Kerry Dean is a computer guy specializing in search engine optimization. Eric Dodson is an operations manager for a bank. And Steve Steward is a freelance writer. For the last 7 years, though, when the three of them have gotten together, it’s been as the ska and reggae inflected trio Darth Vato. Now, more than 200 shows and four albums later, the friends who met at TCU will play their final show on Saturday at Lola’s in Fort Worth. Steward, the band’s bassist, talks about life on the road, favorite gigs and why now is the right time for Darth Vato to come to an end as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A.
Art&Seek: What’s your mindset heading into the final show?
Steve Steward: It’s bittersweet, because we’ve devoted so much time to it. We could have all had master’s degrees in the time we spent in the band. But we’re kinda ready to be done. It was fun, but 2008 was a rough year. It was more business than it was fun. We were starting to not like each other, so we’re all much better friends now that we’re having a last show.
A&S: You sort of eluded to it, but what would you say made you all decide to call it quits?
S.S.: For me personally, it was the last van breaking down. It was just kind of a never-ending money pit and we didn’t really feel like we were going anywhere. You can only drive down to Austin so many times before it’s diminished returns. And we were all ready to move onto other things.
A&S: What is it about every band’s van constantly breaking down?
S.S.: Well, when you’re a cheap band, you have to buy crappy vans. I prefer seeing a band roll into town in something that looks like it’s barely held together. I’m always suspect of a brand-new van – it rubs me the wrong way.
A&S: Darth Vato plays a mix of ska, punk and reggae – all styles that were pretty big a few years ago during the height of bands like No Doubt, Sublime and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Do you think there is still an audience for that style of music these days?
S.S.: What’s funny is, when we started the band, I think the ska boom was pretty done already. I think the last time I saw Reel Big Fish, which I consider a mainstream ska band, was 1998. By the time we got started, no one really wanted to hear that stuff. But we just wanted to play Sublime covers in front of an audience. We were never really playing it because it was cool – we just played stuff we liked to hear. Then we started writing originals and we kinda got a reputation for being a party band. We sold a lot of alcohol in bars. Every bar needs somebody to sell beer.
A&S: You have played well over 200 shows. Do you have a gig that stands out in your mind?
S.S.: Pretty much any show we played at the Wreck Room before it was demolished. Those were our favorite shows. We also had a good fan base in Corpus Christie, and we loved playing in Corpus. Corpus is cool, because it really doesn’t matter what kind of band you are, they just like music. Of course, being a reggae band that had Sublime as an influence, it goes over well in a beach town.
A&S: Any interesting stories from the road you’d like to pass along (something PG-13 or less)?
S.S.: We drove basically 16 hours straight to Tempe to this place called the Big Fish Pub. Our friend called us to say that she had heard that the gig wasn’t on, and so I called them, and they were like, “Oh yeah, it’s gonna be really great – we’ve got five comedians.” And I said, “Really? Because we were supposed to play.” And he said, “Oh yeah, the gig was canceled – didn’t you get my e-mail?” And, of course, he didn’t send an e-mail. So we drove, basically, 16 hours for nothing. But then we ended up scrambling and finding two other gigs. One of them was at this hotel pool, and we were all excited thinking we were going to get to play this rooftop pool with all these hot girls and stuff. Instead, they stuck us in the dining room, where we played to nobody in a really nice café area. That was a total beating.
A&S: What do you think you’ll miss most about playing in the band?
S.S.: It’s fun to get in the van on Friday and not come back til Monday. It’s what I guess we’d be doing anyway – just getting drunk with our buddies. But we do it out of town. And I’ll miss being onstage. It’s fun seeing people’s reactions, then going over the night and seeing what notes you missed and what mistakes you made, and how it was funny, and then how somebody got mad and then later it was just a big joke. We’re just kinda knuckleheads I guess, and that’s part of what led to the demise – it started getting real serious. When you make albums and you’re at our level, you have to take out loans — no one else is paying for it – and so you have this big loan over your head, and every dime you make goes back to paying back the loan and putting gas in the van and on and on and on.
A&S: So do you have anything special planned for this last show?
S.S.: I don’t know. Usually whenever we try to plan something, it never comes off. So if anything cool happens, it will be because somebody had an idea and somebody else followed it.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.