Almost any music fan would agree that there’s a distinct thrill associated with flipping through the racks of your local record store, casually looking for that new discovery that might just change your world. Sometimes though, this discovery can change not just your own world, but that of others’ too. At least, that’s what Dogbreth mastermind Tristan Jemsek has recently discovered.
For those outside of the US, Dogbreth might not be a name you’ve seen emblazoned upon the marquee of your local small venue, but the group have been an active presence on the indie scene for well over a decade now, having formed in Jemsek’s lifelong home of Phoenix, Arizona, and eventually making a move up north to Seattle, Washington.
However, with 2020 being a year of unexpected occurrences, hardly anyone would have figured the year would bring with it a sudden influx of popularity to the Dogbreth name. But that’s exactly where TikTok comes into it.
It was just over a week ago – the week of Thanksgiving, actually – that a TikTok user by the name of @drolingus shared a video which shone a light on Jemsek’s first album under the Dogbreth name. The brief video sees the video creator in their car, having just made a trip to their local Zia Records where they were lucky enough to stumble upon a copy of the band’s 2011 record, Chookie.
“I found this CD for a band called Dogbreth,” they explain. “Never heard of them, I’ve never even known anyone who’s heard of them. I just bought it because I really like the album cover, and also the names of the songs.”
As the video continues, the user professes their love of the album artwork and the song titles (“All My Friends Are Dads” received an understandable mention) before putting it into their CD player. As the opening notes of “Critical Thinking” fill the air, a smile takes over their face. “Of course, of course it’s good,” they proclaim, before more enthusiasm results in an exuberant cry of “I love this!”
@drolinguswtf why did no one tell me about them. album is called Chookie! #dogbreth♬ original sound – kinda like dingus but its
Within days the video had amassed a major following, and managed to shine a major spotlight onto the world of Dogbreth. The video itself boasts over 270,ooo likes, while one user noted that the video’s popularity had seen Dogbreth’s Spotify profile go from 589 monthly listeners to over 6,100 in just two days. More than a week later, and after Chookie made the leap to streaming services, the Spotify account now boasts over 25,000 monthly listeners.
While longtime fans of Dogbreth would undoubtedly be surprised by this sudden influx of popularity, no one is more surprised than Jemsek himself. Speaking to Rolling Stone from his home in Tuscon, Arizona, Jemsek recalls the time of the record’s creation, and how he never expected anyone outside of his home state to ever hear his work.
“I think I was 22 or 23, and I had been playing in bands for kind of a while by that point,” he recalls, wearing a cosy-looking Lauren Records hoodie – the label that issued a cassette version of his Second Home record. “It didn’t feel like I was just getting started, but looking back now I’m like, ‘Oh I was so young, I was just getting started.’
“At the time, I felt like I was already a veteran. I just had so much energy, and I was surrounded by such an electric scene in Phoenix. It was kind of like the height of my time at this local venue called The Trunk Space, and just getting to see all my friends bands at the time that I was just such a big fan of. Like, AJJ, French Quarter, iji, or Diners. It just felt like they were always coming up with songs that were just so good, and always pushing me to write.
“We recorded 14 songs, mostly in a day or two, at Audioconfusion in East Mesa with Tyler [Broderick, bass, guitar, vocals] and Alex [Cardwell, percussion, vocals],” he continues. “It just felt like I was unaffected by thinking about whether anyone was going to hear it. [I was] kind of just making it to make it, and have fun. The thought of anyone outside of Phoenix listening to it, or caring about it, was just so exciting. And it still is.”
However, close to a decade on, it’s far from just people in Phoenix hearing the record – it’s people around the world. Jemsek, who pays the bills by working at a coffee shop, recalls that he was at work when he first got wind of the video doing the rounds on TikTok. Funnily enough, it was the creator of the video who first alerted him to its existence, sending him a message to note that there was an influx of enthusiasm being generated as a result of their video.
Soon after, a friend of his from up in Seattle sent him a text asking if he was aware of the popularity his work was receiving. It was then that he realised that things were starting to gain a bit more traction than first expected.
“There’s another band here in Arizona called Roar, it’s my friend Owen [Evans]’s band, and I had heard about one of his songs kind of going viral on TikTok,” Jemsek explains of his experience with the platform. “And it seemed to just keep going, and every time I’d look at my phone there was like all these new people following me, and I started getting all these messages like, ‘Put Chookie on Spotify’.”
“It just didn’t really seem real. It was funny too, because it was for an album I made almost ten years ago. It’s super wild, but it’s just super sweet and very heartwarming and came at a time when, like, I’ve been working on a new album – just kind of chipping away at it – and I had been feeling just kind of down in general.
“Not being able to play live or tour has definitely been taking a toll on me, like, I’m just so used to going on tour. This is the first year I haven’t gone on at least one tour since 2006. It’s been such a big part of my life to just play music. To get this surge of love and support has been such a recharging moment. I was actually working on bass parts earlier today, and I just have this renewed energy. So I’m just super thankful for it.”
Notably, there’s a sweet sense of everything coming full circle as well. Jemsek notes that he understands the appeal of the video, and the joy of discovering new music, but that it takes on another level of sweetness given that he used to embark upon the same musical adventure at the very same store as a teenager.
“I’m not on TikTok, I don’t know anything about TikTok, but I do know about going to a record store when you’re a teenager and buying a random CD that you don’t know anything about, based on the album art,” he explains.
“And that’s what happened with this kid, they just picked it up because they liked the artwork, the song titles were weird,” he adds with a laugh. “I’m glad I gave them weird titles back then – I kind of stopped doing that.”
In the days since the video reviewing Chookie went viral, Dogbreth’s popularity has undoubtedly gained an undeniable boost, with frequent calls for the record – which was previously only available physically as a limited CD and cassette edition, and digitally via Bandcamp – to make the jump to streaming services.
However, even before the record made its appearance on Spotify, Jemsek noted he had been given something of an insight into the band’s popularity, with Asian Man Records founder Mike Park – who released the last two Dogbreth records – getting in contact with Jemsek to alert him to a sudden influx of new listeners.
“I guess we were getting a big bump on our existing albums that we had on Spotify, because he texted me a picture like, all of a sudden Dogbreth are in the top four streaming bands on his whole roster, which is pretty big on Spotify,” he notes.
“Just overnight there was all this interest. Just overnight, my Instagram followers more than doubled in 24 hours. It really just felt like an explosion. It was very surreal.”
Since the video’s popularity, Jemsek has also had a chance to speak to the person who helped shine a light on his work.
“I think I just told them like, ‘Thank you so much for posting that.’ What else can you say?” he says with a laugh. “I’m just so moved by the support, and it just really feels like a blessing. It feels like a holiday miracle!
“I’m trying to just temper my expectations, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’m telling people, like “If ten percent of these new listeners stick around, then I’ll be excited.” Like, that’s awesome. One joke I made to a friend was like, “If these kids like my early 20s-guy pop-punk, wait until they hear my early 30s-guy jangle-rock.”
Overall though, this explosion of popularity on the Dogbreth front has been something of a validating experience for Jemsek, who took to Twitter to note that “there was a time I thought they’d line my coffin with all of the old copies of Chookie CDs that I’ve had under my bed for 7 years”. In just over a week, he’s managed to exceed all expectations he previously had for the record, which is now close to finally selling out.
“Our initial release was put out by some friends of mine, a label that is no longer in operation called Skulltula Records,” he recalls of the album’s arrival in 2011. “They had like, 2,000 copies made because it was not that much more to make 2,000 than like 500. The more you make, the cheaper it is. So they were like, ‘We’re just going to make like this big amount.’
“So we toured it, but the thing is, with Chookie, half of the songs on the record were new at the time, and half were just songs that I had had for several years. So I was already kind of close to being sick of playing half of the songs. A year after releasing it, I just had a really prolific time of writing more songs that I was really excited about, and made more albums.
“So as the years went on, I wouldn’t really push it too hard. We’d play shows and maybe play a couple of songs from it, but mainly just promoted our newer releases. And also like, there was a period where people weren’t really buying CDs anymore. Our merch kind of changed from digipaks to like, vinyl and cassettes. It seemed like you could sell vinyl and cassettes, but you couldn’t really sell CDs.
“It was funny, like, Chookie would become the thing we would like, throw in. We would have special merch deals on tour, like, ‘Buy this record and this tape, and we’ll give you a free copy of Chookie‘, or if someone orders something via mailorder, I would just throw in Chookie. It’s just really funny that I’m almost sold out of them now.
However, while fans are looking at his past with a newfound level of appreciation, Jemsek is currently looking ahead with a newfound sense of enthusiasm, not only feeling excited about what his recent popularity might mean for the future of the music industry, but also the new music he’s working on.
“I hope that people will take a more active role in what they listen to,” he states. “I feel like with just the way we consume music with streaming and everything, people are getting a lot more passive in terms of what music they fill their world with. Like, it feels like it depends on, ‘Hey, this album showed up on my algorithm today’.
“It feels like it’s these apps that are deciding what we’re listening to, and we’re taking a backseat. So it’s part of why it feels so encouraging to me, and so sweet to see someone looking for music, like the person who made the TikTok video. Like, ‘Oh, this jumped out at me. I’m going to take the chance on it, spend the $5 on it.’ And they liked it! I hope that we’ll continue on like that.”
While Dogbreth’s most recent album, Ever Loving, was released back in 2019, it doesn’t seem as though there will be an exceedingly long wait for new material, with Jemsek noting he’s been hard at work on this next record.
“I have a full-length album written, and I’ve been working on it with my friend over in Phoenix,” he explains. “I’ve been going up to Phoenix a few times a month to work on it, and I just finished the bass parts today. So the next step is that I’m going to book a few sessions back at Audioconfusion with Jalipaz [Nelson, studio owner] to record guitars and some electric piano, and kind of go from there.
“In terms of when I’m hoping to have it out by, I don’t really have any plans for that yet. But up until last Thursday, it was just like, ‘Well, it’ll get done when it gets done. I’m kind of in no hurry.’ But now, after all this energy, I’m all just excited about music again. So I’m hoping to get it out as soon as possible.”
Dogbreth’s Chookie is now on streaming services, while physical copies are selling fast via Bandcamp.