Dwarf Nebula was the brainchild of Brooke Wilton and Rob Dittrich, created upon the collision of their personalities in 1998 when they chanced to meet while working for a certain fruit-monikered computer company. At first it was merely a songwriting collaboration and compositional conspiracy, then a band progenitor, and now finally a viable source for your recommended daily intake of jam.
Perpetual change has always been key. From nearly the day of its inception, DN would begin a process of shifting membership that would take them through more than 50 musicians and spawn several other projects in its wake. The creative core and mission objectives, however, have remained the virtually the same. The overall process has been one whereby the arrangements have been constantly reborn from the ashes of the old, creating a crucible that has burned away impurities and kept the material fresh and alive, rounding out roughness into smooth shapes that gently roll downstream through rapids.
Brooke Wilton had been trained as a visual artist by his grandfather as soon as he was able to hold a brush, but had also been singing since he fell in love with music at the age of six upon finding a copy of Meet the Beatles that had belonged to his aunt at his grandmother's house. By the time he was ten, he had collected all the Beatles US releases. Though he came of age while punk and new wave were first breaking, he had retained a highly eclectic collection throughout his adolescence. By the time Brooke was 16, he had passed through punk to the other side, joining the nerdrock band Three Day Stubble in Houston Texas. When he turned 18 and moved to Austin, he began experimenting with tape loops and electronic noise and formed an avant garde project called The Floating Orb Of Cosmic Disarray with his roommate Ken Richards. Throughout his 20's, he had dabbled in various other genres, from jazz to altrock, but having toured extensively, following The Grateful Dead, he finally came to realize that his true love was for the jamband and old school progrock arenas, which he had hitherto placed out of reach.
Rob Dittrich came from a large family of musicians and had learned the mandolin practically before he could walk. He soon had also mastered the accordion, saxophone, and cello, but had found his true home was in playing bass. Rob had left music school behind when he found that he was too experimental for academia, and had moved on to play in a wide assortment of bands and sundry styles of music in his years, but had not really explored the jamband phenomena until he met Brooke. The two were merely acquaintances working together until it was discovered that they both had a deep abiding love of progressive rock, and shared an in-depth knowledge or progrock esoterica. Later it would be revealed that they had shared the stage in different bands on the same night, years before they would actually meet.
One day Rob chanced by Brooke's cube where Phish's The Story Of The Ghost album, freshly released, was playing at a louder volume than it probably should have been. After a few minutes listen, Rob remarked "If I were to start a new project, this would be the sort of thing I would want to do." Brooke had recently had the two projects he was in fizzle out, so the pair began getting together and writing music whenever they could find the time. Rob would play the acoustic guitar to work out chord progressions, and Brooke brought his lyrics to the table and endeavored to find vocal melodies that were complimentary. The combination was magical. Brooke attributes Rob with helping him to fully bridge the gap from creating in the visual and literary arenas to composing music. The two adopted the name Rainshine after a brief Phish tour, whereupon it was realized that each ticket stub was stamped with the abbreviation Rain/Shine. It became their quest: to get this project off the ground, rain or shine.
Though the pair had performed at a number of events acoustically, they began working up an electric set in early 1999 with friends Ken Richards and Beans Brown, on Guitar and Drums respectively, with Rob taking up his favored position on electric bass. In fact, Brooke had never even heard Rob play bass until they had already been collaborating for several months. On March 9th of that year, they performed the only electric gig they would ever do as Rainshine. The event was Brooke's birthday party and the band played for around two hours in front of about 23 people at his house in South Austin, (incidentally including Brooke's longtime friend and associate Motorcycle Mike.)
Spontaneous and unrehearsed as the event was, Brooke managed to record it. The next day he handed a copy to Mike Gordon, bass player for Phish, who was in town for the premieres of his films Bittersweet Motel and Outside out. Mike was cordial, but Brooke got the feeling from the exchange that the tape was to be thrown onto a pile of demos somewhere and never listened to (which was just as well, as it turned out.)
The band decided to change the name one week following the party, at the request of Ken and Beans, who didn't know what the name should be, but they knew they didn't like Rainshine. After spending the weekend brainstorming names to the point of even exhausting all ridiculous possibilities imaginable, Brooke suggested Dwarf Nebula. "It was one of those Zen moments" -he recalls, "I finally was able to empty my mind completely and it just popped right out. I said it before I could even really think about it. This was the first of literally hundreds of suggestions that no one had immediately shot down, so after a few moments of shocked silence, we looked at each other and knew that it would be the name. We ran upstairs and did a quick search of the web to make sure no one else had it already or had reserved the domains, and that was it." Even though both Ken and Beans would leave the band within a month, once the new name consensus had been reached, there was no turning back.
Frank Zappa, coined the name in his composition Dwarf Nebula Processional March and Dwarf Nebula, on the album Weasels Ripped My Flesh in 1970. In Zappa's evolving mythology, it came to be known as the very far out reaches in music to be glimpsed only through a healthy dose of improvisational experimentation: The way out places. For Zappa, it was all about reaching these places, and being able to have enough sonic structure to support the journey back again. Dwarf Nebula is dedicated to the pursuit of that quest, through our own unique lens.
The band recognizes March 9th as as its anniversary, since it was the turning point event that set in motion the name change. In the book The Secret language of Birthdays, which compiles data from Astrology, Numerology, the Tarot, and personal observations of historical figures to culminate personality profiles for each day of the year, March 9th is listed as the day of the Space Voyager. Rob and Brooke spent much of 1999 and 2000 in searchof others to join in their intrepid iconoclastic quest.
In early August of 2000, monster guitarist Chris Powell came on board and quickly proved his indispensability in realizing the Dwarf Nebula vision with his melodic virtuosity and second-nature grasp of dynamic tension. Chris had just moved to Austin from Gainsville Florida, where he had played in a number of southern and progressive rock bands. Like Rob, he too was new to the jamband phenomena, but thoroughly steeped in all forms of rock & roll and jazz fusion. Chris would help to galvanize Brooke and Rob's growing body of material, pooling his ideas with theirs, forging a new songwriting synthesis.
After a few false starts with other members (briefly having expanded to seven people) the three shrugged off any setbacks and managed to temper and polish their compositions into something that could do some serious damage, which began picking up considerable momentum with the help of 18 year old Nick Chambers on drums. Nick was introduced to the band through a mutual friend and auditioned for DN on the auspicious date of March the 9th. Brooke remarked to him that day that, though he was young, he was the best drummer to ever really click with the band at that point. This remained the DN foursome and a consistent jam engine for nearly a full year while they continued to develop the originals that would become the backbone of their material for years to come. Staples like Ephemeral Glue, Antediluvian Embers, Electraglide, POP, Shimmer, Highway, Over The Edge, The Fence, and Your Own Hell all came out of this time.
By the end of the year, however, just after the band had begun taking it into Austin clubs, they were dealt with a serious setback when Rob decided to leave the band to answer the call of Science, going back to school to finish his degree in Physics. The last day he played with DN marked a monumental recording session where several notorious improvs were laid down. Paramount among these was a piece called The Secret Midnite Journey of Johnny Cockring which later was turned into a song commemorating Rob's years in the band, re-titled Sir Real. The intensity of the improvs from that session would rarely be matched for years.
It was while working on projects involving massive levels of magnetism and high voltage electricity that Rob made an accidental discovery, which due to the immediate and unrelenting interest of the federal government, forced him to retire from science altogether. Rob completed his masters in English rather than have on his conscience the opening of a nulear Pandora's box.
A few months after Rob's departure, Nick would also leave DN and join his friends in the band Groovin' Ground and later Larry. He remains a good friend of the band to this day, and occasionally sat in with DN for many years after.
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