Arts in Lockdown Series Part 16 George Pendergast, Drummer and Co-Founder of Dishwalla
Prodigious drummer George Pendergast picked up his first drum kit at the age of five after watching The Merv Griffin Show, and at 21 went on to live the dream as a professional musician recording in Los Angeles. He was born and raised in Santa Barbara, which remains his home base to this day no matter where he records and tours.
In 1993, with Rodney Browning Cravens, he formed the alternative rock band he is most noted for, Dishwalla, which received a Billboard Award and a Gold Record in 1996, and two ASCAP Awards for their hit single, “Counting Blue Cars.” He was named one of Modern Drummer Magazine’s Top Five Up-and-Coming Drummers. During a Dishwalla time out, he played with The Penfifteen Club band, whose song, “Mrs. Hilton,” was licensed for the Fox TV show The Simple Life with Paris Hilton. In 2008, Dishwalla got back on tour and cut the LP Juniper Road. The band’s 1995 album Pet Your Friends turned 25 this year, but COVID-19 postponed their plans for a widespread tour, a re-release on vinyl, and other goodies for the fans. He is the drummer for Shaun Cassidy on tour, and writes and records with Jeff Bridges’ guitarist Chris Pelonis and Carly Jo Jackson.
He started Rockshop Academy in Santa Barbara in 2009, after the closure of Mike’s Drum Shop, which he had purchased three years earlier. Rockshop brings local students together to form bands, many which go on to play professionally. With Rockshop closed due to the lockdown, he is teaching drums online and private lessons.
A multi-instrumentalist, George plays drums, piano, a bit of bass and guitar, and says during lockdown cooking has become another art form for him. In between, he hits the drums with fellow pros like Rusty Cummings and Kevin Winard.
Here’s our Zoom interview.
Q. Can you talk about the lockdown in your experience as a musician?
A. I think mostly what this lockdown reminds us all of is that we just want to play. I’d play for free at this point. It’s part of who we are and what we do. I’ve been drumming since I was five years old and there’s no reason to play drums when you’re that young unless you love them and they’re fun to play.
When I took a brief hiatus from Dishwalla, a friend of mine Luke Tierney wanted to start a band called The Penfifteen Club just for fun. It was in a disgusting rehearsal studio across the street from Hollywood High School in 100-degree weather with crack addicts outside the door and no audience. When I looked around our band room, I realized that what I love to do is play music and I love to play music with other people.
Then I think about the fact that for the greater part of my life from 13 years on I’ve been playing live shows, so it’s almost like a whole part of me doesn’t even exist anymore. I’m not singing the blues and many are in worse shoes, just stating fact.
Dishwalla is celebrating the 25th year of releasing our LP, Pet Your Friends. It would’ve been a very exciting tour to go back and play all those old songs. There was definitely something to look forward to that was different than our typical outings. It felt like it was going to have more meaning. It will when we get out again.
As far as touring with Shaun Cassidygoes, shows are already rescheduled for 2021 and we will just have to see how we get through these next few months. Those shows are absolutely amazing because every single person in attendance is so happy to be there. When you see video of the band and we’re laughing and smiling between things, it’s not fake, we’re really enjoying each other’s company and the time we’re having up there on stage. I would’ve never known in a million years what a nice guy he is and what a great group of people they are to play with. Not to mention the fact that Christian Pelonis was one of my students and he’s playing at a level above most as the guitarist in Shaun’s band. Makes me proud.
As far as writing and producing goes, I’ve been doing a ton of my own writing. I also have been working with a California instrumental prog rock band called Drifting Dimensions, former students in my Rockshop Academy, and they want to continue to a professional level and asked me to coach them.
What’s lockdown like as a music teacher?
I haven’t been able to do anything Rockshop Academy related. The room is not big enough for any groups and singing is not allowed.
I’m able to give individual drum lessons in person and on Zoom and those have actually been going really well and I’ve seen an uptick in people wanting to have in-person private lessons. I feel very fortunate in that sense.
How does music influence the human condition?
I think we all have different ways that we feel music, whether a song moves us or makes us want to tap our feet or bop our head or drive fast or gives us confidence. We all have our own soundtrack, and we all have those moments in our life where this was the song that meant this – the saddest songs you’ve ever heard during a breakup, songs that remind you of your dad.
For some of us music has to be experienced, I just heard a friend of mine say the same thing I’ve said for years – I can’t have music just on, I have to be thinking about it and if it’s on in the background I am thinking about it. So, if you’re talking to me and I’ve got a blank look on my face, listen for what groove is going on in the background!
Are there any culture, race, gender, social, political issues influencing your experience as a musician right now?
Wow this is a huge one. There’s an awareness about all of these issues right now that I really admire and appreciate. It does look like we’re pretty evenly split as a society here in America, however. You have to be very careful but there are so many things that are obvious to get behind and support. I think most musicians tend to be empathetic people. Typically, you can use your music to get behind things by playing shows that support causes, etc. I’ll look forward to that day again.
New music you are writing?
I’ve got quite a few songs I’ve written just on my own, to go to my Dishwalla bandmates once we all get back, as I haven’t met with them since the lockdown. How the band works is we put something down and share it with each other to write the rest of the song together.
In the interim, I’m songwriting and recording my first inspirations on my iPhone and GarageBand app to get it down. I’m not really a message songwriter, more of an observer. Not to be all tragic but most of my inspiration has been from something rather sad. I do have a song I wrote right before lockdown that relates really well to our current situation, it’s called, “There Used to Be a Phone Booth Here.” The song’s about what used to be around SB, like the bookstores, phone booths, the Greyhound station. Other songs I am writing are about ex-girlfriends, and off the cuff innuendos from friends’ comments, like, “there is no you in me.”
Are you giving back/paying forward?
I love teaching. It definitely allows you to give back and mentor the next generation. In addition, Dishwalla regularly does fundraiser gigs for the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, the Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, AHA!, and my Rockshop Academy has scholarships for kids in need and foster kids.
As a voice for your generation, what is the world feeling like and what do you want changed?
The world feels angry and edgy and somewhat panicked but maybe I’m projecting? I think everyone needs to remember what we have in common more than what we don’t have in common. That’s why I love being involved in United By Art. Art has always brought people together. When you think about concerts and museums and people from all over the world from all walks of life experiencing the same thing, it’s amazing. And think of how much of that is missing due to our current circumstances.
Advice for musicians going forward, what is their role right now?
The role of musicians is the same. Write songs you care about, record them in a way that you like, share them with people and if enough people like them, they become a part of their life soundtrack.
Any advice for the music industry and venues?
I’ve had a lot of conversations with agents and club owners and people in the industry and I think that one thing they’re all forgetting is that we just want to play. There are ways but many aren’t interested in the live stream option. I was hoping we could play on top of a building on State Street and run speakers up and down the block. No audience right in front of us, but State already has people congregating.
Any message to your fans?
For any music fan, this is a good time to remember that band merchandise is one of the only ways for us to generate income right now. So grab those T-shirts and vinyl and hats and since the music’s free, support the artist in other ways. And know that just as soon as we can, we will be out there playing!