After performing together for 14 years and several bands, The DML Conspiracy's Dodd Michael Lede talks about how he and musical co-conspirator Shawna Cole are re-inventing the band as a 2-person project.
Editor's note: Upon meeting Dodd Michael Lede and checking out The DML Conspiracy, you can't help but be impressed. A quick look through the band's YouTube Channel shows that they've amassed more than a 1/2-million views of their 40 or so videos. And The DML Conspiracy's Spotify has drawn-in over 1,000,000 streams from their last 10 singles. They're not just get started--they're a freight train going full steam down the tracks, looking down the line to take things to another level. Coyote Music visited with Dodd about the band's past, present, and what the future holds for The DML Conspiracy.
Coyote Music: Hometowns can say a lot about a person or a band. You're originally from New York, spent time in L.A., and now live in Houston. What has it been that's guided you from city to city, and what is it about Houston that keeps you there now?
Dodd Michael Lede: I like to tell friends that I’m “tri-coastal, I’ll try any coast”. Truth is, I ended up in Houston because my father got a job here when I was still a teenager. I came to Houston quite begrudgingly.
I was born in the Bronx. We were all living with my grandmother at the time. My mother was a single mom barely out of her teens. My grandmother’s growing concern about the decline of the neighborhood made her reevaluate her decision to stay there. My mother had fallen victim to drug addiction, my uncle was always getting into fights, and there was general chaos all around.
When I was three, my grandmother uprooted the family [and we moved] to Los Angeles. I spent most of my formative years in L.A. My mother met that man that I would forever call “dad” just after she arrived. He was pretty much living on the beach freshly relocated from Ohio. They met on the Santa Monica Pier.
Houston has proven to be an inspirational place for me. I have my own family now, and they like to call Houston home. These days it doesn’t matter where home is, the internet makes any place in the world just a click away.
CM: The DML Conspiracy has gone through changes in the recent past. Talk about those...both lineup-wise and perhaps philosophically. What is it that has driven the project in the past and is doing so currently?
DML: I always wanted that U2 “fairy tale” story, where a group of guys get together in school and decide to become a band, stay together for decades, and make history. This was never written in the stars for me. I have been in many bands but musicians are a fickle bunch, myself included.
I wasn’t focused enough when I was younger. I lived a rockstar life without being an actual rockstar. When I got wiser, I was happy to be a working musician but there wasn’t enough money in that to raise a family. So you have to decide where your loyalty is. You either hit-the-road and leave your family behind to fend for themselves, or you get a 9 to 5 job and do music as a hobby on the side. I had a lot of children to pay for because of my rockstar lifestyle. So I did the responsible thing but I eventually got a break in the process.
I built a recording studio in my house and hyper-focused on songwriting. I figured it was the one thing that I could do that would allow me to be creative and stay close. I tried several times to recreate the band experience but I could never find the right combination of talented players with similar drive. Musicians, like anyone else, want to get paid. There just wasn’t enough money to keep a band rolling.
Most of my musical colleagues are either in cover/tribute bands because it makes steady money, or they’re doing studio work with the same goal in mind, to make money. I’m doing both.
CM: DML Conspiracy today is essentially Dodd & Shawna. How does having a 2-person team compare with having a band with more members, more input, more "chefs in the kitchen"?
DML: Shawna and I have been singing together for 14 years now. We sing in The DML Conspiracy together, we have a cover band called Bare Necessity that we sing in together, and we have a DJ/Karaoke business that we partner together. She is one of my closest friends and my family loves her too.
In theory, we have a virtual band. I have an “A list” selection of musicians that I reach out to with each new song that I write. Typically, I tell them that they have “first right of refusal”. They get first dibs on the work, but if they are busy I have backups just in case.
I have a guitarist, keyboardist, bass player, and drummer that I use on a regular basis to track instruments for me. My primary choice for guitarist is Landyn Lyerla, whom I’ve been recording with for several years now. My first call for a bass player is pretty much always Bobby Tapia, whom I’ve been recording with for as many years. Landyn and Bobby are both local. Nate Barnes is my virtual drummer from Colorado, and Mark Prentice does all things keys from Nashville.
If I could afford to take them all on the road, this would be my touring band. Unfortunately these guys are all in other bands, projects, or doing full-time session work.
CM: You're cranking out a pretty impressive amount of music and have been doing so for quite a while. What is driving this prolific period of writing? And at some point, do you think The DML Conspiracy will take the show on the road either regionally or nationally?
DML: I am a very creative person. I can’t honestly tell you where the inspiration comes from. I like to believe that I am a human conduit for deceased songwriters that have passed on but haven’t finished writing their final song. So they channel their songs through me.
I have so many songs that are still sitting in various stages of completion. I am trying to finish them, but then I write more. It’s a vicious cycle. Eventually I hope to take a break from songwriting to pursue putting a band together that would like to tour.
I have been looking for musicians that would be interested in doing some local shows and maybe some regional touring. But this is pretty much still a work-in-progress.
CM: Dodd and Shawna have a few projects going--DML Conspiracy, DJing, Bare Necessity cover band. Talk a bit about managing multiple projects and how DML Conspiracy fits into the prioritization of getting things done. I mean, we all have to earn a living, but clearly there is inspiration within that is almost bursting at the seams as far as writing new material. Do you find that there aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done?
DML: This is the story of my life. I keep a very detailed planner.
Although music is still the secondary job, it seriously takes up as much time as my primary job. And as of the past couple of years, I have started to see the fruits of my labor paying off. It has become a growing revenue stream for me. I have over a hundred songs on the streaming platforms and they are starting to pay out.
My planner keeps me focused. My time has become very valuable to me. I try not to waste any of it. I have specific days dedicated to studio, rehearsal, writing, DJ’ing, and social media updates. Life sometimes gets in the way, but I try to stay on track with my schedule as much as possible. In the midst of all of this, I have to make sure that my family has access to me as needed. They are my support system.
CM: Logistically speaking, DML Conspiracy is now a 2-person group, recording like crazy. What would you say is the long-term plan for the group, say, 1 year from now or even 5 years from now? What's the best case scenario for DML Conspiracy if you could snap your fingers and make it happen?
DML: My end game is to have a success touring band. I have been dedicating everything that I do to the idea of building a better brand. The songs are the most important thing. So I make sure to focus on writing songs that will go out and permeate the airwaves. With each new release, I am calculating how to increase its presence in the music world.
You already know, there is a lot of music being released daily. I am always looking for new ways to rise above the noise and get heard. Someone recently told me you’re always just one hit away from changing the whole game. I live by this. I stay focused and I continue to improve the quality of my songs with each new release.
When the day comes that I need to put a band together to tour, I’ll be ready. I’ve been preparing for this my whole life. And if I do it right, the money will be there to support the dream.
CM: You've written songs pulling inspiration from loved ones who've passed, friends who've endured some pretty intense experiences, and the blog on dmlconspiracy.com/blog reads like a libretto (thinking specifically of the libretto on a special edition release of Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime). Does the well run dry at some point when it comes to finding inspiration? What are some of your muses that may not have been written about in the blog?
DML: I have a deep well of inspiration to draw from. I have a friend who spent 17 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. I was there in the beginning when everything was happening. He was poised for an amazing career in the music industry. He was absolutely amazing. He was charismatic and gifted. I was in absolute awe of him. Now his spirit is broken.
I thought he should tell his story, but he didn’t want to relive the experience and he didn’t want his mother to have to go through it again either. We talked about it. I told him that I would tell his story. He asked me to wait until his mother passed. She passed in 2019, and I have been on a mad quest to tell his story, but I have kept everyone’s identity secret to avoid any legal repercussions from those involved.
CM: Speaking of Dodd and Shawna, what is the role of each member of DML Conspiracy?
DML: I am the primary singer/songwriter/producer. Shawna is my “emotional support” singer. LOL.
She has assisted with writing at times, but she is more of a cheerleader for this cause. I am not as extroverted as she is. Shawna has never met a stranger. She makes friends with everyone. She is a walking/talking billboard for The DML Conspiracy.
She was originally supposed to be a background singer, but she would never stay in the background. Shawna is too dynamic to stand idle. She would continue to work her way to the front of the stage and stand alongside me. So I told her that I would write songs for her so she could be the co-singer in the band.
I pretty much wrote her into the band so well that I’m not sure if I could find another singer to replace her if I tried.
CM: What has the process been like over the past year, releasing so much music so often? Do you find its reinforcing an existing fanbase, or maybe more reaching new ears? What is the biggest factor leading you to keep creating in that fashion?
DML: The process has become so familiar that I could do this blindfolded. I absolutely love the creative process. From beginning to end, I never know what to expect, and I never know what the final outcome will be.
I will work on a song with a head full of creativity. If I run into a creative rut, I will work on another song. If I’m not feeling creative as a songwriter, I’ll work on the song cover artwork. If I’m not feeling that, I’ll work on artistic ideas for the social media pages.
The idea is to continue to create, but sometimes the creative process changes from songs to artwork, or blogs, or videos.
I’m always trying to grow that brand. It’s a slow process, but our music is not for everyone, so I want a fan base of music lovers that are really “into” what we are doing. I always tease that the DML refers to Die-hard Music Lovers. It’s a way to help them remember the name.
Ultimately, we do this because we love doing this. I can’t imagine doing anything else with as much passion. I create for the love of creation; the business part is just to be able to keep the music coming.