossoming cameo-love-story with comedian Chris Gethard. With Dikembe’s 2020 release Muck, the band enters uncharted and deeply personal territory, in both purpose and process.
The title “Muck” lends its name from what singer Steven described as “…the sticky feelings you can’t entirely scrub off. I always imagine the Florida mud that’s stuck on you.” He continues, “…every song has that feeling to it, you can manipulate it, you can try to fix it, but it just sticks around.” The heartbreaking loss of Steven’s mother anchored this record, with the music writing process serving as a form of therapy for the songwriter.
It’s those sticky, ceaseless feelings Muck explores with a soundscape that stands alone. Rooted in punk with grunge inspirations, on Muck, Dikembe creates a sonic journey. The album’s opener “Sink” leads with restrained vocals that gives way to a thunderous breakdown, swirling guitar and spacey bridges. The opener is a voyage, yet there’s gold throughout the album. On “Old Husks” there’s a soulfulness, “Stay Beat” features heavy metal energy, and there’s legendary guitar solos throughout the record. Muck signals a creative milestone for the band. In Steven’s words, “this was the first time where there was no preconceived notion of what we were doing…instead of the singer bringing a skeleton and everyone fills it in, it became this truly collaborative project.”
Steven credits guitarist Andy joining the band in 2017 for their deeper collaboration and expansive sound. “Once he joined we weren’t afraid to experiment anymore.” Andy added, “I came to this band as a fan, I’ve known this band since 2011, toured with them in my old band. I had an idea of their sound, and where the band can go.” Bassist Randy and Andy both chartered new songwriting territory on this record. Muck was also the first time Dikembe recorded in a professional studio, and the band invested time in this record. Andy continued, “from writing the first song until actually stepping foot in the studio, it was about a two and a half year process…we took our time with this one.” “Muck was a fully collaborative work” affirmed Steven. “It was like not listening to my band, it was like listening to something really sick that I was just lucky enough to be part of it. I think that’s what sets Muck apart from the other records.”
The story behind the closing track “Leveled Again” is a testament to this process. “Andy wrote most of the lyrics on ‘Leveled Again.’” shared Steven. “My favorite lyrics are ‘an eternity but who’s counting.’ When I heard this, the entire thing made sense. It’s like when you talk to a therapist…and you have the ‘ohh’ moment.”
Andy added “I had this idea about how I’m reconciling with loss… it was interesting to write lyrics that were deeply personal, and to have Steven read through and say it was about his experience.” It is this universal understanding of grief that perhaps defines Muck best. The deeper you go, the more you know one another too. Muck is heavy and lingering, but it also provides a sense of reprieve.
With the new album, Dikembe also launched a video game, to encourage pandemic-safe behavior and innovative ways to delve into their music while touring is off the table. To those who have the privilege to stay home, their message is clear. From Steven, “get an indoor hobby! Get a hobby at your house!” And Randy’s words of wisdom, “stay the fuck home. What the fuck is wrong with you? Stop being a selfish fucking asshole.”
Randy was the fifth positive case of Covid19 in Florida’s Alachua County, at the onset of the pandmeic. “I had to beg for a test. They wouldn’t even test me until I was coughing up blood.” Randy was in and out of the hospital. Andy went on, “everything you fear about his virus happened to Randy.” How Randy contracted the virus is a story not so different from your typical tour story. Horrifying, hilarious, and involving human excrement.
As Randy tells it, “we put our merch bin down on a pile of human shit, and had to clean our merch bin down of human shit.” Andy offered to show photos, which were politely declined.In his own words, “it was the most hilarious and lowest I have felt on tour.” Picking up right where he left off, Randy goes on, “that’s what it’s like when you’re on tour. Sometimes you have to scrub another person’s shit off your things.”
Andy concludes the story, and inadvertently provides the best summary of 2020. “Yeah it’s crazy…. you’re seeing friends from across the country and you’re like damn man, there’s nothing like touring. And then you’re putting your stuff away and you’re like ‘what’s that smell?’”