You might not know the band, but you’ve probably watched one of Rob Chapman and Rabea Massaad’s gear demos. We hit the road with Dorje to find out how YouTube success helped make their dreams come true…
Make no mistake, the internet has reinvented the way modern musicians go about being heard. While major labels once dangled the keys to fame, YouTube and Facebook have given artists a vehicle to showcase their talents and build a much more organic, dedicated following.
The UK’s very own Rob Chapman, for example, now has nearly 350,000 subscribers to the YouTube channel he started on 18 November 2006, which tallies over 100 million views altogether.
For him and fellow YouTuber Rabea Massaad, it’s become a job, but also one that’s helped their band Dorje achieve wider musical ambitions - their Catalyst EP even hit No 1 on the iTunes UK rock chart last year. We meet up with them out on the road to find out what’s it like to be online superstars…
4.20pm - Nigel Tufnell Park
It’s a cold, rainy Wednesday afternoon in North London when a small van pulls up to Tufnell Park’s Boston Music Rooms.
From inside emerges a familiar face among the online guitar community, Rob “Chappers” Chapman, perhaps best known for his gear demos for Guildford retailer Andertons. Or as the man behind UK-based/ Korean-manufactured brand Chapman Guitars. Or even the frontman of Dorje, who headline this very venue tonight. With him is Rabea Massaad: lead guitarist in Dorje, Chapman Guitars cohort, Victory Amps demonstrator/collaborator, and part-time tutor.
Before the alt-metal quartet blitz through tracks off their Catalyst EP, they’ll host a clinic for VIP ticket-holders. Which, given the size of their band, is a tad unusual. But then this isn’t your usual cast of characters…
5.15pm - We are the road crew
After equipment has been loaded and a quick line check performed, we find the two guitarists hard at work on their laptops, enjoying a well-earned brew. In some ways, life on the road isn’t that different at all...
“Basically a day in the life of me is eat some food and sit on my phone answering emails until showtime,” laughs Rabea. “I do the YouTube thing with Rob, but also run an online music school.
“Alongside that, I also do a lot of audio engineering for Andertons, there’s a lot of emails flying around daily about doing gear demos and video shoots. And then with Victory and Chapman, I’m always trying to arrange dates to look at things or redesign…”
“And I’m the founder and owner of Chapman Guitars,” laughs Chappers. “I mean, who the fuck does that happen to? It was a complete fluke! We’ve been doing this for a few years now and have put a little team together. It’s literally me, one other guy who edits a lot of videos and does social media, a general manager, plus [Andertons owner and ‘The Captain’ in many Chappers videos] Lee Anderton.
“So when I’m on the road, most of it is taken care of by the manager, but I’ll get the odd email about prototype issues or maybe looking at new woods or restructuring a few models. Right now I’m working on music for a Jack Daniels advert, they asked for The White Stripes on acid!” It’s a hard knock life, eh?
5.50pm - Clinical graffiti
Dorje - pronounced Dor-jay, in case you were wondering - run through some songs as 15 VIP fans sheepishly gather in front of the stage. It has to be said, the Chapman Guitars and Victory Amps sound quite exceptional indeed. The Dorje axemen take us through the key components of both rigs...
“Victory said, ‘We want to design a metal amp, what do you want on it?’” grins Rabea, when asked about his Kraken head during the Q&A.
“For the first time ever, I was designing an amplifier and thinking about all the amazing tones I wanted inside it. This guitar is the first prototype of my signature Chapman model, based on the ML-3 with a T-type shape and some new features.
“First of all it has a flame maple cap, the body is alder and bolt-on. There’s also a tone pot which is a coil split, but that will change into a five way blade. I’m using the Bare Knuckle Warpig ceramic bridge pickup and a little Seymour 59 in the neck, so I can get more Stratty/bluesy tones out of it. It’s a wicked guitar with a unique tone because of the different woods.”
“I’m using my signature Victory RD1 head,” reveals Chappers. “I asked for the most simple gunned Plexi sound, but with an effects loop and all the bells and whistles. I wanted a home tone of two watts and then 25 watts for live... and I’ve never had it on full volume on tour.”
Chappers: “This guitar is my Chapman signature Ghostfret. Everything about it is perfect for my hands, from the Canadian flame maple top, sapele wings on either side and Seymour Duncan humbuckers, to the neck-through build - it’s just everything I’ve wanted. But of course, being Rob Chappers, that’ll probably change next year. So then I’ll make that as well! [laughs]”
7.15pm - Roots bloody roots
Rob and Rabea invite us into their backstage room, to explain more about how the band formed and the chance meeting that brought them together.
“It’s a funny story,” begins Chappers. “I don’t know if you can tell, we’re both big fans of food! [laughs] I was filming in Guildford and went to a pub that does really nice pizza. The person that served me was Rabea. As it turns out, he lived with a drummer and bassist. Basically, I ordered a pizza and got a whole new band!”
“It was weird - he had shaved all his hair off for charity,” laughs Rabea. “I’d never seen him without dreads. He was wearing some random safari hat and I was thinking, ‘I swear I know this guy!’ I recognised the voice and said, ‘You’re that guy off YouTube!’ So, I figured I needed to ask him to jam because he’s a well known guitar player and I was studying at ACM trying to meet people and get somewhere!” And the rest, is history…
7.50pm - It's a long way to the top
They may be internet famous, but Dorje have to endure the less glamorous elements of touring life. That hour of rockstardom on stage every night comes at a cost, and in hindsight, a lot of comedy gold…
“We’ve endured everything you can think of,” admits Chappers. “I’ve been proposed to by a couple of guys, our van broke down almost every night, we’ve slept in hotels that were falling apart, with raw sewage outside the windows... When we pointed that out, we were told we’d already seen the room. ‘Well, okay then!’
“One time Ben [Minal, drums] got food poisoning and when we were about to go on stage, he was in the toilets on his knees! He had to clean off, run on, get through the set and then back to the toilet!”
9.15pm - Showtime
The room is full and it’s time for Dorje to hit the stage.
Their grungey anthems have a technical edge without ever falling into the common pitfalls of tech-metal, with the melodic flair of bands such as Alter Bridge and Incubus as much as their biggest heroes in UK tech-metal progenitors Sikth.
And though the band only have two EPs to their name, tonight’s crowd seem more than familiar with their work. Quite simply, it’s a roaring success.
10.30pm - Virtual insanity
After mingling with fans and getting pictures taken after the gig, we ask the two guitarists how it feels to see your posts tally thousands of views, comments and interactions. Is it purely a good thing? Does it ever get weird?
“I’ve had everything you can imagine from YouTube,” shrugs Chappers. “I’ve had letters come through my door with a little video inside about how people found my home address through analysing my videos, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had ex-military guys in the US post me hand-wired, exotic-wood Plexis. Anything you could conceive has happened... all because of the internet.
“Even with the clinics, all of the interest comes down to our online presence. Honestly, sometimes the VIPs can be a bit nervous, because we’re quite in your face and they can be quite young. So we try to make sure we’re always talking because otherwise I’ll feel like they aren’t getting what they need.”
“For a while, I had this guy sending me life advice and life tips from Mumbai,” deadpans Rabea. “He’d send over these 45-minute voice messages telling me how I should approach things! It’s very strange.”
11.00pm - The next Chap-ter
As the band pack up and get ready to hit the road once more, Chappers fills us in on the future changes that are ahead for Chapman Guitars.
“I’m like the ideas guy, who will see a body and see if we can make it our own. Or find a tweak that someone did to their guitar and see if we can pay them some money to bring it out!
“Because Chapman is all about people taking our guitars and doing what they want to them. They’re like a blank canvas and I love that. It’s going to be a big part of what we do moving forwards. We’ve been lying low, growing slow, we’ve put no money into the marketing. It’s all just YouTube and touring!
“We’re launching Chapman Guitars again at NAMM because we didn’t have any branding in place last time. But we’ve been taking on new retailers every month in America, Singapore, Thailand, Israel... it’s been really growing. So we thought we better start paying attention and take it a bit more seriously!”