The Dead Milkmen was created—and reunited—out of boredom.
Yet it’s easily one of the most interesting bands in punk’s past and present. And
it’s kept busy over the past five years since this interview originally ran in
2010. Despite the disdain its members have for touring, they’ve done plenty of
it. And they’re just as entertaining as they’ve ever been, fueled by an anger for
the world’s problems, a dislike for all things mainstream, and a fierce love of
kale. The Dead Milkmen continues to defy genres, managing to escape being
pigeonholed by holding true to what’s been constant since the band’s conception over thirty years ago: they do things
on their own terms.
The band spent a few years composing new material before entering the studio to
record 2011’s The King in Yellow, true
to lead singer Rodney Anonymous’s word. The album was initially released
digitally on the band’s website. It marked the band’s first studio release in
sixteen years. The Dead Milkmen in late 2012 released a series of 7” singles,
which were later collected along with six additional recordings to make up the
tenth studio album, Pretty Music for
Pretty People. It was released October 7, 2014. That was soon after
followed by Pretty Music for Pretty
SPECIAL People that continued the band’s vinyl release trend. This body of
work included a collection of six new tunes and three “C-Sides” previously only
released digitally along with a re-issue of Beelzebubba,
first pressed to vinyl twenty-five years ago.
The Dead Milkmen continues to shy away from record labels and media attention,
cycling back to their original DIY ethos. This is a band whose members opt to
release all of their music themselves to provide a more direct and genuine
connection to fans. The band continues to practice group songwriting, now made
even easier thanks to technological advancements like the digital audio
workstations and online file sharing. Even without being together
physically, the members contribute equally in the collaborative project.
While The King in Yellow was their
first release after sixteen years, it was Pretty
Music helped that put them back on the map. Pretty Music features songs that hearken back to the golden days of
Milkmen—with an even darker streak and heavier tunes. A good amount of the songs
feature Joe Jack Talcum’s growing collection of distortion pedals and are heavily
influenced by Rodney’s love of gothic and industrial music. This darker tone is
also due to a desire to just make some genuinely angry music. And Rodney is
just as honest about his music as ever before—this time considering Pretty Music to be the best thing
they’ve ever done.
What’s next for Dead Milkmen? After finishing their West Coast tour, they’re on
the other side of the country playing a few East Coast shows in May before the
band members embark on solo tours. Rodney will travel with the “Thrill Kale
Kult” along with Velvet Acid Christ, Mindless Faith, Ego Likeness, Caustic, and the Gothsicles. Joe Jack will tour the Midwest in May, sharing the bill with Samuel Locke Ward.
And after that? Well, they’re the Dead Milkmen. They’ll do whatever they damn
–Jamie Rotante, 2015
For a long time, Chaos Rules: Live at the
Trocadero was the extent of my Dead Milkmen collection.
In eighth grade, I met the first person who actually had the same love for
music that I did, Aaron. After finally finding a like-minded person who didn’t
give a shit about sports and being popular, I was gone. And in high school, I
met a whole other group of kids who loved music—bands, not just songs or
singles—as much as I did.
Somehow, everyone who didn’t try to be part of the cool crowd and who liked
music was labeled a hippy. We were all hippies. It was a diverse group, but the
one common thread among most of us hippies was a love for the Dead Milkmen.
Aaron bought the Chaos Rules cassette
and we listened to it constantly. It was punk, but with clean, jangly guitars
and hints of a million other styles of music mixed in here and there. One guy
had kind of a snotty, off-key voice, while the other had a sweet, melodic
voice, and they complemented each other well. When I was a kid, I didn’t have
any money to buy other albums. I had been warned against Soul Rotation and Not
Richard, But Dick, so I didn’t even think of buying those. (I later learned
that those people were wrong.) I bought a used cassette of Metaphysical Graffiti once I got a few dollars and loved it. Big Lizard in My Backyard was purchased
on CD at some point, along with my own copy of the Chaos Rules CD.
When I heard they broke up and that their last album, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), wasn’t any good, I didn’t give that one
a shot, either. Over the years, I heard so many great bands that the Dead
Milkmen kind of went on the backburner. But, one of their albums was always in
my book of CDs for an occasional listen in my car.
In 2004, I heard that their bassist, Dave Blood, committed suicide. I hadn’t
even known that one of the main reasons the band broke up was that Dave had
tendonitis, which caused him horrible pain whenever he played bass, so he had
to stop. I had always hoped they would reunite someday so I could see a show
that was as fun as Chaos Rules always
sounded to me. I was only a couple years too young to have seen them live and
didn’t realize that it would have been impossible for them to reunite.
In late 2004, as a tribute to Dave Blood, the Dead Milkmen played two benefit
shows in Philadelphia
with Dandrew Stevens, Joe’s bandmate from the Low Budgets, on bass.
In 2008, they officially reunited, with Dandrew still on bass.
They’ve now played a handful of fests around the country, along with local
shows in Philadelphia.
When I heard they were playing Insubordination Fest in Baltimore over the summer, I barely gave it a
thought before deciding to go. Even though I know most reunion shows are
terrible, it didn’t really cross my mind that they could put on a bad show.
They didn’t. –Justin Telephone
Rodney Anonymous: Vocals/ Keyboards Joe Jack Talcum: Vocals/ Guitar Dean Clean: Drums Dandrew Stevens: Bass
Interview by Justin Telephone Originally ran in Razorcake #54, 2010 Photos by Nina Sabatino (flickr.com/photos/bluberd/)
and Andy Junk
Justin: So, you guys put out a lot
of records. What was that like?
Rodney: That sucked. It was a bad
idea, actually. We should have put out a lot fewer records and taken a lot more
time in-between them. We’ve got some records that I think were sub-par, and we
shouldn’t have done them. I’m easily talked into things. If somebody says, “Oh,
we’re going to the studio in two weeks, because it’s been six whole months
since a record, and I need you to write some stuff,” I’ll write on the way to
the studio. There’s a lot of stuff now where I’ll hear it and think, “What the hell
was I thinking? What was I doing?” That last one, Stoney’s Extra Stout (Pig), I don’t think is very good. I think Not Richard, But Dick, which came before
it, should’ve been the last one, and I think we should’ve done our first record
and then waited a long time and done a second a couple years later, instead of
months later. I hope we record again and take a good long time to work on it.
It’s a good lesson for
people, even if you’ve already done a record. Take your next record and treat it like it’s your
first record. Take that stuff around and play it—ask people what they
think of it. Listen to it.
Justin: So you don’t have the
Rodney: They call it “sophomore
Justin: Yeah, sophomore syndrome,
not the “second album something.”
Rodney: But there’s also a softening
of the palette called that, too, so a lot of people are confused.
Dandrew: I disagree, because I think Eat Your Paisley is flawless.
Rodney: There was a lot of leftover
stuff on Eat Your Paisley that we
couldn’t fit on Big Lizard in My Backyard,
because we took years and years to write it.
Joe: We could’ve always made Big Lizard a double record.
Rodney: Yeah, but then people would
clean their dope on the gatefold sleeve.
Joe: Oh yeah, that’s right. We can’t
Rodney: And I don’t want young
people cleaning their dope all over my record. ‘Cause I had that triple LP, Yessongs, and it was like a palette. You
could put your dope over here, and your heroin over there, or you could have a
line of coke over here and then meth over there. [laughter] It was very useful.
I’m a big Yes fan. Ask me questions about Yes. I know Yes trivia…We’re slowly
turning into Yes. He’s [Joe] slowly turning into Steve Howe. He’s got all these
distortion pedals now. In front of him is like a row of distortion pedals.
Justin: Do you have one of those
boards with a ridiculous number of pedals?
Joe: No, but, eventually, I should.
Rodney: Eventually, he’s going to
need a board. But you’ll be like the Edge, ‘cause the Edge has that…
Joe: I can’t do that. I get really
Justin: I just use a tuner and have
my amp settings at whatever one setting I need.
Dandrew: Me, too.
Joe: That’s a good idea.
Rodney: Well, I have FL Studio, and
they have this thing called the Monster, and it’s just row after row of lines
of pedals. We ran him through it one night in the rehearsal space. That was
fun, wasn’t it?
Joe: For you.
Rodney: It was enjoyable. It was for
me, yeah. But you enjoyed hearing Joe play through those. They have these names
that half the time you can’t tell what the hell it is. Like, “Oh…this is called
‘in the garage.’”
Justin: Are there songs, either from
then or now that you can’t stand, or ones that are requested often, that people
seem to like, but you don’t like to play?
Rodney: Not requested often, but
god, “Jellyfish Heaven” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We’ve also got some
other stuff that we’d play and I’d just be like “Oh, god.” We’ve been
doing—well, not doing it live—“Helicopter Interiors,” which is kind of okay for
me, but I just hear myself being a lazy songwriter on it.
Joe: You’ve got a lot of words. I
wouldn’t call that lazy.
Rodney: It does have a lot of words,
but that’s just me—I just regurgitate words. But I was, at that point, opening
up newspapers and stuff to get lines, you know, just desperate. Joe what makes
you cringe, song-wise?
Joe: That song, “Where the Tarantula
Lives.” Not because of the words—I think they’re great—but just the music, it
Rodney: The words aren’t that great
to “Where the Tarantula Lives,” either. That song was actually done to prove to
Rich Kaufman from Electric Love Muffin that I could write a song in under ten
minutes. Dandrew, what don’t you like?
Rodney: No. That’s cool.
Joe: He’s easy to please.
Rodney: Yeah, there’s gotta be
something he doesn’t like. I’m not crazy about “Taking Retards to the
Zoo”—stuff I wrote when I was really young.
Joe: People request that a lot.
Justin: Have you guys played that at
all since you got back together?
Rodney: I think we did it once or
twice at benefits and stuff on a dare.
Joe: We did it once.
Rodney: There’s stuff I love to
play. I like to play “Wonderfully Colored Plastic War Toys.” Oh, “Serrated
Edge.” I like doing that one, too.
Joe: That’s a good one. “Smokin’
Banana Peels” is always fun.
Justin: I don’t know if this is
true, but I had heard you had taken certain measures when you were getting to
the MTV level, to not be pigeon-holed or marketed as a novelty act, like around
the “Punk Rock Girl” time.
Rodney: No. We fucked that up
completely. [laughter] We did. We stepped right into that joke
band/novelty…but, then again, I’m not much of a musician, so I guess I don’t
have too many directions to go in, but the rest of the guys could’ve done
Dandrew: “Fishheads,” “Let’s Go
Smoke Some Pot.” I don’t like playing those anymore. [laughter]
Justin: Was there anything that
people would want you to do, promotion-wise?
Rodney: Yeah, but we could never talk our way
out of it, and they would end up doing it anyway. I would tell our manager, “I don’t want a cow at this
thing,” and lo and behold, a cow would appear there, or “I need you guys
to do this.” There’s a lot of stuff I
don’t like to do. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m not good at
Joe: I didn’t want the cow.
Rodney: Yeah, you didn’t want the
cow there either.
Joe: I didn’t think the cow wanted to be there.
Rodney: One time there was a contest
and I wanted to give the award…I said “Let’s just give it to the girl with the
biggest tits,” which is a Monty Python line and everyone misunderstood that,
like, “That’s kinda sexist,” and I was like, “No! It’s Monty Python!”
Joe: It was out of context.
Rodney: My entire life is out of context. But there’s a lot
of stuff like that I don’t like to do. They made us do Club MTV, but that was because this girl told us she was getting
fired if we didn’t, and that we destroyed. There aren’t things I can think of
now. Things aren’t as bad now as they were then, promotion-wise and just
Joe: I blocked it out of my memory,
Rodney: Joe blocked it out of his
memory. Joe’s blocked a lot out of
his memory. “Go to my happy place! Go to my happy place!” Dan, what wouldn’t
you do promotionally?
I know you would do nudity if it was tasteful. I know we’ve had that
Dandrew: I don’t know. I haven’t
been asked to do anything weird.
Rodney: Fly to Austin in a plane full of drunk guys going to
a wedding. That was the worst. After that, everything else has seemed pretty
pleasant. So, I don’t think we took any measures. We’re just not very… I don’t
have anything against mainstream bands. There are a lot of mainstream bands I
Justin: Well, did you do anything to
try to not be pigeon-holed as a one-hit-wonder or novelty act?
Rodney: I don’t mind being
pigeon-holed. I have an article I have to write, and part of it is about being
a guy in a one-hit-wonder band who had nothing to do with the hit. That’s my
claim to fame. I’m so proud of that.
Justin: Didn’t the guy, Doug
Hopkins, from the Gin Blossoms who wrote their hits get kicked out of the band
before they became hits?
Rodney: Oh, wow.
Justin: I think he ended up killing
Rodney: The guy who wrote “Tempted
by the Kiss of Another” had also written “How Long Has This Been Going On?”
because he was playing in a band and they were about to kick him out. That song
is not about a man and a woman. It’s about when he learned that he was being
kicked out of the band: “How long has this been going on?” So, I’m sure it
happens, you know. There was some other band where they kicked out the guy who
was the lead songwriter.
Dandrew: Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd.
Rodney: I say if you’re gonna kick
someone out, kick that guy out. We don’t have a lead songwriter. We all write.
If you’re in a band with a guy who’s the lead songwriter, chances are the guy
is pretty much an asshole. Yeah, Syd Barrett was the lead songwriter for Pink
Floyd. Now, you can argue that they weren’t as good once they kicked him out.
Dandrew: That’s the only album that
I actually like of theirs.
Dandrew: Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Rodney: Piper at the Gates of Dawn, yeah. I developed this liking for Dark Side of the Moon, but only because
I like the way the keyboard player, Richard Wright, plays, and he and Nick
Mason lock up, so he’s not playing a lot of fancy stuff. He’s playing right on
the beat. I think that’s pretty cool.
Justin: When you started playing
keyboards, was that to give you something to do rather than actually wanting to
have keyboards in the songs? Because I had heard that people would bring you
newspapers to read while Joe sings his songs.
Rodney: Well, when I originally
started playing keyboards, I was in junior high, but I didn’t pursue it. I
played piano because I had a guitar class and there was this girl who would
sing “Country Roads” by John Denver, taking at least ten minutes between each
strum, like [slowly strumming] “Cun…tree…ro…”. My job was to tune the guitars to
the piano, which is funny because I have no sense of pitch—and Joe will back me
on this—so I knew where the notes were on the piano. He didn’t want the girl to
do that anymore, so he said, “If you pop all the high Es, then this will just
be a study hall and we won’t have to listen to her,” and I’m like, “That sounds
pretty good to me.” So I did that, so I couldn’t experiment on the piano. Years
later, I’m a terrible guitar player. I have a guitar. Maybe once a day I’ll sit
with the guitar and try to play it, but I’m just an awful guitar player. Joe’s
really good, so I can’t show him something on the guitar and make it clear to
him. So, in order to show him songs, I started to concentrate on keyboards,
which I’m not much better at, but I’m bad at it in an interesting way.
Justin: It’s always been hard for me
to be able to tell a drummer what I’m thinking if they weren’t on the same
wavelength as me.
Rodney: I never tell a drummer. I
just can’t do it. When I do a demo of things to play, I thank God they made drum
machines. I’ll use my studio software for the drum stuff. What I usually do is
I’ll send it off and say, “Well, these are the chord progressions.” Now we just
work on stuff separately and send it all to each other. Then we get together
and we kind of tweak it. It’s always group songwriting. Then I discovered how
much fun keyboards were. I would start playing them at home. I was in another
band for a while and I played melodica (a blow organ) and tin whistle and stuff
like that. I play a lot of odd instruments. Now, keyboards are a lot of fun
because you can just download everything you want and you’ve got great
software. If someone plays guitar, you can run it through your effects. I try
to write everything with lots of keyboards in it.
Justin: I wasn’t old enough to have
seen you guys when you were a band before, but I saw someone on the internet
saying that he used to bring Rodney the newspaper to read while Joe played his
Joe: That was in the video.
Justin: I saw that, but someone said
that he would bring one to shows to give Rodney something to do when you were
singing. I was wondering if anything like that was distracting.
Rodney: No, no. I used to start
shows by reading the newspaper. I used to love the Weekly World News, and people would bring them to shows. I would
read them during the beginning, when the show would start with these guys
kicking out chords and I would be reading the newspaper.
Joe: We used to start with an
instrumental, sometimes. “KKSuck2.”
Rodney: And I would sit and read the
Joe: We did that for a while.
Dandrew: We have to bring that one
Rodney: I try to sneak into
everything now: “It needs more keyboards.”
Joe: I never got distracted during
“Punk Rock Girl” with whatever Rodney did.
Rodney: My job, I thought, was
usually as cheerleader to get the audience to jump up and down and sing along.
Really it’s not a bad gig. You’re out there, meeting people.
Joe: Before that, “Dean’s Dream”
would be the song.
Justin: I guess you’ve always just
done a few songs per set, right?
Joe: The rule at first was that I
had one song that I sang per set, and Rodney didn’t play keyboards back then,
so he didn’t do anything. Sometimes read the newspaper. Then it grew to two
songs per set, I guess, in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s.
Rodney: I don’t mind him playing
lots of songs per set. I’m more than happy with it. I’d be at home, drunk… I
think the first one I brought, keyboard-wise, was “If You Love Somebody, Set
Them on Fire,” which I would play sitting at home one day.
Joe: And Metaphysical Graffiti was the first album you played on. The album
that Brian produced had more instrumentation on it, so it sort of made sense to
have a keyboard to fill it out live.
Rodney: Which is odd because people
ask me to play keyboards all the time now. There are a couple instruments that
I play a lot better, but if that’s what they want…
Joe: You play harmonica, too.
Rodney: Yeah, I play tin whistle,
Bodhran (a type of Irish drum), Herty Gerty (a crank organ). I can play the guitar; I just try not to
because I’m terrible at it.
Justin: What did you play on
Rodney: That was the flute.
Justin: That’s what I thought, but I
figured it could have been a keyboard.
Rodney: That’s on the keyboard. It’s
a really good flute sample, so
we told the record company that we hired a flautist and we took the extra money
and spent it on drugs. [laughter] For real. You people that are going to
read this: Yes, we did spend the extra money on drugs. Then we had a horn
section. The real horn section was the Uptown Horns, but before that, I worked
out the horn section from samples I had of Miami Sound Machine. I still have
them in my old sampler. They sounded great. The guys came in and they thought I
had a horn section come in, and I said “No! It’s a sample!” But I was so
obsessed with horn stabs. I’m
oddly musical for someone who can’t play for shit.
Justin: Was having so many songs of
Joe’s on Soul Rotation a choice, like
he had just written more songs?
Joe: I didn’t write them, mostly. A
lot of the songs I sang on…
Rodney: If I can get him to sing, I
will get him to sing.
Justin: I was just wondering if it
was that you had written more, or someone wanted you to sing more.
Rodney: Let me back up and explain
this. That was after “Punk Rock Girl” was a big hit, so there was a lot of
pressure, like, “Let’s have Joe sing some more.” We still get that from our
Joe: We did Metaphysical after that.
Rodney: If I play our manager songs
that I wrote, he’ll say, “Has Joe turned in anything? He really writes well.”
Justin: That’s what I was getting
at—if it was from the success of “Punk Rock Girl.”
Rodney: That’s a definite yeah. I
think the record company would have been happy if I’d had an accident shortly
after that and gone away.
Joe: It was a different record
company by then, though.
Justin: That was Hollywood.
Rodney: Our manager definitely
wanted more from Joe.
Joe: I didn’t know anything about
any decision. I don’t think Hollywood
even knew who the original singer of the band was, anyway. I don’t think they
knew much about us.
Rodney: That was a fun record to
Rodney: It was great because, first
of all, we had all of these people—because this was when Nirvana was
breaking—going, “You guys are going to make that kind of grungy record,” and we
Joe: We made the opposite.
Rodney: And this was before the X-Files and songs about black
helicopters and everything, so nobody was out exploring this shit. So, we had
all this room to fail, which we did, but I thought we failed pretty well. I’m
pretty happy with it. We did it with Ted Nicely, who is crazy.
Dandrew: Didn’t Ted Nicely hold off
on a Fugazi record to do Soul Rotation?
Joe: I don’t think so. I think he
did a Fugazi record right before he did Soul
Rodney: I’ve always said that I’ve
had this inferiority complex that I’m always sure that our manager would be
happy if I had an accident and Joe sang all the time. Sometimes when I turn in
songs I’ll say that Joe wrote them, so he’ll say, “Oh! That’s really good!”
Joe: The songs that I sing are often
written by someone else, like Dean, or you (Rodney) wrote some, like “Here
Comes Mr. X.”
Rodney: I like to write for other
people to sing. I like writing songs for women because I like writing for the
female voice. I was working on a song called, “No One Knows My History,” and
there’s a line, “No man know my history, my reality, my telemetry. No man knows
my history, so I’m warning you not to fuck with me,” which, when a woman says
it, is empowering. When a guy says it, it’s a drunk guy at a bar. Although,
neither Joe or I are big into posing, so when we say, “Don’t you fuck with me,”
it could be empowering. Either one of us could sing it. I prefer to write for
him to sing. I’m always trying to get him to sing the stuff. When I write, I’ll
say, “Well, I’ll play this, and you sing,” but then I tend to know the lyrics,
so I’ll sing them at practice and stuff. Dandrew came up with his first songs
and they were great Milkmen songs.
Justin: Have you guys come up
with many new songs yet?
Rodney: A shitload of new songs. We
just don’t know what we’re going to do with them.
Justin: Does it seem much different,
since its been over ten years?
Rodney: It seems better. Yeah,
everybody should quit for ten years. Seriously. Stop it! Stop it now! If you’re
just turning out crap, stop it! Take a break, go do something else. Then come
Joe: You get a fresh perspective.
Rodney: I like it because it’s very
different, and all of us have turned in stuff. We need a glutton of songs, like
sixty, and we’ll whittle that down to a record length. Maybe none of mine will
end up on there, but its been fun writing. I try to write a lot.
Justin: To go into downer territory,
you said “I Can’t Stay Awake” was written while Dave was hospitalized.
Joe: It was written about the time
he was hospitalized. I don’t think he wrote it while he was hospitalized.
Rodney: In the hospital, yeah.
“Bring me a pen! I’ve got inspiration!”
Justin: Was his depression something
that everyone in the band was well aware of?
Rodney: No. Not at all.
Joe: I was not aware of it. I knew
Dave was moody. I was moody, too.
Rodney: We were all pretty moody.
This is an example of how bad things were: When you’re stuck in a van and
you’re playing Cleveland
for the fourth time in a year, you get depressed. You get really depressed on
the road. We were in Europe one time, and it
was the coldest winter in history. We had been on tour for almost a year before
that, and I remember trying to put my foot in front of a car so it would run
over my foot and I could go home. For real. I’m not making that up. The car was
like a BMW or an Audi that had really good handling—I’m in a parking lot, not
out in the middle of the highway—and the guy swerves around my foot and I’m
thinking, “Why did I fucking do this in Germany? If I did it in America,
a Chevy would’ve gone right over that foot!”
Joe: Why would you have gotten to go
home if someone ran over your foot?
Rodney: Because my foot would have
Joe: You can still sing.
Rodney: Have you ever seen our act? I need my foot to sing!
Rodney: I’m not stationary. I
thought that after an injury they would understand how seriously I wanted to go
home. Everybody on tour at some point is just grouchy from the minute they get
up until the minute they go to bed. We didn’t know it was that bad. We were all
kind of quirky. What I think really depressed him was that he couldn’t play
bass anymore and we weren’t playing.
Justin: From the tendonitis?
Rodney: Yeah. He had tendonitis.
Joe: He was taking these pain
killers that he was prescribed, but the problem was that they would make him
very tired and not energetic enough to play the show, so he stopped taking them
and played the last tour in pain.
Rodney: He played in pain for an
entire tour! I always see these things, like, “Jaco Pastorious did this or
that!” and I’m like, “Fuck that! Dave Blood played in pain for an entire tour!”
Justin: So that was a problem while
you were still a band?
Joe: Yeah, we were still a band.
Rodney: But we didn’t know how bad
it was, because he never talked about anything like that. I had no idea that he
was in pain while he was playing, and because you never know when we’re being
serious, we just assumed that he was okay.
Justin: Was the first reunion show
all just as a benefit for Dave?
Rodney: Yeah, we thought we’d just
play two and we would piss off. Then what happened was—which is probably why we
started the band in the first place, at least in my case—boredom. Boredom kind
of set in, and I thought, “Well, it’s no disrespect to Dave if we play,” but if
it hadn’t been Dandrew, we probably wouldn’t be together, because we like
Dandrew. He fits in well and we like working with him. Nobody else would be
able to do that.
Justin: Do you think you would have
gotten back together if that hadn’t happened?
Rodney: No, because if Dave was
still alive, we couldn’t play, because he couldn’t play. We weren’t going to play without him, you know? I told him at
the time, because I was working with the keyboards, “Why don’t you just trigger
samples with the bass parts and you won’t have to hit anything?” Because he was
interesting and he had great stage presence. I see all of these Dave Blood
clones, like the bass player for Green Day, and I think that he should have
copyrighted the Dave Blood look and he would have been a millionaire. He could
have just retired. Johnny Thunders should have copyrighted his look, I always
Justin: One of my friends said he
used to write Dave letters when he was really young, and Dave was the one that
got him wanting to…
Rodney: …play bass? I’ve met a lot
of people like that. They wanted to play bass because it looked fun the way he
did it! It’s one of the best compliments. Somebody came up to me on the street
and was like, “I hope this isn’t making you sad,” around the time of the
benefit, and I’m thinking, “No! This is great!” People ask if I think about him
and get sad, but I can’t think about him without thinking of all of the hilarious
shit he did! We were at his memorial and everyone was really down, and I’m
sitting there thinking about the time at the university in Georgia—the one with the Bulldogs.
We were walking around and Dave saw this line full of people, so he got in line
and we went in and it was this college orientation. Dave was going up to people
and grabbing their arms and going, “You can tell that I’m not like the others,
right?” Or, “Will you be my friend?” He would do the “will you be my friend”
thing all the time. I was just thinking, “Well, it’s just a few minutes before
we get escorted out of here,” and he was really off the wall, jumping out of
his seat, saying, “Go Bulldogs!”
Justin: Dandrew, are you as meticulous about caring for your bass as I’ve heard
Dandrew: Not even close, from what I
understand. I probably should, though, because Joe helped me buy the bass I’m
playing now (a MusicMan Stingray, very similar to the bass Dave played) and it
should be taken care of. I’ve considered boiling my bass strings as Dave did,
but I’ve heard the broth can give you tetanus.
Justin: Was it nerve-wracking,
especially at first, taking the place of someone who apparently influenced a
lot of bassists? Or, the fact that some super-fans might think that it is just
plain wrong for the band to play without him?
Dandrew: Yeah, it was kinda scary at
first, but Dave was absolutely the reason I started playing bass—well, that and
the guitar player in my first band was way better than me, so I kind of ended
up playing bass from the process of elimination. As far as the super-fans
thinking it’s wrong, too bad.
Justin: Had you ever played that big
of shows in other bands before? Usually, fests tend to have crowds much larger
than what would normally attend a show in any given city.
Dandrew: I was kind of nervous
playing in front of so many people in the beginning and then I imagined that
the crowd we were playing before was every person that had already seen me play
in a band, together in one room. That helped. That and horse tranquilizers.
Justin: We’ll have to exchange
connections. Maybe we’re going through the same jockey…Did you guys
party a lot on tour, or were you more laid back, trying to relax, aside from
Rodney: I tried.
Joe: It depends. I know the first
tour we did a lot. Well, I did. It
was a lot of fun, and especially because we stayed in maybe one hotel, because
we had to, and, otherwise, we just stayed at people’s houses. They would have
parties for you, so it was like a constant thing. When you’re young, it’s easy
Rodney: You can drink a lot. People
give you drugs for free. We used to have to pay for them! We played one show in
coming off the stage, this girl says, “I want you to have this.” I got in back
and it’s coke in flake form. I was like, “Wow!” After we cut it, we were up for
like three days watching the Twilight
Zone. So, yeah, that’s the sort of shit you do.
Joe: I didn’t do it.
Rodney: See, now I sound like I’m in
Aerosmith or something. “Yeah man! We did some drugs!” But Dave didn’t do any
Joe: Dave didn’t do any drugs. I
didn’t do coke or anything like that.
Rodney: No! Joe on coke, I would
have killed him.
Joe: I didn’t do heroin or PCP. Dave
drank a lot before we started touring and then he would quit at touring time,
and he was practically straight edge.
Justin: Touring is almost the only
time I drink. I guess that’s more to do with nerves from having to sing in
front of people.
Joe: I became the opposite. I would
party more at home, but as soon as the tour started, I would be clean because
it would be too much stress on my system.
Rodney: I can’t remember even the
last time I smoked pot. It may have been almost twenty years ago. I went into a
small pot-smoking phase, but that was cured when I had an incident involving
the secret service.
Justin: What was that about?
Rodney: We had been somewhere
Joe: It was at a record store when
we were touring with Mojo Nixon and Cave Dogs.
Rodney: I think we were in Salt Lake City or somewhere
way out West, and somehow, above my name ends up “Kill the president,” right
above “Rodney Anonymous.” So, I’m at home and our manager calls up and says,
“Rodney, there’s a little bit of trouble, but I think I can straighten it out.”
So, I hang up. He calls back and says, “If you’re not here in fifteen minutes
with a lawyer, they’re going to come arrest you.” So, I had to get a lawyer,
and I called the girlfriend that I was living with at the time—and remember, I
know the phone is tapped—and I say, “If there were anything that we wouldn’t
want the police to find, what would it be?” She says, “There’s a whole bunch of
pot!” and I was just thinking, “They are listening to the phone!” So, I take
the pot, which is not a whole lot, and I put it out in the garbage can. I meet
the secret service and apologize and everything, then I go home and find out
that it was garbage day that day. Some garbage man got my weed. That was the
last time I ever touched it. I was like, “Well, that’s it. That’s a sign.”
Justin: You mentioned PCP before.
That was brought up a lot on the last tour I was on. We were talking about how
we’d never heard anything about it since D.A.R.E. class in sixth grade.
Rodney: What does PCP do? It makes
you wanna get naked and kill cops! Drugs are for old people now!
Joe: It was an ‘80s thing.
Rodney: I know lots of people who
Dandrew: I did it once, by accident.
Rodney: Everybody’s done it by
Joe: It always amused me. I was
thinking, “Why would anybody want to smoke a horse tranquilizer or whatever it
Rodney: It was originally an animal
tranquilizer, which of course begs the question, “Have you ever seen a horse on
speed that you need to bring down?” [In Mr. Ed voice] “Whoa, Wilbur! I’m
shakin’, Wilbur! Talk me down!”
Justin: They always told us that it
would give you the ability to fight off five cops. It was always five, so we
Rodney: Plus, are these five
in-shape cops or five donut-eating, older, almost ready to retire—the cop in
that buddy film that’s “just too old for this shit”? If I’m too old for this
shit, I’m not taking down a guy on PCP. “They can take five of us!” They used
to call it “Love Boat,” like that old Butthole Surfers song. I think drugs, at
this point, are for old people. Old hippies smoke pot. “Do you wanna smoke some
pot?” “Yeah, as soon as I grow a ponytail and cover myself with patchouli, you
asshole!” I don’t even drink much. I’ll drink wine once in a while, but I won’t
really drink at shows. I’m trying to remember the last time I was even drunk.
Dandrew: You were definitely drunk
Rodney: You and I got shitfaced in Austin! That’s because I
had that awful cold and I discovered that drinking the giant cans of Foster’s
can help. Plus, there was all this dust being kicked up. I ended up meeting Tim
and Eric from Tim and Eric, Awesome Show,
and I was so drunk that I’m sure that now they are like, “Oh, that asshole!”
All that I could talk about was Steven Pinker, the Harvard linguist. I noticed
the correlation between what they were doing, which was coming out and just
singing, “Diarrhea! Diarrhea!” and what Pinker had talked about, which is how
“dirty words” are so deep-seeded in our minds that it’s actually a mammalian
thing. If you step on a cat’s tail and it goes [cat noise], that’s the
mammalian equivalent of “fuck.” Cross-culturally, they all fall into these same
categories: the scatological/shit/things that can make you ill, the sort of
taboo ones, like motherfucker, and also, which isn’t big in our culture
anymore, the implication ones, like god damn it/Oh god. So, if you get a
chance, Steven Pinker’s work in the area of cursing is absolutely fascinating.
I was talking to Tim and Eric about how them saying, “Diarrhea! Diarrhea!”
becomes like a mantra. These guys went to see…
Dandrew: I was walking up and there
was this mass exodus of people. When I came up, Woods (Ford Woods Stevens. He’s
in No! Go! Tell! with Joe and Dan)was like, “They’ve just been saying ‘diarrhea’ for about
Rodney: The guy next to me fell down
laughing. It was just so over-the-top insane. You went to go see Bad Brains?
Rodney: I blew off Bad Brains.
Justin: I saw them here and it was
Rodney: I’m not a fan.
Joe: I went and had dinner, so I
Rodney: Joe and I saw them when we
Joe: I saw them back when they first
came to Philly, I think.
Rodney: We were young. I’ve heard
that H.R. made some homophobic remarks. If I’m wrong about that, I apologize. I
heard that and I was like, “You know what? I’ll turn on the 700 Club if I wanna
hear that shit.” I have to sing “Stuart” every night. I can do my own
Justin: Did you ever trademark the
term “Scruff Rock”?
Joe: No. That was given to us by the
Rodney: We would never trademark
anything like that. We tried to trademark “Butt Rock.” “What are you guys?”
“Butt Rock!” It just means nothing.
Joe: We said that in interviews
every now and then. People would always ask you, “What kind of music do you
play?” “Butt Rock.”
Rodney: “Butt Rock” came from me
mis-hearing an old Specials record, when they said “Punk rockers, hippies and
skinheads heed my advice…” and I thought they were saying, “Butt rockers,
hippies and skinheads.” So I was like, “What the fuck is going on over in England?”
Joe: Spin magazine did a review of our first record and called us
“Scruff Punks,” or “scruffy” or something, and the record label said, “Oh! This
is how we can label them! Scruff Rock!” On the next record, they put a sticker
that said, “Scruff Rock classic from…”
Rodney: We said, “Please stop
putting these kinds of labels on our records!”
Joe: That’s how they try to sell
things, by labeling them.
Rodney: This one band had a sticker that
had all of these quotes from dead rock stars, and we wanted to do that. It had
John Lennon saying, “Much better than anything I ever did,” and we were like,
“This is the kind of stuff we wanna do! How come they get away with it and we
don’t?” That’s why we’re so sad. That’s why I’m kind of glad that record
companies died. You can just do the stuff on your own now.
Dandrew: If you put a couple of the
CDs in Windows Media Player, they come up as “comedy” for the genre.
Rodney: I think the stuff we write
is pretty sad, really. Like “Junkie.” That’s a horribly sad song. These were
people I knew, you know? “Nitro-Burning Funny Cars” is really about speed
freaks. I used to call speed freaks “nitro-burning funny cars” because the
engine would blow out, and I was surrounded by a bunch of speed freaks at the
time. That’s odd. I find the songs to be really tragic.
Justin: [to Dean] What was it like
to be in the Replacements for twenty seconds in 1987? [laughter]
Dean: It was awesome.
Rodney: I didn’t know you were.
Dean: And I would kill for that
photo. If anyone out there knows where that photo is, if it exists, I would
love a copy of it.
Justin: What’s the story behind
Dean: The story is that we opened
for the Replacements at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.
We were about to go on and I was heading down the stairs in the backstage and I
met Paul Westerberg on the steps. He’s like, “Hey, I’m looking for Slim, our
other guitar player. Do you know where he is?” and I said, “No, I haven’t seen
him.” And he said, “Oh, well we’re taking a photo in our dressing room and we
need you to pretend to be Slim,” and I said, “Sure. Why not?” and I was wearing
pigtails at the time—my hair was so long.
Justin: So it wasn’t the drummer you
Dean: No. So I wandered in and they
had this big overstuffed chair in there. I kinda stood in the back and
pretended to be in the band and they snapped some photos. I think one of the
photographers knew that it was a joke, but some people had no clue what they
were taking pictures of.
Justin: For Rodney, especially since
I grew up in Iowa, why did you choose Des Moines in the song
Rodney: It’s funny now because gay
marriage is legal in Des Moines.
Rodney: Yeah! The state of Iowa joined Massachusetts,
Rhode Island, and Maine…yes, yes, yes.
Justin: Because my dad lived there,
and I moved there for a very brief period, and that city seemed to have no
culture of any kind.
Rodney: We went and played there,
and I guess I had a bad time. I remember I said something about farmers or
something, and this girl got upset, you know, like, [whiny voice] “Oh, our dads
Dean: We played there the first or
second tour, and I don’t think we ever went back after that. I don’t know how
much of a scene they really had.
Justin: Yeah, I don’t really hear of
bands going there much, or bands from there going anywhere else.
Dean: If you look on the interweb,
there’s actually a very old site about the punk rock scene in Iowa and there are actually a couple photos
of the basement show that we played at on the very first tour.
Rodney: I think that show was shut
down by the cops. The shows there, and other shows on that first tour in
particular, were where it’s like, “We usually let the headlining band play
first because the cops will come shut it down.”
Dean: We’ve played shows in all of
the states except for Alaska, North Dakota, New Hampshire,
I believe those are the four states that we’ve never played shows in.
Rodney: I guess we didn’t play Wyoming. I know we
stopped and ate dinner in a town where Prince debuted Purple Rain.
Dean: Oh, I think we’ve been to every state but Alaska, but there are
only four that we haven’t played a show in.
Justin: Sticking with that song…
Dean: You’re talking about “Stuart,”
Justin: Yeah. For anyone that has
never made the connection: Who is “that Little Jonny Wurster kid”?
Rodney: Jonny Wurster! He’s not so
little anymore. He’s actually pretty famous. I heard he was playing drums in a
band on The Colbert Report the other day and I missed it. I didn’t know he was
going to be playing on there. One time I turned on Conan O’Brien and I saw him in a Frankenstein costume. He pops up
on TV pretty regularly.
Dean: As a joke, there was a skit
where he sat in for Max Weinberg, who picked him out from the audience.
Rodney: He’s had a pretty good
career writing and…
Dean: He’s playing in Philadelphia at this very
moment, tonight with Bob Mould. He plays with the Mountain Goats, Bob Mould,
Bob Pollard, and he plays with Superchunk still.
Rodney: For some reason, the people
on our periphery become much more famous. There was a monkey that we had in one
of our videos and the monkey ended up being in Outbreak, working with Al Pacino, and it was on Friends! I swear the monkey had a
salary! He was pulling down ten grand an episode! I feel bad because I should
have befriended the monkey, I guess. Stuff doesn’t happen to us. We don’t get
above a certain level of fame, but people around us just rise the hell up!
[laughter] It’s pretty cool in some ways.
Justin: Was he in bands at that
time? Was he much younger, or were you just kidding about that?
Dean: He’s about five or six years
Rodney: When he was like sixteen or
seventeen, he was corresponding with people in Let’s Active and he was, like, a
protégée. Very into music and very capable.
Dean: He was a good friend of ours.
He was in a bunch of Philly bands, like Psychotic Norman, and I forget what
else. He ended up moving to North
Carolina and being in Superchunk.
Rodney: He would do these funny
tapes in his late teens as Jonny Earth Shoe, and he had this thing called
“Earth Shoes for the Needy,” because people weren’t wearing Earth Shoes
anymore, so he would give them to the poor.
Justin: That sounds familiar, for
Rodney: Really? Maybe Jonny is up to
his old tricks again. Some girl believed him, and she was like, “Why would the
poor want to wear Earth Shoes if they’re out of style?”
Dean: He does stuff with Tom
Scharpling…like Philly Boy Roy.
Justin: I was going to ask if you’d
heard the Philly Boy Roy stuff, since you’re from Philly.
Justin: How does it feel to be the
only band on earth to have shared stages with the Butthole Surfers, Tommy
Keene, Uncle Tupelo, and Jodie Foster’s Army—using the term “stage” loosely on
that last one?
Rodney: You’re forgetting Debbie
Gibson. Debbie Gibson and Guns ‘n’ Roses. The Debbie Gibson show was the most
surprising one for me, because I was reading the riot act.
Justin: So you played in a mall?
Rodney: No, no.
Justin: Oh, that was Tiffany.
Rodney: We actually had a Tiffany
encounter at one point, but the thing with Debbie Gibson was…
Dean: Wasn’t it some radio station
Rodney: Yeah, in Jersey.
They didn’t have a piano stool, so Debbie Gibson played the piano on her knees.
We also wound up playing on the same bill as a mime, and it was a show
broadcast on the radio! I’m backstage at this thing, and it was another radio
thing, and I’m saying, “Excuse me. Do you know you’re about to put a mime on
the radio?” All of a sudden it was like this light bulb came on above this
woman’s head, like, “Yeah, I guess that doesn’t work.” They would play “I Heard
it Through the Grapevine” and he would mime to it.
Dandrew: You played with
Salt–n–Pepa, too, right?
Rodney: Yeah, we got to play with
them, and I was, and still am, a huge Salt–n–Pepa fan. The audience was not so
into us, and I made the mistake of jumping into the audience at the end. I
pulled up my shirt and showed the other guys later on that I was just covered
in bruises. People would come up and just start punching me. It reminded me of
high school. Luckily, high school prepared me for that.
Justin: With having shows like that,
did you have any problems with people taking lyrics to songs like “Tiny Town”
Rodney: We got a letter from a radio
station about “Tiny Town” saying, “We banned
your song,” so I wrote back saying, “Well, I’m really glad you were appointed
censor.” They banned it, and they were this ultra-liberal station that was
against censorship. I was so confused that they couldn’t see it was a parody,
so I explained “parody” to them, and they were like, “Thank you for explaining
that, but you’re still banned.”
Sometimes it’s a badge of honor to be banned by certain people.
[Two girls enter the backstage and go straight into the bathroom together.]
Dean: Now if you and I did that,
wouldn’t it be weird? [laughter]
Rodney: “I have to use the
bathroom.” “The rhythm section is in there.” [laughter] We were in a club in Atlanta and some girls
went to the bathroom doing a bunch of coke, and about a week later, those were
the girls that Rob Lowe was with. So, technically, we shared a stage with Rob
Lowe. A stage of an infection. [sarcastic laughter] Again, the people in the
orbit of us become famous.
Justin: I’m not sure that that makes
Dean: You’ll go on to have your own
Justin: I’ll never do an interview
again after this bullshit. [laughter]
Rodney: That was the funniest
thing…Make sure that’s in there. If I read this interview and that’s not in
there, I’m going to hunt you down and kill you.
Justin: Dean, can you think of specific
instances where you didn’t have a smile on your face?
Dean: No smile? Me? Can’t say that I
do... well maybe once when the stage monitor guy didn’t know what he was doing.
Dandrew: Sometimes Dean’s ever-present smile helps to keep me going on stage when
times are tough.
Justin: How true to your dream was
“Dean’s Dream”? Was there much embellishment on Joe’s part?
Dean: “Dean’s Dream,” the song, is
pretty much as I wrote it down. I really did have that dream. Joe did a great
job turning that into a song.
Justin: I’m supposed to ask you guys
about what may have been your first ever show, on Pine Street in the Fall of 1984. If that
wasn’t the first, then it was second to the show at the Harleysville Rec Center.
Rodney: The second show was at the Pine Street Beverage Center,
which they closed down because they were selling crank out of there. That was when
we had to make up covers, like “Hanky Panky,” because they just kept saying,
“Keep playing!” They were filling these people up on booze. There was a guy who
would tell obscene, racist jokes, and a woman would just tell racist jokes. She
would say, “Can I tell a joke?” and we’d say, “Sure,” and everyone’s yelling,
“No! No! Turn her off!” So that was the Pine St. Beverage Center. The Harleysville Rec Center
was the first show.
Dean: That was when I met Rodney.
Rodney: We met at our first show.
The Beverage Center was great if you drank, because
if you could drink a hundred different kinds of beer in some certain amount of
time, your name would be put up on the wall. I was just about to get my name on
the wall when the cops shut the place down.
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