Interview & Photography by Newt Cooter Rayburn
Edited by Nature Humphries, Caleb Fisher-Wirth, and Chris Butts
That’s the way to treat it, I was told a long time ago by John Barrett. I think he learned this from Colour Revolt mainly, because they were really good at that. Y’know, treat Oxford like a touring town. Come though when you can, play when you can, do it twice, three times at most. I know that some people disagree with that. I’ll be honest, I wish that I had enough interesting material and enough guys that were in it to win it all the time, that I could play like that, once every two weeks, you know. That’s not the reality of how any band works in my world. My band is always a rotating cast of members, coming in and out. And when they can do it, they’re there; when they can’t do it, they can’t do it. So for this show, we have to solidify for the band a month before each show. Trying to learn all these new songs. We have a bunch of new songs.
You were saying you don’t have enough interesting songs, but I was listening to your stuff on SoundCloud and Bandcamp, and it sounds like you have a lot of interesting songs.
We’ve got a lot of songs; I guess I shouldn’t say it like that. But I’m not like Bob Dylan or anything like that at this point, where I’m like “Oh I could go through this phase of my career, or pick these songs.” I look at my career as a musician as decades. I’ve grown so much, but some of the earlier songs are not really indicative of who I am now at 31. I mean I made one of my biggest songs ever when I was 27, a song called “This Big World,” and it’s been played on all sorts of things. It’s been played from here to f**king Hong Kong. It’s a young man’s game, it’s a young man’s song, you know. It’s like “bang bang” – it’s low-fi and it was really en vogue when it came out, but now it’s just like a little time capsule you can look back on and be like “Wow, I was this guy at one point.” So, I’ve gotten really jaded over the years with my songwriting, because I just want to keep making songs and keep myself fresh and current, because that’s ultimately what makes me excited. Playing my old songs doesn’t necessarily make me excited anymore. You know, some of them, they do, but not all of them.
There’s one song that people love to death … called “Carry on Real Nice.” It was one of the first songs that I ever recorded under the name Dead Gaze, and it was recorded in like a shitty blue microphone on like USB, and everything was just blown out. It was like the loudest shit you’ve ever heard in your life. And it’s just so not who I am right now. I really get kind of… not sad… but just like times change you know? I’m really not there where I was now, you know? When I play those songs now, it’s kind of obvious that I’m going through that. Because there’s two ways of looking at it. You can either Ziggy Stardust it, and put on a show, and say that song is part of the show. Or you can put on a show that’s like emotionally drawn and put-out, and if I have to play one of those songs, that emotional part of me doesn’t really just fly out like with some of the newer songs.
It’s so unfortunate that that’s the way it is, because think of all the great bands in the world that have had one-hit-wonders. I mean their whole career is based on one vibe, one song. I’ve always tried to make sure that every one of my songs has a similar vibe to each one of them. I really want it to be a lot of different things, but kind of all together, like they’re all kind of congruently put together.
Ok, when did you first come to Oxford?
I went to Ole Miss in 2002, I was at Ole Miss for like five years. Then I moved to Cleveland and went to Delta State for like two years and finished my degree. And from Delta State I moved to California for a short period of time, like six months or so. And then I went back to Jackson, stayed there for like two years. I worked at Morrison Brothers music. After that I moved back to Oxford, and I’ve been here ever since.
When did you start recording under the name Dead Gaze?
Um, that was probably about six or seven years ago. We all started to record in small little individual ways, using Garageband and Logic and things like that. And I was just so into the idea of getting into that, and making my own stuff. It wasn’t until I heard Dent May’s music, I was like “Ok, I can do this shit. I can really make something out of this.” All of us were really pushing each other. But I would say I started making music when I was living in Jackson under the name Dead Gaze, and then I released a couple cassettes, CDRs and things like that. My first official 7” wasn’t until a couple of years later. It was on this small label out of Colorado called Fire Talk. And then I released a slew of 7”s after that, and then a 10”. And after the 10”
, I got signed to this label in the UK called Fat Cat, they’re out of Brixton. I released two LPs with them, my first record the self titled, and then my second record Brain Holiday, and then my third record, which is coming out in March, is on Earnest Jenning Records out of New York. It’s like a smaller, kind of boutique label.
I do it by releases really, so let’s see… There’s like eight or nine. Looks like eight or nine, I can’t remember the exact number. I was one of those dudes who didn’t believe in waiting around for a label at the time. It was like if I have it done, then I’m gonna put it out somehow. I would start with CDRs; at Morrison Brothers they had a duplicate CDR, like a seven CD tower. I would go in there with a master disc, and while the bosses weren’t looking, just do seven [copies] and seven, and seven. And at the end of the day, accumulate a box of my records that I totally burned under my bosses’ nose. Then there was MySpace, and it introduced me into a big culture of people who were doing cassette releases because it’s such a cheap way of getting it out. It’s so boutique, and people can tangibly have something. It’s like the cheapest, most ‘f**k you’ way of releasing a record. And I was really into that at the time, because my music was really kind of warbly and made to sound like a cassette tape already. So the idea of putting my music onto cassette just kind of made sense, it was like a nice marriage.
Tell me about the name Dead Gaze, how did that come about?
It’s weird, I can’t really figure out if it was a dream or if I read it, but when I Google it these days I can’t find the quote. So I think it was a dream I had. I was thinking at one time that Kevin Shields said “Shoegaze is dead.” Like this idea of this thing that we call shoegaze. And it was never alive, it was just people doing their thing. It was never a group of people like, “We’re gonna go make a shoegaze conglomerate, you know. I’m starting to think I dreamed it more and more, as time goes by. He said that it’s like a dead gaze, so nothing’s there. It wasn’t born, nor was it put together to be this thing, for it to be like a wave of culture. It was really just us being us. I thought it was short and to the point. For years, I put Dead Gaze on everything, and one day I got written up in this British blog. And they said “Dead Gaze– obviously not homophobic.” And I was like “What does that mean?” I didn’t understand it. Then I realized that everybody starts thinking that my name is Dead Gays, like I’m this punk rock. I got really sick. Sick to my stomach over this. I threatened to end the band and the name. It wasn’t until a bunch of my friends came around me and were like, “Look dude, you’re way the f**k out there already. There’s no point in changing this. Only assholes think that. If a normal person hears that, and they think the gay connotation thing, they’ll just be like “Oh, that’s a funny name,” and they’ll remember the name. It’s not a band that you can just throw off in the back of your brain and never hear about it again, you know. It’s good that I have that thing now, kind of… It makes you remember the name.
Yeah, a lot of DJ’s got mad at me over that. They can’t say it over the radio. At this point I just don’t care… I mean what is a name? Names are just so, so… intangible. It’s not really indicative of who I am. It’s just a f**kin’ name. You know? It’s just a stamp. It’s two syllables, short and sweet: Dead Gaze. I never thought of it as some political statement or some shit. Because this music was going on the internet. And it was all written, you know? You were reading the name? So I’ve gotten a lot of backlash for that. But whenever you’re putting something into the open publicly, that’s art, or has your emotion or your soul into it… You overlook things. There’s all sorts of things that you just kinda overlook. I overlooked that. There’s a line in one of my new songs that’s “I’ll fight everyday to spend the rest of my life fighting…” Or something like that. Like essentially I’m saying nothing. I didn’t think of that when I wrote it, I thought this was some great line. And now when I go back over it, [I think] I’m not saying anything right there. And now it’s out there and I can’t do anything about it. You overlook certain particular things that go on with your art that you normally wouldn’t fine-tooth comb. I get caught up in the moment, and when I’m in that moment, that’s when the shit happens. And the moment’s not really me sitting there proofreading the moment… It’s me doing the shit, you know?
What is your process with songwriting and recording. How fast is it? You play all the instruments?
I play everything but drums. I start with melodies first. I would say 90% of the time they’re hooks. I’ll go to the guitar or piano or bass, I’ll have that hook, and I’ll just start working the chord progression around that hook. Once the chord progression’s made, then I start thinking of a bridge progression that’s somehow connected to the first part. And once that bridge progression’s made, then I’ll put them all together kind of like a math problem, like x plus y equals this. Then once they’re all together, then I’ll start to make sure that the melody fits on top of all the chord progression. Then I start writing my lyrics. Some songs take 20 minutes to write, some songs take 2 hours to write. The good songs don’t usually take very long to write, because they’re good and they want to be found. I believe that songs come out of this weird soul. Good songs want to be found. They want to be heard. Bad songs, they don’t want to be heard. If you’re working on something that you’re trying to make work for longer than like an hour, or two hours, that’s a bad song. It’s like it’s trying to not get out. Good songs fly out of you, like a lightning bolt. You get hit with it, and all of the sudden it’s like, oh I’ve got this thing. You blink your eye and all of the sudden it’s done. A lot of songs on my new record that are like that.
So you still do all of the recording at home?
A friend of ours who working there, Will Cole. He was an intern, and ended up working as an engineer under Dennis Herring, and as part of his payment, he got to record 10 days for free at Sweet Tea – the whole full-on Sweet Tea – and Dennis wouldn’t be there. So Will elected to get Dead Gaze in there, and we made Brain Holiday. It ruined me forever, because I didn’t realize how great it is to really record in a bad ass studio. Then this next record was coming around and we were going to go to El Paso and record at this really nice studio in Texas. But the money fell through, and I got really pissed off. I tend to get really mad at things, and the anger ends up making something out of it. For instance, this record, I got so mad that I couldn’t record at the studio, that I was [determined] to make a studio-sounding, big-as-shit record in my house. It hurt my feelings in some ways that I couldn’t record in that studio, but at the same time it pushed me to recording at my house.
It lit a fire under you.
Yeah, it lit a fire under me to get a good amount of gear and go back to my house. I think my record sounds just as good as a studio, if not better.
I’m a genre person. I tend to think … there’s not any bit of music in any piece of genre that I don’t like. I like to think that there’s something in Christian prog metal that I can get down on. Or Swedish girl pop techno. I like to think that there is something in every genre that if there’s heart and soul in it, it’s gonna be badass. But as far as all time greats, it’s essentially like the all time greats that anyone would have, like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Bob Marley, Harry Neilson, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston…I’m a fan of extreme pop music. I love pop hooks, I love pop production, I love synthesizers, I love tons of new wave from Manchester — Durutti Column, Happy Mondays — I love tons of British bands. My ultimate love of music lies in Germany with the Krautrock stuff, essentially all the productions of Konrad Plank, Kraftwerk, bands like that. As far as hip hop goes, I’m pretty old school. There is some new hip hop that I love, I love Kanye West. I think he’s amazing; I’m a staunch Kanye supporter. I like Tupac Shakur, I think he was a genius. Probably the best rapper we’ll ever see.
Your music seems like it has different influences coming in there to create something. I’m hearing British New Wave, I hear some pop, like maybe The Cure. I also hear a lot of garage rock sound, and then the psychedelic thing going on with all the effects, too.
Whenever I try to explain my sound in Dead Gaze, it’s like whatever I’m feeling that day. I’m biting from a lot of different things that I love, and I try to put those things in places where sometimes they really wouldn’t be thought to be placed. For instance, on my new record I have this song called “Jump.” It’s this kind of psychedelic gospel-sounding weird soundscape song. I use a slide guitar on it. I slide a 12-string, and … make this huge sound, and nowhere would anyone think that needs to be there. No one would [say] “oh yeah, it needs this slide part doubled four times.” But, in my opinion, if I’m making a pop song, let’s use this thing here and make it weird and it might sound different. You know, it might add some sort of new sheen to it. I’m all about taking things from somewhere else and putting them in places they don’t want to be. I think that that’s a fun creative part of making music.
Tell me about some of the effects you’re using; your vocals are effect heavy, for sure.
On my old stuff, when I was younger, I was obsessed and still am with Mark Lincous of Sparklehorse. He’s this weird folky indie musician from the Virginia area, and he’s a bit of a redneck. He never really sang vocals cleanly. Everything was always ran through like telephone mikes or some sort of dirt, some sort of grit, with some chorus or something. When I was younger I thought that that was the coolest thing on Earth, and I wanted to do that. I didn’t want my vocals to sound like a human. I want them to sound like some sort of processed weird thing. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I’m not like that anymore. I want my vocals to be way more up front. I like to sing, I like to croon, I like to hit melodies, and be on pitch. So my new recordings, like with “Brain Holiday,” and this new record especially, there’s really no effects on any of the vocals. The new record is very dry. It’s got compression and that’s about it. But as far as the old records go, those recordings were a lot of distortion plans and chorus plug-ins. I never really did any out of the box stuff with my vocals. I’ve pretty much used all of the chorus and dirt that was already there. It was pretty basic stuff just with distortion, chorus, do a little e-cube roll off on the backside, and then you’re there. My music was, if you look at it back in the day on a spectrum, it was all mid-range because when I was younger I thought that making the distorted vocals could mask the fact that I don’t have nice mikes. You have to have nice mikes and compression to get a good quote-on-quote “mike sound.” So I essentially used that as a mask so you didn’t have to see how shitty my gear was. I had a mike and a computer. Now it’s not like that. I’ve got pre-amps and I’ve got compressors and I’ve got really nice mikes, and it’s a different ball game now, but when I started out it was like hell yeah I’m gonna make this shit dirty.
It’s on Spotify. It’s as big of a studio record as I’ve ever made.
Well that’s a fantastic studio.
Yeah, as far as big-sounding, studio sounding stuff goes we have accomplished it with that record. And the reason was is because when we went into it I was like, alright, we’ve got the full muscle of Sweet Tea, let’s flex it, and we did. I mean every guitar part on there was three amps, all cranked. They’re all multi-track for days. There’s four billion mikes on the drums. You know we’re using sick bass caps for everything. Real, amazing analog synths on every synth sound. You know like, it’s just it was just a brain holiday, that’s why the record was named that. Because it was like take your brain out of your head, give it a Mai Tai, and put it on a beach. That’s what that record was.
Awesome. Yeah, you’re definitely in a class locally if you’ve gotten to record at Sweet Tea. A lot of people didn’t get to do that. I got to mix there, but i didn’t get to record there.
When I tell people that I recorded my sophomore record at Sweet Tea, everybody is like oh that’s cool, whatever. But when I tell that to someone from Oxford, they all get kind of quiet, like really man? I really recorded my record at Sweet Tea without Dennis, without him there. I mean Dennis was so far away, it was great. I think he showed up one time and was like “everything going well?” and we were like get the f**k out. I mean we were using that studio maximum capacity for 10 days straight, and I didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, I just was like a workhorse. I mean literally 15 hours every day, just like all day. Every decision made.
I’m really excited about it to say the least. I’m really wanting everybody to come out and show out. I really want this show to be a big big rock show for everyone. The band is the biggest we’ve ever had. It’s six people. Ian Kirkpatrick playing drums, Will Eubanks from Young Buffalo playing keys, Ben Yarbrough from Young Buffalo playing bass, and Jim Hennigan, who’s an old friend of mine playing guitar, and Clay Jones is playing guitar. So it’s three guitars, a bass, a drummer and a keyboardist. It’s gonna be very orchestrated. All of the guitar parts are very picky kind of parts. They’re not like everybody is just strumming. We all have our own little parts. It’s never really been that way before. It’s always been kind of like bang, bang, y’know, get the crowd rowdy, get everybody going, that’s it. But this show’s not gonna be like that. I really want everybody to be excited and dancing. I want everybody to just kind of let loose. I’m gonna tell people to jump on stage if they really want at any point in the show. At any point in the show if they want to come on stage, just come on stage. Like I’m serious I’m gonna tell people to go absolutely f**king crazy. Because no band does that anymore in this town, no one comes up to the mike and is like, I want y’all to fucking riot. Y’know no one does that. I want to do that with this band. I want people to feel like they can really let loose, and like for one night they’re kind of above the law, they can really just go nuts. Throw beer in the air. I love rowdy shows. I like feeling the audience when I’m onstage– feeling that heat from the audience.
I’m really excited about them. I haven’t seen Colin in forever. I’m really excited about that, and I’m really excited to see them play. And if the crowd’s good, Johnny Valiant’s gonna do something amazing. John’s one of my musical heroes in this town. When I was working at Ajax, he showed me so much music. He showed me how it was like, to be a performer, and to really get peoples’ attention. I try to think about Johnny Valiant when I’m onstage. Like what would he do to get the crowd going? Would he tell some shitty joke? Or would he spit beer on you? Or would he get naked? What would he do, you know? If I could have one ounce of that charisma, that confidence, you know? I think that the Unwed Teenage Mothers are one of the bands in town that are still trying to keep the punk legacy still around. I think that there’s not enough just straight rock’n’roll punk rock.
Not like there used to be. When I first met John, he had moved here from Amory and was working at Danver’s. The day that I met him, they got robbed and he got hit in the head with a hammer. I can’t remember if I first saw him with Preacher’s Kids, or that band he had with Paul…
The Withdrawls. They were actually after his time with the Preacher’s Kids.
Must have been them. But when I first met him he was real young and new in town, and my description of him was, he’s a little bit Tyler Keith, he’s a little bit Raw Cooter, but he’s got this G.G. Allin thing.
He’s like the Christian G.G. Allen. John would do everything that G.G. would do, except the shit that he did that was malicious– the throwing shit at people and beating folks up. I’m sure John’s punched a handful of people in his life. When I see the Unwed Teenage Mothers play, it reminds me of when I saw The Withdrawls or when I saw The Black & Whites, or those old bands play at The Long Shot. I would sneak in with my fake ID to go see Tyler Keith play… I don’t know, that soul of this town’s not there anymore. My music doesn’t do that. It’s not punk rock, it’s rock’n’roll. But it’s not from that lineage. And I feel like The Unwed [Teenage Mothers], they’re straight from that lineage. That’s a very good place to be, in my opinion. People love that punk rock scene in this town. They’re kind of it right now, I mean Tyler still does his thing, but he’s not really playing The Preacher’s Kids as much as he used to, and The Neckbones will have a reunion show once in a while.
The Cooters were always a little bit more on the metal side of the punk.
Man, I remember my favorite Cooters show. Jesus, it must have been five or six years ago. I’m bad with time. It was at the house next to the Mary Buie museum.
Yeah, Gentry’s old house.
And the Withdrawls were playing, and The Black & Whites played, and Punk Rock Pat kicked a keg down the stairs. It just rolled down to the bottom like “bonk bonk bonk,” and he’s like “Keg’s floated!” And we’re just like, “F**k, this is insane.”
I’m glad you got to see that because a lot of people don’t know about the old Cooters parties.
Oh my God, they were great, and you had the best cover of “Ace of Spades,” man. It sounded like Motorhead. The Cooters were badass man, I kind of grew up watching Raw…
Well, I don’t know man. Keeping something alive for so long takes a lot of effort, and you kind of have to weigh the good with the bad, like what are we going to get out of this? Are we going to tour this? Nah. Are we gonna make a record out of this? Nah. Are we gonna play a show and make some money? Yeah, ok we’ll do that. You’ve gotta figure out where you stand. Dead Gaze has taught me identity to life: It’s like I’ve always wanted to just stay in the studio forever and never take it out on the road. And then when I go out on the tour, I’m like “Man I never want to make another record, I just wanna tour forever.” It’s like figuring out, balancing what’s healthy for your natural being I guess.
So after the record comes out, are you gonna go on tour?
Yeah, we’ll do the East Coast first, and then we’ll end up doing the West, and hopefully Europe.
Who’s gonna be in the band for that?
Well, we’re hoping we can get it around Young Buffalo, so those two boys can come with us. But it’s essentially [inaudible]. We’re hoping that I won’t get in the way with their touring, but it’s all up to my booking agent at this point. I don’t know what I’m doing really, until I get the tour.
What will you be doing between now and March?
I’m making another record. I got real mad at how long it was going to take to get this record out, because it was done. So I’m going to make another record. So, I’m getting married in October, and I’m going to Europe for three weeks, and when I get back from that, I’ll probably hit the ground pretty hard on making a new record. I’m excited about it. New songs. New record in March. The record’s called Easy Travels. It was made at my house, on North 15th Street, which is hilarious, because it’s like right next to the Square, and I’m banging on shit all the time.
No problems with noise ordinance?
Nah, it’s pretty amazing how I do it. I’ve gotten to where I only record drums in the daytime, and I have one neighbor who’s a little bit older. I’ll just go over there and be like, “Hey I’m recording drums today, I’ll be done at 8:00. If y’all have any problems…” And they’re always like, “Oh it’s fine, we never hear you.” Something about the way those houses are built, and all the trees, sound doesn’t really carry very far. You should come by and check out the studio…. I feel like, for so long, this town has such a tight-knit group of musicians, and there are some musicians who aren’t in that tight-knit society, but they’re still making waves and doing shit. For so long, I’ve kind of felt like I’ve been on the outside of The Kudzu Kings, you know, all these … I don’t want this town to just be known as just college rock bands. Everyone needs to be showing their face. Everyone needs to be coming out of the woodwork. There’s just not a huge scene anymore, like there used to be.
What can we do to improve that?
I don’t know. I’m hoping that, maybe some kid will be influenced by my new record or something.
We’re gonna do an in-store at [The End of All Music] over the next couple weeks, and I’m going to get another show [in Oxford] before I get married, just to say “F**k it.” Because after I get married it’s probably going to be a bit of time before I can get another show… I bet we’re gonna play Blind Pig or something like that.
Check out Cole on the cover of The Local Voice #238 (September 17 – October 1, 2015):