They are dead. Dead. DEAD. And they want you to know that it is spelled in capitals, because there are only four letters and you have to make them count. More alive than ever, that obvious irony is symbolic of the sense of humour this two-piece (bass + drums) shares, which they hope to translate through their music. Intense grooves are interspersed with gruff vocals, and the result is a resonating dissonance, which is at once transient yet fixed, abrupt yet gradual*. Catch them on their SE Asia tour this May – which spans 4 countries (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines) in 2 weeks – and be blown away by the onslaught. You've been warned.
Getting introductions out of the way, who ARE you?
Jem: I play drums and manage the band. I run an independent label (WeEmptyRooms) and do what's needed to pay the bills in between. Or do you mean the band? You can just check our bio on the website!
Jace: I provide bass, vocals, drawings and nudity for DEAD.
Most people would probably label your music as "stoner rock" or "sludge". But it seems like it's more multi-faceted than that. Let's hear it from the horse's mouth.
Jem: It's not something we worry about too much. We have no musical parameters or boundaries that we work within. We just try to play to our strengths. We're a new band so we're still trying to work out what that is. But I think “sludge” is fairly appropriate. Even if we play faster stuff it still sounds slow 'cos that's how I play the drums! Neither of us have any interest in playing to a particular style. It's probably easier and more useful for people outside of the band to find categories. But they're of no use to us and of course we think we are unique, we don't want labels!
Jace: I'm not much of a fan of “stoner rock”. I dig a lot of stuff that would be considered “sludge” especially a lot of the 90's era stuff that came out on Amphetamine Reptile. As much as labels annoy me, I don't mind being lumped in with “sludge” because I see it as being more of a general aesthetic than a specific genre of music.
Your SE Asia tour starts in 2 weeks. What are your feelings regarding that, considering how it is DEAD's first tour outside of Australia? Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it is also your first tour (as a band) outside of Australia too as individuals?
Jem: I've toured Australia more times than I can count, and I've also toured Japan and New Zealand extensively. I can't wait to play in SE Asia. Personally I think touring brings out certain qualities in a band that can't be achieved any other way.
Jace: This is the first time my over-the-hill carcass has been out of the country, EVER! I don't like holidays and I've never been in a band committed enough to tour overseas so I am stoked to have the opportunity to travel in SE Asia and play shows! Jem and I like to tour and play as much as we can; I think it's essential to play with and learn from as many bands as possible.
How did the idea of the tour come about? Why SE Asia and not, say, Japan?
Jem: I've been trying to tour the area since FIRE WITCH went to Japan in 2007. But it can take a long time to get a band able to commit to tours like this. My mum is Tamil-Malay and I have family in Malaysia still. Half my spirit resides in Indian/Malay culture it would seem, and bringing that together with my main passion is very important to me. Aussie punk bands have been coming over your way for a while now – it makes sense to visit some of our closest neighbours. Also, all the members of the 7x0x7 collective have visited Australia over the last couple of years and I have been picking their brains about touring the area. So even though it's been a very impatient wait for me I'm glad the extra time has allowed us to forge stronger ties with the area. We do plan to tour Japan too and are currently booking a US tour for August 2011.
It is purported that you deliver live sets akin to THE MELVINS and HIGH ON FIRE. Justify that for us, what are we going to expect?
Jem: I've seen both those bands live in the last few months and they are AMAZING! I don't know how much we are like them but it's no secret we both are majorly influenced and inspired by the Melvins' ability to be super heavy and yet still maintain a sense of humour. I've never watched a DEAD set from the audience so I can't say. All I know is from where I sit for our gigs, it's a lot of fun. Oh and don't expect us to wear clothes at these gigs. It's too hot, lah!
Jace: I think Jem wrote that comment as a bit of tongue in cheek. We are HUGE Melvins fans though.
DEAD contains members of sick Aussie bands (in more or less the same vein) FIRE WITCH (Jem), INAPPROPRIATE TOUGH GUY BEHAVIOUR (Jem), and also the lesser-known FANGS OF... (Jem and Jace). How are these bands (notably, FANGS OF..., since you are made up of the exact same members) going to spill into what constitutes DEAD? Or will we see something completely different?
Jem: It's hard for me to say since I am in the band myself. The band feels different to me than my other bands but maybe to the listener it's very similar? We formed this band quite simply because we wanted to tour more than our other bands would allow, and not really because we had a particular musical direction we wanted to explore. So really your guess is as good as mine as to how it will end up musically. I think two-piece bands have a certain energy about them that really allows the individual characters of the two members to be more evident. In FANGS OF..., Jace handles most/all of the writing. In this band we write together more so it's a fairly even mix of his punk/pop roots and my improvisational background. Improvising is my punk rock. It's my way of rejecting conformity.
Jace: DEAD definitely gets more sparse in parts than I have really ever attempted before. Because we didn't start DEAD or FANGS OF... with any kind of definite manifesto, I imagine there will be similarities – with DEAD we compose music that I think highlights both the strengths and limitations of the two-piece format.
Your mate onion is also coming with you on the tour. How did that come about? How are they going to add to the DEAD experience outside of their solo sets?
Jem: We haven't actually decided yet! Lara (onion) has played as a guest before with FIRE WITCH and INAPPROPRIATE TOUGH GUY BEHAVIOUR and has been mixing my bands live for 5 or 6 years. So it's easy for us to work together. And we enjoy the excitement of not knowing exactly what's going to happen and sharing music with people we love and respect. We'll just see how we're feeling on the tour and what equipment is available to use and take it from there I guess.
You are known for releasing your records on beautiful packaging (with a policy against jewel casing, no less) courtesy of WeEmptyRooms. You are also known for printing your shirts on sweatshop-free shirts and/or recycled op shop** tees. Therefore we conclude that you are a rather ethically-conscious band. How are you going to navigate that consciousness in SE Asia, where the context may be different?
Jem: I don't think we're an overtly politically-conscious or -aware band. But we have ethics and like to consider ourselves as humane. I prefer to think of our band as “human” rather than “political”. So many bands put their political agendas at the forefront of their band and then back it up with conformist music. This does not inspire me one bit. We play music because we are 100% obsessed with and it is the greatest natural drug on the planet. Our reasons really are very selfish.
As far as being in SE Asia; well we are guests when we are there. We're not gonna play the role of the arrogant westerner, I see that every day here at home and that's just in the punk scene! We're more interested in listening to the locals and learning about the situation in their area than telling people what they should be thinking or eating or voting for, etc.
And we have no interest in supporting sweatshops. There are sweatshop-free companies out there but we can't afford the good t-shirts and it's often unclear as to how ethical their standards are. By using op shop tees we ensure that every DEAD shirt is unique which is pretty awesome I think. We will also swap with people if they have some blank shirts for a printed shirt or we can print the shirt they want. These are the benefits of being such a small-scale operation; side stepping capitalism is quite easily achieved.
Lastly, we have both been record nerds since we were kids and putting some effort and thought into the packaging and art for a record has been instinctive for us. These days, the physical format for music is not essential, it's a choice. People don't have to buy music, most people will happily take it without thinking twice. So if you're gonna ask people to part with money I think you have to give them something of value. We print our records ourselves which is very time-consuming and stressful at times but we like maintaining that control.
Jace: Jem and I have a lot in common ethically. When we first started working together things like using recycled paper and 2nd-hand or non-sweatshop shirts just seemed obvious – we didn't have a thousand cups of tea over it or anything, we just did it. We definitely like grassroots sharing/trading/networking etc and enjoy the challenges and rewards of operating D.I.Y. I hope I didn't sound too righteous there!
You are going to play with the likes of GHAUST (ID), LEGARDA (PH), I AM DAVID SPARKLE (SG) and BLOOD ON WEDDING DRESS (MY), powerhouses in their own right in their respective countries. How do you feel about that?
Jem: GHAUST is the only band i know properly from that list. I have a 10" record of theirs that I really like. I can't wait to see them do it live. I have deliberately not listened to the other bands' recordings because I love to hear bands for the first time live if I can. It's what excites me the most. We are just really excited to see what sort of music comes out of these areas and try and convince some of the bands to come back here and play in Australia, if they can. If bands that noteworthy want to play with us we are honoured and a little bit nervous!
Jace: I've heard GHAUST and can't wait to see them live. Any band that is considered a powerhouse has my attention already!
Before we conclude, any last words?
Jem: Well I would like to tell anyone who is coming out to see us on this tour that we are very interested in learning as much about local language and culture (especially food) as we can. And I want to trade in my Aussie accent for a Malay one! So please come and say hello and teach us. Even if we look tired just come and say hi. Also any bands who have plans to come and tour Australia should talk to us about this. So many Aussie bands have come over your way, we want to see SE Asian bands come to us instead! Our album will not be ready in time for the tour, sorry, but it will be released on cassette by Ricecooker very soon after the tour. And it also will be on LP/digital in July through my label and Wantage USA. If any other labels in the area are keen to release any of our stuff please let us know.
Apart from that? I can't wait to come and play!
*"Most people don't get DEAD. But then most people are idiots." - DEAD
**op shop: Short for “opportunity shop”, this term is exclusive to Australia. They are the equivalent of our “thrift stores”, “2nd-hand shops”, or “bundle shops”.
For more info, please check out DEAD's website on http://www.deadsounds.com
They will also be touring with onion – http://myspace.com/engineerofthesea