The Dividends | Huntington Group “Gives Back” to Fans
Article by Miranda Woody-Martin
Sitting at a coffee shop just outside of Philadelphia, I anticipate a phone call from an up-and-coming band out of my home state, the “wild and wonderful” West Virginia. The Huntington-based group call themselves The Dividends, and my knowledge of them thus far has been restricted to internet-only information. They’ve recently set the tri-state music scene on fire, and I anticipate the opportunity to learn more about them. I do know this much, however, before my conversation with the band: The Dividends are a five piece band consisting of vocalist Hannah Spurlock, guitarist and vocalist Alan Brown, drummer Jon Willis, trumpet player Heath Holley, and bassist Chris Barker. As I prepare to talk with the band, Alan Brown lets me know that he’s been spending his Saturday morning doing volunteer work with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program of West Virginia, and that a few members of the band would call me back in a matter of moments. I relax with my coffee and wait for the call.
Moments later, my phone rings and three members of the funky, “alt-rock meets R&B” five-some chime in. We greet one another with the usual formalities, then dive into a conversation about The Dividends’ original music, playing shows, and what it means to “give back” to music fans all over the country. Brown begins the conversation with the band’s origin story (being one of the band’s original, founding members), and each member offers their unique perspective on their time within The Dividends.
I learn a lot about The Dividends in the mere half hour I speak with them, but my main takeaway is this: The Dividends are a group of artists that not only love music, but live music every day. The group wholeheartedly invests their individual (as well as their collective) time and energy into the process of creating, performing, and distributing music to “anyone who cares enough to listen”. In fact, that’s how the group got their name.
The Dividends derived their name from, of all things, a banking term. Alan Brown says, “we got the name from the idea that we’re giving back to the people who invest in us as a band. I’m not sure why it is that, but that’s been my answer lately and I like it. It’s like a ‘dividend’ in finance, when you get back what you initially put into something.” With that little ice-breaker out of the way, we dive a little deeper into the group’s history, sound, and so on.
I learn that The Dividends have been in their current form for about two years now, but they didn’t start out as a full band. Brown says, “When the founding members of the group first met, it was because I was actually playing in another group. That group was playing at Heath, our current trumpet player’s, graduation party. We were all hanging out at this part, a bonfire jam sort of thing, and we played an Amy Winehouse song. Hannah, our current vocalist, was there and she started singing along. I listened to her and immediately I was like, ‘who is this girl with this angelic voice?’ We kind of all got together after that. It just worked; it all fell into place.”
The Dividends were just a three-piece acoustic act back then, mostly playing open-mics and jamming with friends. Brown tells me, “We had no original music back then, and that was about two or three years ago, but we had a Battle of the Bands event coming up that Hannah had signed us up for. We learned more about this thing we’d gotten ourselves into and we were like, ‘oh, we really have to get this group thing started’. First, we had to have some original music; I taught my girlfriend at the time how to play bass in a matter of weeks, and we all came up with some songs. Some of those songs will still play today actually. Some of them had that lasting power, that ‘shelf-life’, if you will, but all of them helped us find ourselves as a group.”
When I asked how that particular “battle of the bands” event went, Brown says (with a laugh), “Better than it should have!” The Dividends had Spurlock, Brown, Holley, and a drummer in the mix at that point, but it was difficult for their drummer to commit with his busy schedule and the increasingly demanding number of shows the group had started to book. Brown says, “our first drummer was cool, he just couldn’t commit. We’d been booking shows, so we needed someone that could be there. We got connected with Jon through another group and got him on drums, and eventually recruited Chris on bass, and both guys just fell in. We started playing shows immediately; it was like, ‘hey guys, we have some shows booked this weekend, so let’s go!’ It all worked out, though, and we really grooved as a unit.” Chris Barker, the current bassist, adds, “I’d listened to some of The Dividends songs before, so I actually already knew a few of them.” Jon Willis, the drummer, chimes in: “Basically, they were desperate for someone, and I mean desperate enough to include me, so I joined the band and that was that!”
The next question I asked was, I’m sure, the band’s least favorite of all, but their answer was a lot of fun and very informative. I asked the age-old, “so, what is your ‘sound’, generally?” and all three of the five members I was speaking with laughed. “Eh,” Brown starts, “what do I even say? When we released our EP, ‘Shakesy’, last summer we had to define our ‘genre’ for distribution purposes. We narrowed it down to ‘rock’ and ‘R&B’, but is that really what we are? Who knows. We’re a little but of everything. We have some Amy Winehouse sounds in the mix, some “beachy” stuff, every song just has such unique content. We pride ourselves on that as a band. We really like the Alabama Shakes, too, and really take a lot of our influence from them. That’s why we called the EP “Shakesy” actually.” Chris and Jon interject, “It’s like ska, without the punk!” which results in a hearty laugh from us all.
I learn that the “Shakesy” EP turned a year old on June 3rd, and that the band is looking forward to recording some new tracks in the fall. “Shakesy”, a seven song EP, can be purchased on iTunes or streamed on the group’s Bandcamp page, as well as on Spotify (just make sure you search for “The Dividends Band”, so as to not confuse them with another group that used a similar moniker a few years back). The EP has received national radio recognition, especially from a nationally-syndicated radio program out of Texas that went as far as to travel to West Virginia and invite The Dividends to play at one of their live-broadcast events. This, the band tells me, was a particularly exciting step in their career as professional musicians, along with booking increasingly larger venues and more gigs (as such “Live on the Levee” in Charleston, WV, which the band played just weeks ago).
Although performing live is what the band seems to enjoy the most, The Dividends tell me that they hope to record again in the fall, assuming all goes as planned. The band adds that their next project might be a full-length LP, maybe thirteen or more tracks after everything is said and done. Brown says, “We’ve been playing new stuff at our shows even though the fans are just now really starting to learn the lyrics and whatnot from the EP. After it turns a year old, though, we kind of get bored playing the same old thing. We want to avoid stagnation at all costs; we’re not the kind of group that says, ‘hey, we need to do this thing’, and just does it. We come up with our music organically and just kind of see where it takes us. That’s where all this new stuff has been coming from, and having a chance to record it in the fall and serve up something fresh would be great for us. We want to always give our fans something new, something that’s uniquely ‘us’, and we never want to get too comfortable and stagnate in one place”.
When asked about their performance style, the band tells me they mostly like to “hang out first, and play instruments second”, which is rather surprising considering the tight, professional sound that seems to come so effortlessly from the group. The Dividends state that they want each performance to be a “family” affair for both themselves and their fans; a moment of genuine connection over music, and the love of performance arts. “We love crowd interaction,” Brown states. “We don’t just want to stand and give a lecture or a presentation; we want to involve our fans in this fun, awesome show where they’re getting back what they give to us. They give us energy and we give them back our energy, we just have a lot of fun”.
I stop Brown and remind him that his statement resonates with what he told me at the beginning of our interview: that the spirit of The Dividends is all about “giving back” to fans what they’re willing to “invest”, or put in, to the group. “Hey, that’s true,” Brown says. “I like that, and that’s exactly the point we’re trying to get across. It all comes full circle”. On that note, we close our interview and wish one another well. I leave the moment feeling a rush of positivity, and I immediately go stream the “Shakesy” EP. To my delight, it’s just as great as I’d imagined it would be.
Listeners can tune into The Dividends via their Bandcamp profile or on Spotify, but they can also catch the group at the upcoming Ferkin’ Festival in Ashland, KY on June 16th. For a full list of tour dates and ways to listen, you can check out the band’s Facebook page. I promise, this high-energy five piece from the Huntington tri-state area are a good time to be had for all.
Miranda Woody-Martin is a Concord University graduate originally from Beckley, West Virginia. She holds a B.A in English with an emphasis in Writing and works in journalism and digital marketing. She is twenty- two years old and currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She enjoys writing poetry, rock climbing, listening to The Doors, and traveling internationally. Check out her other work