Dead Alive: Interview with The Dead Milkmen
The interview below was conducted by one of our newest writers, Dr. Radical, back in November during Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, TX. We had hopes of posting it earlier, however, Dr. Radical was struck by a vehicle which held the transcription time back a bit. He is fully recovered and we are pleased to provide his first work for the site to you now. We feel that he did a tremendous job. He didn’t come away with any current photos of the group so I contacted The DM vocalist Rodney Anonymous to see if he had any available. He didn’t seem to know where they were located and responded by saying the following in an email:
“Can’t you just use a picture of the Jonas Brothers…or porn?“
Hence, the header photo. All other images featured are courtesy of photographer Nina Sabatino (aka: Dean Clean’s sister). More of her work can be viewed through her Flickr account by clicking here.
Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoy it.
The Dead Milkmen
Fun Fun Fun Fest
Nov. 8th, 2008
I was a little surprised when Fun Fun Fun Fest started up 3 years ago. Obviously, Austin already has two major music festivals. “What could another festival really do for the city?” Last year was my first Fx3 outing and it filled a void that ACL and even SXSW couldn’t quite fill. Musically speaking, I’m a little nostalgic and fairly snooty, but I hate being around crowded situations where I feel like I’m the only one who appreciates what I’m watching. At the first ACL that I went to, I had to sit through the Dashboard Confessional just to insure my placement for the Pixies. Another trapped attendee held up a “Stop Playing” sign and every 15-year-old girl in the area (which was a lot) stopped crying along with the stupid songs to throw empty water bottles at the picketer. Why would anyone put those two bands back to back? It’s an asshole mistake. If you really appreciate “Dash-BORED” you probably won’t truly appreciate seeing the Pixies.
Fx3 is the king of reunions; I had never thought I’d get to the opportunity to see The Angry Samoans, Poison Idea, and Murder City Devils all at the same festival. I wasn’t sure how they were going to top themselves this year but besides, Killdozer, The Adolescents, and Kool Keith, they booked The Dead Milkmen! Those crazy jokesters from Philadelphia who sang about “taking retards to the zoo”, beating their wife, and “smoking banana peels“. The DM hadn’t played since 2004, before that they hadn’t played in 10 years. With a mostly original line up, (except for Dave Blood (1956-2004) replaced by Dandrew Stevens), Rodney Anonymous, Joe Jack Talcum and Dean Clean sat down to talk with me.
Dr Radical: Thanks a lot for coming to Fun Fun Fun, I’ve been wanting to see you guys since I was 16, it’s kind of a dream come true.
Joe Jack Talcum: He’s 17 now.
DR: Well done. So I heard you guys got to play two sold out shows in Philly as “Les Infants du Prague”, were they bummed that you guys showed up and it wasn’t…
Dean Clean: Yeah, yeah, no I think it was pretty well known around (Philadelphia), the word got out…
RA: We tried to keep it a secret, especially the first one, second one not so secret, but we wanted to… the second one was an all ages show and we wanted…
JJT: Second one we actually played as The Dead milkmen
RA: Yeah, I liked the first one, second one I thought was a lot more fun.
DR: Really? Younger energy?
RA: Bigger stage… the first one had balcony seats
JJT: Less equipment problems
RA: What was that?
JJT: Less equipment problems,
RA: I missed it, what?
JJT: Less equipment problems
RA: There were less equipment problems in the second one.
But as I pointed out in the first (interview), it’s The Dead Milkmen. It’s not like you went to see YES and couldn’t hear Rick Wakeman’s keyboards. I’m only going to make references to music so old that nobody who hears this is going to understand it.
DC: But yeah, they were good, and we just kinda wanted to do a little warm up, just to get used to playing live shows.
RA: Then we’d come out here and be like “Uhhh, how do I plug this in?”
DR: Are you familiar with “Cowcon”
RA: Yeah, the Cowcon
DC: Did they organize something here?
DR: Apparently, it was supposed to be here yesterday, today, and tomorrow. How do you feel about people being either crazy about you, or they don’t understand you as much…
RA: They don’t “not understand us“, they just hate us. I fall in the second camp; I’m in the band and I don’t understand us. I’m serious; I tend to like, you know, Nick Cave and stuff like that, but uhm… Oh I like a lot of our songs, I can actually understand not liking us. Most bands I really like and somebody’s says something, like “I don’t really like them” and I get all defensive. I also get that way with books, too. I got that way with “A Secret History” the other day. I’m like that, I either really like something or I hate it. But this band, I kind of understand why people…I’m not sure if I would get or like the band if I wasn’t in the band. So… That’s odd.
JJT: It’s like the people that really, really like us, they expect other people to really, really like us. And then they find out that that’s not the case, and then they’re disappointed, and they come to us and say, “Well you know…“
RA: Well some people don’t like us but then they really tend to like music that I don’t like, I don’t like those people. But, there are a lot of people that don’t like us and then they like some music I like.
Dandrew Stevens: I always tried to get friends in to them, and if they weren’t then…
RA: Oh, that’s very kind of you…
JJT: And people will meet their wives, or their husbands, their boyfriends or girlfriends because “Oh, they were wearing a Dead Milkmen’s shirt”
“You like them too? I never knew anybody would like them, we must be made for each other”
DR: I know that’s how I made a lot of friends in high school, was you know, if they liked the Descendents and The Dead Milkmen I’d probably like them.
I heard you used to tour in a converted ambulance?
RA: Yes. Called the “jambulance”
DR: Was that the first investment as a band?
RA: It was our first van…
JJT: It was the first big investment
RA: We would run red lights in it with the windows down screaming “Hospital, emergency!” And then I found this whistle thing somewhere, and that if you’d put it out the window it sounded like a…
RA: So we’d just drive around with that out the window, we used to, we had …
JJT: And then we got a call from, or our manager got a call from the ambulance service saying “you have to take off the phone number and the…”
[Dean pulls out a plastic siren whistle and blows it.]
RA: Oh! Look at that! Exactly! Dean has one! We used to put that out the window…
JJT: …“one of your ambulance service vans is being rude to people…”
RA: Yeah, after we failed to pick up the third or fourth coronary.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
RA: They’d say “Oh my God, we need an ambulance! Get this man to a hospital!” We’d lean out the window, “He’s a Christian Scientist, get him to a reading room, he’ll be fine”
DR: What made you move on?
RA: To… out of that ambulance? It got old! We put like 200 thousand miles on it.
DC: The timing chain went…
JJT: We had a lot of miles on it.
RA: I loved that…
DC: Then we sold it to another band
Ha! Ha! Ha!
RA: Yeah, yeah, we sold it to another band… and they were not happy, I remember that, yeah.
DR: I’m from Seattle originally, and I heard how Tad sold his station wagon was by signing it.
RA: Wow, how about that?
DC: A souvenir?
DR: Yeah. Did you think about that?
RA: No, other people would sign the van for us, there was graffiti all over it…
DC: “I controls ze weather!”
RA: “I controls ze weather!” Oh my God! OH!
DC: I think we left that up in there.
RA: The weird thing about that little kid, we had some picture of this little kid that looked kinda like Hitler, so we put a Hitler mustache on him and “I controls ze weather” because there’s this book called “Morning of the Magicians” that Nazi’s, at one point, believed that they could work out a way to control the weather, which oddly didn’t work for them… but the weird thing is, if you see the film Eurotrip there’s some little kid that looks just like that.
Yes, we had lots of good stuff all over that van, that van probably smelled so bad…
DR: You guys were a real hard working band, you released a lot of albums on tape before you were signed, you did your own touring. After Big Lizard in My Backyard did you miss the “do it yourself” mentality?
RA: No, I’ve played in enough people’s basements…
JJT: We still did a lot of the stuff ourselves. We recorded our own songs…
RA: We had our own equipment, but I tell ya, I don’t miss, I do not miss playing in somebody’s basement, showing up and finding out we can’t have the show because the kid got a “C”!
Ha! Ha! Ha!
“Oh MAN! My mom is so mad!”
Dandrew: “You can crash at my parent’s house, you have to be out by 8 am”
RA: No, crashing at other people’s places, that I don’t miss.
Ha! Ha! Ha!
We can let that one go.
JJT: Just to keep costs down we’d stay at people’s houses half the time, gradually we’d go into hotels only…
RA: Yeah, when you’re staying at people’s houses you think you’d like a nice clean hotel, and then when you’re at the hotel you think “I bet there’s fun over people’s houses tonight”
You know, you’re sitting there watching HBO…
JJT: Once we did the all hotel tours, we had our choice. You know, people’d invite us to parties, and then we’d go out…
DC: No. Because they always booked the hotel too far away from the party. “Oh, you guys are way out of town tonight…”
JJT: Oh, maybe I’m just remembering it differently. I don’t know.
RA: “We’ve got a party, it’s 25 miles that way…”
DR: You guys have played with a lot of people; you played with Debbie Gibson…
RA: Yeah, I’d forgot about that.
JJT: That was a radio station gig. Radio station gigs can be pretty weird. We did another radio station gig with Duran Duran.
DR: And also 2 Live Crew…
JJT: 2 Live Crew was a…
RA: That was a show for…
JJT: New Music Journal.
RA: Yeah, New Music Journal, up in New York. We played with Guns n Roses when they were “5 Guns West“; they opened up for us when we were out in L.A. um…
Dandrew: Salt n Pepa, right?
RA: Salt n Pepa, yeah, that’s a show I got beaten to a pulp.
RA: Yeah. I’m a big Salt n Pepa fan, I really love them. So they wanted us to play at this show, and after we played I jumped out into the crowd, and a lot of people didn’t like us, and they punched me, and I held up my shirt later on and I was all bruises.
JJT: People were chanting and getting violent wanting to see Salt n Pepper…
RA: Yeah, normally the more people hate us the longer we play…
DR: Was that during the “Push it” days?
RA: At least I got my picture taken with Salt n Pepa, so that worked out. I was happy about that.
DC: The thing is, one of the cool things about playing today is that we’re actually playing with some bands that we actually played some shows early on with. Killdozer, DOA, Cromags… Did we do a show with Bad Brains?
RA: No, him (JJT) and I went to see Bad Brains when we were in our teens.
DC: At least those three bands we did some early touring and played some shows with those guys, so it’ll be fun to see them again…
RA: How old were we when we went to see Bad Brains?
JJT: 20 maybe?
RA: Were we 20? Wow. That’s pretty weird. That’s like a quarter of a century ago…
DR: Yeah, this is a great festival they do a lot of…
RA: Dengue Fever I found out is on the bill, and they’re fricking incredible. I want to see Experimental Dental School, all these bands I want to see and have never gotten to see, so this is gonna be a good day.
DR: You’re going to get time to go around?
RA: I’m gonna make time, I damn certain better get time to go around. I wanna see these bands.
DR: I always liked that you had a good balance between being funny and kinda sincere in a weird way, you know? You never came across as a joke band to me. “Punk Rock Girl, is a really funny song, but its really sweet. Did you feel like you had to maintain a balance between “We’re not being too funny”, or “We’re not being funny enough?”
RA: We wanted to have fun without being taken too seriously, but what you don’t want to do is… you know we’d always have these bands that would open up for us and they’d be like, the local, jokey, funny bands, and the guys would be like “we have a song about taking a crap in the mailbox!” well good for you guys.
[Slight interruption and bad audio]
DR: Do you guys like having more normal jobs?
DC: I kinda like sleeping in one place most of the time, its nice to come out to shows like this once in a while.
RA: If I’d known the business world was going to be this good, I’d have joined years and years ago.
JJT: I don’t really like it. But I don’t want to let my boss know that.
Dandrew: I don’t have a job.
DR: Oh, well done.
The interview was over, I thanked them for seeing me and we all shook hands and I think I told them, “good luck“.
I’ve seen a lot of reunion shows. Sometimes it’s everything you had hoped for and other times it is severely disappointing. The other big name at this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest was Bad Brains. I know I’m not the only excited 30 year old that got on Youtube and looked up old Bad Brains footage in preparation of seeing HR scream and throw himself around the stage before getting mega irie. Instead of that, I got a very stationary, crooning, soft-spoken fellow with a shawl wrapped around his head. If it wasn’t so un-engaging, it may have been one of the most punk rock shows I’d ever seen. But who wants to pay to be bored?
The Dead Milkmen didn’t treat the show like it was just a paycheck; they wanted to make it an event that mattered. They did 3 encores, and even played a Bauhaus cover.
There was a special kind of unity at this show, I felt a little like I was at Church. I was surrounded by Dead Milkmen fans. A congregation of people who had played “Bitchin’ Camaro” for their friends and found Rodney Anonymous’ impression of Jim Morrison having aids funny. I wasn’t going to become best friends with anyone there, but I could probably stand in the bathroom line and make alright small talk.