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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 well please.
–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.
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 “second album…”
Rodney: They call it “sophomore syndrome.”
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 have that.
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 confused.
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 makes me…
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 something.
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 promotional stuff.
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 shit-wise.
Joe: I blocked it out of my memory, basically.
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 discussion. [laughter]
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 really like.
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 himself.
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 songs.
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 newspaper.
Joe: We did that for a while.
Dandrew: We have to bring that one back.
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 “Silly Dreams”?
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 manager.
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 make.
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 were like…
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 Rotation.
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 back.
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 been broken.
Joe: You can still sing.
Rodney: Have you ever seen our act? I need my foot to sing! [laughter]
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 thought.
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 Dave was?
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 the shows?
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 to do.
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 Bethlehem, and, 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 drugs.
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 signing stuff.
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 did PCP.
Dandrew: I did it once, by accident.
Rodney: Everybody’s done it by accident.
Joe: It always amused me. I was thinking, “Why would anybody want to smoke a horse tranquilizer or whatever it is.”
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 made charts.
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 at Beerland.
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 ten minutes.”
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 terrible.
Rodney: I’m not a fan.
Joe: I went and had dinner, so I missed everything.
Rodney: Joe and I saw them when we were seventeen.
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 homophobic rant.
Justin: Did you ever trademark the term “Scruff Rock”?
Joe: No. That was given to us by the record company.
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?” you know.
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 that?
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 were replacing?
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 “Stuart”?
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 are farmers!”
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, and Wyoming. 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,” right?
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 younger.
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 some reason.
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 promotion?
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” seriously?
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 them famous.
Dean: You’ll go on to have your own talk show.
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.