Washington DC punk ‘n’ roll larrikins The Mostly Dead represent some of the better aspects of a music industry too often saturated with the false & the feckless. They are a group of friends who make music they are passionate about because they enjoy doing so.
It’s not often that an interview is equal parts hilarious and insightful, but Zak, Eric, Mikey and Kurt did themselves proud…
Audiocracy: The obligatory generic questions first up, Please give us a brief history of The Mostly Dead.
Zak: We started in 2008.
Eric: We’re fact checking this…
Zak: Yea, you should check it… Kurt and I were in another band, and we wanted to play something heavier. Then we met Mikey…
Mikey: Aw man, the hazing was terrible… you would not trust me…
Mikey: you guys would try to make me shotgun beers at the pharmacy…
Zak: At the pharmacy?
Kurt: I like how Mikey was all like “we should take this seriously [prior to the interview], and he’s talking about how we were hazing him…
Mikey: You were! You motherfuckers were all… really really really critical. It was hard, I was hoping you’d like me.
[everyone starts laughing and yelling]
Kurt: So the second part of the answer is Mikey had seen Zak and I’s old band play at the Black Cat, and he contacted Zak…
Zak: That’s right.
Kurt: And so, yea, Zak and I were looking to do something heavier, and also our band was kind of like… not necessarily on hiatus, but approaching that, so we didn’t want to have any down time, so Zak got in touch with Mikey, and Mikey had a contact with someone named Devin who was looking for something similar, so that part of it came together really fast. We met each other and hit it off, from our first practice to playing shows was less than 2 months, I think. And then after Devin left, pretty quickly in, we had some subs and then Eric had seen us…
Eric: I knew Mikey.
Mikey: Eric and I were boys. When I first moved to DC, Eric and I had jammed a few times, and just couldn’t get a band going. We were friends.
Eric: We were friends.
Kurt: I didn’t know that! How did you guys meet?
Eric: So, yea [my friend] Todd and I had an ad [for a band], and Mikey came and jammed, and we liked him, but he wanted to do something that Todd wasn’t into, and I was like, I don’t really care, I just wanted to play with some dudes…
Zak: [laughs] …and play some music.
Kurt: And so, we basically came to Eric and said we have a mini tour booked, and we don’t have a guitar player, and it’s next weekend, so if you want to learn ten songs and just go off and do all these shows with us you’re in. And he said yes. And we’ve been finger blasting each other since.
Audiocracy: How would you describe your sound?
Mikey: I like to think of it personally like a crackhead who’s also shooting up heroin at the same time… so it’s like AC/DC on crack mixed with Fugazi on Molly mixed with a little bit of some downers like qualudes.
Kurt: See when I think of a crackhead doing heroin, I just think he’s trying to do too much.
Zak: Too much, too soon.
Mikey: That’s what I’m saying! The Mostly Dead is too much, we are not rock & roll, we are not hardcore, we are not punk rock, we are not progressive, we are not any specific genre, yet we draw from all those genres, and pull it together to create some kind of fusion of sound. But our roots are clear, I mean you can’t deny that it’s punk, you can’t deny that it’s hardcore, you can’t deny that it’s in your face, but I wouldn’t classify us as any one of those…
Zak: So we’re an amalgam.
Mikey: Yea, like a crackhead using heroin…
Kurt: I’m with you until you use that analogy. It just doesn’t hold up.
[Eric & Zak agree]
Zak: Generally when we’re asked this question they like to know some bands we listen to, so we should probably drop some common ground band names.
Kurt: The usual suspects that we mention are the Bronx & Every Time I Die. Those are two bands that all four of us like and listen to. They’re not really a reference point when we write…
Kurt: But I think if you blended those two bands you get kind of at what Mikey’s talking about.
Kurt: There’s a mixture of like that rock & roll swagger, but yea, there’s hardcore elements, there’s punk, there’s also some of that weird mathy shit in there as well.
Mikey: Especially the new record that’s about to come out. There’s a lot of heavy, weird riffs throughout that were not typical on our past recordings, which was more hardcore influenced, but then we have breakdowns, and even some trippy parts in there which is kind of like post punk… I’m really stoked about it.
Zak: It’s called Wilderness. That new album. It is coming soon.
Audiocracy: Which of the following would you say best sums up the creative dynamic + modus operandi of the band and why? Socialism, democracy, dictatorship or anarchy?
[at this point in the interview, it must be noted that Mikey is participating remotely and drops his device on the floor in an attempt to show his dog Joey. Some technical difficulties ensue as he drops the ipad twice more.]
Kurt: I would say it’s an anarcho-syndicalist commune in the sense that uh…
Kurt: Yea, that’s right!
Eric: I’m going to Google that right now…
Kurt: No, but generally I would say it is a total democracy,… people bring in stuff with the expectation that everyone’s going to put their two cents in, everything is subject to be vetoed or approved, and there’s a lot of decisions that we just vote on.
Zak: It is a passive aggressive social democracy.
[laughter & agreement]
Kurt: That is a fantastic answer
Eric: Yup. Except it’s not a very good answer.
Kurt: Shut up, that’s a really good answer.
Eric: Just kidding.
Zak: Everyone brings something, which we merge and change and fuck with, and then once everyone is happy, the song is done.
Audiocracy: Being from DC how early did you become aware of the region’s rich and revered hardcore and punk history, and do you consider it a benefit, a burden or something in between?
Zak: So I moved to the area when I was 10 or 11 and pretty much immediately started digging in to punk. I was already listening to the Ramones, but very quickly got into Fugazi, and Minor Threat, and Bad Brains. Probably by the time I was [12 years old] I had most of the albums they had at that point, and I dug in pretty readily and went to Fort Reno and that stuff. So in terms of my history I was kind of all in from the beginning. I was also listening to a lot of metal, thrash, and death metal at the time, but Punk and Hardcore, particularly DCHC, was a big chunk of what I was listening to, early on.
Kurt: I’m from the area, but I actually came into it comparably late in the game. I was super into metal, but didn’t really start listening to punk stuff until I was a freshman in high school and met some people who were into that. It was really the summer after that year when I was exposed to Fugazi, who was playing shows all the time, and that really kicked the door open. I had already been “into music” before I discovered [DC’s scene].
Eric: I was into all these bands, like Minor Threat, Fugazi… uh Tesco Vee… and the Meatmen… so I always thought DC was a super awesome area. I was living in New Jersey, moved to Buffalo [NY], and still thought it was cool down here. Then I got a job down here [in 1999], and it seemed like I was late to the game. All the bands [that I knew] seemed like they were done.
Zak: In terms of Hardcore and punk, that was kind of the dead zone in DC.
Kurt: There were some cool bands here during that time…
Eric: But I think it’s cool when we play out of town that it still carries some weight, people will say “oh, your from DC, that’s awesome!” But that’s really the only upside I’ve seen…
Mikey: I grew up in Philly and at a very early age I was exposed to some East coast hardcore bands, thanks to my older cousin, which was awesome and totally inspired me to get into lots of different punk at the age of like 12. I do want to make a distinction that I was into the whole of the East coast sound, because there was a lot going on. Obviously New York was awesome, DC had its own sound, and Boston, and everything up and down the coast was awesome. But when I moved to DC and met the Mostly Dead, and we started playing I was really surprised how dried up the scene seemed to be. To Eric’s point, it is cool that when we tour, people are always like, “yea DC hardcore” and they are into us, because the scene does seem to be so fragmented, or in despair, maybe it’s a bad thing, maybe a good thing, maybe other scenes are flourishing, but I was a little shocked by that.
Zak: To what Mikey and Eric were saying, one thing I don’t think a lot of people external to the DC area understand about it, in general, is that it’s a vastly transient city. There was a time when the majority of people were born here and stayed here longer. More frequently, now, you have a mass of people who come and go with administrations, so for a lot of people we’re talking about a maximum lifespan in the area, particularly for young professionals, of 8 years or so, which doesn’t really lend to a stable, generational rock & roll scene.
Kurt: I dunno… I would push back against that a little bit, being from here. There are a lot of people in the immediate area who are lifers.
Zak: That’s true… there are.
Kurt: I’m not sure that’s completely representational of the city.
Zak: Yea, everything said, there are a lot of good bands who have been and still are active in the city, I just don’t think it’s the vibrant, active scene people would expect it to be.
Kurt: See, I disagree… I think what people expect is that the style of music [we’ve been talking about] is still huge, and it’s not, whereas there are a lot of cool bands from the late 90’s up to now which are just kind of doing their own thing… like the Apes, Q not U, Dismemberment Plan, the Whips, Washington Social Club… there’s all kinds of great bands, they’re just not doing anything “dischord.”
Mikey: Back to what Zak was saying is that DC is definitely transient. Certainly in the 80’s there was this sort of flight from the city proper where everyone who had kids or were in the scene were moving out of the city proper because DC was ridden with crime. In the late 90’s, early 2000’s businesses started to reinvest and people started to move back into the city. The people who were moving in, however, were those transient, affluent, young adults who were just looking to take a job for a few years and then disappear.
A proper scene, where you got a bunch of kids hanging out together, going to a bunch of shows, and creating a sort of community, a real culture, didn’t seem to exist when I got there. I’m still not sure that exists to this day. But to be clear, I’m not sure if it exists in a lot of cities. Even in New York, there’s not a scene, so to speak. I mean there’s sort of pockets, but it’s not in the city proper where it’s too expensive to live, so the scene is not there, it’s in the suburbs. And I’m sure the same thing can be said for DC, it’s been pushed out to one of the suburbs or neighbouring cities. The city has had great economic growth, but I was sad to see so little of the hardcore scene in the city proper when I moved here.
Zak: I mean, there’s little pocket scenes in Fairfax, in Gaithersburg, in Waldorf, and the list goes on and on. But one thing I would like to point out, and close this question out with is that, particularly in the US, areas that have a lot of money tend to have less vibrant rock & roll scenes, regardless of the sub-genre. If you go to places like Detroit, Pittsburgh, upstate New York, Baltimore, Richmond, and areas in the south, there are great unified scenes. Places like LA, New York City, DC, do not seem to, in part because there’s a lot of money…
Kurt: Honestly, in this day and age, I think the concept of a “scene” is kind of an anachronism.
Zak: You might be right.
Kurt: The reason why scenes existed there was a local network and… uh
Zak: They needed it to kind of support the bands…
Kurt: Right… that was the way people could be exposed to this type of music. Now you have the internet.
Audiocracy: Which leads us to our next question! I came across you guys on twitter. Would you say that social media is a new form of DIY? I have heard it said that with the death of such methods as the fanzine it is now the best form of controlling your own promotion. Do you agree or disagree?
Zak: So while social media is definitely useful to a band, and is one of the only ways beyond playing shows to grow a fan-base, the internet is so saturated with millions of bands, for a band like us, the only real way to get people to listen to your music is to play face to face shows, and that’s the bottom line. While there are actually “zine” websites and blogs, such as yours, to build on a band’s exposure, if you’re not playing shows, everything else is moot in this day and age. It’s kind of like back to where it was twenty years ago or something.
Kurt: I would just add that when Zak and I were in the Scanner Freaks, back when Myspace was really taking off, it was like a revelation how easy it was to find cool bands, and book shows, but since that time it’s been exploited so much that now it’s just kind of a cacophony of noise at this point.
Mikey: Since I work in this industry I’m starting to see that social media is changing, in sort of a negative way, right now. From a band’s perspective, harnessing the power of social media is really about promotion. But it’s to the point where it’s no different than if a company or a brand, or a politician wanted to promote themselves.
Zak: It’s exactly the same.
Mikey: It takes money. It’s just like advertising on TV. If you want to get the word out on social media in this day and age, it’s all about how much money you can spend to extend your reach and reach more people. It’s just another channel, and yes anyone can use it, but it’s just a tool which you have to adapt to.
Zak: Just to illustrate this, you can have digital distribution, and contact people on the internet, but it’s not really going to help you grow, or if it does, only marginally. It’s all about playing shows, and that’s it.
Audiocracy: Have you guys “quit your day jobs”?
Kurt: Everyone works.
Zak: That’s the way it is.
Mikey: That’s life in the big city.
Audiocracy: Ok, how do you manage to juggle adult life’s responsibility with the demands of the band ?
Zak: Well. None of us have kids.
Eric: It can be tough.
Kurt: All of us have jobs that are demanding, sometime you have to work all day before a show, eat on the run, fucking jerk it on the run…
Zak: Everything on the run. But there’s nothing better than working 12 hours, hopping in the van and driving for 4, playing a show, and doing that all weekend… so then on Monday you can go back to work.
Eric: I love doing that.
Mikey: There honestly is nothing better than that.
Eric: On a weekly basis, it’s just the issue of juggling life and band stuff.
Kurt: You just gotta prioritize.
Eric: It’s just a matter of saying, “I gotta make time for this, because I like doing it.”
Audiocracy: Have any of the shows you have performed stood out for any particular reasons good or bad ?
Zak: I can never really think about any specific shows… for me it’s all about playing with bands we like, who are cool people. That makes a show worthwhile and I always dig it.
Kurt: Yea, we’ve played a lot of good shows…
Zak: I guess a handful of “bad” ones…
Kurt: I would really say, not to be clichéd, we’ve talked about this amongst ourselves, but it’s true, the Ramones talked about how every show, every practice, is the last time you play, so you gotta fucking go for it. That’s kind of our mentality, and one thing I’ve always liked about this band, whether we’re playing a big show with a big band at a big club, or we’re playing in someone’s basement with 3 kids there waiting to get the PA, everyone always plays as if it matters… the best they can.
Zak: Ha! Yea that’s a funny show – the one Kurt was talking about. Some years back, we played this house show. There were a lot of people there, and we got there early, but were asked to play last. None of the other bands mentioned that we were playing, so after the band before us, all the people streamed out. We were like, fuck it, and played as if the place was packed. The three people there were like, “Holy shit… you guys always play full out, it’s like you didn’t even notice that no one was here.”
Zak: So, yea, that was a win.
Mikey: Yea, I think it’s all about giving it your all. Being dedicated to being present at the moment, whether it is for one dude, or one chick and twenty dudes, or two hundred people.
Eric: There’s never any chicks there…
Kurt: Sometimes the place is packed with moms.
Audiocracy: What are a couple of the best and worst things about living in the USA?
Eric: I LOVE AMERICA!!!
Kurt: Fucking baseball, hotdogs, uh…
Mikey: I’m currently drinking a can that is red, white, and blue!
Kurt: Yea… I uh…
Eric: I don’t know anything about living anywhere else, because… I LOVE AMERICA!
[laughter for a few seconds]
Mikey: The best thing about America, the thing that makes me a patriot, it the music. I’ve traveled the world quite a bit, and every time I go somewhere I hear, whether at a club, or a restaurant, or wherever, I’d say 60-80% of the music that’s playing is dominated by genres created in the US and redone elsewhere, or by American Artists. It’s really the American intuition and ingenuity, in reference to music, that I am most proud of. I haven’t been exposed to another culture that creates the same amount of new music, as the US. So many genres were created in the US.
Zak: I’ve heard a lot of great bands from all over the world, a good many who dig in to their own local folk cultures to create new music, and I love a lot of these bands, but I would have to agree that they don’t have the same kind of mass following elsewhere, at least in my experience.
Also, there’s a lot of opportunity in the US to fuck up, or do really well. I mean, that’s the nature of the country… I think that’s a good thing… I mean you can do what you want…whether you want to die in a corner shooting heroin, or get rich.
Kurt: I think the biggest problem with living in America is that I just have so much disposable income and free time…
Kurt: and I have so much access to cheap fuel and cheap food that it’s a bit much…
Zak: Sometimes I just buy gallons of gasoline, throw it on tons of produce, and just burn it, because I have nothing better to do.
Kurt: Yea… I’ll buy like a bucket of rice… then I’ll just… shit in the bucket and dump it out because… I just don’t care.
Audiocracy: Can you name-drop any up and coming bands that we here “Down Under” should keep and ear out for (not necessarily limited to from DC)?
Cannons, from Philadelphia (http://www.cannonsareloud.com/)
War on Women from Baltimore(https://www.facebook.com/WarOnWomen)
Copstabber from DC (https://www.facebook.com/pages/COPSTABBER/124679570908081)
BSR from northern VA (https://www.facebook.com/bsr.reston?fref=ts)
Voyage in Coma from DC(http://voyageincoma.bandcamp.com/)
Dynamite Fishermen from Northern VA (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dynamite-Fishermen/185698074515)
WALK THE PLANK (http://walktheplank.bandcamp.com/)
Aggro or Die!(https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aggro-Or-Die/212708308931?ref=ts)
Audiocracy: Is international touring something that is on the cards for you guys? If you come to Australia you are welcome to stay at my house as long as you don’t use the c-bomb around my wife, she fucking hates that.
Zak: We would love to tour internationally… it’s a matter of funds… we’d really love to play in Australia, but it would require some sort of support, just so long as it’s break-even-able… Right now it’s all about financial concerns… so long as we can make it happen, we will.
Kurt: The Bronx seem to be pretty big in Australia… ask them to take us!
Zak: Mikey, international touring?
Mikey: Why would I leave this great nation…?
Audiocracy: And the people will no doubt being dying to know- Do you ever bump into Ian MacKaye whilst he is his buying soy milk at the local 7eleven?
Zak: We don’t generally bump into him around town, pretty big town.
Kurt: The old Dischord house is really close to where I live, so that’s something.
Mikey: Does he drink soy milk?
Kurt: I don’t know.
Eric: Who doesn’t drink soy milk?
Mikey: Me obviously.
Kurt: Yea Mikey, you’ve been in the big city too long…
Zak: Here’s a story… in our old band, we played a yearly festival series called Fort Reno (Which is still gong). Ian MacKaye was there, he told us he liked our set…
Kurt: And he patted me on the shoulder and said great job.
Zak: So that’s out Ian Mackaye story.
Audiocracy: Or Barack Obama whilst he is shooting hoops at the local playground ?
Kurt: While Obama may have not caused us problems, my parents went to high school with Bill Clinton, grew up with him, and my mom actually dated him in high school.
Kurt: In his first term, when he was elected, I was a junior in high school, and my mom worked there, and because of that, the “pussy hound” legend of Clinton, particularly in reference to my mom, was kind of rough…
Zak: Wooooah… good story.
Kurt: So that’s Clinton… nothing really with Obama.
Zak: You know, presidents drive around the area to get a burger or something and shut down roads and cause major traffic for miles around, and that’s the story with the area… but, uh, Obama most certainly does not play hoops on the local basketball courts in DC unless there’s like 100 secret service guys around, and the entire block is cordoned off. Mikey, you ever had Obama do anything to you?
Eric: I almost went to a Nationals game and the first lady was going to be there.
Mikey: I love him… and uh, yea… I did meet him while he was playing hoops in Chicago, before he came to DC, though.
Kurt: I do have one story. I went to see Metallica on the Death Magnetic tour, at the Verizon center, and the First Lady had done an event there that morning and because of that, Metallica was loading in, but because of security issues, they were unable to load in their pyrotechnics, so because of that Metallica could not have any pyro, because of the first lady.
Eric: Not even sparklers?
Kurt: Not even sparklers, and I still had to pay fucking full price. THE END.
Audiocracy: Last one is my pet question – If you could chose how you were to die, what would you chose ?
Eric: I’m just going to take a toboggan and ride it into a crevasse somewhere.
Zak: A crevasse! That’s fancy!
Mikey: A crevice?
Kurt: Mikey, were you even listening to the story?
Eric: C’mon bro, I’m not getting in crevices.
Eric: You’re not going to die in a crevice, you’re just gonna get hurt. So right before I get too old, where I’m gonna have a bunch of health problems, I’m gonna get a toboggan, [ride it] right down a glacier. Done.
Kurt: I like it.
Eric: Yup. All my affairs will be in order.
Kurt: That’s a glorious way to go.
Eric: I have it all planned out.
Kurt: I’m probably just going to choke on a ham sandwich, to make it a metaphor for my life.
Mikey: I’m eating this amazing Italian cold cut sandwich, I mean really good… you got prosciutto, asiago cheese…
Kurt: Hey! A sandwich was my idea!
Eric: This is a different sandwich.
Mikey: …some hot peppers and a little bit of…
Kurt: Same sandwich.
Eric: Same Sandwich.
Mikey: …about this big, and I’m wolfing it down. It’s so good, so salty, and I need some water, and no one’s got any water. And then all of a sudden I have a heart attack and die.
Kurt: Mikey… that’s the same sandwich I died on. It’s a death sandwich.
Zak: Not sure I care how I die, as long as…
Kurt: You’re not there when it happens?
Zak: Yea, and at my funeral, people just have a good time. I want it to be like a party.
Eric: Want to have people fill your corpse up with candy? Human piñata?
Zak: Yea. I just want it to be a good time.
Kurt: Oh, it will be a good time.
Kurt: We’re going to be celebrating.
Zak: That’s what I’m saying. Everyone should celebrate.
Eric: You’ll probably return from the grave to argue that we’re doing it wrong.
Zak: Probably. Although now that I’m thinking about it. Some kind of explosion related death would be cool.