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“As Old As I,” the new single from Dispatch, is bite-sized and sweet. Clocking in at just two-and-a-half minutes, the song is built around a cyclical riff and a churning, polyrhythmic groove. It crescendos gently while frontman Chadwick Stokes sings the refrain — “as old as I” — over a nimble guitar solo.
But the song’s origins are darker than its playful melody suggests. “Higher yet, my love/ The water is rising,” it begins — lines based on a news story Stokes remembers reading about an older couple caught in hurricane floods. “They’re climbing on top of their counters, and water’s rising,” he recalls. The second verse was inspired by another news report, about a child shot by a stray bullet in a Boston apartment.
“Whether it's our wife or our children or anyone who's younger than us that's in our family, there's kind of this unspoken promise that we’re there to help them live longer than we [do],” Stokes says. “As Old As I” articulates that pledge, even as it exposes, with bittersweet clarity, the impossibility of any such guarantee. “I hear you lash out in your sleep/ A bullet gone astray,” Stokes sings. “You gave me your blessing to keep you alive.”
“As Old As I” is the first single in the second phase of Dispatch’s current project: a yet-to-be-named album that will be released in several parts over the course of many months. The cycle, which concludes sometime next year, loosely traces the emotional fallout from life-altering events, from shock to despair to hope.
The album was inspired by events both political and personal. Trumps’s election in 2016 was “a huge blow,” Stokes says. Then, two years later, one of Dispatch’s founding members, Pete Francis, faced a mental health crisis and decided to leave the group.
The Boston band had weathered change before, from its peak during the jam-band boom of the late ‘90s to its fall from mainstream popularity and a long period of dormancy. But through all that, the lineup remained the same. Now Stokes and drummer Brad Corrigan had to find a way forward alone.
“It was just a big shift for us as a band, a big shift for us as a country,” Stokes says. The pair decided to channel that sense of upheaval into the music. “Phase 1,” which came out in October, aimed to capture the rupture and reckoning brought on by catastrophic change. “Old As I” is the first single off of “Phase 2” — “the after-spray of the shock,” Stokes says. In other words, these songs contain turmoil, too. But, Stokes says, they’re just one phase on the road to a more hopeful future.
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