Somewhere around Halloween in 2013, a few women got together and rehearsed what they thought would be a one-off Dead Milkmen tribute set in the spirit of the holiday. The idea grew on them, and they decided that wouldn't be the end of it. So, they called themselves The Dead Deads, and in an unusually collaborative process, wrote 11 songs for a debut album, “Rainbeau,” recorded live to tape in three days and released in November 2014. Songs like “Organ P” and “Weedo” borrow from the dark crunch of bands like Helmet and L7, but have all the pop sensibility of a late-’90s Veruca Salt, unafraid to mix brutal rock noise with decidedly feminine vocal stylings and creepy cooing (see: outro to “The Glow”). The record was well-received, especially in the band’s native Nashville, and The Dead Deads began playing shows on the likes of Motorhead’s Motorboat cruise, developing a legion of fans affectionately known as the “Dead Corps.” Predictably, they’re a hit with distortion-loving dudes, but they’ve been assertive about nurturing a connection to a broad fanbase of women, too. The Dead Deads play in Little Rock for the first time at Stickyz Thursday, March 16, 9 p.m., $5. I talked with drummer Billy Dead and lead vocalist/guitarist Meta Dead ahead of that show, and here's some of our conversation.You all started out as a Dead Milkmen tribute band. What are some of the tunes you remember playing? And was it a full-fledged, doing shows kind of thing, or just a fun project? Both?
Billy: Funny story, we actually agreed to a tribute show before we had even picked the band! This was Halloween 2013 (before Betty had joined the band). We played Punk Rock Girl, of course, B*tchin' Camaro, Nutrition, and a few others, and played only one show. I think. before we realized that we wrote/played well together and wanted to keep playing together. To do that, we decided that we better write our own material. We wore XXs over our eyes to have the appearance that we're "dead," like the old cartoons. We wanted to keep that branding for ourselves, and that's where the name The Dead Deads comes from. With both of those projects, we never took ourselves too seriously at first. We just enjoyed playing together and couldn't possibly have imagined this journey that we're currently on.
In an interview with Asheville, N.C.’s The Blue Banner, you commented on something that Lzzy Hale of Halestorm said about you guys. Essentially, she said you were in this for the right reasons. You [Meta Dead] said: “I think we are poised, maybe, to be a paradigm shifting band because we are women, adult women, in an industry that doesn’t have a lot of adult women doing the kind of music we’re doing, so my goal is for us to be some kind of paradigm shift where more adult women are out playing rock and roll and not being like, 'Oh, you’re a mom and you’re 30, so this is out of reach for you.' I would love that." What’s the connection like with your female fans? Do you feel like there are lots of soccer mom Dead Dead Heads out there?
Meta: What we meant by that is simply that we are excited to be playing in a time where we can actively influence change in stereotypes about age and sex in rock 'n' roll. When Lzzy said "the right reasons," I think she was referring to the fact that we are playing the kind of music we want to play, and we aren't letting anyone tell us we aren't the people to play it. As far as our female fans go, we have a close connection to all of our fans. I wish we could lose the term "soccer mom" and say "supportive mom" instead, because really, any mom that's running kids around to all those activities is a rockstar in my book. Our fan club is called The Dead Corps, and they are made up of people from all walks of life. Some aren't able to come out to a rock show, but we have a community online so that everyone can be a part of the action. There are lots of moms and dads out there that love The Dead Deads, including our own!
On that topic - on not being kids - there are some lyrics in “Sympathy Sex” that really resonated with me as a woman in her mid-30s, specifically as relates to getting older: “I think I finally get it/I get why they say/'kids these days.'" Can you elaborate on the song's meaning?
Meta: "Sympathy Sex" has a lot of layers, and people draw different meanings from it. I think it means something different to each person in our band as well. It was inspired by this idea of people being addicted to sympathy — those folks that always want to tell you how much worse their situation is any time you try to tell them about your life. We kind of took that and ran with it in several directions. Ultimately, the bridge you're talking about, for me, is about watching someone with every blessing and opportunity be ungrateful for this amazing life we are all granted.
That video’s a riot, too! Can you talk a little about making it?
Billy: We wanted to take the somewhat serious nature of the lyrics/song and make a fun video, barely hinting at the frustration of the song (which could mean several different things to different listeners). Thus, our bandroid idea. We used our villain from the "Lemonade" and "Super Tiny" videos (Keiffer Infantino, one of our sound engineers) to appear as though he were nice and helpful, but ending up not being dependable (until he was fixed near the end). Albeit frustrating, we thought the light-hearted route would be more appropriate and fun, rather than a dark video portraying what the lyrics represent.
This question might be Meta Dead-specific. I feel like a lot of women playing this kind of music feel natural when they modify their voice, adding a growl or a deep-seated quality, but there’s a lot of femininity in your delivery. It's alternatively soft and breathy, then full-on howl. I know people ask you a lot about your influences, but can you talk about who influences you, vocally speaking?
Meta: I never liked my voice growing up. It seemed pitiful and powerless. Everyone's voice has an upper and lower register, meaning the high soft singing voice and then the lower speaking voice. It wasn't until I was in my late teens I started experimenting with using my "talking voice" to sing. I sang along with Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder a lot. Later in my twenties, I sang along with Imogen Heap, who has this unbelievable range. I learned to marry the two voices into one expressive instrument. The screams I do with The Dead Deads come very naturally. It's just grunge to me. The growls were a joke that accidentally stuck when everyone was like..."Oh my god—do that again."