by Ryan Dembinsky (@itsathinkpiece)
I’m usually a not a huge fan of “this band sounds like that band mixed with this artist sprinkled with that sound,” descriptions, but Dead Tooth’s debut EP Still Beats has a bunch of unavoidable comparisons. I hear Neil Young’s vocals all over the place. There is a janglier Dark Side of the Moon feel to the instrumentation - via slowly strummed minor chords. And the free jazz freak-outs amid an otherwise indie rock sound are not dissimilar to that of the MC5. The overall landscape whirls around like a Leslie cabinet through a sheath of reverb. All-in, it’s relaxing and accessible, while having more than enough weirdness, sophistication, and humor to keep it cred-worthy.
A couple months ago when this interview with Zach James, founding member of Dead Tooth, came to fruition, I think I said something to the effect of, “Feel free to make it funny. You can say pretty much anything you want on Post-Trash.” He must have he taken that to heart, because this interview is damn funny: and the interview has nothing on the 300 or so text messages we exchanged about everything from Homer Simpson to writing novels to Honda Odysseys.
Speaking of mini-vans, Dead Tooth/Zach and his better half, River Allen aka Ghost Piss, are about to embark on a hearty road trip for the next three months for a massive US tour (initial dates at the end of the story). Have a read of our chat below and catch both Dead Tooth and Ghost Piss on tour at a theater/venue/house near you.
Post-Trash: To begin, could you provide a bit of background as to how the band met and formed as well as the process for choosing the band name?
Zach James/Dead Tooth: Sure! I had been playing in various Brooklyn bands for years and always had my own project called TAOTSS (The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman) with a rotating cast. Over the last few years, that solo project started to feel more like a band, so back in March I changed the name to Dead Tooth.
The members are all people that I brought together from different periods of my life. I met Dylan DePice when we were 16-year-old cart pushers at the Shoprite in our hometown of Warwick, NY. We hadn’t really gotten to know each other yet, but one super cold day I lent him a fleece pullover that my mother had gotten me for Christmas that year. That was 15 years ago, and we still play music on a regular basis.
Andrew Bailey and I met 4 or 5 years ago in Brooklyn, when I was a delivery guy at Champs Diner and he was their juicer. We’d sneak out to his car and he’d get me way too stoned to do the deliveries. One day he came to see my old band, The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman, play at Rippers and he was like, “You play guitar how I like to play guitar” then we started jamming and messing with some demos I had. He invited me to come see his band and it turns out he’s a legit rock star.
I met Jason Smith on NYE 2016 at a Brooklyn Wildlife party. The night kind of ended in a big jam session that went until sunrise. Jason played the bass for at least 4 hours straight, never faltering or missing a note. We barely spoke; just jammed. He was completely in the moment the entire time. A couple months later, he had joined my band and become a good friend.
River is my boo and an insane musician on all levels. We met at a benefit show that I organized at Trans-Pecos in January for the BRC (an organization focused on helping the homeless get back on their feet) and started dating pretty shortly after. Before she was in the band, Andrew was doing a last minute DIIV tour and I had no lead guitar player for a show that was already booked. River showed me her electric violin and told me she used to play it in a punk band back in her college days. I asked her if she could possibly learn Andrew’s lead guitar parts on it in a week. Without hesitation she said yes. She killed it and has since joined the band and the writing process.
The band name is a new beginning and a departure from The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman, which started as a heroic alter-ego that I wanted to create. This project is a fresh start and a totally new line up. I’m just a guy with a Dead Tooth, making music, and this is my band. I no longer feel this earns me a heroic title.
Post-Trash: What was the process for writing the tunes on the new Still Beats EP and what are some nuances that you particularly like in terms of how they came out on the record? Are there any happy accidents or cool effects that you would point listeners to that they might not notice otherwise?
Zach James: All the songs on Still Beats started as demos that I wrote on acoustic guitar, that were then fleshed out with the band. Everyone wrote their own parts to the songs and as a group we molded things structurally to really hone the dynamic.
We recorded it in the middle of the winter in an unheated basement in Albany, NY. There’s a lot of stuff on the EP that is completely unique to this line up at this moment. For instance, the change in feel in the second verse of “Spirit” is damn near impossible to execute without this rhythm section. It’s all feel. The same goes for the title track. There’s a complete free jazz improvisation in the middle of a pop song that was done live the way it is once. It’s musicians reading each other and communicating in the moment.
Jason and Dylan are on a whole other level when it comes to that. Andrew’s guitar work in “Spirit” is incredible. The stuff at the beginning is all pedal work and it sounds like synthesizers. The last song “Hungry Ghost” wasn’t even gonna be on the EP and when we were in the studio nobody had even heard it yet but the mics were all set up. We were moving pretty quickly and Dan Maddalone (our engineer) asked if we had anything else we wanted to lay down. I played the song alone to the band twice then we ran it once as a group and then recorded the next take. River and I got up later and she dubbed those haunting string parts in my room.
Post-Trash: What would you say has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to deal with as a band thus far?
Zach James: Definitely scheduling: everyone is super busy. We need a manager.
Post-Trash: Describe a day in the life of a Dead Tooth rehearsal. Where do you guys practice and what is the typical approach to practicing?
Zach James: We’ll usually run a set to kind of warm up. Then we’ll jam on whatever seems to come to mind for a bit to get the creative juices flowing. Then I’ll usually pull out a new song idea and we’ll work on that until we realize that it’s super late and we all have work in the morning. Up until recently we were practicing in a shared studio space behind Trans-Pecos but just moved back in to our old spot on Ten Eyck St. which is a bit smaller but has heat.
Post-Trash: This is one of my personal favorite questions to ask: What were your favorite bands, artists or styles of music during your formative years of was becoming a musician? This could be your teenage years or even younger as a child.
Zach James: When I was a kid, my folks were always blasting rock music. They loved it. One of my earliest memories was waking up at a Crosby Stills Nash and Young concert in the arms of a stranger, because they’d been passing me around like I was a joint or something.
They were always playing Neil Young, The Doors, Hendrix, The Beatles, REM, John Prine - all of it real loud. It sank deep into my psyche. My dad really loves the poetic stuff, “John Prine is the Shakespeare of our time,” he says.
He’s a Springsteen freak. He basically lived those songs growing up in North Jersey. I tried to ignore that influence for a while, but it’s become unavoidable. My Mom introduced me to the darker side. I asked her for Hanson’s “Mmmbop” on cassette for my birthday, to which she obliged but only with a copy of Houses of the Holy as well insisting that I listen to that first. I quickly threw that Hanson tape in the trash.
She followed that up with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. I got really into skateboarding and found out about a lot of music through skate videos. Every song in Shorty’s Fulfill the Dream is a banger. Everything from Gang Starr to Cat Stevens. I heard Le Tigre and Interpol for the first time in the Girl video, Yeah Right.
Post-Trash: On the EP, are there any overarching themes in terms of lyrical content or perhaps certain songs where you are particularly proud of the lyrics?
Zach James: Yeah, there are definitely themes in the lyrical content: Deceit, vulnerability, self-reflection to name a few. I’m particularly proud of the lyrics in “Liars.” I think the line “Desert stars only shine for the landlocked” says a lot. The song touches on struggling with dishonesty in the world. It seems like success relies heavily on your ability to sell a lie. Great salesmen and artists do it daily. We’re told lies from the minute we can understand truths. The cycle is vicious. We’re raising people to lie so they can come in first place.
"Spirit" is a pretty fatalistic look at what it feels like to be a man in a world where toxic masculinity is literally destroying the planet. Where men with frail shattered egos rule the world in order to fill these vast holes in themselves with power and money.
Post-Trash: The EP is chock full of high profile guests. How did all the collaborations come to fruition on the record?
Zach James: Jamal and I have been friends for a few years. One night I played a solo set that a mutual friend of ours booked. Eventually, we were all in a circle jamming and he started pouring out the most gut wrenching soulful verses I’ve ever heard. We’ve been friends and working together since then.
When I had the idea for the song "Still Beats," I wanted this free form sort of jazzy breakdown part with a spoken word verse over it - and Jamal is incredible at that. We’re working on a project of our own together and I play guitar on a Low Wave song of his as well.
He’s been kind of a guiding light of wisdom for me. He used to sing in this bad ass early 2000’s afro punk band called No Surrender and has definitely been around the block.
Sandy Davis from Pecas - who’s on “Spirit” and “Hungry Ghost” - doing backup vocals is a longtime friend of mine. We both started pursuing songwriting around the same time and have always been sounding boards for each other.
Post-Trash: Name a band or musician that you think is painfully underrated?
Zach James: Lost Boy ? Davey Jones has released more good albums than anyone I know.
Post-Trash: Lastly, what is the most recent piece of art that you’ve encountered that really inspired you? This can be high-brow, low-brow, funny, serious, anything really. Just describe a movie, book, album, band, play, or anything that made you want to go home and play your instrument or write some new music.
Zach James: The other day I came home, and my room-mate was watching that show Off the Air on Adult Swim. I sat and watched it and then immediately went in my room and started recording music. It’s such a cool show. Amazing visuals of all sorts. It can be funny and quirky and then super psychedelic, hypnotic and deep. The episode I watched had the best soundtrack ever. I highly suggest season 7 episode 1.
Dead Tooth & Ghost Piss “Tiny Bladder Tour” Dates:
12/26 @ Trans Pecos - (Dead Tooth-Only, Full Band) – Brooklyn, NY
12/29 @ Gallery 5 (Dead Tooth-Only, Full Band) – Richmond, VA
12/31 @ Gallery 5 (Ghost Piss-only) – Richmond, VA
01/02 @ Rusty’s House – Charlotte, NC
01/03 @ Fleetwood’s – Asheville, NC
01/04 @ Knoxville TN - (Help!)
01/05 @ DRMTTR – Nashville, TN
01/06 @ Memphis TN - (Help!)
01/07 @ Backspace – Fayetteville, AK
01/08 @ Bound for Glory Books – Tulsa, OK
01/09 @ The Tannex – Albuquerque, NM
01/11 @ Big Surf – Phoenix, AZ
If anyone has ideas or connections for venues/house shows for the dates noted as “help,” feel free to reach out to Zach James/Dead Tooth (firstname.lastname@example.org). More dates to follow.