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It may have taken five years, but the members of Dynamite Walls can finally say the band are ready to blow up—for real this time. A couple of weeks ago, lead singer/guitarist Tom Pritchard’s midday drive through San Diego was interrupted by his band coming over the airwaves of local station XTRA-FM 91.1. Listening to the explosive, summertime chorus of “That Girl”—from the band’s self-titled album—on an FM frequency was surreal, to say the least.
“It took me a second to realize it was us,” Pritchard says. “It’s like you’re working on it, and all of the sudden, it’s on the radio. It sounded like it fit there.”
Signed with Universal/Republic since January, Dynamite Walls’ disappointing record-label search is a distant memory. With their new album in the final stages, the cycle of “hurry up and wait” is punctuated with reminders that life is about to change for this Encinitas quintet.
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“I think getting what you want is scary sometimes,” Pritchard says, “because what comes with that is responsibility. We [probably] dodged a bullet by not getting signed back in the day because, now, our sound is really together.”
Like most bands, Dynamite Walls didn’t get themselves “together” without a slew of significant highs and lows.
Pritchard remembers a break-up with a girlfriend of seven years inspired the band’s first few songs in 2005. Three months later, the band were courted by Sony/Epic after sending out a self-produced demo. Before they knew it, preparations were made to record another demo with the ginormous New York label. Unfortunately, momentary bliss was followed by unforeseen tragedy. Two days before recording, Pritchard got word that his oldest brother—who’d been in and out of jail most of his life—died after trying to conceal illegal drugs in his stomach. In a situation in which most people would’ve succumbed to grief, Pritchard followed through with recording.
“It’s always been my personality to internalize [a bad experience] and find an outlet for it,” says Pritchard. “To this day, I’m amazed I got through that.”
By 2006, label reps were pitching Dynamite Walls’ well-manicured indie-pop to high-profile producers. Their future was nearly secured. Then another bad break—their development deal fell through when Epic cut back West Coast operations in 2006 and laid off all the contacts who’d offered the band a record deal.
“We had this feeling of, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna get there,’ and it was a letdown,” says Pritchard.
Cast back into the local pond, Pritchard and guitarist Alex Blundell, bassist Allen Bates, keyboardist Paul Kimmel and Eric Pritchard (Tom’s younger brother, who replaced former drummer Steve Serrano) became seasoned scrappers on the San Diego music scene. Inside booze-filled taverns such as the Belly Up and Tidewater, Dynamite Walls developed tunes for independent releases, including 2007’s full-length, The Blinding Lights Above, and 2009’s EP, Stay Awake.
These days, Pritchard says, new tracks such as “Cold World” represent the band’s moody, chorus-driven sound. Utilizing the radio-friendly, emotive hook power of the Fray and Jimmy Eat World, Dynamite Walls’ cocktail of smart pop poetics is undoubtedly familiar. However, Pritchard says, the band take a varied approach to carefully carved songs about everyday disillusionment and love gone awry.
“The album ebbs and flows between songs you really want to hear, depending on what kind of mood you’re in,” says Pritchard.
Whether they’re inspired by catchy classic rock à la Rick Springfield or Coldplay’s contemplative piano pop, each song on their major-label debut—prepped for release late this year—strives to fulfill a distinctive space in your emotional index.
The band entrusted their songs to the hands of LA producer Paul Fox, whose credits include Phish, XTC and the Wallflowers. Fox recalls catching one of the band’s Belly Up gigs by chance, leading to his partnership with them as both producer and manager.
“If I see something that I really like and I want to put a lot of time and effort into it, I wanna be the one who’s hands-on, trying to keep moving the band forward,” Fox says.
Ushering the band into several recording studios, including Threshold in Santa Monica, Fox was instrumental in polishing song structures and creating business contacts, eventually resulting in a meeting with Universal/Republic. Crediting the band’s staying power and ability to take direction, Pritchard says trying to break out has been a supreme lesson in patience.
“I always tell Paul [Fox] that we didn’t break the door down,” says Pritchard. “We just knocked politely for five years.”
Dynamite Walls perform with Stereofix, Italian Japanese, the Vespertines and Railroad to Alaska at the House of Blues, 1530 Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583; www.houseofblues.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $12.50; day of show, $15. All ages.
This article appeared in print as "The Calm Before the Storm: Dynamite Walls are definitely blowing up— it’s just taking time."