Interview: Dead to Me

Dead To Me - Photo courtesy of Dead To Me

Dead To Me - Photo courtesy of Dead To Me

It’s not uncommon for musicians to be perfectionists about their own work, evaluating it in hindsight for ways in which it met expectations or could be improved upon.

But Tyson “Chicken” Annicharico, bassist of San Francisco punk band Dead To Me, thinks it’s not that simple. This is because songs are inspired by moments, and regardless of the outcome of music, the source of inspiration can’t – and shouldn’t – be sold short.

“You can’t, like, judge your memories or be a perfectionist about your memories,” he said.

This philosophy extends beyond Annicharico to include his bandmates: guitarists Sam Johnson and Ken Yamazaki, and drummer Ian Anderson (fellow founding member and also his cousin). The four have been playing together for about two years – although the band has been in existence since 2003 – and tend to have a no-regrets kind of attitude what they do, even if that includes a total departure from what people might expect.

In the time since its founding, Dead To Me has established itself as unique because the band has a distinct sound, yet still carries a reputation of releasing albums that sound completely different from whatever came before.

“We have no interest in putting the same record out four or five times, you know?” Annicharico said, addressing the topic. “I think that’s kind of the easy way out and the lazy way out, and a lot of punk bands do that.”

He made reference to bands that the four members collectively consider among their favourites, such as the Clash, Jawbreaker, Fugazi and the Damned, sharing how none of those bands stuck with a formula that resulted in their music sounding the same. Therefore, Annicharico said it only makes sense to adopt that same attitude toward an ever-changing and constantly-evolving sound, where Dead To Me is concerned.

“That keeps it fresh for us and hopefully keeps it fresh for the listener,” he said.

Last year, the group released its third full-length, “Moscow Penny Ante,” on Fat Wreck Chords. The unintentional approach to this album was to write somewhat retrospectively, considering the collective feel of the already-existing Dead To Me albums and EPs.

Ultimately, it resulted in capturing more of a live sound. This likely occurred because it was written and recorded just as the band was returning from being on the road, and the Dead To Me catalogue was fresh in all of their minds.

“It came directly after touring our asses off and I think that shows,” Annicharico said, explaining how it’s much more straightforward than past releases. “It’s a really good representation of what we sound like live.”

As to the question of whether or not the band feels it has found its “voice” with the new record, they all agreed that the band has been pretty good at realizing itself with every release.

“I guess, technically, we’re artists, but part of the thing with being in a punk band too, at least for me, the reason why I did it, is ’cause I didn’t have to search for my voice, you know?” Johnson said. “It’s just kind of like, ‘this is it.'”

Yet even though Dead To Me is self-assured in its sound, the members admitted there is a certain level of fortitude that accompanies the songwriting now – something which wasn’t always present in the beginning stages.

“There’s a little bit more confidence going into it now,” Annicharico said, referencing how he rarely questions whether or not a song is complete anymore. “At this point, I know what I want to say, and I know what I want it to sound like.”

Although Annicharico rarely has moments of doubt when he writes songs, he also shared that he never knows when to expect a song. The only certainty he has is knowing that he’s always capable of surpassing his own personal bests, and that’s what keeps him going.

“My favourite thing about writing songs is I always feel like my best song is my next song,” he shared. “The weird magic thing that happens when you’re writing songs is like…there’s some type of inspiration, some type of vibe that I’m trying to capture at that moment. And like, that’s what I love about making music, is that it’s just so, like, intangible. There’s no recipe or formula for it.”

There is, however, a recipe for which songs Dead To Me decides to keep. Generally speaking, if everyone likes a song – regardless of what it sounds like – it stays. And this is probably the thing that has contributed both to the familiarity of the music and also to the diverse ground it tends to cover.

Currently, Dead To Me is on its fifth European tour. Last month, the four kicked things off by playing an acoustic set at the Ramones Museum, where Anderson also debuted his art.

Life on the road often feels like a constant for the guys, who say that they measure the passing of time better by tours than by calendar months. It’s an exciting lifestyle, and one they don’t regret, but it can make things difficult, both while on the road and when they return.

“We’re always, like, on tour, and then I’ll go home, and I’ll see people for either a short time or maybe like a month, and then, you know, it’s like life is the same, but it’s totally different too,” Yamakazi said. “Sometimes there’s a disconnect to the rest of the world, because we’re always, like, moving and like we can’t even watch the news. [Meanwhile], life is going by.”

Additionally, it’s a struggle to prioritize people back home, and sometimes painful to miss out on important events.

“I think the hardest thing would probably be maintaining a relationship,” Anderson said, referencing how he’s had to forego everything from family reunions to his girlfriend’s birthday, all because of touring.

And then there is the aspect of having to evaluate where you fit in your own life, when the permanence of location and stability is questionable.

“People stop calling you to hang out,” Johnson said, explaining the social strains it can have.

Anderson agreed, saying that it’s not because of any conscious effort to exclude, but rather because friends are so used to not being able to see or reach him.

“They just assume you’re not around,” he said.

But in spite of these obstacles, Annicharico said that he’s glad to be doing something that is not only what he loves, but also that keeps him accountable to himself.

“[Looking back], I think I [am] surprised by how much I haven’t changed, you know? I think maybe it’s to my detriment that I’m like 33 and still playing in a band that doesn’t make any fucking money,” he said. “But it’s like, at the same time…I get to say that I’ve been to Berlin five times. I mean, how fucking awesome is that?”

Dead To Me plays tonight at the Clashin Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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