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Photo By Paul Moffett
Nick Dittmeier

Nick Dittmeier Slithers Forward

Kevin Gibson

Nick Dittmeier does music pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Why? Because it's his life's passion. Also, he doesn't particularly care to do anything else.

"I used to have a job where I cleaned bathrooms and took out trash and things like that," said the former frontman of Slithering Beat, "so I'll do whatever it takes at this point to keep playing. I probably have to; I have been fired from almost every job I have ever had."

To that end, Dittmeier gives guitar lessons by day and is a traveling, alt-country troubadour by night. He played roughly 20 shows in March in and around the Louisville region, and he estimates he'll notch 200-plus total performances before the year is out.

That's a lot of gigs, folks.

Nick Dittmeier

Photo By Paul Moffett

Nick Dittmeier Nick Dittmeier

Nick Dittmeier

Photo By Paul Moffett

Nick Dittmeier Nick Dittmeier

Nick Dittmeier

Photo By Paul Moffett

Nick Dittmeier Nick Dittmeier

Nick Dittmeier

Photo By Paul Moffett

Nick Dittmeier Nick Dittmeier

Nick Dittmeier

Photo By Paul Moffett

Nick Dittmeier Nick Dittmeier

But it's a choice he's made. After being in a punk/hardcore band, then fronting Slithering Beast for five years, Dittmeier decided to go in his own direction and make the most of his youth. And who knows? Along the way, he might make some things happen. So it is that he has recorded his debut solo EP, Extra Better, which is due out in May.

Even post-Beast, he pointed out, a lot of the same faces are around. It's more an aesthetic change than anything else.

"The new record is a lot about changing the name on the sign," Dittmeier said. "I felt like, honestly, I had done lot of the things I wanted to do and it was time for fresh start. People have responded pretty well in terms of degree of interest.

"As a local band, you have pretty small window; if you don't move on from [doing the same thing repeatedly] people tend to lose interest. If you play 3rd Street Dive [over and over], people are like 'I've seen that before.'"

In addition, he'd begun playing more and more solo shows and found it to be a bit awkward trying to explain the difference.

"I was just ready to turn the page and do something new," he said.

That said, the new EP isn't going to be a huge leap from Slithering Beast in terms of style. In fact, three of the four songs were performed on stage under the name of the Beast.

Country music is something Dittmeier grew up with, in large part because of his musically inclined father, who not only plays but also makes pedal steel guitars. And wherever you find pedal steel guitars, well, country music is usually at the same party.

Asked about how closely married the Slithering Beast sound is to what he's done with his new solo EP, Dittmeier responds that it's "pretty close, but I think the lyrics for the new songs are better, and the new crop of stuff I'm working on beyond that will be better. I mean, I was calling all the shots in Slithering Beast and was the only original member by the end anyways. It's definitely heavily influenced by John Prine, Little Feat, the Band, Willie Nelson, Hayes Carll. More groove-oriented country music."

TRAVELING TROUBADOUR

And so, Nick Dittmeier set out on the road. Slithering Beast did some traveling as well, but 20 gigs a month isn't easy when you're trying to juggle three or four people's schedules instead of just one.

"I can travel in my car and keep my overhead low and store everything in my Ford Focus," he said. "It's nice. But the band still wants to go out of town and play, and that's what can kind of differentiate you in terms of building a fan base. There's only so many times you can play in town. You have to be willing to go out there and be in an uncomfortable situation, trying to win over people you don't know."

He actually pointed out that there is a bit of mystery playing out of town to new faces, as well as some nice surprises out on the road.

"We would find pockets of people who knew who were we were if we went to places like Bowling Green, Lexington or southern Indiana, like Evansville," he said. "They would have our records, and you would find people who really liked the band. And then you'd get e-mails from people and learn your music reached people you wouldn't have had before, thanks to the Internet."

Dittmeier is certainly getting his act in front of plenty of new towns. In March, his schedule included trips to Jasper, Ind., Columbus, Ind., Lexington and Newport, to name a few. It's not exactly a world tour de force, but it keeps him moving and they are paying gigs, which help him to continue to make his way as a musician, rather than taking out the trash and waiting to be fired.

Clay Burchett, who co-produced, played drums and sang backup vocals on Extra Better, admires what Dittmeier is doing.

"The man gets out and makes his living on the road playing dive bars and booking anywhere and everywhere he can possibly sing a song," Burchett said. "You have to admire a man who drives two hours in every direction, just popping off random exits to try and find some whole in the wall joint, like Hardy's Cafe in Scottsburg, Ind., where he negotiated a $400 guarantee for three hours of music. That's nuts."

Dittmeier does it because it's what he wants to do. And you can't do what you want without making it happen yourself. It's the DIY credo.

And from a marketing aspect, he said, "It's so important to go out of town and meet new people and try new things. You won't get the results always playing in town, [and] I have always liked being out and rolling the dice. I just have an appetite to play constantly, and I couldn't do that if I stayed in town."

And while he has talked to labels about promoting his music, possibly setting up the opportunity for traveling farther distances and releasing to larger audiences, for now he's content doing it his way. He notes that a label should be considered an opportunity to get your music to a broader audience, "not some free holiday."

"I don't know how long it will last another year, 12 years, I'm not sure, but I think the element of gambling your future appeals to me."

NEW SOUNDS

He's not stagnant with his music either, this Nick Dittmeier. While he admits his new songs are forever tied to Slithering Beast songs from the past, he's also taking greater pains to make sure his songwriting evolves. Working with Burchett is just part of that.

Another aspect is that Dittmeier likes to think in terms of singles. When rock 'n' roll became ultra popular in the 1960s (thanks, Beatles), one of the primary drivers was the "hit single," the memorable, catchy song that drove album sales. For Dittmeier, putting out a four-song EP is similar to putting out four singles and forgetting about the filler tracks that would flesh out a full album.

"I'd much rather put out four or five of your best songs," he said. "I like a lot of '60s music that was like a short burst of energy. You're going to also have fewer people who want to hear 12 songs. People's attention spans have gone down."

He's also more likely to write a song quickly, one that forms in his head and sticks, versus sweating over getting a song down for weeks or months.

"My philosophy is if I can't get it done in the first 15 or 20 minutes of working on it, it's probably not going to come together," Dittmeier said. "If I can't remember the hook, if I can't come back to it and remember it, I don't think anyone else will either. The chorus is important. And then build the verses around the chorus. You want people to remember that main hook."

Not that he feels the same about final arrangements and then recording that's where you polish it off, make it the "hit single" it should strive to be. And that's also where Burchett came in. Recording at Burchett's house off Brownsboro Road a place also known as "The Compound" (Lots of musical types gather there, apparently) they and their fellow bandmates spent hours and hours arranging and recording.

Dittmeier said Burchett introduced him to a lot of new music and "single-type stuff" cheesy pop songs like "Take it to the Limit" by the Eagles during this time, which helped drive things creatively.

"They're one of those bands people love to make fun of, but it's the little things," Dittmeier said. "We'd both gotten into song structures, and [Burchett] was really meticulous about building songs."

Vocal harmonies was a particular focus (see: Eagles, The), according to Burchett.

"My role was to write simple, tasteful grooves for the drum section, accompanied by Alex (Plamp)'s awesome contribution on bass," Burchett said, "and I spent several weeks in prep for tracking trying to find the harmonies and how and where to layer them. That was definitely my main role during the session, to layer the harmonies. We all came together with opinions and ideas during the session, and I'm really happy with how everything turned out."

Both Burchett and Dittmeier cite the same track the lilting, acoustic ballad "You Don't Have to Leave the Light on for Me" as a favorite on the EP.

"All I do on that song is a subtle backing vocal on the chorus," Burchett said, "but that song to me is one of Nick's best, if not the best. It moves well, it's a great story, very traditional structuring, and my good friend Jason Sturgill came in to lay some bowed bass on the choruses as well that just pick the song up beautifully."

"It's just big sounding," Dittmeier said. "Lots of vocals. We were going for, like, an early '70s Jackson Brown, Little Feat kind of thing."

Big is what they strove for, though, on all of the tracks. Dittmeier believes it was mission accomplished.

"It's a big-sounding record," he said. "Even though it was DIY, some of the production is over the top. I wanted the big single. [Burchett] was doing vocals and stuff; he is such talented guy that I let him stretch out on it."

Dittmeier will celebrate the release of Extra Better on May 17 at the Monkey Wrench. Meantime, you may have to drive an hour or two if you want to catch his act live. That's the life of a troubadour, the life he intends to keep living until he doesn't intend to anymore.

"My goal with my music is just to feel fulfilled and feel like I'm in control of creating something," he said. "Whether you playing for living or also have a day job, it's a business you have to create demand for. If I quit today, life would go on. If I quit, these other bands would take my dates and my bandmates would join another band.

"You have to do it for you, because it makes you happy. You need to do it because you need to it."