Published on April 20th, 2017 | by The Beige Baron0
Stream: DEAD | To Hell With Me
DEAD grips with a sinewy fist and smashes you over the head with its new single To Hell With Me, which Brown Noise Unit serves up here for your exclusive listening pleasure.
Taken from their forthcoming album We Won’t Let You Sleep, which sees multi-format release on April 28, To Hell With Me is one of three songs featuring former Melvin, recovering Cow, and current Hepa.Titus bassist Kevin Rutmanis.
That’s the guy who made Hostile Ambient Takeover seem less a record and more a beast stuck in a bear trap; the man who took the muscle from the song / and kinda swings it on the softest metal album of all time, The Bootlicker; and the bassist that made classic Cows numbers like Hitting The Wall feel like they were hitting you in the face.
We Won’t Let You Sleep is also the second album the Australian duo has made at Sound of Sirens Studios in Los Angeles — producer Toshi Kasai being best known for his work with Big Business and Melvins.
DEAD has always been a band that refuses to follow musical conventions, even when an against-the-grain approach makes life more difficult.
Taking pride in the fact their unpredictable sound will offend delicate sensibilities (their label is called WeEmptyRooms), they also have an unshakable confidence in the quality of their art and little time for those who don’t attempt to understand where they’re coming from.
Unshakable enough to call out local music press that seems uninterested in digging much further than haircut bands; deep enough to tour flyspeck towns instead of the safe, established capital-city clubs, and — to return to the point — confident enough to release five concept albums as part of a “trilogy”.
It might not seem like much, but at a time when salesmanship often trumps talent, this irreverent pair are happy to go their own way, not giving much of shit about anything except rocking out as hard as possible.
We Won’t Let You Sleep sees DEAD emerge from the Morricone-soaked ambience that pervades Untitle
We Won’t Let You Sleep sees DEAD emerge from the Morricone-soaked ambience that pervades second volume Untitle — a spacious work that pared back the bass-and-drums assault to let experimentalist BJ Morriszonkle marinade their sound in something approaching psychedelia.
The relentless, rhythmically unconventional drive of Jem’s drumming, which frequently draws comparison to Dale Crover, was still present — as was Jace’s crunching attack and chainsaw vocals — but this was new and adventurous territory for DEAD.
The band was breaking free of the Melvins comparisons that seemed to irk them in reviews. Yet here they are with none other than Kevin Rutmanis contributing to their latest album under guidance of the guy who brought Buzzo, Crover, and Co. to life.
Is this a case of DEAD celebrating that mutual sonic appreciation for sludge-encrusted punk, b-movie soundtracks, and AM power rock, like the Melvins?
“It’s like saying a stoner band sounds influenced by Black Sabbath; of course they do, every heavy band after them owes something to them…”
“The Melvins reference point is a perfectly reasonable one,” Jem concedes. “I just think it’s lazy journalism to leave it at that and not elaborate.
“It’s like saying a stoner band sounds influenced by Black Sabbath; of course they do, every heavy band after them owes something to them.
“If a writer can’t find more than one reference point for our band, it says more about their limited musical vocabulary than ours.
“Kevin is a musician we both admire greatly. I honestly think he is one of the most exciting musicians I’ve seen wield an instrument on stage, everyone we worked with during ‘The Trilogy’ is. BJ Morriszonkle and EMS [Eat My Shit] are two musicians I regard just as highly as Kevin.
“The first two records in The Trilogy were specifically written for Morriszonkle to contribute to, We Won’t Let You Sleep would have happened with or without Kevin, but he added a flavor to it that is unmistakably his.”
It’s true that no matter how tight the unit, how creative their compositions, or how many items of gear are introduced (or discarded), a two-piece band will always face certain sonic limitations.
We Won’t Let You Sleep highlights what true chameleons DEAD truly are…
What is remarkable about We Won’t Let You Sleep is how Rutmanis’s augmentations, together with Kasai’s production wizardry, keyboard, and guitar ornamentation, have highlighted what chameleons DEAD truly are — a precision-machined skeleton that seems to intuitively adapt to input from guests.
Where Morriszonkle’s synths and effects-laden table of tricks steered the band into more textured terrain, working with Kasai has focused their ideas into percussive cluster bombs of neck-snapping rock — this is a devastatingly heavy and well-crafted album.
Yet the band still knows how to dial it back. Jem’s cracking snare sound seems lower in the mix to let vocals and bass step forward. Double tracking and overdubs are liberally applied.
How was the experience of working with both Rutmanis and Kasai?
“We’d worked with Toshi before and learned a lot from that experience. He’s a very easy person to get along with, so there was never a doubt that making another record with him would be an enjoyable experience.
“As a two-piece, we have a lot of flexibility when it comes to working with other musicians, it’s easy to make room for them. I sent Kevin our demos and he chose the songs he wanted to work on. That’s the only way we would want to do it, it has to be something rewarding for him too.”
“It was pleasant and EASY,” agrees Rutmanis from his home in Los Angeles. “That was my favorite aspect about working with these two … uh … whatever they are.
“As they are both from New Zealand, England, I rarely understood what they wanted from me, so I just winged it. Wanged it? Not sure of the past tense.
“Anyway, to their credit, they left my contributions in the final mix, as far as I can tell.”
“It was basically just a matter of finding a balance between good direction and letting people do what they do best,” Jem resumes. “If we choose to work with another musician it’s because we want them, not because of what we think they should be.
“Kevin came in with ideas of what he was going to do and we arranged them there and then in the studio. His main concern seemed to be that we got what we needed from him. I honestly can’t overstate what a pleasure he was to work with.”
“Nothing surprises me with Toshi, as I’ve learned to expect that just about anything can come out of him…”
How about working with Toshi Kasai? I swear on the track Don’t Skimp On The Change I heard echoes of the climactic guitar to Faith No More’s Epic, which was excellent! What did you feel he brought to this record?
“Toshi’s domain is in the studio, he understands it in a way that we don’t. He is also a very talented musician and with a style that’s very different to ours.
“He was able to do things like add layers upon layers of vocal harmonies in a matter of minutes that would take us days to execute. Getting him to add guitar parts here and there gave it instantly different energy to the guitar parts Jace played. Nothing surprises me with Toshi, as I’ve learned to expect that just about anything can come out of him.”
“I like their wildness,” Kasai tells us during a brief break from the studio. “Their drumming, bass playing, and singing are wild, not rough. I mean, they are powerful.
“They took more experimental approaches with this album than they did on the previous album,” he continues. “On the previous album, they were well prepared and had a couple things they needed to come up with at the studio.
“This time, they left quite few things out for the guest musicians. They also asked me to play guitar and to sing some backing vocals.
“Creating new parts at the studio is one of my favorite things as a music producer.”
“Creating new parts at the studio is one of my favorite things as a music producer. I really enjoyed creating new parts with DEAD, Vern [from PRIZEHOG, contributing keys to DEAD’s final trilogy volume IV Unpopularity Contest], and Kevin.”
Are these albums intended to be consumed individually on their own terms, or are each part of a wider concept, more like movements of a longer piece?
“The Trilogy was originally going to be two albums that would work together as a twin album as well as on their own,” Jem explains. “With the idea being one of them would be a collaboration with BJ Morriszonkle recorded here in Australia, and the other would be made with Toshi in L.A.
“I liked Douglas Adams as a kid, and the four-part trilogy amused me enough to attempt this ambitious task…”
“As is often the case with us, we ended up with more than two records from the studio sessions. It could have been three LPs, but somewhere along the line there I got the idea to punish myself even more as the label operator and turn it into four LPs, including two split LPs.
“I liked Douglas Adams a lot as a kid, and the four-part trilogy amused me enough to attempt this ambitious task. [The fifth albums comprises a “mystery LP” included in the box set.]
“The more standard approach of releasing an album, flogging it to death on the road, and then doing another every few years doesn’t appeal to us so much. It was a good excuse to delve into different territory for each record.”
So how does working in a professional studio environment differ to the lower-key facilities DEAD might be used to in Australia? Was it much different to taking a DIY approach?
“We’ve not really made any albums in a DIY fashion. I mean, it’s relative, we’ve never had the budget to work in a high-end studio, but we’ve always valued working with genuine engineers.
“No one puts more pressure on us than ourselves, we have no one else to answer to.”
“Between the two of us, we cover every other aspect of the band (artwork, label, booking, management), but we are not recording engineers and have no interest in making records that sound like we made them in our mate’s shed. That’s a current trend we’re happy not to embrace.
“In truth, Toshi’s studio is the most DIY setup we have recorded in. The professionalism is in his skill and expertise, but he would be the first to admit it’s not a professional studio as such. It’s a small warehouse space that doubles as a rehearsal space when he’s not recording.
“He’s just been very clever about how he uses the space. The Japanese have a history of being clever with space.
“This is our second album at Sound of Sirens studios and since the last time we were there it had improved: Toshi made a control room of sorts so he didn’t have to be blasted by us as we were tracking.
“No one puts more pressure on us than ourselves, we have no one else to answer to. We practice a lot before we record and rarely do more than two takes of anything. If it’s going to take longer than that to get, then it probably won’t happen, and we can’t afford the studio time to keep trying.
“It also leaves us more time to be spontaneous where we want to be. Toshi doesn’t act like a big-name producer; other than a few gold records in his toilet, you wouldn’t suspect a thing. He’s a relaxed bloke behind the desk; he was watching baseball most of the time while we tracked.”
So with the release of We Won’t Let You Sleep done and dusted, do you feel reinvigorated, because I know you were feeling a bit browned off with the limited horizons of the Australian scene …
“We’re always learning. Recording is not something you get to practice as often as playing live. It’s really a case of the more we learn the more we learn how much we don’t know.
“But I suppose one thing we’ve started to get better at is separating what works well live and what works well in the studio. It’s hard to do that when, as a band, the live energy is so important to us.
“Toshi and Mike Deslandes, who recorded Untitle, both did fantastic jobs and I like how different their approaches were to recording us.
“We definitely have a better idea now of what we can get from each of them and, depending on the kind of records we’re making, we plan to work with them both again.
“We’ll always be cynical, whining bastards, but we’re never short on inspiration to do what we do. If that day ever comes it’ll probably time to throw in the towel.”