DIRTY SWEET – One of San Diego’s Finest

Interview by Leslie Rae Terhorst

Photos by Bo Cross

If you think you know who they are, think again.  Winners of the 2005, 2007 and 2008 San Diego’s Music Awards for Best Rock group, these guys are showing they have what it takes to differentiate them from everyone else.  With their name taken from a T-Rex lyric, and their look flashing back to the 70’s, these are the only things that are reminiscent of the past.  

I recently met up with the boys to shoot this month’s cover.  At the request of the lead singer Ryan Koontz, we all hooked up at Ryan’s bar the El Dorado Cocktail Lounge, 1030 Broadway downtown between 10th and 11th ave (plug).  It’s totally what you would expect a rockers bar to look like, dark, dinghy, and full of personality.  From the burnt wood framed pictures, that hang over the red leather ½ moon booths, to the red felt pool table, to the huge white buffalo head (they say its not real, really?) that leers at you as you choose a song from impeccably thought-out collection of tunes in the juke box.  


This is a cool spot to just disappear for a while.  And lets not forget the well stocked bar, I saw stuff in there that I’ve never heard of, ZWAK, WTF is ZWAK? according to Nate & Chris it tastes like a sweeter, less potent form of Jager, word of advise no more than 3 shots, ‘cause it can sneak up on you like a silent but deadly fart, you don’t know its coming until it smacks you right in the face, RIGHT CHRIS, and the Guinness is ice cold (I am a Guinness girl) it has it’s own double spout keg-o-rator, courtesy of Ryan’s house, it’s the little things that count.  This is definitely a bar that only someone that has been in the industry forever would have.  I asked Ryan what possessed him to get into the bar business? His response “ I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 16, I was working at this oyster bar and when I turned 21 they trained me to bartend, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”  


While photographer Bo Cross set up, and once they stopped debating on who ditched whom the night before, which sounded like one hell of a party, I had a chance to sit with the guys, Ryan, Nate Beale (guitarist), and Chris Mendez Vanacore (drums) to find out more about the new album “American Spiritual” and the changes not only with the band, but with the style of the music as well.  

RIS:  You’ve been through some changes with the band, can I ask, what happened?

DS:   Some things happened that were out of our control, our guitarist Mark Marino his family owns Marino’s Restaurant in Pacific Beach, his parents are getting to the age where they can’t run it by themselves anymore, he still plays with us but it’s getting more difficult, family comes first.  We parted ways with our bassist Shaun, we haven’t replaced anyone permanently just yet, we’re just waiting to see what’s going to happen.

“It sucks to be pigeonholed.” … We never intended on that sound, we just sort of let it happen.”

RIS:  You’ve been labeled as a “Throwback Band” I can see it with ‘Monarchs & Beggars’; I can’t see it with ‘American Spiritual’, you very much have your own sound. What are your thoughts?

DS:  “I think, knowing that we’ve been labeled that, in our heads we had something to prove with this album. We never intended on being a Southern Rock band, we would get “you’re Lynyrd Skynyrd,” I like Skynyrd, but their not my favorite band” Nate responds.  “It sucks to be pigeonholed.” Ryan interjects.  Nate continues, “We never intended on that sound, we just sort of let it happen.  We didn’t say lets be a rock-n-roll band, I mean this is how we play guitar, this is how Chris plays the drums, and this is how Ryan sings, and this is the sound that we have, we really didn’t think about it.  We got so much of like,  “you guys are just a Throwback Band” a “Classic Rock band.”  Yeah, we do love that stuff, but I think we took it upon ourselves to push ourselves, and say we have to go beyond that, and take it to the next level, and maybe the next record will be ever more, somewhere else.”


RIS:  The songs on “American Spiritual’ seem to stand on their own.  There are bands out there that every song sounds the same, great you know its them, but that boring, and that’s not original.  Your songs are original, what do you attribute that to?

 DS:  “It’s a singles based market, and we really wanted to put an album out where each song could stand on it’s own.  As something that you might want to hear on an Ipod play list, so any of the song from this new album could be mixed in with a bunch of other stuff, but then again you hear it all together and it sounds like totally different bands.” Nate explained.


RIS:  It’s a little different vibe from the last album.  What changed?

DS:  “Yeah, definitely.  It was just a natural progression.  As songs do.   Nate played the guitar, it was like, ok lets see what we can do with that.  A song came out of it, it seemed to be a lot more natural.” Chris responds.  “It evolved.  As a songwriter there are types of songs that just write themselves, and they kind of regurgitate out of you.  And I feel like, when I think back at all the songs on this album, most of them were like that.  Whether it was someone on their own, or as a band, they all came really fast, and those are the ones that you want to follow, when you have to trust your instinct.   When something like that is happening, where you know you want to write a rock song, or a heavy song, and what’s coming out is not like that, you just have to trust in it.  Those end up being the best ones, the ones that happen quickly are more inspired.” Nate adds.


RIS:  So what’s going on with the record label?

DS:  “Well the first album was out on Seedling, it was just a one off with ‘Monarchs and Beggars’.  We’re good friends with the guy who owns it, AJ Croche, it was just like a handshake deal.  I don’t think he even intended to make our second record. He wanted to put out our first album in order to help us get to the next level.  I don’t think he would’ve wanted to do the second; he would want us to branch out to a bigger label.  We are talking to a lot of different labels.  We are not signed yet, we’re just trying to find the perfect fit for us.”


Dirty Sweet is one of those bands you are going to say “I knew them before they made it big,” a band that San Diego can be proud of.   With intelligent heads on their shoulders, and the talent to match, the future is wide open.  Label them, don’t label them, just make sure you listen to them.  It’s worth it.