I recently reviewed DEAD’s brilliant ‘Idiots’ LP. Like most of bands on Eolian Empire they play horrible, heavy music but in a way that’s skewed and artful. Thinking man’s bludgeon, if you like. I was intrigued enough to ask them some questions, and they were kind enough to answer them.
Jem plays drums and Jace plays bass. Both have some thoughtful things to say.
So, tell us about DEAD. How, when and why did the band get started?
Jem: We started in late 2010. We both played together in “Fangs Of…” and wanted a band that could tour more often. We thought about who else we could do this with and then realised if we operated as a two-piece then we wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else. I think we originally intended to try having a floating third member that could just make noise over the top of our songs. But we seemed to fill the sonic space ourselves pretty quickly without that.
Touring was a priority from the start. I booked our first tour before we’d even written a song. So the band very much was formed on the stage.
Jace: Basically we knew we were very compatible bandmates. I wanted to be in a band that could be creatively fluid and basically do MORE of everything, Jem was definitely on the same page about that. We both enjoy pushing ourselves artistically and we’re always trying to get more done than is physically possible. We’ve been great mates for ages, so working and touring together is a lot of fun.
What was the original idea behind the band? Did you set out to do or sound like anything in particular?
Jace: Volume! No. I write a lot of material and it’s rarely if ever planned and at the risk of sounding like a wanker, artistic freedom is way too important to me to set boundaries for myself. I listen to a lot of different music and I’d say it all influences me to varying degrees. There are definitely bands that I’d say we relate to sound wise in certain ways but I think that’s more due to an aesthetic rather than copying a style. I definitely look up to a lot of bands and musicians, and visual artists. I’m regularly blown away by what people have created which always pushes me to work harder.
Jem: The only idea was to have fun and make music together. We didn’t set out to make a particular sound but we definitely had ideas of things we wanted to avoid – mainly things that a lot of other two pieces use like excessive effects, delays, loops etc. I know I pushed that idea a lot. I wanted to exploit the rawness of the two piece format rather than try to compensate for it with gadgets.
I think Jace probably had to consider his sound and playing a lot more than myself being that he often is playing the role of a bass and of a lead guitar at once.
The idea of aiming for a particular sound has never appealed to me and I don’t think we’d be much good at it. I’m not claiming that we have an entirely unique sound of course, our influences are not hidden. But we never set out to make a particular kind of music.
Now that we’ve doing it a few years I would say we have honed our sound to a degree. But if we’re making a particular genre of music it’s news and I’d love to know which demographic we can sell it to!
There’s only two of you. Clearly. Was this a self-imposed limitation, or was it just too difficult to find other people who wanted to make music like this?
Jem: A bit of both. We wanted to be more active musically than we had been in our previous bands and not have to compromise on that based on other peoples’ availability or lack thereof. A lot of people seem to focus on the limitations of a two-piece format but I think every format has its strengths and weaknesses. The dynamic of a two piece is unique, it’s very intimate. It probably means we both have to work harder (both playing wise and as far as running the band) but we’re not afraid of hard work.
It still surprises a lot of people; the idea of a heavy two piece band. But for us, by the time we started this band, the precedent had long been set and I’d played in two other drum/bass bands already.
Finding other members wouldn’t be difficult but I don’t have any reason to believe it would improve the band.
We have plans for some recordings as a three-piece with an artist called BJ Morriszonkle but the idea is that the he won’t be locked into any long term commitments. This project is sort of an offshoot I guess.
Jace: We definitely floated the idea of having other band members but from pretty much the first rehearsal it felt exciting just having the two of us. We also quickly realised that there was no gaping sonic hole that needed plugging so why complicate things? It took a while for me to figure out my sound and a technique that I was happy with but the challenge was too good to pass up.
There’s a ton of people we’re both interested in collaborating with but at the moment I can’t imagine including anyone else permanently.
What can you tell us about ‘Idiots’? Despite the deceptively simple set-up there’s a lot going into it…
Jace: Compositionally the album is fairly unconventional a lot of the time so despite not being overly complicated I think it’s a relatively challenging listen.
Jem: Recording-wise most of those songs are tracked live on the first take. There is very little in the way of overdubs. We took this approach because we didn’t have the money to spend long in the studio (not in a decent studio anyway) and decided we’d rather highlight the rawness of the band than try and smooth it all over. Overdubbing can fill out the sound but can also squash the instruments. We go for a pretty big sound most of the time so leaving those sounds room to breathe in a lot of cases made it sound heavier, and more confronting than if we layered the sounds.
I made mistakes all over that recording but I think it still sounds good – it’s an honest account of where we were at there and then. Making a recording that, for the most part, honours our live sound made sense too since we were and are predominantly a live band.
Of course if we had more budget to work with we would love to make a more studio based album too – many of our favourite records are like that. That’s something that we have always wanted to do and hopefully we will do one day when we have the budget to do it properly.
What kind of themes or ideas do you explore on the album?
Jem: Jace writes most of the lyrics. For the most part I don’t quiz him too much about it because I trust him and it’s a personal thing. Jace doesn’t spell things out in his lyrics anyway. That’s one thing we both like to avoid for the most part. Being around a lot of punk bands we get very tired of singers lecturing us like we’re idiots. For us the voice is more about being an extra instrument at our disposal than trying to tell the audience something specific. I generally find that kind of approach condescending to the listener.
Any lyrics I write seem to be about racism or anxiety and I guess that’s because they’re close to me. But we’ve never been concerned with pigeon holing our themes or spelling them out. That seems far too limiting to me.
Most of the music I have made in my life has been instrumental. For me I often find lyrics a distraction from the mood of the music, or at least they can limit the possibilities that music could have had. At the same time vocals can also be the most primal instrument of all so I guess we generally try and approach it with that in mind.
Jace: For the most part my lyrics are open to interpretation. It’s more important to me to create a mood rather than to directly describe something, that’s not to say they’re meaningless, I just like giving the listener space to engage in a non-linear way. Sometimes my lyrics are more like short stories that are probably easier to get a sense of but I still like them to be a bit of a riddle. Some of the singing is probably indecipherable which becomes more instrumental or textural which I also enjoy. I don’t mean to be evasive on this question, the lyrics can be found on our bandcamp page with every track so they’re there to be pulled apart if anyone has the energy.
The spoken word vocals on ‘Murder Hollow’ are great. Who is Linda Dacio and how did you get her involved?
Jace: The lyrics for this track are a short story so we wanted them to be very audible. I was Jem’s idea to get Linda involved, her voice really suited the track she did a killer job.
Jem: Linda J is a national treasure. I first saw her play when I was in High School and she sang ‘RX7’ with “Legends of Motorsport.” It’s well worth looking up the recording of that, it’s a great Australian performance in my opinion.
I originally asked Bliss Blood (Pain Teens) if she would do some vocals on that track but she declined. Which turned out to be a blessing ‘cos then we got Linda. Linda is an amazing singer. But I have always had a real thing for people who can sing well and choose not to over sing. Like Shannon from Cows or Bliss Blood – they were both great at blurring the line between singing and speaking. So I felt kind of bad when we got her in and I kept asking her to sing less and talk more. She is a great singer with a belter of a scream and a natural distortion. But she did a great job, a total professional in a very punk rock kind of way – her performance gives me goosebumps. I was really happy with it how it came out. The fact we all three sang on that song gave it a different dynamic, one that you just can’t get with only male singers.
Since the LP came out you’ve had a couple of split 7”s. How would you say your sound / songwriting has evolved?
Jace: This question is HARD! I’m constantly writing songs so I hope it’s evolving. I set challenges for myself when writing. I’ve been trying to incorporate more melody into our material whether it’s done vocally or instrumentally. I just try to write songs that will push our playing in some way so that they remain interesting and exciting to play.
Jem: The split with No Anchor was recorded before Idiots, during the demo sessions for Idiots actually. The Split with Vaz was recorded in Japan at the end of a tour there. Sound-wise I think we’ve honed it a fair bit since the beginning but I have no idea how different it sounds to the outsider. I know we started doing a bit more metal stuff. Metal in the traditional sense.
It’s funny we talk a lot about the kinds of songs we want to write but It doesn’t mean that what comes out the other end is closely related to what we discuss. It’s more of a starting point I guess. I just try and find our strengths and work on exploiting those.
How did these split releases come about? Also, have to say it – Vaz kinda seem like a perfect band for you to share a record with…
Jace: I’ll let Jem handle the first part of this question.
Jem: No Anchor are friends from long before we started DEAD. Got a lot of respect for the way those guys operate. They’ve managed to do everything on their own terms and despite making music that isn’t especially accessible they’ve developed a cult following.
Working with them seemed logical to me. I honestly can’t remember if it was their idea or ours though. I think it was theirs. Which just proves even more what good blokes they are; clearly not driven by popularity.
Vaz are just one of our favourite bands around right now. I love how every album evolves form the last. We played with them on our first US tour and they moved us a great deal. We invited them to Australia and they came over. The only bummer was the tour we did with them was really hard work. Everything that could go wrong did. It bummed me out ‘cos they are such a great band and deserved better.
Jace: We saw and played with Vaz on our first US tour. We both thought they were incredible. They were great to tour with, very experienced and professional and they didn’t whinge about the long drives. Seeing them night after night was a real treat, they’re all great musicians who have a unique take on their instruments.
Australia seems to have a funny old scene: loads of great bands who it’s relatively hard to discover, even today in this Glorious Internet Age. I guess it’s partly because overseas tours are scarce and it costs a shitting fortune to send records or t-shirts anywhere. Do you think this imposes a kind of insularity on Australian bands/musicians?
Jace: It probably does but I really don’t know what other bands think. I think that could probably be said about most countries in a way whether it’s geographically or self-imposed. Even ‘scenes’ within ‘scenes’ adopt insularity so I don’t think it’s special to Australia. I certainly don’t feel limited by living here, it’s just a different set of challenges.
Jem: It might. Probably less so than in the past as people have more and more access to overseas travel and the net. Most of the great bands down here you’ll never hear about because they won’t tour overseas and/or they won’t get support from an overseas label.
But I think yes a lot of people down here do exist in a bubble to an extent. Big fish in a little pond kind of thing. People acting like rock stars ‘cos their band is big in one or two towns. I’d like to think it also fosters a unique sound, and for some bands it does which is great. But it seems most bands are just mimicking the bands sold to us from the US and the UK.
How do you view your homeland, and how do you think you fit in with what’s going on over there musically?
Jem: I try not to waste too much time on this and I say that because I probably have wasted too much time on it. I think there is some fucking great bands down here. We lack a good touring culture here though so most of them rarely get out of their hometowns and don’t get to improve to the level they could if they could tour. The heavy music scenes are predominantly limited to the major cities here which is also a shame; it’s seems the regional centres struggle to sustain much of a scene.
I think for the most part the underground scenes here are very conservative, even if they would like to think otherwise. Even within more extreme forms of music it feels very segregated. Most of the bands I see getting celebrated are not especially original. And there is an obsession with nostalgia which is at the expense of embracing new and creative music that is happening right now.
We’ve always felt like outsiders from any of the specific scenes and that’s okay with me. I’ve always liked a broad range of music and I have no interest in subscribing to a particular sub culture. It doesn’t feel honest to me. I’ve been playing music long enough now to see how stupid people look jumping from one style to another. It’s nice to have somewhere to belong but not if it means limiting yourself.
As to where we fit in… well basically there are bands, promoters and venues all over the country we get along with. We don’t care what genre of music they make as long as they are passionate about it. And that’s how we like it. We’ve never aimed to find other bands who sound like us. We think of it as more of an extended family than scene.
Jace: I would say that to a large extent we don’t fit in, which isn’t something we seek or are bothered by. Obviously some kind of scene is helpful but we don’t really have a home that we fit neatly into. We realise we’re a relatively ‘difficult’ band sound wise so it’s just part of the territory. Also I’m old and who wants to hang out with an old dude right??!!?? I do find it funny that people who consider themselves cultural outsiders often fall over themselves to try to fit in but hey live and let live, the last thing I want to do is worry about other people.
Kinda related to the above: is there any sense that you’re continuing some sort of foul Aussie tradition, following the likes of Feedtime, Venom P. Stinger and X? In many ways it’s a peculiarly Australian sound: arty and considered, but also yobbish, aggressive and in-your-face…
Jem: Well I think you’ve described our sound better than maybe anyone else ever has. It’s exactly what we go for. I’d add to that list bands like Nunchukka Superfly, Dad They Broke Me, Pure Evil Trio, Warped and especially Midnight Oil.
I see so many bands who would fall into the “arty” category who are too fucking pretentious to play something primal and heavy. As if they are above that ‘cos they did an arts degree. And so many rock bands who snob anything that might be considered a bit intellectual or arty. I’ve never understood why the two can’t co-exist more. Through our label we just released a split 7” between The Hard Ons and The Necks. These are two bands who have complete respect and adoration for each other but a decent chunk of each other’s crowds would never give the other band the time of day.
For me my biggest drive in making music has always been to tap into the inner cave man/woman inside all of us. For some reason people confuse primal with limited or stupid though and that’s really far off the mark. I think one of the strongest primal urges is to discover new things and to learn. You can see that in babies all the time.
People always think AC/DC is simple but I challenge those people to try and play their songs half as well as them. You won’t find a tighter band. And they have no bullshit to hide behind. Or a band like Midnight Oil who made a lot of hard, driving music but there is so much going on it if you look under the surface.
So anyway yes our music is considered, we spend a lot of time thinking about it and trying to improve it. If we have a simple idea and we like it we will back it rather than try and cover it up with bells and whistles. And if the art wankers think it sounds like yobbos shouting then it’s their loss.
As far as continuing an Aussie tradition; well we are Australian. That’s just who we are, we would never try and be anything else. But we are not trying to emulate anything nostalgic. Those bands were great because they were innovative and that’s the main thing we’d want to take from them; an attitude more than a style.
Jace: I don’t feel like we’re deliberately continuing anything but I’d say we are somehow undeniably attached to that aesthetic. I’ve always really liked the tension between those kinds of elements. I’m a big fan of a lot of post-punk and experimental music but I also love AC/DC… have you ever studied their backing vocals?? Genius!!
I’ve never really thought about it being a uniquely Aussie thing but maybe it is. Having said that there are some current US bands like Rabbits and Drunk Dad who I think relate closely to this sound too.
What does the future – short and long-term – hold for DEAD?
Jace: Before we tour our new album in November we are doing a couple of support shows that we’re looking forward to, one with Torche the other with Windhand.
Other than that, we’re writing a ton of new tracks that keep us stoked.
Jem: We just released a new song on the Rock Is Hell 10th Anniversary 2×10” compilation………………
Right now we are writing our new record. We have a lot of material so I guess it’s a matter of picking what we like best. Or maybe we’ll record a double album if we can manage it. Sometime soon we will record the collaborative record with BJ Morriszonkle.
In November we will release our third album ‘Captains Of Industry’ and tour it in Australia. Early next year it will be released in Austria (Rock is Hell) and in the USA (Eolian Empire).
Mid-next year we will do our third US tour. And hopefully after that we can get to Europe!