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MUSIC : Santa Barbara Band Hopes New Name Creates Capital Changes : The 'dish wallas' have developed a sound that's urban, slow and grungy. They're doing their best to impress 'em in L.A.

September 23, 1993|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

First there was Life Talking, then dish and now dish walla. As the band keeps changing its name, they hope they can make the big time, and, perhaps, afford some capital letters.

According to the gaggle of greedy club owners, these lower case locals are bound to be S. B.'s next big rock 'n' roll thing. See for yourself Friday night at Alex's Cantina in Santa Barbara.

Well, the band practices enough, that's for sure. Just about every weeknight, the dish dudes can be found blazing away in their industrial-area practice site after their dreaded day jobs. The dedicated dudes of dish include singer J. R. Richards, guitarist Rodney Browning, bass player Scot Alexander, drummer George Pendergast and keyboard player Greg Kolanek.

Life Talking, the band's initial incarnation, was sort of a synth-pop band--much like those depressed Britons playing upbeat songs while people in black gyrated to the bouncy beat.

"That was completely different than what we do now," said Pendergast. "We don't use the synthesizers as much now, plus we have a real bass player. Also, we write songs as a band now and not on the keyboards."

Because one could spend a lifetime looking for a successful Santa Barbara group, the guys changed into a real rock band combining hip-hop, '90s funk, and grungy guitars. Yet, there is nothing Red Hot in style or bank account, insists Richards.

"We stay away from the Chili Peppers' funk thing--ours is more urban, slow and grungy. We've got about 13 songs and about 80 more we're working on."

Thus, from the ruins of Life Talking came dish, all new songs, regular gigs in L.A., business cards, an impressive demo tape, and a manager who works at MCA Records.

Everything seemed cool until last month when a watch-it-or-else lawyer letter arrived, informing them that another band in North Carolina already had the name dish. Enter name No. 3, and an unlikely connection to bad television in India.

"I was reading this magazine called Wired, and there was a reference to these guys in India called dish wallahs," said Kolanek. "They are entrepreneurs who sell cable television programs to culturally deprived areas in India. Apparently, India only has one channel, but now 'Santa Barbara' is one of the most popular shows. So we dropped the 'h' and became dish walla."

As unlikely as 500 zillion Indians watching reruns of "Gilligan's Island," or a page of Bernard Flapdoodles in the phone book, is the chance that another dish walla will surface.

With the what's-in-a-name part finally settled, the band found itself entered in a big-time battle of the bands sponsored by Yamaha. Five bands, including three from Santa Barbara--dish walla, Liquid Sunshine and Primal Tribe--made it to the finals July 29 at the Palace in Hollywood. The dish dudes won that round, and also $1,000, but lost the next round.

"We entered an L. A. contest and we won," said Pendergast. "We still play down there once or twice a month. It's important to impress them in L. A. If we get signed, it will be because we play in L. A. Yet, packing up all the stuff, then driving home from the Troubador in the middle of the night can be tough. I think we've all driven off the road before."

In the meantime, there's the usual Santa Barbara scene where a million bands try to impress a hundred A&R guys who never seem to show up.

"I think the Santa Barbara scene is really cool right now, and really conducive to local bands," said the loquacious drummer. "Just two years ago, it seemed like it was all cover bands and DJs; now, it seems there's room for all kinds of bands. For us, Alex's Cantina has been really cool. We get to play as loud as we want as long as we want."

Opening for dish Friday night at their favorite venue will be Popsicko, a band with a cool name, T-shirts, and a bunch of good crunchy pop rock songs.

According to the dish dudes, the cover charge varies, depending on the hour and the mood of the bouncers, from $2 to $4.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Dish walla & Popsicko at Alex's Cantina, 633 State St., Santa Barbara, 966-0032. Friday, 9:30 p.m., about $3.

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