A man and his guitar, that’s the song. That’s what you’ll first hear when you listen to Dead Professional’s debut EP, Hard Hard Hard. You’ll find a strikingly stark production, and when was the least time you heard that kind of straightforward rock n roll, the kind that seeks out this minimalism? Not something lo-fi, but a bare ascetic which lends to a sound clear and unobtrusive.
There is an ambience to plainspoken rock, which, unlike punk or garage rock, allows the listener a sort of flexibility. Such songs can be enjoyed with a passive or active listen—to melt into the background, taking their two-minute running time to settle deep inside the auditory cortex of your mind. A shimmering chord, a plucky guitar riff, a heartstring chorus sung with twang, and the barest of rhythmic backing, these are the makings of an honest, well-crafted rock song, and these are the terms in which Dead Professional works.
John Harouff, the man behind the music of Dead Professional, aims for simplicity in his music, and it is this musical brevity that gives the songs lift, that which moves them away from the maelstrom of rock cliché, and hints at the playfulness of the great rock singer-songwriters of the past. Dead Profession captures and maintains a musical conciseness rarely found in rock these days. It is a much-welcomed sound, which takes little to no time getting use to and doesn’t sweat winning you over.
Dead Professional will be playing a series of shows in the DMV through February. Be sure to check them out when they headline at the Rock & Roll Hotel February 14.
How’s your day going?
So far, so good. It’s a lovely, moist winter day.
When the sun doesn’t come out, my motivation drops. It shouldn’t, I shouldn’t be affected by weather; it’s childish.
No, you should. It’s human. You’re fine. If you aren’t affected by weather, you’re weird.
Alright, so I’m not weird. Good.
(laughs) Well, we’re off to a good start.
Okay, we can start with the question portion now. How’d Dead Professional start?
I began with demos. Just recording myself, on my own, writing songs. Trying to figure out what to do next. I was in a duo for a long time and decided to put that on hiatus for a while. So I wrote a batch of songs with no exact direction. I actually did a lot of brain storming figuring out which way to go, but ultimately, I think the songs dictate where I go—in terms of genre and what to do with them and whatnot. They just kind of come out the way they come out. Eventually, they turned out in whatever the dead professional style is, I guess. I was experimenting with trying to make some demos work live with a couple of friends briefly and that just wasn’t coming together. So I decided I’d try playing live solo, which I figure out I could do using some loop pedals and vocal processors. So I could sort of recreate the minimalist sound of the recordings, but do it as live as possible, but all solo. So that was a fun challenge for a while, it made things a bit different—I don’t want to say techno—but a little bit more interesting and modern, and not just a rock and roll band setup.
While I heard that modern sound, to me, there’s something timeless to your music, in the singer-songwriter quality of the music. They have an echo of Warren Zevon and John Haitt, those kinds of strong rock songwriters.
I thank you very much. That’s excellent. I’m a huge fan of Warren Zevon. I was just thinking of him this morning. I feel like what I do is in the traditional vain, I attempt to follow that kind of style. But I also do have an eye on the presentation, and trying to make it modern. I want to pay attention to the presentation, and not just focus on the songwriting. So that whole looping thing was an influence on the way I was writing songs. But now I’m playing with a traditional drummer, bass player setup. I’m still trying to hold on to that sharp edged minimalism that influenced that early part of the live show.
What is it that attracts you to this minimalism?
That’s what I like. I think it makes it engaging. I like it when the song is right in front of you and you don’t have to wade through a bunch of sonic mumbo jumbo.
All that shoegazing madness?
Not to put that down, I love that stuff too. I like a song you can wrap your ears around it the first time you hear it. Maybe there’s more to it, and you hear new things or understand the lyrics better later or whatever. But I love music that doesn’t make you work for it, that’s engaging right off the bat, and I feel like the minimalism kind of makes that easier, makes things more accessible. Also, I like the sounds; I like the clean sound. I get bored with just the traditional strumming singer-songwriter sound. I want it to be a little more hard-edged or something.
Lately, you’ve been playing a lot of shows around the D.C. area, and obviously D.C. has a history with punk music. But do you find it’s a good city for the straightforward rock and roll of Dead Professional?
Actually, yes. Lately. At first I won’t have been able to answer that question, but now it seems we’re starting to find an audience. I will say it’s funny you’d say that because I was about to go down a tangent of what I was last saying, I did grow up listening to a lot of Fugazi and that sort of angular post-punk music. And I feel that is a lot of why I do pay attention to the sound and style of presentation. I feel the songs maybe much more traditional, and more bedroom pop, but in the presentation, somewhere in me there’s this inclination to make it more angular and noise somehow.
So you feel growing up here has definitely had an impact on the music you make?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was saying. Coming into shows in D.C. back when our parents had to drive us, it’s hugely influential. The whole DIY thing, and the fact that I could go see my favorite bands on a regular basis and it wasn’t some far off thing, was partly why I choose to do this with my life. Because it seemed like something you could do, and sort of on your own terms.
And your EP just came out this November. Do you feel that now that it’s out there people are becoming more and more familiar with the band? It was so recent though, I’m sure it’s hard to tell.
At this point, I don’t know what impact the EP has had or ill have. I feel like it’s just started. Hopefully. I’ve talked to a lot of people that say ‘you don’t exist until you’re on Spotify or iTunes.’ But if people want to know about Dead Professional now they can. Hopefully that’ll help, and people will become more and more familiar with the songs when they come to see us live. We have started to get on some better shows, and started to get people coming to see us and being more familiar with us.
You see some repeat people out in the crowd.
Yeah, and people know the songs, who cheer when they’re song comes up, or whatever, or will sing along and make jokes. I like hacklers; I like audience participation. When they’re some kind of recognition, or common ground, that helps.
Now that the EP is out, what’s next for Dead Professional?
On the immediate horizon, we’re gonna to do some video stuff. We gonna do a live video shoot next week, hopefully that works out well. We may make some music videos for some songs on the EP. I’m looking to keep going, make a full length LP in 2015, and get into some serious touring.