Out of the many Jersey bands makin’ waves, Dentist seem to be surfing some of the largest. With a couple of national and several regional tours under the Asbury Park-based indie trio’s collective belt, as well as three stellar LPs and plenty of fun and inventive videos since 2014, Dentist are one of the hardest-working acts in the Dirty Jerz and, therefore, one of the most in-demand for bills that need a good draw. I spoke with the trio—the co-founding husband-and-wife team of guitarist Justin and vocalist-bassist Emily Bornemann (who were in another award-winning indie-rock band together called No Wine for Kittens) and their rock-steady drummer Matt Hockenjos (once the mastermind behind the reggae-rock act Overmind)–about their 2019 accomplishments, as well as a few plans that they could share gazing into a rock ‘n’ roll crystal ball. Those include shows on Dec. 14 at Baby’s Alright in Brooklyn with Honduras and The Zings, and New Year’s Eve at The Saint in their hometown. If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t done so yet, definitely check out Dentist live, as well as at https://www.dentistband.com. And enjoy the following interview, mainly with Justin, but with Emily and Matt occasionally chiming in.
Every time I pass a dentist’s office with a big sign that reads ‘DENTIST,’ I think of you, laugh, and wonder, did you intentionally name the band so that people think of you every time they pass a dentist’s office?
The same thing happens to us whenever we see a sign that just says “dentist.” Hopefully this happens to a lot of people that know us, but it wasn’t intentional. Maybe we’ll start telling people it was, so we seem smarter than we are.
So what did inspire the name?
When we first started the band, it was only a recording project, and we weren’t taking it that seriously yet. The name was just something we found amusing at the time and didn’t come from anywhere in particular.
What were Dentist’s greatest accomplishments of 2019?
Our biggest accomplishment was probably going on tour with Brick + Mortar. This was our first time opening for a bigger act on a long tour, so we had the opportunity to play in front of a lot of new
people all over the country. For this tour, we got sponsored by Taco Bell as part of their Feed the Beat program and were also featured on Taco Bell’s Instagram story. In addition to that, we opened up for some bands that we are huge fans of, like A Giant Dog and White Reaper. We also had another year at SXSW as official artists, and we managed to record and write a new song with an accompanying video.
What was the wackiest thing that happened to you on the road this year?
Just wanna preface this story by saying that it was a great experience opening for Brick + Mortar on tour, and those guys kill it all across the country and bring out a ton of kids in almost every city. That being said, we ran into a show at a really weird venue and in a really weird town. The show started way too early, and the type of venue it was—mostly a place for cover bands to play—was not the right fit for the show. Anyways, no one came to this show except a few Brick + Mortar fans that didn’t make it in time for our set, so we played in front of one middle-age couple that was eating dinner. I made a joke of it by calling their waiter over when I thought they needed refills. Brick + Mortar are not only great guys and a great band, but their show also involves puppets. Their visual artist and puppeteer, Richie, was nice enough to fill the empty seats with puppets. I don’t think we’ve ever played a show for puppets before, so that might have been the strangest thing.
How have Cleopatra Records and Outer Orbit Booking helped the band grow?
Cleopatra did all the stuff you’d want from a label, like pressing our last album on vinyl and CD, doing a PR and radio campaign to get us press and our songs on college radio, covering the costs of our videos. They are also really nice people and we visited their office when we were in L.A. Outer Orbit booking didn’t book this last tour. It was booked by the amazing Christine Feola, but Outer Orbit has booked our past tours where we headlined. The main benefit to that is taking the time-consuming process of booking a tour out of our hands. It’s very tedious, and we really need our time for other things at this point. Thomas from Outer Orbit does a great job, and he’s also a really nice guy.
What plans for 2020 can you share as far as recordings, touring, videos, special events, and anything else you’d like to share?
We have jumped into writing mode since we’ve been back. Our plan is to put out our next record in 2020. Aside from that, we will be out there playing shows for sure, but our current mind set is definitely to have most of our focus on writing for the next few months, and I guess that’s all we’re currently thinking about.
Dentist’s sound has evolved with each album, getting deeper, darker,and more meaningful. Any drastic changes in direction with the new material you are writing?
I couldn’t say right now. We are still in the early stages of getting together the songs for our next album. We aren’t usually fans of bands drastically changing their sound, but as you mentioned, sometimes there’s a natural evolution, and in our case, we didn’t consciously make changes to our sound, any changes just happened. I think you can expect the next album to sound like Dentist, but all we know for sure is that we are going to try and write songs that we like.
What inspired the bloody new video, as well as its song, “Someone like You”?
We wanted to have a video that was a bit on the funny side, and Emily had the idea to shoot it at her father’s workshop, and the ideas for what would happen just evolved from there.
So will that remain a stand-alone single or will it appear on your next album?
It will most likely be a stand-alone single, but I guess that’s still to be determined.
A lot of bands struggle to maintain their Spotify followings, but youhave done very well, closing in on 5,000 followers. What advice would you give to an up-and-coming band as to how they can grow their Spotify following?
We were fortunate enough to be on a Spotify-curated playlist at one point, and the plays you see from something like that are pretty crazy, but all of our current success is based off touring and releasing a new song. We managed to get more monthly listeners from doing this last tour and getting an opportunity to play in front of a lot of new people.
Emily, how do you like playing bass versus guitar?
I feel like on guitar I was somewhat constricted because I was only playing rhythm, although I loved it, but I feel more involved in the live sound of the band, and I’m really enjoying doing it!
You have such nice guitars. Do you miss playing them live?
I do miss playing them sometimes, but I still use the guitar as a tool for writing, so I still play the guitar.
Are Dentist better as a trio?
There’s less to organize as a trio, so that’s a plus. People who have seen us both ways seem to think that playing as a trio really suits our sound.
This one is for all three of you to answer: How does Emily and Justinbeing married impact the band?
Justin: It doesn’t affect things.
Emily: We’ve been playing music and been in a relationship for the same amount of time, so it’s very natural for us.
Matt: Emily and Justin are both great to work with. We are all really good friends, and that never seems to come up.
Do you have a favorite venue to play? If so, why is it your favorite?
Some of our favorite local venues to play would be The Saint, and APYC (Asbury Park Yacht Club). Both of those venues have a very intimate feel, and it’s always nice to play those kinds of shows in our hometown.
All three of you grew up in Ocean or Monmouth County and now live andplay a lot in the Asbury Park area. Since the time when your previous bands, No Wine for Kittens and Overmind, formed there, as well as any prior association with Asbury Park, how has the city and its music scene changed for the better and for the worse and why?
We all see the music scene as continually getting better. There seem to be groups of bands that tend to play with each other a lot, but nothing feels segregated, and everyone seems to get along very well. The changes to the town seem to affect living and hanging out here, but it only seems positive as far as being in a band goes. There are still many live venues to play at, and in the summer, there’s ample opportunity to play in front of new people.
How do other music scenes around the country compare to Asbury Park?
We’ve gotten more of a vibe of how people react in different regions than how their scenes might be, since we are only in these places for one night at a time. If there is a correlation between scenes and great crowds, then there definitely seems to be some great scenes out there.
Check out Dentist on all social media platforms at @dentistband and hear their tunes on Spotify!