Pat Dubar, singer of the alternative hard-rock band Mindfunk, spent much of last year getting depressed and writing song lyrics about it, which is not a bad career move considering the success that such kindred bands as Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains have had doing precisely that.
Then, on the day they were set to begin recording, Mindfunk's five members learned that their record company was dropping them. Now there was something to get depressed about.
As Dubar tells it now, getting dropped by Epic Records proved to be a good career move, after all. As it had prepared to record for Epic, Mindfunk was being riven by internal dissension, Dubar recalled in a phone interview from the band's temporary base in San Francisco.
"In retrospect, it was probably the best thing," said the singer, who grew up in Fountain Valley and spent most of the 1980s fronting the Orange County-based hard-core punk band Uniform Choice.
"The band was in a state of turmoil anyway, and we would have been fighting in the studio," Dubar said. "We had no place to live, none of us had any money, and (now) we had no label."
The jolt of losing a recording deal forced Mindfunk's members to reassess their commitment to working together, he said. "We had to go, 'Do we believe in the music?' And the five answers came back, 'Yes.' "
Dubar, 27, credits Terry Date, the Seattle-based producer who had been hired to oversee the band's aborted sessions for Epic, for believing in Mindfunk when it was down. "The guy is a (expletive) savior, to put it in the most blunt terms. He said, 'I like the band, I like the songs, I want to do the album.' "
Date, who had produced albums for Soundgarden and Pantera, brought Mindfunk to record in Seattle and took a more raw and inexpensive live-in-the-studio approach that Dubar believes the band would not have used had it recorded for Epic.
"Had we not gotten dropped, we would have spent way more money than we should have. Terry taught us that having a mistake-free record is not the best thing, because you lose character. Is what you're playing and singing believable? That's most important."
Mindfunk, which opens a national tour tonight at California Dreams in Anaheim, called the resulting album "Dropped." The band didn't have to look far to find a new outlet for its work: Its management company also runs an independent record label, Megaforce Entertainment.
Like a lot of today's heavier-sounding alternative bands, Mindfunk gives plenty of weight to the time-proven tromping beats and chugging guitar riffs that have caused metal fans' heads to bang since the early days of Black Sabbath.
But it also brings a sense of adventure to its song arrangements, enabling the guitar team of Louis Svitek and Jason Everman to achieve some nifty, unpredictable juxtapositions. During "Hogwallow," for instance, a typical grunge riff in the right channel is answered by light, rapid-fire, almost folkish strumming in the left.
Svitek is an excellent player who values economy, has studied his Hendrix and has a feel for rock's roots in the blues as well as for the progressive-rock explorations of King Crimson. Everman hails from Seattle and played briefly in Soundgarden and in a pre-stardom version of Nirvana.
Dubar also does his part well: He sings in a firm, grainy voice sometimes reminiscent of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, but interjects moments of delicacy, along with the arena-scale wailing typical of most of the new breed of hard rockers.
Dubar left Uniform Choice in 1989 and began an independent record company, Massive Sound. (A new version of Uniform Choice, with drummer Pat Longrie, the lone holdover from the old band, began performing about a year ago and will headline Thursday night at Bogart's in Long Beach.)
Dubar's nascent career as a music entrepreneur was cut short when Mindfunk's managers, at the suggestion of a writer who knew his work, brought him to New York for a tryout.
"I was just scamming a free trip to New York to hang out with friends. Then I met these guys, and they were guys that cared and wanted to play music as badly as I did," Dubar recalled.
Mindfunk's self-titled 1991 debut album won good notices, but the band was not a model of stability. Two members from the original lineup were replaced before "Dropped" was recorded. And, two months ago, bassist John Monte quit and was replaced by Spike Xavier, an old buddy of Dubar's from the Orange County rock scene.
Xavier, who joins drummer Shawn Johnson in the Mindfunk rhythm section, had been the singer of Mind Over Four. In a separate interview, he said the commercial failure of that long-running progressive-metal band's 1993 album, "Half Way Down," led to his change of Mind.
"Mind Over Four is over as a touring act," Xavier said, although he and Mike Jensen, Mind Over Four's guitarist, plan to continue making records together. "That's a hobby, not a career," Xavier said. Mindfunk "is what I'm doing to make a living and dedicating myself to."
Dubar says that the departure of Monte and the arrival of Xavier have brought a new measure of domestic tranquillity to Mindfunk. And the down mood that prompted visions of suicide in such songs as "Drowning," "11 Ton Butterfly," "Hogwallow" and "Hollow" has lifted as well.
"I've always taken the role of shouldering other people's problems, (while) keeping mine inside, not knowing how to help myself," Dubar said. "I decided I wanted to release these things I'd kept bottled up. It was like knocking down a dam. I started trying to answer questions that maybe there are no answers to. I think that's why our music is based in suffering and depression. It's therapeutic to get it out. I'm a lot more at peace now."
Now Dubar speaks intensely about problems in the external world. The singer, who has Cherokee blood on his father's side, began to explore his Native American heritage in his late teens. Those studies have led to a belief in preserving the natural world as a spiritual imperative.
"Our goal is to reach a lot of people with our music, but more so with the messages we're going to be carrying with it," Dubar said, noting the band's plans to distribute leaflets during its tour on such issues as the destruction of tropical rain forests.
Musically, he said, Mindfunk has begun to dabble with such exotic instruments as the didjeridoo , the deep, droning wind instrument of the Australian aborigines, and a Tibetan wind instrument that he says is made from a hollowed-out human thigh bone.
"We don't even want to be in the same category as Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam--not that we're going to reinvent rock 'n' roll, because you can't," Dubar said. "But we're going to try to incorporate these (new instruments) to try to create an even creepier psychedelic effect and hopefully elevate the music as well. You'll really see what this band is about on our next album."
* Mindfunk, Reality and Downer play tonight at 9 at California Dreams, 2916 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim. $6. (714) 828-2582.