Interview: Dion Dublin and The DUBE

GregJohnson September 14, 2012 3
Interview: Dion Dublin and The DUBE

The Musicroom blog caught up with Dion Dublin, creator of The Dube, at a pub in Norwich to chat about his innovative musical instrument and how it all came about.

Hi Dion! So, from ex-Premier League footballer to musical instrument inventor, what inspired you to create The Dube?

Dion was a popular play throughout his pre-Dube football career, winning over the fans at 8 clubs including Manchester United, Celtic, Aston Villa and Norwich City.

It wasn’t so much The Dube. I think music has been lying stagnant in me for so long, playing football for twenty two years, and I always wanted to play percussion. I took the Sax up in 92 – I don’t know where that came from, but I did! I broke my leg at Manchester United and so I took the Sax up. I’ve got three brothers, a sister, a mum and a dad who all play musical instruments, and I played football. I was the odd one out!

I think its been waiting for me to do something with it – the music, the love, the passion – and how it came about is, I don’t know if you’ve heard the story, but after training at Norwich City one night I actually said to myself, because I used to drive home the same way every day, “I’m going to Jewsons!” I bought six pieces of wood, a hammer, some nails, and built a square box.

It took me hours, and nail marks, cuts and bruises. It was just something I wanted to do, and I thought, “I’m gonna do it today” – it might have sounded rubbish for all I’d have known but at the time it fitted the way I wanted to play percussion. It’s something I naturally do – I’m always tapping. They got sick of it! [laughs] I had to do something with my rhythm – Christmas day at the table. There were knives, forks – everything getting tapped, and the beats were amazing but my mum would be going mad! [laughs] It was great though – music is all in the family – possibly the first love of the family.

I didn’t know at the time but The Dube was born so to speak.  I think it was an easy transition to go from footballer to music, because I think it’s always been there within me.

What steps did you take to develop The Dube from that prototype to what it is today?

Sound: it’s always been about the sound. It’s always been about how I wanted it to sound: what I hear and then replicating that in the instrument I’m trying to produce or build. It just got more refined and more refined – I built another one on my own – and then a friend of mine called Matty Halliday, who also played for Norwich with me in the reserves, his brother, Rossy, made one for me which sounded great.

Then it just developed going from Norwich and Rossy to Birmingham – they didn’t do it right,  – and just by chance, the physio at Norwich was a guy called Pete Shaw, his best mate, Scotty O’Connor, runs a shop fitting company in Chesterfield. That’s how we met, and they’re the people who took The Dube over, and it took them a good year, two years to develop it how I wanted it, so it was a long process – seven or eight years now its been going since I made the first one. Jewsons on a Tuesday afternoon! [laughs] Jewsons have got a lot to answer for. [laughs]

Your brothers play as well – guitar, bass and drums – did you get them to demo the early prototype and tell you what they thought?

When I made the first one here in Norwich, each of them would come down with their bass, their drums and their guitar, and we’d jam. “It sounds good Dion, it sounds good!” they’d tell me, so we kept on going, I took on their opinions and I sanded it down – did what I could because it was only a prototype – but it seemed to work! It really did just seem to work.

Have any of the fundamentals of The Dube concept changed over the years or are the basic specifications now the same as they were in the beginning?

The Dube in all its glory.

It’s the same sort of idea; obviously there are little bits like the corners because as you develop a new product you tend to find out a lot more about it. Now these black bumper things on the corners – which are also for protection – help to create the bass from The Dube when its all rigged up and miked up – the bass it produces is incredible. It’s got the four playable sides – the bottom and rear sides are dead so that they’re nice and thick for the handle. There’s also an in-built mic.

I decided to make two lots with two different mics. This one is a Pro Dube for musicians, which has an XLR input, but we’ve also got one for schools with a jack input – a Pro and a Standard model. The Pro Dube gives you the full audio – musicians need to hear all the bass, the treble and the reverb – while the Standard model is focused more on just letting children get on with creating music and making sounds, with the jack input perfect for teachers and classrooms that might not have specialist audio equipment and amps. Jacks are standard and easy to come by.

The thing with The Dube is that the more you play it… I mean, I’m still addicted to it now; I keep playing it and playing it – it’s one of those instruments that when it’s on your lap you just can’t stop making sounds with it. But when it’s on a stand and rigged up its just… outstanding.

Is education and getting kids into music a big part of why you developed The Dube and your future plans?

Music has always been a big part of Dion’s life. He learned to play the Saxophone after suffering a particularly bad injury at Manchester United.

Completely! Absolutely, I want to start in primary schools because whenever I go to a primary school I sit the kids down on those big blue school gym mats. Then I line up eight Dubes, with a small one in the middle, 9”, then a 12”, a 15” and an 18” on both sides. I’ll have a child on each side – then its all about rhythm and eye contact. I get them playing and talking to each other through The Dubes. [Dion begins playing a call and response pattern on The Dube at his feet]

They learn to play together – creating beats and making sure their hands don’t hit one and other as they play – and then they move down the line to the next Dube and the next until they’ve played all The Dubes. They get to meet and play with people, other children that they might not normally speak to around the school playground. They love it, they laugh and when a child’s laughing, they’re learning. I love that, and that’s why I go into schools with The Dube, to try and make them laugh and enjoy it.

Also, there’s no music on any staves, no sheet music or scores – it’s just all fun and easy, making sounds and music. The Dubes I have for schools have numbers, letters or colours on them; one to four on the panels; A, B, C and D; or orange, blue, red, black. So I’ll say, “play orange, blue, black” [Dion drums the pattern] and they’ll play it back to me.

Making it a game? Almost like Guitar Hero that they might be playing at home?

I know what you mean – yeah, you’re right, same kind of thing. Very simple but it works. They “get it” and understand it, I enjoy that.

Are there any plans for using The Dube for other uses like music therapy?

Well it’s very tactile so the possibilities are, I guess, endless. Depending on how you hit it, it can make a different sound, and people can just have it on their laps, playing it and playing it. You show people what to do with a Dube and they just play – finding different sounds – I play it a certain way and other people play it totally different. Two of my brothers have their own ways too and play it totally different to me. My brother who’s the drummer, when we play together, he just keeps the back bone on the big 18”, while me and my other brothers solo over the top. It’s all very different. You can make your own way with it.

Who were the key people who helped you get The Dube to where it is today?

Dion Dublin and Karl Brazil with a family of prototype Dubes.

A gentleman by the name of Karl Brazil who drums for Robbie Williams, Feeder and James Blunt – he’s sessioned with everybody. He’s the one who opened the door to the drumming world for me, because I didn’t know anyone in drumming or the music world really. I knew a few people but Karl opened the door to guy called Mike Dolbear – and I mean, who doesn’t know Mike Dolbear!? From then on it’s gone to Courtney Pine, to Donavan Hepburn, to Ash Soan, Craig Blundell, Thomas Lang – you know Thomas Lang? I’m told by all the other drummers, that Thomas Lang is the best drummer in the world. [laughs] That’s what I keep being told! He’s amazing – incredible. He’s got his own Dube with his own logo on it, which he uses when performing demonstrations.

I’m going to drop something in – clang! There goes a name: Stevie Wonder. He has his own Dube now which is, for me, a dream for him to have it. He might just put his coffee on it but I don’t really care – he’s got a Dube in his house! [laughs]

Well, at least it’s Stevie Wonder’s coffee right?

Dion and the Dube team meet Stevie Wonder at NAMM 2012.

Stevie Wonder’s coffee [laughs] use it as you will! But you know, all those sorts of names – the door to them was opened by Karl Brazil and Mike Dolbear, and then its been down to me to make the connections, but there’s lots of people using it at the moment.

Thomas Lang’s wife, Elizabeth, is doing all my PR in the US. Speaking to Luis Conte, people like that, who want to endorse it so, you know, it’s getting there slowly. This interview will hopefully help it too – help it snowball into bigger things.

Are there any new artists using The Dube that deserve a shout out?

There will be. In the percussion world there’s two guys in India that I’ve just been introduced to – guys who play Tabla, who are amazing musicians! Their hands move so quickly. There’s a guy called Pete Lockett whose one of the best percussionists in the world bar none. He’s just got his own Dube and he’s brought out his own app on the iPad. It’s called DrumJam  and he’s got all his drums on it and The Dube is part of the app, which is fantastic! So he wants his own Dube with his own logo on.

It’s growing, it’s growing but I want to walk first before I try to run and get The Dube out there. Hopefully then I won’t fall flat on my face! [laughs] The professional drummers and percussionists out there have been great though.

The different sized Dubes – was that an idea for using them in different genres, different styles, different musical applications?

You know what, I built the 12” Dube when I went to Jewsons and that’s the only one I had. Then I went to see Courtney Pine and he said “listen, why don’t you build a family of Dubes?” That was his statement, “go and build a family of Dubes”: a small one, a big one, then a mum and dad. And I thought “well thank you very much, can I use it?” and he said “yeah sure, go on!”

He dropped that in there, I did it and it worked. It’s amazing, it really is – the variation in sound, it is so much better now that he’s suggested that to me. He’s got a full set of Pro Dubes on stands that he takes out with him on tour that he plays now.

You’ve given different names to the different sized Dubes too haven’t you? The 9”, 12”, 15” and 18”?

Yes, we’ve got the soprano, alto, tenor and the baritone.

The four sizes of Dube in action.

Can you play different sized Dubes together in a pair, like a set of bongo drums?

I guess, but then there’s three sets of bongos there already on a Dube because with those four panels, there’s different sounds on each side. Even with one side you can create three or four sounds from hitting in differently and you haven’t really even started yet!

You’ve got so many sounds that you can produce that it’s endless. The thing about The Dube is that there are three golden rules that I’ve realised you have to have when you’re doing anything with percussion. For session players and percussionists, first it’s got to sound good, it’s got to look good and it’s got to be easily transportable. That’s it. With The Dube, just put it in the back of your car and go. There’s no nuts, no bolts or stuff. Those are my three golden rules and I love the sound, I like the look and its easily transportable.

What’s The Dube made out of?

Wood, all wood – it’s how you cut it though. It’s not just panels; it’s slightly bowed on the inside so you can get a good vibration on it – a camber to get that sound. As I said, they’ve all got mics built-in. The Pro Dube’s have got a Shure PG-52 inside them which is really good for the bottom end.

Dion playing The Dube at Navy Blue:

How did the idea for custom designed Dubes come about?

I asked the boy next door, who’s an artist, and he does stenciling, layering it on top of each other. He did me a design of Beverley Knight and it looked great!

There’s an artist, Temper. Banksy and Temper are massive rivals – Temper’s New York born Birmingham and Banksy’s Bristol. Tempah’s done some stuff for me on my website and created some custom designs for my show Dubes for NAMM in LA.

When did the case and the stand get developed?

When I was doing a few festivals and The Dube got smashed about a bit – there’s been a few speakers that have fell into it and smashed it open. So I thought, I’m going to need to get it some protection, and when I’m shipping over seas it makes sense really. It’s part of the product and its range. There’s also going to be Dube mallets, Dube brushes and accessories for people who prefer to play with sticks.

I just want to give people the choice about whether to play with hands, with sticks, with mallets, whatever. You don’t want to go too far from the original idea or you lose the concept and it’s all got to come back to the drum.

Thomas Lang talking about The Dube at the London Drum Show:

Will there be anymore versions of The Dube to come?

Yes there will. There’s one already in development that’s going to be a Dube but a little bit different. The concept’s the same, but maybe it’ll look different.

Will we be seeing, maybe, a MIDI Dube in the future?

Maybe! That’s something that we’ve thought about. There’s so many things we could do.

That’s the great thing with The Dube – it’s just a square box, and people think “I can make that”. But I’ve had it made now so many times by different people – I’ve said, “go ahead, take it”, and they’ve cut it up and then come back to me like “Hmm, I’m not sure”. It’s a little bit more complex. Inside this Dube, the way it’s made is incredible. The time it takes to make a Dube – it takes about five or six hours to make a Dube and they’re built very, very well.

The one I’ve got with me is number 24, and its been one that’s stayed with me – it’s one of my “show Dubes” or demo Dubes – and it’s been knocked about, throw around but it looks brand new, plays brand new. And the more you play them the better they sound!

What are your plans for NAMM 2013?

I’ll have the same size pitch but I’ll be more equipped. We’ll have literature, prices and a better idea of where The Dube is at.

Do you play much with The Dube on stage or are your performances only for showcases?

I play, when I’m asked. I’m supposed to be playing with an old rap group called The Rat Pack – not Frank Sinatra and those guys, I don’t think it’d fit with that! [laughs] They’re the rappers – jungle boys. They do drum’n’bass and I used to listen to them years ago when I was young. And now they want some percussion and were like “get Dion in on The Dube”, which will be in Newcastle in December.

You’ve played with The Ocean Colour Scene as well?

Played with the Ocean Colour Scene; it was good fun! Oscar and the boys, I’ve played a couple of tracks with Toploader as well at Jimmy’s Farm, at a festival there. When I’m asked I’ll do it – I’ve played with a few people, such as, of course, The Establishment.

Dion playing the Dube on-stage with The Ocean Colour Scene:

And you’re the manager of The Establishment. How’s the band going?

Very well! The boys just played Reading and Leeds – Leeds on the Friday, Reading on the Sunday – and they went down amazing on the BBC Introducing stage. They sound amazing – really bang on. They work hard – rehearse a lot – very clean, very tight. They’re a band, they’re together. They wouldn’t sound out of place supporting anyone. They’ve finished their album which comes out in March. The single comes out in February. They’re on the march!

The video to their very first single had Teddy Sheringham and Stuart Pearce in it. Anymore football cameos for the band in the future?

[laughs] You know, that was done before me. That had nothing to do with me, I hadn’t even met the band! [laughs] They’re all Nottingham boys, John Burns used to play for Nottingham Forest, and the guys in the video are ex-Forest players. It was before my time, you can’t blame that one on me! [laughs]

Check out The Establishment’s footballer packed video for Be That Way below:

Do they still use The Dube?

When they place acoustic they play The Dube but it can be a difficult line to keep. This [The Dube] is mine and I don’t want that to deter from their progression as a band and their image. If they use it when they play acoustically, then that’s great, but I’m not forcing them because then it becomes Dion Dublin rather than The Establishment, who are very, very good.

Thanks for talking to us!

Look out for an exciting and exclusive Dube announcement on the Musicroom blog on Monday. In the mean time, share our interview with Dion Dublin to your friends using the share buttons below.

What do you think of The Dube? Would you be interested in trying or buying one for yourself?