I had the opportunity to conduct a Q and A with Billy Dead, drummer for the Dead Deads via an email exchange. We discuss the Dead Deads most recent album For Your Obliteration..., weather conventions and Texas hold'em, among other things.
The Cubs have since won the World Series since this interview was conducted, so some of the information is a little outdated.
The Cubs have since won the World Series since this interview was conducted, so some of the information is a little outdated.
How did you get started playing drums?
I started playing drums in college. My uncle had a drum set in his basement when I was growing up, and I sat down at it once and was able to play a few beats without ever having sat at a kit before. So it's always been in my blood I think. Years later, I decided to buy a drum kit out of the blue and teach myself how to play. That was in my late college years.
How long after that did you start playing with other musicians and what was your first real band experience playing in front of an audience?
I didn't start playing with other musicians until I moved to Louisville in 2005. Probably a year later, I started playing in a weekend warriors program and that got me playing around town in little clubs.
Was the ensuing move to Nashville strictly because of work, or did you have a say in that because of the music scene?
The move to Nashville was strictly for a job promotion, but the music scene was definitely in the back of my mind. I was in a band called CatFight with Betty Dead at the time before I left Louisville, so if I had not gotten the Nashville job at the time, who knows when/if I ever would've moved. I'm really thankful for that promotion
So, CatFight was a Louisville band with both you and Betty?
Yes, I met Betty through a mutual musician friend in Louisville and 2011, I believe. We hit it off and eventually formed CatFight with two other local musicians. We released an EP through Little Heart Records in early 2013. I was already living in Nashville, and I had convinced Betty to move down there in late 2013. I had already been jamming with what would become the Dead Deads, and Betty joined us in November 2013 and that's how the band was finalized.
I know that the Deads Deads were formed off of what was supposed to be a one off Halloween show. So, in your words, how did that transformation go from being a one off show to a full fledged band?
That was an easy transition because we wanted to keep playing together. We just didn't want to keep playing somebody else's music haha. So we decided, "Hey this is fun, why don't we try our own stuff, but keep the "dead" part of the name (then, the Dead Milkmaids, tribute to the Dead Milkmen) and the "XX's?" Everyone had the "dead something's" or the "something" dead, so we thought The Dead Deads was funny and not taken yet haha.
We'll get back to the music timeline momentarily, but I've always wondered: Your fans are known as the Dead Corps and everyone has their own "Dead" name. Who in the band is responsible for the names or do y'all have some kind of an evil "Dead Name Generator"? Even though I'm a fan, not an official member of the Dead Corps but I was given a name and it was eerily spot on.
That's mostly Daisy because she is generally the one running our Twitter account. She'll do a quick but good job of stalking their accounts, and see what each person is into...she does a great job of coming up with an appropriate dead name. :). Anyone can have a dead name, they just have to tweet @thedeaddeads with #WhatsYourDeadName attached. That's how we can reference past names :)
Now that you've mentioned Daisy, the bass player, you two make up what has been traditionally called the rhythm section. Bass and drums. Y'all are tight on For Your Obliteration.... How long did it take for the two of you to click? To find the groove, so to speak?
Well when we were recording For Your Obliteration, and for most bands in the studio, the drummer lays down their tracks first. So all of my drums were recorded before Daisy had to record her bass lines. So we're totally synced up on the album because of her. :) Live, it depends on the sound in the room. But we both make sure that we can hear each other really well in the monitors, and I feel like we have a great stage relationship. We complement each other's playing styles really well. She makes it easy :)
What is your standard drum set up, and is it different from studio to stage?
I think it's important to make sure the live show sounds like the studio sessions. Obviously it looks a lot different because I'm really active during the live shows, but I like to play the same set up, same drums, same cymbals as much as possible. And as real and raw as I can deliver. There's a tiny bit of auxiliary percussion used on FYO, but I can replicate it live if I want to. Sometimes I choose not to because it's a rock show after all. :)
I use a 4-piece (one rack tom, one floor, kick and snare) DW kit now, but soon to be a 5-piece TAMA (extra floor tom). I use hi-hats, 2 crashes, a ride, china, a splash and a double-kick pedal.
Any chance of Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull inspired flute on future recordings?
Dammit! I can't escape my flute past. Hahaha, nah I doubt it. I think my flautist days are over. :)
Hey, you can't accuse me of not doing my homework.
I liked the Dead Deads debut album, Rainbeau, but it seems like the band has evolved quite a bit between Rainbeau and FYO. FYO is more diverse and eclectic. Is that a fair assessment and if so, how does that progression look from the inside?
FYO is just a better production, overall. We found out we were going on tour with Halestorm back in late August of 2014 and thought, "Well, guess we better put together a CD to sell." Haha, so we wrote the rest of what would be Rainbeau and recorded that album live to tape. It's gritty, it's raw, and contains no less love than "For Your Obliteration" does. Actually, I still can't decide which album I like better! You never forget your first, right? Ha. FYO was recorded the "right" way...drums first, every instrument and vocals in different rooms, to a click, and mixed/mastered over a few weeks. We're better musicians now than we were during Rainbeau, and this time around, I think we really thought about the path of each song..."that drum beat would work there, but there's a better one...let's find it." That sort of thinking. And again, we didn't have a lot of time to really tear apart each song and try to make it perfect...that'd lose the love, and our producer Page (Hamilton of Helmet) wouldn't have let us do that anyways - he liked us keeping the songs we wrote as much "as is" as possible. I think our sound has progressed to a more grown-up sound accessible to all ages and genres, if that makes sense. I think we had a bit more metal/punk sound on Rainbeau, but songs from FYO could probably be played on any radio station, rock or pop. Even though I think that, I still feel like we're on a slightly more concentrated direction with our music, but I think our albums to come will still have a song that makes you go, "Where the f*** did that come from?!" Our albums will always be diverse and eclectic because all five of us have such different tastes in music and writing styles that we'll always have a unique sound unmatched by other bands.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't FYO recorded both in Los Angeles and Nashville? If so, what effect, if any, did that have on the final product?
Yeah, that's right. We recorded five songs in LA, thinking that it would be an EP. But then we went ahead and finished the record in Nashville in June, six more songs. I think the sound is slightly different between the LA and Nashville songs, but I bet that only us girls in the band could really notice that ha ha. I noticed that my drums and cymbals sound a bit different, but that might sound intentional to an active musician-type listener. That happens, though, for indie bands...there can be a lot of time between recordings that could affect sound, and certainly different studios will do that. I think that adds to the character of an album.
So, there is basically two different EP length records combined into one LP. Did Page Hamilton produce all the songs, or was the Nashville portion different?
Sort of I guess, yeah. But yes, Page produced all of the songs on FYO.
The band has pretty much been do it yourself all the way. How much of a boost was it for you to land the opening slot for Halestorm?
Oh that was incredible. They're one of the greatest bands, and probably the nicest people you could ever imagine. It was first of all quite the honor just to be on the same bill with them, but knowing that they actually liked our music ha ha, that's even more humbling. They are our friends, they're our mentors. And being able to learn from them on that tour was basically like the greatest band camp ever. That definitely put us in the mindset of thinking, "Hey we may be able to actually do this." That definitely boosted our confidence and motivation, and we gained so much experience from that, as well as new fans. They put us on the map, for which we are forever grateful!
I'm guessing that recognition put you on on the map for the cruise gigs and also your shows with Bush. On the cruises, how much did you play the fan part? Because there were some heavy hitters on those ships. And conversely, how much did you realize that there were fans there to see you and that other artists were singing your praises?
Well knowing Halestorm definitely gave us the recognition that we needed to get our foot in the door in some places, but getting onto the Motorboat Cruise is kind of a funny story. I'm persistent, and I just asked if we could play on that cruise via their website. Halestorm happen to be playing at the Ryman a few weeks later, and the two guys that booked that Motorboat Cruise noticed that they gave our lead singer a shoutout on stage. They found her and said, "Did you ask us about playing on the cruise?" And that's how that started haha. But yeah especially on Motorboat, we had opportunities to just be fans since we were the newbie band on the cruise. And what legends to watch!! It was a lot of fun to interact with everybody else. But we were a little bit bigger on the Shiprocked cruise, and there was less time for that. But that led to us meeting Page Hamilton of Helmet, and you know where that led. It was actually the rest of Helmet that saw us play and said we were their favorite band on Shiprocked. So that validation was one, awesome to hear and two, the reason why Page worked with us.
Enough with this band stuff. You are a freaking meteorologist. That's not the normal gateway into punk/metal/space/grunge. Or is it? I'm guessing you have some crazy stories to tell about those freaky meteorologists to dispel the widely held narrative
You would be surprised at how many drumming meteorologists there are ha ha. Drumming is actually pretty scientific and mathematical, so it really complements my former career. And don't let us nerds fool you; meteorologists are among the craziest people I've ever known! At a weather conference years ago in New Orleans, I remember Zydeco artist Rockin' Dopsie Jr was playing to a crowd of about 1000 meteorologists, and somehow I ended up on stage drumming with him! :). That was the tame part of the week haha!
Are you a sports fan, and if so, what teams do you root for?
I'm a huge Chicago Cubs fan. My dad took my brother and I to a game when we were really young and I've been a fan ever since. This is the year! I'm a huge baseball fan. I'm also a 49ers fan, but it is Not our year ha ha. I grew up a big Notre Dame fan, too, but I went to Purdue University, so I root for both of those teams. And this doesn't really count as sports, but since they show it on ESPN I really do love Texas hold'em.
Congrats to you and your Cubs. This may be the year. So, are you a gambler or do you just like the drama of Texas hold 'em?
I like to play most any card game, and I'm decent at hold'em, but I hardly ever gamble. Maybe a house game on average every year. I love to play, though, and I almost always win haha. I think it's because it's a male-dominated game and men have trouble reading women in their regular lives...how the hell are they supposed to at the poker table?! :)
Speaking of men, there has been a lot in the news lately about powerful men abusing that power in regards to women. The more I read, the more it seems that many women have suffered from similar situations. Many, many more than we will ever know about. You have lived a diverse life thus far, college, career, band/music. How prevalent do you think this is?
Actually, I think it's extremely prevalent, but honestly I don't necessarily think that it's always intentional. I've been in music and many girl bands, and my career was heavily male dominated. And both of those instances, you're dealing with people that are sometimes socially awkward, and don't have a lot of experience having work relationships with females. I'm one to speak my mind because I'm confident in the words that are coming out of my mouth, so I have been called a bitch more times than I can count only because I have confidence and passion backing my words. Men can walk into a room as a musician or as a scientist, and the audience will trust them to do their job correctly. That's unfortunately not the case for females... we have to sort of prove we are worthy to an audience and let them know that we are actually capable of the same things ha ha. There's been several studies on that, as well. I think the unintentional sexism is pure ignorance, and that falls on the responsibility of the trainers/managers above you to help correct that. But there are several instances from many friends, and me personally, where we have experienced the intentional abuse of power, and it's really frustrating, sometimes scary as you could expect. If I ever get famous, I'm definitely going to use that platform as a means to speak out against sexism.
Do you consider using gender qualifiers to be unintentional sexism? For example, female drummer, female-fronted, all female, etc. when referring to musicians/bands.
Yeah I think so. It's like saying a girl band or a female fronted band sounds a certain way. It shouldn't define the music. And female drummers get the reputation of being awful, but there's just so few of us compared to men, and some don't hit hard - we're immediately labeled as being bad musicians. I think I can help break down that stereotype and help shed light on the sexism. I'm a good drummer AND female. I really just think it's a numbers thing. There's plenty of bad male drummers out there, but no one seems to talk about that.
I'm a big sports fan as well as being into music. Therefore I follow a lot of sportswriters/broadcasters on twitter. So I hear a lot of how the females have to prove that they know what they're talking about where their male counterparts get the benefit of the doubt. Another thing they also get is the guys who are intimidated or uncomfortable that the "girls" have invaded the guy's club. Is this something that you experience in the the type of music that the Dead Deads play? In other words, the world of hard rock/metal/punk has been predominately a male playground. Do you get any pushback on that?
As far as the type of music we play, I don't really see the pushback if there is any. In the sports broadcasting realm, I believe the men likely feel threatened because someone might know more than them and she happens to be female - that's intimidating as hell. I've had male musicians give me hell before where they felt compelled to back up their claim of talking down to me ("I've worked with so and so for this many years so I'm smarter" kind of talk...). I've just learned that if you're good, respectful, humble and friendly, then good things happen and it won't matter if you're male or female. I'm gonna come across many male and female drummers and some may be better than me. That's my opportunity to learn from them instead of becoming jealous or threatened. It's better look for everyone :)
I don't think there will be a lot of pushback in this industry. I think rock needs us...rock fans, especially young music fans need to feel energized and alive. I really think we can do that, and I'm glad we're female. It's important to show people that you can dominate an industry no matter the sex.
You say that "especially young music fans need to feel energized and alive." I don't disagree with this other than the word "especially". I'm old. I think that "especially" older fans, fans of classic rock and 80s hard rock need to feel that there is still something out there for them. The people that I know from my generation are mostly listening to the local classic rock station or SiriuXM's Hair Nation. The problem seems to be that most of them don't know where to find stuff like y'all, Halestorm, Crobot, The Struts, etc.. etc., etc. I guess, I should ask a question here. What do the Dead Deads do to appeal to that crowd, or do you even try?
You're right! And I will say that we tend to have fans from 10 to 60 so it may be that all rockers are looking for something. I really think if you put the Dead Deads on a major late night show or major pop radio stations, that'd be it. We'd be set, and I say that out of pure humility. I just believe in our sound. It's difficult for anyone, even us, to describe it. But for as interesting as our music is, it's as catchy. That's what I've always looked for in music I like...is it fun, catchy and does it have a good beat? Yeah we have good lyrics and an interesting look, but above all, people seem to really like our music. I can see it in the crowd's faces...they don't have a clue who we are but they're paying attention. That's a movement, and I'm excited to see where it's headed.
But speaking of being seen/heard, unless you have Sirius octane, it's difficult to find out about new rock music because the kind of rock that's mainstream right now wouldn't appeal to the rock/pop audience.So it's played on selective outlets. There needs to be a rock crossover band that makes rock noticeable again. I think the Foo Fighters have it mastered But I think bands like the Struts, Halestorm, and maybe our band can grab the attention of fans of all genres and ages (that's my mindset every time I play the drums). I really think we have a few songs that'll do that, too. But we just need to work to get those opportunities. :) It helps touring with bands like Bush, Chevelle, Halestorm, etc. I think there's more street cred needed in the rock genre than pop, but it's all hard. It's all hard work, but we're on a mission from space haha. :)
|Photo courtesy of Gary Pahlow|
I think it's key. If you're in a DIY band, it's too difficult to get air play...nearly impossible quickly. That's why social media is so important...that, and touring are the only ways really for a DIY band to get the universe on board haha. I want us to get on mainstream radio, but a DIY band definitely has to put in the hard work to get there. That means lots of social media promoting, but also and more importantly, connecting to the fans. We work really hard at developing Dead Corps relationships, and I think that sets us apart. We want to know the fans because we'd be stuck in a basement going nowhere without our fans really caring about us. They're as much a part of this ride as we are.
Let's play "Overrated, Underrated or Properly Rated". I'll give you something and you decide which it is. Then expound on your choice.
Depends if you mean his voice or his music! Ha I'd say properly rated because his songs serve the working class properly. But for me personally, "Cherry Bomb" and "Paper and Fire" were big songs for me because my dad played them a lot and that was a bonding experience I loved. :) So I may lean slightly underrated because of that ha.
His voice is incredible but I'd say overrated only because he's cancelled a lot of shows in the past repeatedly and I expect more from a professional. So from a professionalism stand point, I'd say overrated.
The Indianapolis 500
Extremely overrated. But that may be because I've gone before and it's not for me at all. ZZZzzzzz haha.
The movie "Hoosiers"
Underrated, and if someone thinks that's a bad movie, they're nuts.
If you could answer it just one time and be done with it, what is the question that you get asked often enough that it annoys you? And what is said answer?
The question that's most annoying is "who is this band?" when people are standing at our merch table and we're at it, too, and our business cards and tees have our faces on them haha. Or "oh...YOU'RE the band?! Haha
I'm curious, as probably are most fans, how did the band come up with their dead names, and did each member choose their own?
Yeah, we each came up with our own names, or the group helped pick them. I picked Billy because I make a similar Billy Idol sneer when I play the drums. :)
Dream band. Vocals, guitar, bass, drums, rhythm guitar or keys.
Ok, dream bands are usually bands I'd die to play in, but honestly I'm not a fan of supergroups. Ha, so I'll just name my faves regardless of they'd actually gel together.
Drums: Taylor Hawkins or Keith Moon
Vocals: Pink or Alanis Morissette or Prince
Bass: Mike Dirnt
Guitar: Angus Young
I guess Prince could be a guitar candidate too :)
Anyone throughout history, who are the three other people you're having at your table? And why?
Prince because he's the perfect musician.
Robin Williams because he's a genius comedian.
Pink because I wanna be her friend and play drums for her haha.
And my late gf Brooke because I'd love to hear about the "other side." :)
Your sexuality is no secret. You just mentioned your late girlfriend. There is a “coming out” story for everyone. Some traumatic, some benign. If you don’t mind, would you share yours?
It's not like I wave a flag, but I certainly don't hide who I am. I didn't come out until later in life...I was 28. It was hard even though I was a successful adult already, but for my family response, it was pretty simple. My older brother is gay and came out in high school so that made it easy for me. I just didn't realize who my real self was until so late. I'm a lesbian. I'm a drummer. I'm also a meteorologist, a spiritual person, etc. It's one part of me, but doesn't define my every move. However, I'm a strong believer in equal rights, so I don't usually stay quiet when it comes to that.
I grew up and still live in west central Texas. Not exactly a place known for tolerance (of many things). Growing up and even later, I made some, shall we say, insensitive comments about gays and lesbians. I'm not proud of that. But I have since become more informed and have had many more life experiences.
What I thought at the time were "just jokes", I now know are much more than that. In my opinion, the more people, at least most people, know, the better it gets. When things get more humanized and less stereotyped, the better.
Like you said, the less we know, the more afraid people are and that is why gays etc. are hated on. If people stopped being ignorant and would learn, the world would be such a better place. People spend so much time being angry at certain lifestyles, and it's just a waste of energy. And makes them a shitty human being.
What's on the horizon for the Dead Deads as a band and for Billy Dead personally?
For the band, we just want to tour hard at the moment. We have some big potential tours in early 2017, so fingers crossed there. Otherwise, for me, since I'm now a professional drummer, I'd like to seek out other opportunities on the side to keep me busy. I'd like to do some session work or even fill-in here and there for bands that need it (if I have time). I always want to get better, and expand my talents. Plus, the more I get out there, the more I'll have a voice. Given recent politics, I feel like the more popular I get, I can help spread words of encouragement, rage alongside others who feel scared, etc. My mission has always been to play the drums in front of whatever crowds I can get, but now I feel an underlying mission of equality for all, and I really think I'll get to be a voice for those struggling.
Any parting words? The floor is yours.
This has been fun! Thanks for the great questions.
Humanity has a long way to go, but I hope I'm in a position to play music for life and fight for what's right along the way.