Seattle punk lifers Dead Bars are back – and they want you to join them at the bar with sophomore album ‘Regulars’ (A-F Records).
“I like this idea of being a regular. There are moments of highs and lows; loneliness and community, sadness and celebration. That's what it’s like to be in a band. That's what it’s like to be in Dead Bars" says vocalist/founder John Maiello.
These ideas and contradictions that can be heard throughout the album, like on ‘No Tattoos’. “All my friends have tattoos / But I don’t have any tattoos. They wanna remember something / And I wanna forget everything,” muses Maiello. Sure it’s an easy-on-the-ear anthem, ripe for pit-friendly fun, but it’s also indicative of the broader approach that underpins Dead Bars’ song-writing. You can be part of the community – and you’re welcomed into the Church of Dead Bars – but you’re also an individual, and you can be different.
Formed in 2013, a song like ‘No Tattoos’ marks out just how different Dead Bars are, and how their path to this point has been anything but traditional. It began with two East Coast drummers, John Maiello, and C.J. Frederick, who met, appropriately enough, in a Seattle bar. Since then, a succession of friends and session musicians have filled in, helping out when needed, until the current, steady, line-up of Maiello, Frederick, Jon Oddo and Elliot Thordarson solidified. “It's always been a rotating cast of characters,” says Maiello. “We kind of function like an actual bar. Sometimes people get tired, and they go home, or they get too fucked up and get kicked out.”
Now a long-time Seattle resident, Maiello called on one of the city’s icons to helm ‘Regulars’, hitting up the legendary Jack Endino (Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden) to oversee production duties. When Maiello first sent some songs over, Endino replied that “[They have] a good pop hook with a bunch of bashing and screaming over it; what’s not to like?” This sound remains on ‘Regulars’, sticking fast and true to the classic Dead Bars songs like ‘Emergency’ and ‘Earplug Girl’. “I cold-called him because I figured if it worked for Nirvana then maybe it would work for us,” says Maiello. “So we tracked all the music with him at Soundhouse in Seattle, and then I did vocals at Pierced Ears Recording with Aaron Schroeder (WIMPS). It was mixed in Massachusetts by Jay Maas (Defeater, Ceremony).”
Yet, while ‘Regulars’ retains much of what makes Dead Bars so great, it is no mere repeat of past successes. Instead, it features the group’s most ambitious songs to date – a consequence of more collaboration and a settled line-up. In turn, this has allowed for more of the group’s classic influences to start informing the song writing – from the Beatles to Tom Petty and the Stooges. “Everything was different, this time,” says Maiello. “We jammed a lot more during the writing of this, so there’s definitely more guitar stuff – and more vocal stuff – going on. Also, two of C.J.'s songs made it onto the album.”
The result is 11 songs of heartfelt and passionate punk rock, which will appeal to anyone who has ever struggled to find their place in the world. ‘Lucky’ and ‘Another Day’ are pure garage-tinged pop-punk ragers that are built for sweaty bar-room call-and-responses, while ‘You Never Left’ and ‘Rain’ show the group’s ability to mix the hopelessness and hopeful. ‘Freaks’, meanwhile, is a rallying call for the misunderstood, while ‘Producto Toxico’ – a song about going to an exotic place and doing the same thing you do at home – carries a relatible world-weariness.
Two years ago, Dead Bars’ biggest preoccupation was playing their ‘Dream Gig’. Now, as they examine the human condition, the stakes are raised. In the classic Replacements tune, ‘Here Comes a Regular,’ Paul Westerberg’s cry that “Everybody wants to be special here,” seems like the perfect mantra for ‘Regulars’ and its overarching themes of acceptance, loneliness, and community. Of course, we’re all special and unique in our own way – but sometimes you need a band like Dead Bars to realize it.