A Chat With Dopapod's Rob Compa
By: Ryan Mannix | Videos: mk devo | Photo: Faraz Chaudry
Dopapod guitarist Rob Compa, is a skillful, diverse and interesting player. He blends rapid fire classic rock guitar shredding with some truly “out” jazz inspiration.
Gypsy and country influences are also evident in his approach. And he's got a true "jamming" head, with lines that occasionally suggest both the fluidity of Jimmy Herring and the creativity of Trey Anastasio.
I spoke with him about getting his tone, new gear, and some techniques in improvising.
I’ve seen you use a few guitar/ amp rigs in the past, what are you using now?
Back in January, I got a Gibson CS 336, which is littler than a 335. I’m kind of a littler guy so It felt and looked kind of awkward on me -- the 336 is kind of closer to the Les Paul size.
The really cool thing about it is it has a firebird headstock. I’m totally in love with this thing, I can’t put it down. Up until that I pretty much exclusively for ten years played a Paul Reed Smith hollowbody. I also a have a PRS studio which they don’t make anymore. In the studio I’ll use my main guitars, but I’ll also use some fender with single coils I have lying around... definitely a bunch of strat and tele on the record but I don’t really do that live.
How do you feel the tone is different from the Gibson to the PRS?
The Gibson is a lot more mid range-y and bass-y. and more aggressive sounding. The pickups are a lot hotter in it. The PRS kind of has that more modern rock sound, but the Gibson has more balls-y screaming pickups, way more like a classic rock sound. The sound is a little fatter. The PRS is great in a different way, it’s way brighter. It’s pretty much all maple, it’s a recipe for treble, (laughs) no pun intended. Sometimes I long for the high end of the PRS.
The PRS seems to be a go to guitar in the rock/funk/jam scene.
Yeah. a lot of people like that sound.
Do you feel like you had to get away from it a little bit?
No, not at all. I bought that Gibson in the spur of the moment. Just thought I would give it a try. I like hollowbodys that don’t feed back like 335’s. As far separating myself from other guitar players, I’ve never been too concerned with that.
I’ve also seen you use a few amps. what are you using now?
It’s funny you ask because since about 2007 the only amp I owned was a 78 Fender Vibrolux. It has a Kendrick speaker and a Weber GT-10, kind of like Derek Trucks. I don’t know shit about speakers -- I had been playing it for about two years with a blown speaker and didn’t even realize. Like “damn, I used to think it sounded a lot better, I must be imagining it”, but it finally broke down and the repair guy said only one speaker worked and the Weber was the only one he had. And actually the amp just died on stage this past weekend. It’s kind of just in time because in about a week I’m getting a new amp from Paul Gustler at Oldfield. Ever heard of them?
Does one of the guys in Umphrey’s McGee play one?
Both do, actually. We were playing a show with them and my Fender broke down. Brendan let me use his amp, and I just loved it.
Are you using the same model?
Mine’s a little different. Brendan’s is a club 80 combo, and it’s basically modeled after a fender twin, 80 Watts. Paul Gustler, who’s a total sweetheart -- like the greatest guy ever -- brought one out of one of our shows in Charlotte. And he brought like the same one, 80 watts.
We weren't playing that small of a room, like 700-800 people, and it was infinitely too loud. I was on 1 the entire show. I’m essentially getting what Brendan had in a head and combo format and it’s 40 watts. and instead of two 12 inch speakers, one is a 10 because I’ve always used 10’s and I wanted the best of both worlds.
Let’s move over to some improv. I notice when you guys are jamming often you and Eli (keyboardist), will establish a line, and the other will come up something that either harmonizes the line, or often is like counterpoint instead of just mimicking each other and going with that one feel. Can you talk about that a little?
Yeah, I mean mimicking is kind of like the most primitive form of communication, like what you do when your’re a kid mimicking your parents, so why would I want to double what somebody has to say when I can add to it and have my own thing to say? That’s like teamwork.
I also don’t know a lot about classical theory or counterpoint but when me and Eli are soloing, or taking melodies at the same time, I do make an effort to try and make it like an invention. Where he’ll be playing a 16th note kind of thing and I’ll play something a little sparser and we’ll flip-flop like that. I feel like that’s a more interesting way to do things.
I was going to say, It reminds me a lot of classical music. Do you guys have a background in that?
Not really. Eli a little more than me. I took some classical lessons in community college, and I wish I stuck with it because I really liked it. I've learned some Bach Inventions, you know, like two parts at the same time, in my own time, but not really like a classical guitarist. A classical player would probably scoff at me. I hybrid pick it.
Do you guys have any improv exercises?
Not really. We kind of just go for it. One thing we do that I really like is just play a simple funk groove and we literally will play the same part for 45 minutes without changing anything. It’s all about making the groove as perfect as we can get it.
I notice that you’ll have the drums cut out, or someone will harmonize a line or something. Do you guys have signals for that kind of stuff?
It’s mostly just body language, and we’ve been playing for a long time. We never wrote down a list of signals or anything like that.
I would say you guys have a similar sound to Umphrey’s McGee in a lot of ways, but you’re kind of in between that more structured side and the just listening.
I like both ways. I feel like your options expand so much if your willing to use hand signals. I know Umphrey’s uses the talkback microphones, but we’re a little divided on that. I really like how organic things can happen if you don’t talk about it. I think it’s a little more honest, musically. You know what I mean?
Like you take the risk of it failing, it’s like one of the essential ingredients. It wouldn’t taste as good. It would be like a cheeseburger if it didn’t have any grease in it. but if we do anything, it’s not really talked about. Like smiling to change to major, or frowning to go to minor. Or I’ll raise my eyebrows to Eli, like do an ascending melody. It’s pretty simple.
How do you guys write your song’s now that you’re moving into more vocally driven song territory?
Some songs kind of just come fully formed like Vol. 3 #86, Eli wrote all the music and we all learned the demo and I just wrote lyrics. Then i think Eli came in with the harmony and i think a lot of songs work like that. Chuck writes some lyrics too, like a good chunk of “Present Ghosts”, and the middle part of “Trapper Keeper”, and he’s right here in the van and I know he won’t be offended, he’ll actually be flattered, that part that doesn’t make any sense.
You guys have kind of an electronic sound, do you listen to EDM or dubstep at all?
No, It’s not my favorite kind of music (laughs). I mean, you can play something without going home and listening to it. That four on the floor is sure fun to improvise over, but I don’t listen to it. I know Eli used to be into it, and he tells a story when we were first starting out, playing at Nectar’s in Burlington to about eight people, we were just a funk band, kinda.
We played a set and nobody was really paying attention, and then we went upstairs at the break and we go upstairs and there's like 200 people freaking out to this hard driving electronic beat. And we were like “I don’t want to play for eight people who aren’t paying attention, let’s go downstairs and play like that.” And it worked!
Could you talk about the tune “Hey Zeus”?
Yeah, I wrote that one. I took a lesson with a great Boston guitars named Duke Levine, and he’s like a real innovative string bender, like going outside of what you’d normally think to do. And that’s sort of an homage to him.
Is there a story behind the intro to “Nerds”?
That was just Chuck trying to stir things up (laughs). I think he’s just trying to make fun of like the drunk girl at our show who doesn’t get it. Like, “I can’t believe my boyfriend dragged me to this stupid fucking jam band show”.
(laughs) it works. Could you also talk about the construction of the song, it seems to have started with a simple idea and then you just expanded on it.
I was messing around with a lick on a whammy bar, which I now play with a whammy way, and Chuck and Eli both had a couple cool parts, and I think we knew it needed words but we were too lazy to really write them, so we thought it would be funny to just repeat “no words”. We tried to say it as many clever ways as possible. Also, the first one we’ve ever wrote with Scotty.
You guys played Bonnaroo for first time last year, how was that?
Probably the highlight of my summer. We only played for 50 minutes but it was the biggest crowd we’ve ever played for so that was really cool.
I saw you sat in with Zappa Plays Zappa, what was that like?
Best ten minutes of my life. We played Cosmik Debris and I was really nervous. And i’m not really a Zappa expert, and once I started meeting the band and Dweezil they just really put me at ease. What a guitar player!
You offered a free download for “Never Odd or Even” online? how has the response been? What was strategy behind making it free?
Great, I mean, who doesn’t want a free album? It definitely helped with exposure. We might not be making as much money, you know, but if you’re not selling millions of albums you’re not making that much. And people that like our band go to our shows first and foremost. I don’t really care if people to get it for free. I Just want more people to hear it.
What songs are you most happy with on the record, and what songs translate best live?
I think “FABA” came out really great, and I love to play it live. I think we play “Upside of Down” better live. It’s more relaxed in certain ways. But I’m happy with the album version. I think sonically, “Picture in Picture” turned out well. There’s a lot of interesting tones.
What’s a cover you’ve always wanted to play but you guys have never gotten around to, or the other guys can’t get behind?
That’s a good question. I kind of don’t think we could pull it off, but I think somewhere in the universe if we worked hard enough at it, “ St. Alphonso’s Pancake Breakfast”. I’ve also wanted to cover anything from Megadeth Rust in Peace.