Dillon Fence was formed by college kids for college kids. Greg Humphreys and Chris Goode played in a band together as students in the same Winston-Salem high school that graduated members of the dB's and Let's Active, but the pair didn't get serious about writing and performing original music until they hit college in the mid '80s--Humphreys at UNC-Chapel Hill and the bass-playing Goode at Wake Forest. At UNC, Humphreys met guitarist Kent Alphin, solidifying three-quarters of what would become the long-standing Dillon Fence line-up (drummer Scott Carle didn't sign on until a couple of years later).
Mixing pure pop songs with soul- and funk-kissed numbers that might have fallen off a Housemartins' record or perhaps served as follow-ups to General Public's "Tenderness," the quartet created a college-band template for the many like-minded groups that made themselves comfortable in Dillon Fence's wake. The pioneers take the arrows, so the saying goes. Or, given the music-world translation, those who come next get the record sales.
Dillon Fence called it a day in the middle of the '90s, with its members going on to form such bands as Collapsis, Granger and Hobex. (That last outfit, fronted by Humphreys and driven by his soulful pipes, has turned out to be the most enduring by-product.) In 2000, Humphreys, Goode, Alphin and Carle reunited for a tour that proved both enjoyable and successful. Four years later they're at it again, only this time the tour will be setting the stage for the late-summer release of Best +, a 25-song collection featuring 18 remastered, band-picked favorites plus seven new cuts recorded at Humphreys' Asheville studio. The record, a double-CD being put out by MoRisen Records, will be available in early September.
The Independent Weekly caught up with the busy Humphreys--in addition to the upcoming tour, he's working on a variety of production projects and Hobex is still going strong--to talk about Dillon Fence, its legacy, and its immediate future.
Independent Weekly: The standard description for Dillon Fence went something like "a pop band with soulful vocals and soul/funk influences," but it's never as simple as just eight or nine words. How would you define the sound, or the sounds, of Dillon Fence?
Humphreys: Well, they used to call us college rock, and we'd all bristle at that term. But looking back on it, we were in college. (laughs) And our fans were our peers. We did draw on that jangle sound of REM and The Connells, but I think we brought other influences into it. The songwriting was very straightforward pop. Songcraft, you know, and three-part harmonies. And the soul music thing was always something I was into.
There seems to be a lot of current focus on the central North Carolina music scene of the '80s, with Arrogance and Woods reunion shows, and there's even a documentary in the works. What are your thoughts on that scene?
I do consider (Dillon Fence) as a continuation of that line of music. Bands like the dB's and Let's Active left a huge impression on me while I was in high school and definitely gave me inspiration to play my own music and make records. With Dillon Fence, we were a really popular band in the Southeast, but in terms of getting on the radio or breaking out in a national sense, we were always kind of in the shadow of the REMs and The Connellses of the world. So later in the life of the band, we tried to make different kinds of records and mark our own ground, so to speak.
How would you describe the legacy of Dillon Fence, the mark you made on the North Carolina music scene?
I think there's an influence there that hasn't necessarily been reflected by the press or radio. You know, there was a large wave of bands that came after us that had listened to our records and were influenced by us.
Who are some of those bands?
Well, Hootie & the Blowfish, they're probably the most famous. I remember Mark Bryan, their guitar player, coming up to me and saying something along the lines of "Man, we wrote a song that sounds like one of your songs, so we put your name in the lyrics." Flash forward to like three or four years later, and it's their biggest hit. They took us out as an opener when they were playing the big sheds, and people would come up to me going, "You know, my wife swears that you named yourselves after a Hootie & the Blowfish song." And there were other bands, like Athenaeum, Cravin' Melon, and Too Far Jones, you know, a lot of pop-rock bands.
What was it like to be back together and recording new material?
It was the perfect opportunity to get the band together in a low-pressure situation and spend some time together just recording. We all brought to the table all of our life experiences since Dillon Fence ended. Kent and Chris brought some great songs in, and I had a couple of songs I'd kind of held out and put on the shelf for a possible Dillon Fence record because to me they sounded like Dillon Fence songs. We all came together, and it was just a very positive experience.
Dillon Fence plays at the Lincoln Theatre with Hotel Lights and The Never on Saturday, July 31 and at Cat's Cradle on Saturday, Aug. 7 with Hobex and The Never.
In light of the choices that had to be made when compiling the Best + album, the Independent Weekly decided to put Greg Humphreys on the spot and ask him to name his three favorite Dillon Fence songs.
"Something for You" "This song captures the sound of our early records to me, and has always been a crowd favorite."
"Collapsis" "I dig the three-part hamonies on this one. I enjoy the vaguely psychedelic lyrics of self-realization and the guitar freakout at the end. It represents the song cycle on our Outside/In CD well."
"Living Room Scene" "I love this one: it's the closest we ever got to heavy rock, a la Thin Lizzy. For me, it's a sonic picture of a tough time in my life. It's also a good example of the chances we took on our Living Room Scene full-length CD."