Waving the singer-songwriter flag while wearing the colors of blues, folk, country and rock isn’t always the easiest path in the capital city. Even so, DC’s own Justin Jones and Josh Read have soldiered on, forming “The Deadmen” and plying the timeless trade of brutally honest tunes and soulful harmonies. Forged in the DIY aesthetic so vital if not unique to their town, they’ve gotten in where they fit whether sporadically gigging at local clubs or hosting nights at Asylum with other local stalwarts. Their vocal turns and bluesy licks might teach you a thing or two if you can pull your thumbs off of your iPhone for a few minutes. The songs are crafted with and require your attention although they certainly won’t blame you if you belly up to the bar for a cup of muddy water. Just pass some up to the stage. For two guys weaving tales shrouded in lost love, death, false starts and broken promises, they certainly aren’t too self serious – just dedicated to their music and eager to deliver their Saturday night gospel.
As I dial into the conference call, Justin Jones and Josh Read are already waiting, having their own little session without me.
Justin Jones: Josh, how would you classify your muuuusic?
Josh Read: (laughing) I would classify it as heavy crunk. Crunk funk.
BYT: FUUUUUCK. (here I’m just pressing buttons trying to get my speakerphone to work, these two just yammer away.)
JJ: CRUNK FUNK! It sounds like his phone might be the problem. Or he’s not here yet. <sigh> And the minutes… tick away. Luckily it’s free.
JJ: Please announce yourself? Helloooo.
BYT: Yea it’s weird, the conference call thing works but this speakerphone thing I tried sucks.
BYT: Yea, so anyway, that’s all, talk to you guys later (laughing.)
JJ: Alright! See ya later! (laughing) Can you talk any closer to the phone?
BYT: I’m not interviewing me.
JJ: Yea, but, we need to hear the questions. Josh (Read,) this is just going to be you and me shooting the shit.
JR: Yea… so I think that chord is wrong man, I think we should do it in B minor instead of a B major. I really think it’s fucked up.
JJ: Yea, definitely minor over major.
BYT: ALRIIIIIGHT. Can you hear me?
JJ: Little bit.
JR: I mean, it’s quiet, but go ahead.
BYT: What about now, better?
JJ and JR: Nope.
JR: So, Josh, tell us about when you started writing for BYT? And is BYT a play on PYT by Michael Jackson?
BYT: Hah, I don’t think so, I haven’t been granted that info yet.
JR: Research that for us.
BYT: OK, OK, well let’s go, let’s get this over with. Why don’t you guys talk about how you guys formed?
JR: (laughing) How we formed?!
BYT: Geeez, how you formed(laughing,) The Deadmen! I know you guys have known…
JR: We’re a nebulous thing man, The Deadmen are a nebulous band, I think basically we uhhhh….
JJ: Uh, don’t quote him on that!
JR: Hah… now I’m gonna answer seriously. We were hangin’ out and thinking it would be fun to play in a band with more than one songwriter and, you know, shoulder the weight together of critics and also be opposed to always having to tell people what to do. Both of us have been in bands which have turned into, basically, kingdoms, and that kind of thing can be very useful if you have specific goals and plans –
JJ: Well like reeeaaaaally shitty kingdoms! (laughing)
JR: Yes, kingdoms of dirt.
JJ: Yea, like poverty, and, plagued, desert kingdoms. Certainly dictatorships. Basically our bands were like Iraq (JR laughs) and The Deadmen is like Iraq now.
JR: No, The Deadmen is like Babylon’s past – green rolling fields and good irrigation systems.
JJ: Yea, yea, The Deadmen is like Iraq with America in it.
BYT: Ummm OK (laughing.)
JR: No, it’s like Iraq looooooong before America even existed.
Now all I can do is sigh and laugh, I don’t know what the hell is going on at this point.
JJ: We’re the Nile River delta of Iraq.
JR: Protected by a green zone.
BYT: OK. Um. Ok, so, with show I mean are you guys –
JJ: Is that clear?
BYT: Hah, um yes, crystal. Are you guys playing all new material at the show?
JR: Almost all, yes.
JJ: One song is from the 60s, one is from the early aughts, and the rest is new.
BYT: OK. Ummmm-
(JJ and JR Laughing)
BYT: So are you guys recording these new songs?
JR: Well, we’ve been attempting to record it but we’re going to do a round of shows to help pay for recording because it can be extremely expensive. The reason we’re doing some shows at all right now is to make a record that we can sell at shows in the future. There’s basically no point in playing shows without a record.
BYT: Oh, you have some more shows planned already?
JR: Yea, well, what’s that, that casino run in Canada?
JJ: (laughing) Well I’ve been working on booking a weeklong residency at a casino in Saskwetchkan (sic), Sas, Sakwetch?
JJ: Sasquatch. Kan.
JJ: SASKATCHKWAN, Canada, and I’ve got some promising leads.
JR: They pay out the wazoo man, it’s like you’re a bull in a China shop of money.
JJ: Yea, I mean, I’ve been, just quotes that I’ve been given are somewhere around fifty dollars a day in casino chips. That we can only use for gambling.
BYT: So, the risk reward ratio is really high?
JR: Risk reward brother, that’s what it’s all about.
JJ: Think about it, I mean… How many people, well, I don’t know what it’s like when you go to a casino but when I go I pretty much always win, like, millions of dollars. If you give me fifty dollars in chips, I’ll turn that into, you know, 100 grand in twenty minutes on the roulette table.
BYT: Well, that sounds like a sound business strategy for the future of the band.
JJ: Well they also said we get four buffet meal tickets and, you know they have a whole thing of crab legs that will be bottomless. So, if you wanted to do some math, how much is a pound of crab legs? I could put down like 4 pounds. So really we’re probably getting like 700 dollars a night but it’s really only 50 dollars in chips and some crab legs.
BYT: (laughing) Sure. So the other players in your band, how’d you pick this lineup for The Deadmen?
JJ: Well, we tried a few different bass players. Um, Josh how did you hook up with Paul Garisto?
JR: I found Paul, or, well he found me on a social networking site some years ago (laughing.)
JJ: Adult Friends dot com?
JR: Yea, he moved to town, he was looking for friends, and he contacted me and I was like “Yea, we should have coffee sometime!” We never did. Some years later, when Justin and me were talking about this concept of a group, I emailed him and was like are you still in town, do you have a regular gig, and would you like one if you don’t? So, demos were passed, here, this is the kind of shit we sound like, here are some web sites, you know, Rolling Stone reviews of our past records and stuff like that. (JJ laughing.) You know, all the major websites that have covered Justin’s bands and mine in the past, No Depression dot com and Spin and Rolling Stone…
JJ: Yea, we’re pretty much the Pitchfork darlings of the city.
JR: Yea. Given that kind of reputation, and his reputation precedes him. He was with Iggy Pop and the Stooges, he was with Ryan Adams, he currently plays with the Psychadelic Furs as their road drummer. You know, we were like YEA, that guy’s famous, he should be in the band whether or not if he can play drums, it doesn’t fucking matter.
JJ: We had to be careful, we wanted to make sure that his fame was on the same level as our fame.
JJ: In a band that’s a democracy, you can’t have one really famous person and three not famous people. We needed everybody to be famous.
JR: Even though he’s been in these major label groups, the lucky thing is that he was the drummer so he’s kind of on our level of fame.
JJ: Yea, exactly. We’re all equally famous in the sense that nobody knows who we are.
JR: Josh, the bands he played in, you can quote me, those are true.
BYT: Well, yea you sent me to his website to check out some of his songs and it was actually 3 drum solos.
JR: (Laughing) Ah, man, yea I was thinking the attachments maybe didn’t go. So anyway man, hah, yea that’s his website. (JJ laughing.) The attachments I was hoping you would’ve listened to before we talked were “Read rehearsal tracks.”
BYT: I just heard some pretty sick beats (laughing.)
JR: (laughing) Nice, he’s a sick drummer dude. What we like to refer to as a beatmaster in The Deadmen world.
BYT: So, what are you guys, a 5 piece?
JJ and JR: Four.
JJ: Conrado (Bokoles) is playing bass. We tried a few different bass players then asked Conrado from my band if wanted to play and he was interested, so, he’s been playing bass and singing some as well.
BYT: Would you say that, together, you guys sound a lot different than both Revival and Justin Jones?
JJ: Well I think Revival and Justin Jones are different.
BYT: That wasn’t the question.
JJ: Well, (laughing,) I know, I’m answering your question. Revival and Justin Jones were different, so, playing together we’re bringing two different approaches to songs and working through them, arguing about them, annoying each other and coming out with a product we’re all happy with. I don’t think it sounds like Revival or Justin Jones.
JR: No, I don’t think so either. I think that when we were first playing there was certainly, you know, both of us have been developing our sound, we started talking about this in October of last year. We’ve been writing together, and playing, working on our singing. We brought in some other guys and the first time we were in a room together it was just like a high school band, when every band gets together for the first time without a set list of songs and chord changes laid out. Sounds like a fucking high school train wreck. So that sounded more like Justin Jones than Revival. But… (JJ laughing, hysterically) Eventually it started sounding like Revival which is like a college train wreck. Eventually, it’s like we all got jobs so now The Deadmen have jobs and we sound more like Petty and the Heartbreakers.
JR: I like to call it adult contemporary easy listening.
JJ: I mean, to me it has a much more modern sound than Tom Petty. To me it doesn’t sound like classic rock although Josh and I both really like that stuff.
JR: I’m just joking, I think it is a pretty individual sound as far as singer-songwriter rock and roll goes. We are in a genre, so-called.
BYT: Since I couldn’t hear those other songs, I have only heard a rough cut of “Angels.” Would you say that’s typical of the songs you’ve written thus far?
JJ: Well, “Angels” was, I think, kind of early on.
JR: Was that the one we did at the beach?
JJ: No, it’s the one we did piecemeal. I mean, it doesn’t sound like that when we play it now but that doesn’t really matter.
JR: I mean, Josh, we are both songwriters so it’s like, the songwriters we look up to tend to, well, there are some modern people who do amazing stuff but I can speak for myself and say we do run the gamut of blues, country, and rock and roll. There is a certain amount of predictability in what we’re doing and I find that a comforting thing.
JJ: I don’t know if it’s predictability, it’s intuitiveness.
JR: Right, well that’s what I mean. I don’t like listening to music that’s earshatteringly quiet or loud or makes no sense or is extremely modern and uninteresting. For me, personally, I like to hear words and lyrics and harmonies and, you know, wicked guitar solos, I love the sound of electric and acoustic guitars together. It’s nothing earth moving, we’re not changing the rules on any level but we’re just trying to do it on an extremely high level of proficiency. Just like the people that we look up to, lyrically and melodically. We’re working a lot on singing, there’s a lot of harmonies throughout. You know, Justin and I are both world-class opera singers so there’s a lot of opportunity there to use our voices as another instrument. A lot of bands don’t rely on that very much anymore. There’s a lot of talk about sex and girls and drugs or things like “is my car running” but we’re trying to talk about more adult things.
JJ: I think the subject matter is intense, you know? Moving and emotional and honest. To me the songs are good and I’m really excited about that.
I was able to listen to some rough, rehearsal cuts of Sons and Dogs and Let Your Fingers Rule, the former a foot stomping revival in the vein of Deer Tick or Lucero.
BYT: In terms of subject matter, can you name a few thing, whatever you’re drawing inspiration from for these songs?
JJ: Hmmm. Well I know I write a lot about mortality right now so a lot of the songs I’ve brought around are dealing with the fragility of life.
JR: Yea, I think life, death, coming of age, what it means to be where we are in our lives in this time. I don’t think there’s a lot of direct, obvious metaphor going on but both of us are writing about, um…
JJ: And there’s a song about immigration.
BYT: Wow, this is going to take foreveeeeer to transcribe. What kind of drinks should the crowd buy you at the show?
JJ: What kind of drinks? I personally drink room temperature vodka.
JR: I suddenly realized throughout this hot, sweaty summer that I’d completely forgotten about gin. The past few days I’ve been drinking vodka out of the freezer with beer, but, I think that after my wife goes to the uh, oh don’t say my wife, leave that out of it, after she goes and makes some money tonight I’m gonna go to the liquor store tomorrow and get me a bottle of gin and move on to gin and tonics the rest of the summer.
JJ: Well there you go, gin and tonics for Josh. I believe Paul drinks soda water with a splash of cranberry and Conrado-
JR: Jagermeister shots?
JJ: I don’t know what the fuck, he’s pretty much open to anything, might be a whiskey drinker.
JR: Josh, what I’ll do right now is download those two rehearsal tunes and send them in an email so while you’re transcribing you can just bliss out while you transcribe, it’ll blow your mind. PHENOMENAL recording quality, outstanding singing and playing. You won’t hear a wrong note. The key is you’re not allowed to put them online because they are in fact rehearsal tapes and yea they really don’t sound good.
BYT: Well, what normally makes it easier to transcribe these interviews is to also have music blaring loudly (JJ laughing.)
JR: I figured as much.