Pop culture comes under attack as this Chicago trio unleashes a raucous and rambunctious brand of electrified punk rock. Guitarists Dan Evans and Chris Smits introduce to ReGen their raw and blistering assault on pop culture and their history in the industrial scene.
An InterView with Dan Evans and Chris Smits of Dead on TV
By: Ilker Yücel
Proof positive that one need not be a living, breathing human being with a discernible personality to attain fame and notoriety, pop culture is a veritable oasis for any band with a taste for lyrical scorn. In steps Chicago punk rock band Dead on TV, comprised of guitarists Dan Evans and Chris Smits and drummer Vince McAley. The band’s debut EP, Fuck You, I’m Famous delivers a fresh batch of venom directed at everything from celebutante worship and reality TV to rampant over-medication, addiction and all the materialistic celebrations of modern American life. And yet, for all of these seemingly serious issues, the band presents a viciously irreverent sense of humor with their sights set firmly on the audience in true punk fashion: no group or individual is safe from Dead on TV’s raucous and rambunctious brand of musical commentary, par for the course considering the band’s previous involvement with legendary industrial funksters Die Warzau, performing live and on the band’s later releases, with Evans and McAley forming GoFight with producer/vocalist Jim Marcus. Now working on a full-length album and tearing up stages across the United States like a Tasmanian Devil battling it out with a tsunami, Dead on TV’s Dan Evans and Chris Smits take the time to introduce ReGen’s readers to their raw and blistering assault on pop culture, guaranteed to make you laugh, cry, reel in pain and beg for more!
The band has just released the Fuck You, I’m Famous debut EP. As you’ve all worked together in Die Warzau for some time, tell us about how this band came together and what drove you all to pursue the punk/electro sound with Dead on TV. As well, give us a little bit of individual background, how you all came into music…
Smits: Dan and I had finished the Supergangbang sessions with Die Warzau (where we met each other) and were looking to keep active musically as Die Warzau became more and more defunct. We were out one night, and Dan asked me if I wanted to form a new band with him, because–and I’ll never forget this–‘You’re the only person I know that’s as pissed off as I am!’ He said he had written a track already, and I skeptically said I’d listen to it. That track ended up being ‘Dead on TV,’ and it blew me away. The next time we got together, I threw down the music for what would end up being ‘Fuck You, I’m Famous’ in all of 15 minutes. That was it. Those two songs gave us everything we needed to know that this was the right thing for us.
Evans: We had been doing Die Warzau, and that required a lot of preparation and programming to play a show. I just wanted to do something that was super simple in terms of playing live and the actual music itself, where we could just run around and get totally violent and not worry about breaking anything or anyone. Initially, it was all drum machines and guitar. I guess I wanted to make a Big Black record. Then Vince showed up, and it turned into this whole other monstrosity with live drums and the energy that gives a song or a riff. We all have a pretty ridiculous sense of humor and like to push people’s buttons, so when we started playing live it turned into this punk/rock & roll/demolition type thing, and we’ve gone from there. I’ve played music my whole life, but didn’t start trying to play guitar until I was 21. That’s why I’m not very good. Chris is a way better guitar player than me, playing since he was in high school, and Vince…well, fuck that guy.
What’s the process like in terms of songwriting and recording among the three band members?
Smits: It’s pretty natural, really. When it was just Dan and I, one of us would start something with a guitar track and we’d just keep going. The two of us will just sit in a room together and keep taking passes at it, going back and forth until we feel we’ve got it. We’re disgustingly diplomatic with each other when it comes to writing. When one of us clicks, the other says ‘That’s it!’ It’s pretty rare that we disagree on what riffs to go with. Now that we’ve got Vince in with us, we’ve taken to a bit more of a live approach. Sometimes we’ll start a rough of the guitar and drums at the same time and record the two together live. That’s been adding some energy to the new songs in a way you just don’t get from sitting in front of a computer by yourself.
Evans: I agree with Chris; we have sort of an anything goes approach to writing, which frees us up if we want to play different types of songs. As long as we all can get behind a riff or a lyric, then it’s fine.
Songs like the title track, ‘Cocaine,’ and ‘Dead on TV’ all seem to present a deliberate confrontation of the status quo of American society in true punk fashion. At the risk of this question sounding pretentious, can you elaborate a little on your lyrical approach and how it reflects your thoughts and perceptions of America today? Is it ever a concern for you that with many other bands also making similar statements that yours may get lost in the shuffle and not be heard?
Evans: I used to get really mad because I wanted to write these songs that had tons of meaning and were really deep, but it was no fun for me. A girl I used to date right after high school used to tell me that I just need to write what I know. It took me awhile to figure out that all I knew was shitty TV, fast food, boredom, prescription medication and the United States trying to take over the world. Once I realized that what we were writing were crummy punk rock songs and not fucking Robert Frost poems, I was much happier with myself and it was fun again. I also enjoy the fact that our songs are just really big horribly offensive jokes that only people I’d want to hang out with would get. Jim Marcus gave me a lot of confidence about doing vocals and ‘singing,’ as the first song I ever ‘sang’ on was one he and I wrote together called ‘Mona Lisa Communista,’ which we were rolling around on the ground while writing. That’s what I want songwriting to be for me and the people I hang out with. The second it’s not fun, I quit.
Smits: As for ‘not being heard,’ I think that’s the most liberating part of your question. Once you’re used to ‘not being heard,’ you stop thinking about it and your points become easier to convey. There’s no fear of reprisal when you don’t give a shit and you’re going to say what you feel regardless. People tend to say the best stuff when they think no one is listening.
Coming from your associations with the industrial scene via Die Warzau and WTII Records, what are your thoughts on the way industrial music has developed over the years that many artists are pursuing modes of music outside of that norm?
Evans: This is a hard question to answer. The reason I loved doing industrial music was because we could make songs out of and about anything. We could have funk tracks, rock tracks, dance tracks and just art/noise freakouts where the snare sound was us just throwing drum hardware into piles of junk. Now it seems like it’s just about club tracks, and that’s not really me. Don’t get me wrong, I love dance music, but what drew me to Chicago and industrial in the first place was that it had this dangerous, in-your-face, rock & roll edge. And that’s why we started doing Dead on TV. We wanted it to be dangerous for us and for the people at the shows (the one person).
Smits: I’m not even going to lie. My finger couldn’t be farther from the pulse of what’s going on in the industrial scene these days. I had my say and participation with it years ago and decided not to look back. Dead on TV is what came out of that, so I’ll always feel that kinship with the scene in whatever forms it ends up taking.
In what ways do you feel that Dead on TV’s sound is progressing, musically and lyrically, since writing the songs on the EP? What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of performing live, especially with regards to bringing the sound of your studio recordings to the live format?
Smits: The newest stuff is definitely even more punk and we’ve been having fun with the subject matter quite a bit. I think the songs on the EP are a little more serious in tone (lyrically) than what we’ve been doing lately.
Evans: We’re all over the place musically, but the last couple songs we’ve written are darker sounding than the EP. We’ve been experimenting with some pop-sounding songs because we’re not opposed to being catchy, either. Lyrically, we’re definitely having some fun just seeing what can and cannot be a Dead on TV song. The most challenging aspect of performing is not killing ourselves or doing things that make us want to kill each other. The shows are extremely physical. The whole point of these songs initially was just to be incredibly crass, ridiculous and violent in front of people and see how they react. So we don’t really care about how it translates in terms of sounding just like the recording. When we play, you never know what you’re gonna get. It could be a show where we all play spot on the whole time, or it could be a fucking disaster where you have a snare drum chucked at your head. We just want to keep it fun for us, and if other people enjoy it or get something out it, then that’s great.
Interesting that Dead on TV doesn’t seem to have a regular bassist, and while in the studio that’s probably not an issue, is it ever a concern as far as the depth of the live sound?
Smits: I was worried about that in the very beginning, but I remember our friend Abel (Garibaldi) telling us ‘not to change a fucking thing’ after he saw us play live. Live is all about the bizarre chemistry we have when we cut loose. We’re not looking to recreate the record; coming to see us play is its own beast and I think that’s the way it should be. Making the live experience as visceral as possible has always been extremely important in our scheme of things.
Evans: Chris and I can play bass enough to lay down a bass track, but there isn’t exactly a ‘real’ bass on the record either. It’s this hybrid of bass and synthesizer that allows us to keep things really simple. We want the room and the mobility that being a three piece offers. Who knows what will happen in the future, but right now, it seems to work great and I really enjoy telling people to fuck off when they say we need a bass player.
Chicago is renowned for having a vibrant and diverse music scene. To what do you attribute this?
Smits: I attribute it to so many people not wanting to have a day job.
Evans: Chicago is the only city I know of where you can go out on a Monday night and see a ton of bands. It’s a bizarre thing. I’m not sure I quite understand it myself, but Chris seems to be pretty sure of himself.
The imagery presented on your debut EP is particularly bloody and keeps in line with the dark humor presented in your lyrics and your bio. If you don’t mind getting a bit topical, what are your thoughts on the latest wave of cannibalistic murders and feeding (excuse the pun) people’s fears of the zombie apocalypse?
Smits: Hasn’t it been stated that human flesh tastes like chicken? All of this chaos is potentially fueled by people’s love of the taste of chicken. That’s some serious shit, right there.
Evans: I think people see what they want to see. I’m sure there have always been people eating each other, but the internet gives us live feeds of it now.