Interview with Dead Mechanical: Whiskey-soaked vocals, sharp as glass guitar chords. By Koepenick

Mar 03, 2009

Do you sit up and take notice when a band plays in between twenty other bands and totally defies your expectations? In this case I was like, “Who the fuck are these guys?” I had to get their CD. I had to know when they were playing again. I may go see a lot of bands, but I don’t see a lot of bands over and over again. Mission Of Burma comes to mind. Seeing every show they play near me is like drinking water. Necessary. Dead Mechanical may quickly grab the crown from the current kings. Listen to “Guantanamo Calling” for a taste: whiskey-soaked vocals, sharp as glass guitar chords, jackhammer bass lines, and four on the floor drumming. I would have no problem putting this one song on infinite repeat on the player. It really is that good.

Interview by Sean Koepenick
Photos by Dave Stone

Sean: How glad are you that Obama won?
Lucas: There was a woman who was singing “The Greatest Love of All” with her windows down. And somebody pulled up next to her and started singing “The Greatest Love of All” with her! And it was incredible. I’m also happy. I think he’s going to be a great President.
Sean: Do you consider yourself a political band?
Lucas: I would say that I write songs about politics sometimes, mostly because I’m like, “What should I write a song about?” and I start in on whatever they are talking about on C-SPAN radio.
Matt: Lucas’s songs are probably a little more political than mine. I kind of write about social issues.
Lucas: The personal is political.
Sean: What recurring themes do you see coming back to your songs? Perhaps ideas that you weren’t even aware of when you were making them?
Lucas: I think I end up writing a lot of songs about places.
Sean: How do your local surroundings influence your songwriting?
Lucas: I think we are up to three things that have Calvert Street(a street in Baltimore) in them! I haven’t lived here that long.
Matt: In the next record, there are going to be a lot more Baltimore-centric songs than the first one.
Sean: In what ways are you surprised that “corporate culture” is destroying the U.S.?
Matt: That’s a question for Lucas.
Lucas: In what way am I surprised?
Matt: It might not really be surprising.
Lucas: Can I take a pass on that one?
Matt: No! Start talking.

Lucas: Did you ever see the Enron movie? The Smartest Guys in the Room?
Matt: Tell me about it.
Lucas: I was watching it a couple years ago. What struck me is, what Enron did was something that nobody could possibly understand. You could imagine that these companies are so far removed from that “produce product/sell that product,” that there is not any serious way of understanding what they are doing. In my work, I get a lot of it. I do a lot of anti-trust type work. It’s astonishing how much people come up with shady accounting. I don’t think I’m allowed to say anymore, based on all the confidentiality agreements that I signed. But, basically, everybody is lying about how much they’re earning.
Sean: What the fuck is your job that you have such high confidentiality?
Lucas: It’s not anything exciting. I’m a temp lawyer. Basically, we get called in when there’s a law firm that has to look at a bunch of documents and there’s too many for them to do it themselves. So, I get to read these internal corporate documents and emails and such and have to keep it confidential. Also, in my spare time, I do a little freelance spying for the Ukrainian secret police.
Sean: What’s the most almost-secret-but-you-can-tell-us part of your job?
Lucas: Oh, there’s really nothing exciting. One of our songs, “Dear Marketing Department,” was inspired by reading a bunch of ideas some marketing guy had for getting his company’s product to play a pivotal role in a James Bond movie. I just found it really bothersome that there are people out there whose job it is to fuck up art by turning everything into a commercial. If you can call a James Bond movie art. Which I suppose you could if no one was around to hear you.
Sean: Have any corporations asked you—even in your personal life—to sponsor you?
Lucas: I guess in the sense that I have a job, it’s pretty corporation-heavy.
Matt: I don’t believe that we’ve ever gotten any offers. If we did, we would totally say no!
Lucas: I don’t know how corporations decide who they are going to sponsor, but whatever it is, it’s not us.
Sean: Why is your minivan so enticing to car thieves?
Lucas: Well, the Dodge Caravan—this is what the police told me when it was stolen—is the easiest car to steal in the world. All you need is a screwdriver. You can actually just pop this thingy over here and start the car up with this same screwdriver. So, yeah. Easiest car to steal.
Matt: Do you think the ever-present McDonald’s bags have any effect on it?
Lucas: Maybe they do. There’s usually some Cool Ranch Doritos around here, but I cleaned up the car today.
Sean: Tell a story about the band that could have only have happened in Baltimore, and why it’s strictly Baltimorean.
Lucas: Well, we were playing a crab restaurant once and Billy Ripken and the guy that played McNulty came in and watched the set. Then, later, we all shot up some heroin in a vacant rowhouse. I thought to myself, “I bet this kind of thing never happens in Wilmington, Delaware!” The really funny thing is that a few months later, when we were playing in Wilmington, it did. For a real answer, I can’t think of anything Baltimorean that has happened to us in Baltimore. Once my car got broken into at The Ottobar while we were playing.
Sean: What was the coolest thing you saw in Tim Kerr’s house? That place is like a museum.
Lucas: Holy shit!
Dan: The amps we got were awesome. We took the amps that Don Zientara used to record all the old Dischord records. Mike Vasquez, who recorded us, told us about all the shit Tim had. I didn’t really see any of it. But he said he had, like, Glenn Danzig’s Misfits gloves.

Lucas: We were there around Halloween and he is apparently really, really into Halloween. So his house is like a Halloween festival.
Matt: I get the sense that his place is like that all the time. There was a huge baby grand piano taking up one room. And another room just filled with records, books, and artifacts.
Sean: Where did you have your best meal while recording in Austin?
Matt: Every morning we went to this like breakfast taco truck. The breakfast tacos were the best.
Dan:Every morning we would get breakfast tacos—for like 12 days. When they first told us about it, I was like, “Dude, there’s no way I’m eating a breakfast taco at 10 o’clock in the morning.”
Lucas: But there was a cute girl running the stand, too.
Sean: Name a couple people who, if they left or stopped doing what they do, it would really change your local music community?
Dan: Mike Welch immediately comes to mind. He put out our record and booked shows for us. It’s sort of hard to name specific people. It’s such a small group of people, some of them we have been friends with for years.
Lucas: I think if I was ever to stop, the city of Baltimore would fall apart. I mean fall apart more.
Matt: I would be bummed if you stopped Lucas.
Lucas: Thank you, Matt.
Dan: Lucas paid for our first record to come out.
Sean: Shittest stunt a promoter has pulled on you?
Lucas: Not showing up to open the club?
Dan: Was that Asheville?
Lucas:Asheville, or Lo Fi Social Club.
Matt:They did name a sandwich after us, but they did not let us play. It was interesting. A breakfast sandwich, actually. It was on the menu. We were not.
Matt: We’ve actually been pretty fortunate, as far as promoters go.
Sean: Where did the band name come from?
Lucas: I think it was used as an adjective and also it was part of a song titled “The Only Bad Thing That Ever Happened.”
Sean: What’s the furthest you’ve traveled from Baltimore and had a fan singing along to all the songs?
Dan: We’re playing in Silver Spring (Maryland) tomorrow so we can get out a yardstick.
Matt: Is Florida the furthest we’ve been?
Dan: Where people were singing along?
Lucas: Sam in Cincinnati.
Sean: How did they get a hold of your record there?
Matt: The internet.
Sean: What’s one initial reaction you weren’t expecting from someone who saw the band for the first time—like an old friend, co-worker, or family member?
Lucas: My Mom told me that we should get a new singer.
Matt: I would say boredom. When we first started, I thought we were really good. I was really excited about us. I thought that everyone would be really excited, and it wasn’t the case all the time.
Dan: There’s this girl I work with who came and saw us play a couple weeks ago. She said, “You know, there is one song that you do that I think is pretty good. It’s the second to last song that you did.” The second to last song we did was a Wipers cover that we do.
Sean: Explain how the songwriting process works for the band. Does each band member come into practice with some kind of riff or melody?
Lucas: Usually, when Matt writes a song, he comes to practice with it pretty much done already, except he doesn’t have lyrics, so he just makes word-esque sounds when he sings. When Dan writes something, he usually brings it pretty much done, except the vocals. I tend to be the one who comes to practice and is all, “Uhh, I got these two parts.” As far as writing melodies and lyrics and stuff for songs I sing, we will usually make a quick tape recording of the instrumental versions of a song and then I’ll write vocals in the car when I’m driving to work.
Sean: As a power trio, who makes sure you don’t steer towards Rush jam time territory?
Lucas: Well, I am pretty awful at jamming, because I never really got music theory and scales and stuff down, so that helps. I’d say that of the three of us, Matt has the least tolerance for musical silliness, so he tends to be the one who makes sure that the half-baked ideas we have get worked into actual songs, rather than coming out as half-baked ideas.
Sean: What other art forms seep into your songwriting?
Lucas: I think there are a lot of literary references. I was in AP English, so…
Sean: Does the band have any band rules, like no shorts or flip flops on stage?
Matt: The flip flop thing, like if that ever happened…
Lucas: I guess that is sort of an unspoken rule.
Matt: That is one incident away from becoming a rule.
Dan: I actually find them to be really comfortable. If I had them on before a gig, I wouldn’t go into the van and change them.
Sean: Would you make him change?
Matt: I might.
Lucas: I’m going to let Dan Bress be Dan Bress.
Matt: I have a rule that I like Lucas to stretch his guitar strings before a show. He refuses to do it, and then he breaks the string.
Lucas: Is there any way that tape recorder can record “rolling eyes?”
Sean: Was there ever a gig you played where you feared for your safety?
Dan: Insubordination Fest last year. The band before us asked to borrow Matt’s hardware.
Matt: I don’t really want to tell this story. We had a near altercation with another band.
Dan: We weren’t really afraid, but it was a situation.
Matt: They apologized afterwards and everything was fine.
Sean: What is the silliest thing that has been thrown on stage during your set?
Lucas: Orange peels. I think that’s also the only thing that’s been thrown on stage, unless you count bras, panties, and jock straps.
Sean: What special preparation did you do for your vinyl release?
Dan: We spent eighteen months meticulously going over the artwork.
Sean: Are all of you in other bands too, or just Lucas? How do you manage that time-wise?
Lucas: I’m in the AV Club. Matt is also in Sick Sick Birds. As far as time goes, it hasn’t really been that much of an issue. There’s seven nights a week for practicing and playing shows. Dead Mechanical is definitely the most active of our bands. That’s really only two or three nights at most, unless we are touring or recording.
Your favorite punk compilation and why?
Matt: Mine is definitely PunkU. I think that’s what it’s called. It’s got Generation X’s “100 Punks Rule.” It’s got Buzzcocks “Orgasm Addict.” It’s got Wire on there. It’s got this awesome Killing Joke song. It came out when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school. It’s got “Alternative Ulster” by Stiff Little Fingers. I keep finding songs on it that I like. There’s this awesome Bow Wow Wow song on it.
Lucas: Mine is Punk USA. That was the first time I ever heard Jawbreaker.
Dan:Punk Uprising? I don’t know. There is a good Lifetime song on there.
Lucas: That had the only good Anti-Flag song I’ve ever heard “Indie sucks/Hardline sucks.” I used to love that song.
Dan: There was a good Discount song on there, too.
Matt: There’s also Real Punk: The Nasty Years. It has a pretty good Crass song on it. And a pretty good Exploited song. That made me buy several Exploited records. I don’t know why I did. It was all bad decisions, but I kept doing it. I even bought a T-shirt
Lucas: My real answer is Punk-O-Rama, Vol. 5.
Dan: I liked Punk-O-Rama, Vol. 2, maybe. It had a really good TSOL song on there. A good Bad Religion song on there.
Lucas: As long as there are absolutely no follow-up questions, Vol. 5.
Dan:This is Ska, Vol. 2.
Matt: Compilations were a big deal when I was younger. I had a compilation that had the single version of Circle Jerks’ “Wild in the Streets,” TSOL’s “Code Blue.”
Lucas: Oh wait! Echoes of The Nation’s Capital, Vol. 2. That was awesome.
Dan: I think when you were in high school, the mall had a lot of those compilations. It was a way to find out about twenty bands for like $4.99.
Matt: We had a lot more to say about this question then any of the others.
Lucas: Dan should have been here for the question about corporations.
Dan: I should have? Fuck off, corporate America.