The best Dead Kennedys cover band to ever grace Atlanta is playing its final show today, sometime after 6 p.m. is their best guess, at El Myr in Little 5 Points. Behind El Myr in the parking lot, actually, as part of the revered burrito bar's annual Cinco de May festival. After this, drummer Ryan Fetter is moving to Southern California, and the rest of the guys say it wouldn't be right to carry on without him. I caught up with the group during their final practice to talk about the Dead Kennedys and the lore that surrounds them.
Chad Radford: True or false, all Dead Kennedys albums rule?
George Asimakos: False. Bedtime for Democracy - It seems like the songs were written just for Jello to spit off as many lyrics as possible over this entire album, and a lot of the songs aren't all that musically inspired ...
Andrew Wiggins: A lot of the songs are more about being a background for his message. Same thing with someone like Fugazi: I'm not going to say that every Fugazi record rules, because it doesn't. No band is infallible.
Asimakos: I'm not the only one who things this, and I've read interviews with East Bay Ray - he's like my favorite punk guitar player of all time - where he's even said the reason why the band ended after Bedtime ... was because it felt like Jello Biafra and the Dead Kennedys. Jello wanted to do spoken word, even before the band hand ended. He was writing verses and verses and verses, and that's why some of those songs are like seven minutes long.
There are a lot of songs on that record, too.
Right. Too many Songs. Plastic Surgery Disasters is the perfect length, and there's the perfect amount of songs. They're good songs and they're sequenced right. Bedtime is just a fucking mess.
Asimakos: There are multiple songs on that record that are extremely too long. "Chickenshit Conformist" is one of them - not that the lyrics are bad, and I even like the music, it's just too much.
Deaton: I think they were touring relentlessly around that time and they didn't have a lot of time to write the music, and in the meantime Jello was probably frothing at the mouth, and just saying, "Come on, let's do this!" At least that seems like what happened.
Asimakos: It's weird because the album before it, Frankenchrist, seems like their most musical album. All of the songs have such interesting things going on with the guitar. It seems like Ray was probably initiating a lot of the songwriting on Frankenchrist, and then Bedtime comes along and it's an entirely different thing. Also, the recording of Bedtime is abysmal.
What about In God We Trust, Inc.?
Asimakos: I think of that as a transitional thing. They were doing early punk rock, and then they were like, "Let's try this hardcore thing ...," and they had this synthesis that gelled perfectly on Plastic Surgery Disasters.
Deaton: There's a lot of depth there (Plastic Surgery Disasters) and for an early hardcore punk band to have that much depth going on is what makes it such a classic. Those early DK records are classics for a reason, and that's because they were able to do a new genre with so much more depth than someone like Minor Threat. I mean, there were bands like Minor Threat and Negative Approach that were doing things that were so much more extreme, but shit, the first time I heard "Moon Over Marin," I cried, because I'd never heard a punk song that could be so sad, and the lyrics are devastating: It's about him living in San Francisco in the future when things are so polluted that he can't even really go outside.
Wiggins: I've always heard from older people that the Dead Kennedys had a very niche audience back then - like nerds and lefties liked them back in the day ...
Well, I guess punk rock was a little nerdy, because it was such an outsider thing, but I don't think nerdy quite captures it. It wasn't always hip, it was actually kind of dangerous, but always had some intelligence to it.
Wiggins: But all of the dangerous kids liked Black Flag, and left the Dead Kennedys to the nerds and the lefties.
Well, who do you think was the better band, Dead Kennedys or Back Flag?
Deaton: Yeah, totally.
Wiggins: I'm going to reserve judgement, because I missed the boat, but I will say that the Dead Kennedys were one of the first punk bands that I ever got into when I was growing up.
Fetter: Same here, "Kill The Poor" was one of the first songs that I really got into.
Wiggins: I was really into surf rock and played in a surf rock band when I was like 13 or 14 - the summer before high school. The I heard "Police Truck," and was like, "Whoa ... I'm going to listen to this now, because that other shit is lame."
Deaton: I don't think the Dead Kennedys are given enough credit for fusing the worlds of punk and surf and hardcore. Obviously it was East Bay Ray ...
Asimakos: The funny thing is that he denies being influenced by surf, consistently. But he did a solo 7-inch in the early '80s and it sounds exactly like Ennio Morricone.
Fetter: I feel like with Black Flag, I like everything that came along with it: the kids, the hardcore scene, the changing of all the members in the band, the shitty clubs that weren't even clubs, I like everything that came along with it better than the punk thing. There were probably drugs and craziness going on in the early hardcore scene, but there was more of that in punk. Dead Kennedys all look like weird, smart guys, but a lot of punk was people wearing cat eye makeup and being real obnoxious, so I like Black Flag, I like the shittier recordings and not a lot of quality stuff, but it's quality to me.
Even The Process of Weeding Out, which is Black Flag trying to make a super showy record, kind of sucks, because they weren't good enough to even try to make a record like that. Still, it's kind of an awesome record ...
Asimakos: It seems like at that time there was a dichotomy between people in the punk rock community. There were those who focused on ethics, and there were those who focused on the Nihilism of it all, and the self-destructive nature of it all.
Wiggins: I identify with the Nihilism of it. I don't really identify with all of the political standpoints of Dead Kennedys. Who's the better band? I don't know. I was all about the music and I'm good at ignoring lyrics.
Asimakos: For me, Dead Kennedys is 100% the band. I've never been able to identify with Black Flag's lyrics, or the tough guy persona. So for me, there's a weird, nerdy guy singing about all of the political things that have been pissing me off, and the music is way beyond their contemporaries. Greg Ginn is a great guitar player though, and Robo was fucking awesome ...
Wiggins: I think Bad Brains trumped them all, musically.
Deaton: They trumped all of the hardcore bands because they were incredible musicians. But to answer your question, Dead Kennedys were always better to me. They were one of the first punk bands that I ever got into. My brother played them for me and I was both terrified and so into it, that and the first Beastie Boys record - the hardcore one - and I was like "Ahhh!"
Asimakos: I remember the first time I heard "Holiday In Cambodia." it was the most amazing punk song I'd ever heard. There's so much going on in that song, Musically, there are notes from a diminished scale all over the place, and the echo is like Elvis' guitar player. They were nothing like their contemporaries.
Fetter: When I was a kid listening to it, I remember me and my buddies just saying, no one can match this, and if you do you just sound like them, or you're a fucking cover band, like we are!
Deaton: Both then and now, there are a million bands that sound like Black Flag and Minor Threat, but there are no bands that sound like Dead Kennedys.
Are there any Dead Kennedy's songs that are too difficult for you to play?
Deaton: Yes! Surprisingly, "Religious Vomit," even though it's like a minute long, we tried to learn it, it sounds like the simplest hardcore song, but we listened to it, because we wanted to play it for this show and thought, "There's no fucking way we can learn this." If we took the time we could ...
Wiggins: Yeah, it's worth saying that before we played our first show on Halloween 2010, we practiced twice a week for six weeks straight, and it was difficult. There's a lot of stuff there, and the structures are crazy. Some of the songs don't repeat anything.
Asimakos: "Government Flu" is as hard if not harder to play than anything I've ever played.
Ryan: "Well Paid Scientist" is another that's just weird, but it's a lot of fun to play, if you can do it right.
Deaton: Yes, there are so many times that we've been playing these songs, and thought, "damn it, I wish that we had written these songs!"
So this is it for you guys ...
Deaton: Yeah, it's a cover band and it should have ended at Halloween, but we got talked into playing the Christmas show at the Earl, and we had put it out of our minds, but the owner of El Myr, just said, you guys have to do this.
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ahh. i see what u did there. clever as always.