Dispatch frontman Chadwick Stokes plays Rams Head in Annapolis Wednesday

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Chadwick Stokes at Rams Head in Annapolis (Part 1)

Best known as the frontman for the band Dispatch, and other projects like State Radio, Chadwick Stokes performs live at Rams Head in Annapolis, Maryland, on Wednesday.

“There’s usually a couple of State Radio tunes, a couple of Dispatch tunes, then the rest are from the solo repertoire,” Stokes told WTOP.

“I just started working on a rock opera, so we may play a chunk of three new songs in a row because they’re telling a story,” he said. “This is the first time I’m really talking about it to anyone besides my family and bandmates. Breaking news!”

The rock opera doesn’t have a title yet because it’s still in the early stages, but Stokes is toying with calling it “American Refugee,” as in a refugee fleeing U.S. politics.

“I think the rock opera is going to be set in the early 70s,” he said. “Now I’m at a stage where I need to know what part of the story [the songs] are furthering, so it’s a lot of lyrical jockeying.

“My brother and I, who plays in The Pintos, we’ve done some riding of the rails, some freight-train jumping, so that’s where a lot of this rock opera takes place.”

Born in 1976 in Massachusetts, Stokes grew up listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival before discovering grunge music in high school.

“It was a beautiful age to witness this new feeling,” he said. “I grew up on a small farm in a very small town. To be a sophomore and have everything land with Nirvana and Pearl Jam … it was an amazing time to feel like we had music of our own.”

Stokes formed the band Dispatch in 1996 and they released their debut album “Silent Steeples” in 1996. But it was their second album “Bang Bang” (1997) that cemented their legacy.

The song “The General” features the catchy refrain “Take a shower and shine your shoes” amid the pacifist anti-war message of “I have seen the others and I have discovered that this fight is not worth fighting.”

“I was always fascinated by war, the idea of the draft and young men and women going to do the bidding of some person who was in their safe mansion,” Stokes said. “It’s always about humanizing war and how absurd it is to be shooting or trying to kill someone you don’t know or haven’t met who’s doing the same thing you’re doing, just following orders for [your] country.”

It was the opposite of a sophomore slump as the album also featured the romantic song “Out Loud” with the memorable line, “You know I’d be proud if you’d call my name out loud.”

“I was in Zimbabwe when I wrote it actually,” Stokes said. “Right after high school, I took a gap year and I was thinking about a girl I had a crush on many thousands of miles away. I had a lot of time in Zimbabwe to wander around with my guitar — that song just came out of that.”

The band continued to evolve across their third album “Four-Day Trials” (1999), their fourth album “Who Are We Living For?” (2000) and fifth album “Circles Around the Sun” (2012). After a brief hiatus, the band reunited for their sixth album, “America, Location 12” (2017), featuring songs like “Only the Wild Ones,” “Skin the Rabbit” and “Painted Yellow Lines.”

“We were recording that up in Stinson Beach, just north of San Francisco,” Stokes said. “There was a missile silo that we discovered … they’re almost covered with dirt right on the water. These hills that you think they’re regular hills, but you see this big iron door and you can kind of walk inside some of them. On the inside of one of those was written, ‘Location 12.'”

While continuing to record albums with Dispatch, Stokes also records with his other band State Radio, which has toured with the likes of Dave Matthews Band and, for a more political bend, Rage Against the Machine.

“When there’s a big election coming up, or the sh*t was so crazy with Trump — he was such a buffoon — it was like ‘what can I do?’ I’m like, ‘Enough of this other stuff, let’s get to it!'” Stokes said.

“I have a batch of songs for a new State Radio record. I can either do that or the rock opera. So there’s a bit of juggling going on, but it’s what the songs are telling me.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Chadwick Stokes at Rams Head in Annapolis (Part 2)

Hear our full conversation on my podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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