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Words of Wisdom with The Dead Records

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader

2010-07-04


I sat down this week with The Dead Records, a local 4-piece rock band who just released their second album, titled Proud, this spring. I’m going to be honest, when I first sat down with these guys, I expected a polite interview, but not a whole lot of depth. This isn’t because I thought the band was bad or untalented (I’m not into self-flagellation); I’m just not used to talking to bands who are a) as self-aware as this band is, and b) as able to intelligently discuss their aesthetics, motives, and craft as they are. This was a great band to interview.

Made up of Chad Briner on guitar, Sean Richardson on drums, Will Magley on bass, and Aaron Taylor on guitar and lead vocals, The Dead Records were initially formed by Richardson and Taylor (although all of the members have known each other and have been playing on and off together since high school). After doing some home recording, they decided they needed a bass player for their live act, and recruited Magley for the job. In 2008 they released a self-titled album, and in the fall of 2009, Briner joined the band to beef up the guitar sound.

In regards to the music, The Dead Records play rock that is honest and straightforward, but not oversimplified to the point where they become interchangeable with other bands. With a sound reminiscent of a cross between The Gaslight Anthem and Circa Survive, most of the time the rhythms of the songs are held down by Taylor and Magley, giving Briner and Richardson space to move around a bit and play with giving the songs bigger, fuller textures than they might otherwise have. Taylor is an amazing vocalist, too, which seems to be something of an anomaly in bands where the singer is also an instrumentalist. Most of the time, this is because that person is usually a player first, and singer second. In Taylor’s case, however, the opposite is true. “I’ve always tried to get the vocals better than my guitar part,” he said. “I want the vocals to really get out there over the guitars so it’s not like, ‘well the vocals really suck but the guitar’s awesome. That’s why it’s great having Chad play guitar, because I don’t have to think ‘how am I gonna write this great guitar part?’ I can focus just on the vocals.”

This really shows on “Proud,” too. My single favorite part of the album comes on the first track when Taylor belts out “and I ran through the streets screaming here they come” with enough force to punch a hole in the wall. That guy can sing his ass off. “I’ve always said that the number one thing is vocals,” he continued. “To musicians it’s not, but to the general public it is. Because most people are listening to the music and they’re listening to the lyrics. Nobody’s listening to music as they’re like ‘man, do you hear that bass line?’ Musicians will do that, but generally speaking that’s what people listen to. I’ve been to tons of shows where people are like ‘this guy really sucks at singing,’ and I’m like ‘yeah but the music’s awesome,’ and they’re just like ‘ah, the guy sucks,’ and that’s it. So that’s why I want to make [the lyrics] as good as I possibly can, because that’s what most people listen to.”

Since forming, the band has played in Pennsylvania, Washington DC, the Carolinas, Florida, and Missouri, among others, and the experience has left a mark on the members, namely, they know where to play and where not to play. “We’re trying to do more in Chicago, because that’s a huge music market,” said Richardson. “And we’re trying to stick close to the mid-west this time, because if you’re playing in Ohio or Chicago and you meet a cool band, you can hook up with them later. If you’re in Florida and you meet a cool band, what does that do for you? Nothing. We’re trying to get a small circle going and then build on that.” What he means is that, if you’re an unsigned band, and your ability to tour is hampered because all of your members have day jobs and lives, it’s best to maximize your opportunities, and not waste time and energy on areas where it will be impossible to gain a foothold.

Other aspects of touring that have a served as learning experiences for The Dead Records will play are making sure that they play with a local band, and the idea of the “built-in crowd.” According to Taylor, “At first we were like ‘let’s just book anywhere we can,’ but then you realize that’s just stupid, because you drive all this time, and then nobody gives a sh*t, and then you’re like ‘well that was a waste of time.’ So now when we book a show we want to know ‘ok, who are your local bands? Can we get these bands to play with us?’ so we can have a crowd come out.” This is an aspect of booking shows that seems painfully obvious, but a lot of venues seem to totally miss. If you’re in Ohio, and you have unsigned bands from Indiana and Oklahoma playing, but no local band support, how do you expect to draw a crowd?

Taylor also said “I’ve never understood it, but some of the places we play at, they don’t have built in crowds. Like, if there’s not a band there, no one goes there; which is weird to me. I never see that here. So when we book a show without knowing that, and we show up and they say ‘did you bring your crowd,’ we say ‘no, we drove 3 hours; we don’t have a crowd here.’ Those are usually the bust shows, because no one’s coming out to hear a band they don’t know unless you have some locals playing with you.” “It doesn’t seem to effect our performance though,” said Briner. Richardson added “yeah, if you’re driving all that way, and you have your mind set on playing a show, you might as well just play it as hard as you would anyway, because it’s like ‘there you are; that’s your chance.’”

And this is the mark of real professionalism that gets bands invited back places, and earns them a following. You play a bar, and there may only be 4 people there, but if you’re good, and you play well anyway, your next show may have 100 people. I have seen this happen myself.

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