The Dead America’s six-song debut EP is an engaging snapshot of a hungry band on the cusp of bigger things. The disc drips with rock ‘n roll attitude reminiscent of (gulp), The Stooges and Television. The sassy vocal style of Ryan Hess, the driving drums of Heath Dupras, Bryan Bates’ sturdy bass lines and the melodic fulcrum of Michael Waksman’s and Gregg Schmidt’s dueling six-strings make for pure energy on every track.
The Dead America, a local quintet formed last June, was born from the ashes of several other Tampa Bay area rock acts such as Versaille and Tomorrow. The five friends (all in their mid-20s) are neighbors in Seminole Heights and had been waiting for the opportunity to do more than jam together for some time.
“The whole ambition of the band was an idea Michael (Waksman) and I had thrown around for years,” explained Hess while seated at a table with band mates Bates and Waksman in the back of Ybor City’s Tampa Bay Brewing Co.
“We thought about covering old Otis Redding songs and changing the horn (parts) to guitar (parts),” added Hess. “Then, a couple months ago, when all our bands broke up, Heath (Dupras) and I began talking about doing dance-y, unadulterated rock ‘n roll.”
Bates peered over his mug and chimed in from across the table, “We just wanted to play straight-up rock ‘n roll … nothing pretentious about it.”
Waksman offered a humorous anecdote about trying out for Bates’ previous band and being rejected for playing a brand of rock that was considered too mainstream.
“I think all the bands we were previously in had hindrances musically to what you were able to do as far as what was expectable for that band,” allowed Bates. “When (The Dead America) got together, we just wanted to have fun and not worry about tailoring things.”
Like numerous other hardcore rock bands flooding the Tampa area, Dead America’s members have been indeed influenced by seminal underground acts such as Fugazi and Sonic Youth. Yet, they are also in touch with their pop leanings, which range from Sam and Dave to Stevie Wonder – The Dead America understand that catchy riffs, regardless of genre, are as important as spectacular noodling.
“Gregg (Schmidt) adds a lot of pop melodies … a lot of pretty hooks to our music,” said Waksman.
“Even as a player, if it doesn’t pull me in, why would it pull anybody else in?” conceded Bates.
In addition to strong melodies, The Dead America also place a high importance on the energy level they bring to the studio or stage.
“Everything in this band that I wanted to get to the forefront was the fever, pitch and flamboyancy of certain bands such as The Smiths and Morrissey,” enthused Hess.
“Even though their songs are pretty low-key, there’s always something festering there.”
A few pints later, Hess delved deeper into the band’s roles on stage and, in particular, his role behind the mike.
“We always discuss this marriage of real personality and persona … and I don’t know where that line grays,” mused Hess before shaking his head. “God, I sound so self-indulgent.”
The boys from Dead America are incredibly humble but are not bashful about the transition many of them have made from hardcore to more accessible, melodic rock.
“(Music) is an absolute release; it’s an absolute connection with people – I think that anyone that’s in music, whether they want to admit it, they’re in it to connect with people at some level,” said Hess with conviction. “(Otherwise), we would all just stay in our warehouses practicing all the time, writing our music and never showing it to anybody. Even if you just show it to your friends, you’re trying to connect with them … music is a conduit for communication.”
The Dead America’s stellar debut EP, which has garnered attention as far away as The Big Apple, was recorded locally for roughly $1000 in about a week.
“The idea was to record a representation of our live shows as much as possible,” said Waksman.
Ryan expounded, “We wanted to make sure it was a stripped down recording – there wasn’t a lot punching in with extra parts (over-dubs).”
The band takes a collaborative approach to songwriting – each member brings something to the sonic element of the songs while Waksman and Hess tackle the lyrical duties. Their tunes range from rants about obsessive fashion police (“Worst Dress Up in Class”), and meditations on one-night stand decadence (“Caligula”), to the thrill of clandestine activities (“We Call it Lakima”).
Waksman grinned and elucidated on the latter, “It was a spy-noir idea – two agents on opposite sides having a love affair during the height of the Cold War.”
Bates, eyes half-closed from one too many pints, cocked his neck and laughed heartily, “I had no idea it was about that … I’m gonna have to listen to it again.”
Waksman sums up the band’s approach to their craft, “I don’t think we’re taking ourselves that seriously. It’s fun. We’re trying to make it more fun.”
Considering the band has recently been invited to play some key venues in New York City later this spring, it appears The Dead America are definitely headed in the right direction.
- The Dead America will perform w/ Rye Coalition and TBA Sunday at The Orpheum in Ybor City. Tickets cost $5. For more info call 248-9500.
- Contact Wade Tatangelo at email@example.com