Written by By Killian O’Neil Photos by Mark Franzen
Dry Reef is something of pure alchemy. This band continues its journey beyond adolescence and into adulthood. The best way to explain their sound is if Explosions In The Sky had a baby with Lotus, then somehow Rebulation got sprinkled on top. I know that’s a bit of a mind-blowing thought, but it’s true.
In 2019, Dry Reef was introduced to me, and in August 2022 I got the opportunity to see them perform live at Ardmore Music Hall. They left such an impression on me that interviewing them was a no-brainer. The thing that stands out most about this band in particular, is they remain true to their own sound. Their jam band/drum circle/reggae vibe just draws you in. So many bands these days are trying to be like someone they admire, instead of being true to who they are. One of the most extraordinary things about Dry Reef is they are unapologetically themselves.
Joey Anderson, Charles Minehart, Patrick Gillen, and Collin O’Donnell are the four that are Dry Reef. They all have one shared passion which is to make music and have fun while doing it. Charles, Patrick, and Collin all met at Upper Dublin High School in 2012.
O’Donnell, who plays lead guitar, started playing at age eight. It was only natural since music was in the family, with his Irish grandfather and uncles always playing music throughout their lives. O’Donnell specifically remembers getting his first guitar from his Pop Pop when he was five. “It was an old acoustic that was about the size of me at the time.” O’Donnell recalls that he would “jump around and dance with it as if I was already on stage.” Initially, it was O’Donnell’s parent’s who chose to sign him up for lessons, and shortly after, he was hooked. He dove deep into classic rock, trying to learn the guitar parts for anything from Tom Petty, The Beatles, or The Rolling Stones. Guitar lessons went on for about six years until he got to high school. There, he started playing with friends, including Gillen and Minehart.
Gillen is lead vocals and plays bass for the band. He picked up the guitar at age 11. Gillen met O’Donnell around then, O’Donnell taught him how to play “Smoke on the Water”, by Deep Purple. Shortly after, an obsession with Bruce Springsteen gave Gillen the songwriting bug. “I didn’t know how, but I was positive I would be a singer in a band one day. I was pretty sure of myself for a 12-year-old with very little musical talent”.
In the first year of high school, O’Donnell invited Gillen to come to play bass with some musician friends, and that group of friends would eventually become Dry Reef.
Minehart, the last of the original pioneers of Dry Reef, is the second guitar and vocals for the band. His background, like everyone else, is relatively similar in the sense of being musically inclined. Charles’s father played a lot of music, so he grew up in a house with guitars in every other room. He took piano lessons when he was eight, and by age 10, he had started getting into the guitar. “The first song that I can remember playing was “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen on my dad’s Gibson SG.” Minehart also took classical guitar lessons for a few months, but it really picked up when he linked with the band in high school.
It’s pretty clear that all of these guys just were brought together at a young age with one love, and that is music.
Anderson is the drummer for Dry Reef. He grew up in a large musical family and can’t remember a time when he wasn’t playing the drums. Anderson learned by ear, listening to bands like Metallica, The Octopus Project, The Roots, Dave Matthews Band and many others. He started practicing more seriously and playing shows locally around ages 12 or 13. By age 16, Anderson was playing with a few different touring bands. “In 2015, our current manager Mark Franzen introduced me to the Dry Reef guys and things just clicked into place” .
While talking with the guys, we chatted about the earlier years of Dry Reef and how it’s come to be today. When asked about how everything all started and the thought process behind it all, Gillen was quick to respond by saying, “I mean, we just got together in high school and started playing Rolling Stones songs and then decided to start writing our own [music] and all stayed together. This is 11 years later”.
What was really different for me is that Dry Reef didn’t even start out writing their own songs. They were playing covers and having jam sessions. From day one, it’s been apparent that music is their passion. Gillen added:
“When we all started, like becoming a band, I think we just wanted to find as much cool music as we could because it started becoming such, like, a big part of our lives. So we really. I mean, I’m always looking for new music and consistently, you know, listening to whatever I can. So it really is all over the place. And I think, yeah, the Talking Heads and even the Stones are kind of like where we started, I guess”.
Gillen expressed, “Some of the first songs we learned were like Rolling Stones and Beatles and stuff like that. And then yeah, and once we started seeing ourselves as a band, we started looking at like kind of the younger, like more modern bands, and I think.”
It’s evident when you listen to them who their core influences are, mainly because there are so many. Each comes through in its unique way. As I said earlier, you hear notes of Rebelution, Lotus, Explosions In The Sky, and undertones of classic rock like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Although those bands may have been the springboard they needed initially for inspiration, it is ever-changing. It seems to be themes of “southern rock guitar stuff” and The Marcus King Band as well as anything that inspires the group.
Another thing that was gnawing at me was the band’s name and how they came up with it. The response was the cleverest thing I think I have ever heard. Gillen explained by saying,
“We’ve always been dry. Colin and I decided that we would never come up with a bad name, like, for any reason. So we just put a bunch of random words in a hat one day and we said, we’re going to pick two words. And if they sound cool together, that’s our band name.”
Anderson, the fourth and final member, joined the band in 2019. They met through their longtime friend and manager, Franzen and when this came up, it was a consensus that Anderson was what “solidified” the band. Gillen wasted no time and jumped right in, saying,
“Instead of just running around looking for backup drummers for every show, which we have been doing for a couple of years; once Joey was there, he was ready for any show, any practice, he was always available and he took it really seriously. That kind of gave us all a breath of fresh air.”
O’Donnell then filled me in a little bit on the details of how Anderson came into the band:
“Mark introduced us to Joey, and we went over to jam with him. It instantly clicked. I mean, great drummer, super, super great guy, and it got us more serious. We realized that this could be something worth pursuing rather than just like a part-time kind of gig”.
Everyone then spoke up and agreed that Anderson was “the missing ingredient”. Let’s be real. It takes years for bands to find that “special ingredient” or “breath of fresh air”; the missing link that every band is missing. Well, Dry Reef found their golden goose when they weren’t even looking for it.
Currently, the guys are back in the studio writing and creating. It was time to dive into the whole creative process and what goes into it all.
Gillen explained, “me and Charles write the lyrics, pretty much exclusively, but then basically any of us will bring an idea to the table, and that can be, you know, a 32nd portion, just something that we can get excited about and all kind of just build from there. But yeah, as far as writing, all we need as a band is one little something to get excited about.”
.They record their music locally at Rittenhouse Soundworks in Germantown and home studio setups that they use include, Tyler Ripley, Little Brother Audio, and Paul Cieslak. You can also add producer to the many hats that this band wears as well. Dry Reef, very much goes with the ebb and flow, and follow their intuition when it comes to production.
Gillen explained it by saying how “that’s also another thing that changes every time I’ve done producing a mic scene and we’ve also used other people. So that’s always a kind of wherever we’re at, wherever we’re at, whatever our feelings are, we kind of go with the flow”.
Touring has finally been able to be set in stone since the creative process has been well underway. They have a tour lined up this spring with 10 dates lined up and down the east coast, from Pennsylvania to Florida. Between all these dates, they will be playing Reggae Rise Up on March 17th in St.Petersburg, Florida. Dry Reef kicks off this tour at no other than Ardmore Music Hall on February 10 with fellow homies and supporting artist, Yam Yam. If you like good music, check them out while they’re around because I’m sure they won’t be staying local for a long time.