Photo by Nick Karp
Interview with lead vocalist and guitarist Steven Gray | By Joe Fitzpatrick
You may be familiar with the “Emo Revival” sweeping the country, but emo never left. People just started paying attention again. Receiving much notoriety for this resurgence in relevancy are Gainesville, Florida, natives Dikembe, who have been making seismic waves since the release of their debut full-length Broad Shoulders in 2012. They recently teamed up with emo staples The Jazz June for a split and have released their second full-length album, Mediumship, which features standout tracks including their single “Hoodrat Messiah” and a revamped version of “Doughnuts in a Six Speed.”
You’re a teacher. How do you balance teaching and touring during the school year?
Teaching and touring work perfectly together. We pretty much only tour during breaks, so we’ll do two weeks in the winter, a week in the spring, a few weekend tours, and then we have this huge window in the summer, which lends perfectly to what we want to accomplish as a band. Also, it seems like most of the bands we like do their big tours in the summer, so it works out pretty well. Sometimes we get offered cool tours, like with The Hotelier, in early September, which can be a pain in the ass because I can’t be like, “I’m gonna be gone for a month. See ya!”
What grade and subject do you teach?
Eighth grade language arts. It’s a really creative thing that works out well with what we do as a band. I love to write and make a good impression on my students.
Has teaching language arts been beneficial to your songwriting?
I always knew that I wanted to teach, and I decided on my career even before college. I definitely think it has helped me to bring out the creativity that writing lyrics calls for. I love reading literature, from Edgar Allen Poe to Kurt Vonnegut, and those authors have definitely inspired some of the lyrics I have written over the years.
Do you reference those authors in your lyrics?
I used to make some references to them and other authors in bands that I was in during high school and college, but now I write my lyrics more like how narratives are structured. I don’t want to be too direct, because I want people to be able to relate to it.
In a recent interview, you said, “I’m famous for not being allowed to cuss in songs or interviews because my students will probably end up reading it and I’ll get fired.” Do you teach at a Catholic school where cussing is frowned upon?
Nope, I teach at a public school. Kids use Tumblr more than we do, and I don’t want any of them to tell on me [laughs].
Do you tell your students that you play in a band?
We did an acoustic video with Fake Problems, who are apparently big with middle school girls, and they realized that it was me. I honestly didn’t even realize that our band had that type of reach. I usually try to keep it as hidden as possible, because it can be distracting because they want to talk about my band or my tattoos, when they should be focused on learning.
How influential was Jesse Lacey and Brand New in the creation of Mediumship?
It was pretty huge. Brand New has always been one of my favorite bands. They were one of the gateway bands for me to discover music outside of what I heard on the radio or what my parents listened to. With Mediumship, we wanted to create an album that we liked to listen to. If it weren’t for Brand New, I wouldn’t have started playing music.
Do you remember the rivalry between Brand New and Taking Back Sunday?
I absolutely remember that! I was also really into Taking Back Sunday at the time. I remember when I was on the bus with my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, and she was wearing a Taking Back Sunday t-shirt, so I told her that Taking Back Sunday sucked so she would talk to me [laughs].
Does Dikembe have any rivals?
If you are not in on the joke, you might think that we are rivals with You Blew It!, but we are the best of friends with them. On the surface, it may seem like we hate each other, but we love those guys, so we are allowed to talk shit about them. I saw them in 2010 at a show in Orlando before Dikembe was even a band, and we just hit it off and have been best buds ever since.
If you had to face them in a Magic: The Gathering tournament, who would win?
I would beat all of them at the same time [laughs]. I think only one of them plays. They are better at sitting around and drinking beer and making fun of us for playing, so they win for being cooler. I am so pathetically involved with that game.
You guys released a split with The Jazz June – their first release since 2002. How did they approach you?
That whole thing was insane. Our first record was like a shitty version of [their record] The Medicine, so when they hit us up saying they wanted to do a split with us, we were like, “Name a place and time, and we will be there.” We were really eager to work with them, and it was so insane how humble they are. It’s so weird to us how they will email us complimenting our music, and we’re on the other end freaking the fuck out. The whole process was very streamlined, and it was also great working with [labels] Topshelf and Tiny Engines.
The split puts you in an interesting position within the “Emo Revival,” as you teamed up with veterans of the early 2000s emo era. Do you think emo is here to stay?
Yeah I do, and I don’t think it ever left. We are super grateful that [the revival is] happening, and I probably wouldn’t even be talking to you if it wasn’t. We have been doing this for years, and I have seen The World Is A Beautiful Place play for the last six years. I think that it’s always been around, and people haven’t been looking for it, but now they are. It’s stupid and silly, but it’s a double-edged sword.
What is your favorite food to eat while on tour?
Without hesitation, I would say anything from Sheetz. When we are in the region of the country that has it, we will eat there about 10 times per week. The first time we went there was with You Blew It! on the way to Blacksburg, VA. We walked in [and] were in shock that they had a fryer. We ate there, then we stopped at another in Blacksburg before the show, and we went back after the show.
Do you like Wawa too or just Sheetz?
I don’t really like Wawa, Sheetz is leagues better. If there is a Sheetz and a Wawa right next to each other, I will choose Sheetz every time. Maybe if Wawa can get fried mac and cheese bites, then we will reconsider.
On June 5, you tweeted from the band account “2014 year of the call out.” What does that mean?
My friends and I go to Universal Studios a lot, and we like to yell random things at people, like, “You don’t even know about the secret entrance!” We will call people out for anything. It’s stupid. I don’t know if 2014 is the year of the call out, but if it is, I’m sorry [laughs].