Heavy guitars, sleepy grooves and copious amounts of the Devil’s lettuce are qualities you come to expect from ‘stoner rock’, but nobody makes it seem quite as believable as Dope Smoker, the three-piece band from Pembrokeshire, Wales. “We surf, smoke weed, go to the studio, jam, record, skate and party”, says frontman Gareth Hopkins. Their completely care-free take on life is directly reflected in their music: the riffs are a constant to and fro, settling you into a laid-back, hazy groove and gently smothering you in it. “Pembrokeshire has a lot of nice beaches and it’s a very green place. The people are cool and the weed is good”, Hopkins says of his county. Dope Smoker are rooted in summer and no song escapes its sun-soaked atmosphere.
Dope Smoker are dragging this tired blend of hard rock music out of its stoneover with their range of influences. “We all have similar tastes like Black Sabbath and Nirvana but also hip hop and dance music”, he says. They wear this rare combination on their sleeves. Particularly on ‘Into The Blood’ from their second release, Demon Tools. Directly referencing Alice In Chains with its repeated vocal line: “Try To See It Once My Way, Yeah / Same Old Trip It Was Back Then.”
The rate that Dope Smoker put out new music doesn’t mirror the couch-locked vibe of their riffs. Releasing their first self-titled effort in November 2014, the band have released four more in the short time since then. From this you’re able to see the clear progression of the band, with each stage of their evolution being documented. This is made more of a unique experience with the way they write. “Some tracks are written to be able to jam and play easily and vocals come from jamming. We will often reprise rhythms like it’s done in reggae or dance music.” The way they bring back ideas from earlier material, building and developing upon them feels like they’re giving an opportunity to look into the way they jam and how they grow as a band. Platforms like Bandcamp have given birth to a new age of independent music making where artists are able to give detailed document on the creative process for their fans to see, and Dope Smoker are an excellent example of this. “Bands can do everything now and don’t have to rely on other people,” Hopkins explains. “It’s good fun and something I’ve always done. I just want to make the dopest, heaviest shit I possibly can and then be able to listen to it, play it to friends and get high”.
The band is yet to take their music out of the beautiful coast of Pembrokeshire, but Hopkins speaks with ambition about Dope Smoker’s future tours. “I would like to tour. I like to play live and sound as close to the recordings as possible. I imagine as a standard power rock trio setup, but I’d like to have a full gospel choir led by Jesus Christ.” So far they have found other ways of bringing their live show to fans, by “jamming in my house and broadcasting it on Ustream”.
The ball is still well and truly rolling, seeing their latest album, or ‘mixtape’ as Hopkins calls it, released February 8, which just like the others, you can stream or download for free from their bandcamp. Titled Marijuana, the album is a direct progression from Vol.4 as you’d expect. The riffs are harder, the grooves are more loose and the guitars are fuzzier. “We did plan to go down a spacey path for this next release but it has turned out more like Vol.4. It’s a bit more grungy, the guitar sound is a little more muffled and low-end heavy. The battery on the Big Muff is running low”, Hopkins speaks of the release.
If you’re a fan of stoner rock, grunge or just sweet grooves to dance to, then Dope Smoker demand your attention. They’re revitalising a tired brand of rock music, not only with an unexpected list of influences but also with the way they’re allowing fans a look into their creative process, streaming the jams and releasing music soon after it’s formulated and then developing ideas further in later releases. It’s not just the potential of Dope Smoker that’s exciting, but also the potential of other independent artists who choose to work in these methods.
Rob Sayers @