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Credit: Courtesy of Happy Tooth & Dug
Credit: Courtesy of Happy Tooth & Dug

Columbus’ Own: Happy Tooth & Dug aim to break societal norms

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The members of Happy Tooth & Dug may look tough and spit criticism on society, but they are also known to smile a lot and pull each other into bear hugs.

It was vocalist Colin Ward’s smile that got him the nickname Happy Tooth.

“I got it when I was 16 or 17,  I hadn’t gotten braces yet and I had really really messed up teeth and I smiled a lot. Everyone called me Happy Tooth to make fun of me and it just stuck,” Ward said.

The band will be playing their last show of the year with Minneapolis-based artist, ECID, and other artists from around the country on October 13 before they take a hiatus to record a new album.

Ward and Douglas “Dug” Gamble have been rapping together for years. Ward and vocalist/keyboardist Ryan Liptak had known each other for quite some time as well, but decided to work together again in 2012.

“It was immediately recognizable that something electric was happening. What was supposed to be a two-hour ‘lets try something’ ended up being in a room together for 13 hours. We had a finished song by the end of it,” Liptak said.

Ward brought Gamble in on the project and the three of them recorded a “very ambitious” album in terms of the range of sounds created. They then set out to find people to fill their lineup so they could try to duplicate it live. Longtime friends Corey Blaises, drummer, and Eric Dixon, guitarist, joined in.

Happy Tooth & Dug as it is known today was officially born during Superbowl 2013, when the final member — bassist Phil Effingham — was added.

“I was like, ‘I’m getting ready to get chicken wings, eat them, and watch commercials with my mom.’ And they’re like, ‘that’s stupid, come to band practice.'” Effingham said.

Being a part of the band has come to mean a lot to him.

“I wouldn’t trade this for the world. I mean, I could be anywhere, doing anything right now but I wouldn’t because that would mean I couldn’t do this anymore. This band kept me wanting to be here. It’s pretty much the coolest thing that’s happened to me,” Effingham said.

Having a band of six people can make logistics difficult, but the members of Happy Tooth & Dug see it as an asset.

“It does up the amount of people who have your back,” Gamble said.

Effingham added, “I think that’s the one thing that actually made it all work. Not only are we all proficient musicians, but we enjoy each other’s company most of the time and we’re friends.”

Happy Tooth and Dug have described their sound as “emotional discord to quit your job to,” and they all wish they could afford to do so.

“You try and sell CDs and songs in 2015 and you can, but it’s definitely getting increasingly harder. So we work jobs and pretend like someday we won’t have to. But as long as we’re doing this we’re fulfilled,” Gamble said. “I work for a big industrial company that’s sucking the blood out of the planet and turning it into waste product.”

The idea of “the system” and societal norms prompts feelings of both frustration and sadness for the band.

“One of our main themes in a lot of our music is that we would like to follow our own dreams and our musical paths but we’re being held back by the system in general and the standards and traditions that people normally hold themselves to … like having  a family, settling down, getting a promotion. And we hate that s—,” Ward said.

The band members use making music as an escape from the redundancy of their jobs, and hope that listening to their music can provide an escape for people and validate their feelings as well.

“We think there are a lot of people who would rather do something than what they’re doing. I think a lot of the positions people are in they don’t necessarily want to be and we understand that they have to support a family, but the fact that they have to choose between that and living a life that fulfills them makes us sad and it’s definitely something that we can empathize with,” Gamble said.

Happy Tooth & Dug’s album title, “W.H.Y.G.O.D.W.H.Y.,” is meant to be up for interpretation. The unofficial acronym defined by the band is the title of one of the tracks, “Waking Hurts You, Go On Dreaming, We’ll Help You.”

“We just want to encourage everyone to do whatever it is that they find important and to live your dream and people are going to tell you to wake up and I don’t know, you probably should, but we aren’t going to endorse that,” Gamble said.

Happy Tooth & Dug’s final show of the year will be at Double Happiness on October 13. Doors open at 8 p.m. Admission is $8.

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