You might never confuse the Collinsville-based instrumental trio Dibiase with, say, vintage REO Speedwagon or Montrose. It's not clear if the band refuses to drive 55 or if it ever has a truly rock & roll weekend. But in talking to guitarist Dave Goodman, it is clear he recognizes the importance of KSHE 95 (94.7 FM) and how the prevalence of the "KSHE Klassic" has seeped into the area's cultural consciousness.
"You have that classic-rock background on everything," says Goodman, who remembers listening to KSHE as he rode shotgun in his sister's car. He notes, though, that growing up in rural Illinois adds a different flavor. "For us around here, we have that Southern classic-rock to our music, but there are other elements brought to the table as well." Goodman and drummer Lynn Sipole started Dibiase in 2005 as a bit of a side gig from Goodman's other group, Ring, Cicada, with whom he still occasionally performs.
Dibiase specializes in what is often called "instru-metal" — riff-rock that both wallows in heaviness of tone and celebrates dexterity of fingers. For the band's second album, When Everything Means Nothing, Goodman and his bandmates bring many of those "other elements" to bear: specifically, a post-rock sense of composition and a comfort with shifting math-rock time signatures.
"I think it's a little bit of honing the sound down and sharpening our knives as far as songwriting," says Goodman. "The odd thing about the band is that we work off of an alternate tuning, so it's tuned more like a cello — it's tuned to fifths. It's always been like that."
That alternate tuning gives Dibiase a slightly Middle-Eastern tinge — it's a harmonic twist that comes through amid the overdrive and crunch. Goodman developed his technique in a much quieter setting than Dibiase is used to inhabiting.
"A friend and I used to jam together on acoustic guitars," Goodman says. "I believe it was derived from a Turkish or Egyptian tuning. I was interested to see how this related to an electric guitar. It took a little bit to get used to — whenever you have this tuning, it's like learning guitar again."
Since Goodman's guitar is the band's centerpiece, his riffs have to stand paramount in each track. That approach works well throughout Nothing, from the relatively simple progression in "...And Yet It Moves," which eventually blooms and expands amid moody ambience, to the full-on chugging crunch of the next track, "Witch Casket." Not every song is a study in contrasts, though when Dibiase tweaks the format, the band can hit a few different targets on the heavy-music spectrum.
"For me, most of the stuff that I actually write I'll practice on acoustic guitar at home and then take it to band practice and work it out a little more," says Goodman of his process. "I know it's ready when I wake up the next morning and it's still in my head." Goodman looks for hooks and riffs that have what he calls "staying power" — the memorable bits of a song that remain in your brain long after your ears have stopped ringing from the previous night's show.
For this release, Dibiase decided to forgo a CD package, and only recently put up the mp3s on Bandcamp. Goodman describes the process of recording, mixing and mastering as a purely analog endeavor, so it was only fitting that vinyl be the preferred delivery system. As with its last album, Dibiase worked with Matt Talbott, perhaps best known as a member of the beloved space-rock band Hum. He operates Earth Audio studio outside of Champaign, Illinois.
Dibiase first came on Talbott's radar after the band got a last-minute gig as opener for Hum's 2011 reunion show at the Old Rock House. He liked the band enough to offer his studio space and production know-how, and for this album he even ferried the master tapes to Sterling Sound in New York for mastering. "There is actually no digital conversion on this at all," Goodman says with a touch of pride. Even the packaging was done with care: "I screenprinted the actual covers and inserts for the album, so the whole product is handmade," says Goodman.
Dibiase has already undergone a lineup shift since the recording of Nothing. Guitarist Chan Evans and bassist Mark Cange are represented on the album but have since left to focus on a new project. Dave Winkler, best known as a member of Fragile Porcelain Mice, is the band's new bass player. In talking over the changes in the band and his own development as a musician, Goodman credits not just KSHE but also the old Granite City location of Vintage Vinyl for expanding his horizons as a listener and a guitarist.
"That's when we started to get good — realizing that there was a little more out there," says Goodman. "I went from Dokken and Metallica to Chet Atkins and Fred Frith and Leo Kottke. Even though that's not what you're playing, you learn to appreciate other things."
Listen to Dibiase at dibiasetunes.bandcamp.comEditor's note: A previous version of this story provided the wrong first name for the band's new bass player. He is Dave Winkler. We regret the error.