The Talking Dead
They say dead men tell no tales, but Dead Men Talking are telling their story to Kingdomz X. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, this cadaverous crew continue the legacy of their city’s creative cauldron of amazing artists.
The songs on your album have such depth, but at the same time, sounds like you guys were enjoying the process. What’s the atmosphere like when you’re recording?
We are all serious artists and producers with a desire to create powerful and interesting songs and records. When we're in recording mode we're like a team of engineers tracking, experimenting, debating, and generally figuring out what is going to make the song what it “should be”. That said, we're a bunch of goofballs so that serious focus is interspersed with stupid jokes and laughter that keep us lighthearted and is probably what you're talking about when you say that it sounds like we were enjoying the process. I truly love working with these guys.
Most of the basic tracks on the album were recorded in one take at either our house in Sellwood or Corey's dad's house in NE Portland in big living rooms, so the atmosphere was pretty relaxed. We had a few friends there to help us out with setting up mics (and for moral support) but other than that it was just us three hanging out and joking around. We had pretty clear ideas for the songs going into it but we never did two takes exactly the same. I believe that's why the album has a somewhat raw, spontaneous feel to it. We were open to embracing some “flaws” on the takes we really loved.
You're right, we did have a lot of fun putting the album together, and a big part of the fun was creating the depth to it. When we started the recording process we knew we couldn’t expect it to come out sounding like it was produced by someone who works with the Taylor Swifts or Justin Biebers of the world. Considering the fact that we were working with around .004% of the money they have to produce an album, we knew it was going to be a little rough. At the time we were all busy with jobs, or school, or both, so finding the time to be able to record was a bit of a struggle. We used an old reel to reel to get the live takes to tape and acquire the warm analog sound. From there we took it to digital and overdubbed the bass and extra guitars, vocals, and keys.
How do you manage drawing from the past for inspiration, yet at the same time make your songs sound current?
I have always been drawn to and fascinated by the golden ages of rock and roll. I guess there's just something about those bands (The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Zombies, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, etc.) that feels more authentic and exciting than a lot of current music. But, that said, I live in a modern world filled with incredible art and music that also inspire me.
There's a timelessness in true art that I'm always striving to tap into. Sure the styles are different, the technology is more advanced and the artistic world has become almost infinitely diverse and diffused, but the problems and beauty we face as human beings seem to have remained the same through the ages. Love, war, existential crisis, death they've all been inspiring our artistic creations since the beginning and I think it's important to remind people of that.
Art from the past is what everything modern was formed out of and something old can be as fresh and inspiring as something new. I can only hope this timeless feeling comes through in our music.
Share with us how Dead Men Talking came together.
Before DMT was born I had “broken up” with music. My last project, Zinnie for Short, was like a tumultuous romance in which I was helping create really great music, but always walking on eggshells and being judged. When that ended I felt pretty defeated and uninspired. I took a trip through France and Spain with my ex-girlfriend (who most of the record is about) and reassessed my life. I decided it was time to start my own band where I was able to play and record all these songs I had written and make a healthier environment for my band mates and I to create. The name “Dead Men Talking” actually comes from the name of a bar I visited in Madrid. I returned to the states, called up Max, ran into Casey at a show, and the rest is history.
Corey and I have been close friends since sixth grade and we actually grew up playing music together in our first band, Unhinged, which later evolved into The Sun-birds during our psychedelic/garage rock phase. Along with our friend Sam Jackson, we wrote and recorded music together in our basements throughout middle and high school. Both of us went on to be in other musical projects but when Corey approached me about starting a new band I was definitely excited to reunite with some new material. Casey was also a good friend from our high school days who we met playing all ages shows together at places like The Satyricon. So the groups formation was pretty natural, it's been just like old times.
For me personally this band is mostly a new group of musicians. Some years back Max and I had played in our friend's band, Brass Clouds, working mostly to flesh out and expand the live sound for songs that had already been recorded. I was impressed with how easy it seemed Max could come up with ideas for parts that would give songs the right dynamic for the moment and also not step on anybody's toes. Corey on the other hand I had heard only a handful of times but I always saw potential in his songwriting, taste, and playing. We crossed paths again somewhat randomly at karaoke (which we're nuts for), started talking about the Beatles or David Bowie or something, and we got together shortly after that.
How does the experience with this band, compare to your previous bands?
It's far superior in every way. We're more productive, compatible, and invested than any other band I've been in. It feels like something that will last and stay fresh and inspiring to me. I feel incredibly lucky to be where I'm at and to be working with people who really believe in the music and have great ideas to contribute.
For me it's probably the most comfortable experience I've had playing in a band. We've all known each other for a long time and have jammed and written songs with each other before so most of the songs come together pretty quickly once we have an idea. In other bands I've worked with there is usually one main songwriter with songs that are already fully formed and I'll figure out a drum part to complement what's already there. I've also joined bands that were already established in which case I'll just come in and play the parts. I've always found joy in helping to craft a song and throwing in my own ideas. In this band I feel like every member has a little more creative freedom to do that. I think we all have trust in each others' abilities and ideas and we can build songs as a group collaboration which is refreshing to me.
I'm quite excited with the prospect of this group of musicians. This is the first opportunity I've had to be in a band where keyboards play a more dominant role. Corey and I are both proficient at keys as well as guitar so it seems that there is a lot more freedom to experiment with tone than in previous projects I've been a part of. Also I've always felt that musicianship can be just as important to a band as the social comradery. If you've played in a lot of bands you start to notice that playing with people you enjoy greatly heightens your appreciation and enthusiasm for music. I think that's what I have found here.
Casey, you’re the bass player of the group, but I was intrigued to learn that you’re a “multi-instrumentalist”. What other instruments do you play?
I started like a lot of us start…clarinet in 5th grade, and saxophone in 6th. At the time, I could read a little bit of sheet music, but man was skateboarding the coolest, and saxophone the lamest. Around 13-14 years old I started playing guitar. My mom was a multi-instrument musician who played through the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s in rock, punk, and folk bands, so we had a couple instruments laying around to say the least. Around 15, my mom paid a “guitar teacher”, a guy in his mid-20’s, 25$ a week to teach me how to take my skills to the next level. He taught me a lot of music theory, which translated to other instruments. It was around that time that I started a two-piece “White Stripes/Black Keys” kind of cover band with my best friend Michael on drums. Due to the two-piece situation, I wasn’t fulfilled with just playing one instrument (the guitar) and began to record my own music in my bedroom. Many long nights with very little sleep were spent using Adobe Audition, with which I recorded 6 to 10 instrument ensembles, and started to not only learn other instruments on a new level, but began to write my own music and share it with the world through myspace. While guitar is my most comfortable and well-trained of instruments, I can stand in on a few others if needed, so currently I’m playing the bass. While I do play guitar on some of the recordings, our next album will probably feature me on a few other instruments as well. That’s one of my favorite things about this band, we all love to write and structure songs, and we all play more than one instrument.
I find it amazing that you’ve already done a national tour, at this early stage. How has the reception to your music and performances been?
It was amazing! Going on tour is something I've always wanted to do, so when the opportunity arose I jumped on it. The reception of our music was great, I feel like we've got a pretty unique thing going and audiences seem to think so too. We've received a lot of amazing compliments on the composition of the songs and the cohesiveness of the band. I think having piano as a main instrument is sort of a novelty these days and people seem extra excited when we play those songs. I'm looking forward to recording all our new material and to the next tour!
Our tour was a fantastic experience and we learned a lot from it. We toured as a two piece with my wife Stella supporting us and helping us with a lot of the logistics. We definitely had some welcoming and attentive crowds in places like Austin, New Orleans, and Nashville. It was great to meet and connect with a lot of new bands and see how people are doing it outside of Portland. We were able to stop at several national parks and see a lot of family and friends along the way so I think we made the most out of our month and half on the road.
What’s next for Dead Men Talking?
Whew, there's so much it's overwhelming! To start, we just added a new member, Paul Hasenberg, to the band. He's an accomplished organ and keyboard player, among other things. He should really fill out the live performance and add a whole other dimension to our next record. That brings me to our first full-length album which is in the works and should be out sometime in the next year. We're excited to be back in the recording world and curious how the final product will manifest itself. In the next few months I plan to have vinyl copies of our EP pressed and maybe cassette tapes as well.
In a few weeks we start the filming of our first music video for "Lord Knows I Don't Care". Complete with synchronized swimming routines written by my friend Felicia Montejano, it should be pretty amazing! Our drummer Max Lilien and his wife Stella are having a baby this summer. It was conceived during our tour last Fall. After they get all settled in with the kid, I'll try and steal Max away to do an east coast tour, but don't tell him that!
Other than all that we'll continue playing shows in Portland and branch out to Seattle, Vancouver BC, Victoria, Bellingham, Boise, Eugene, and Ashland to try and build a strong regional following. I know that someday we'd all love to quit our day jobs and just do what we love. We'll just have to keep creating music, working hard, and see if it's in our cards.
Have a listen to Dead Men Talking at their SoundCloud below, and purchase their debut album at BandCamp. You can follow them at their Facebook page as well.
Originally published at Millennial Magazine