Live & Listen's 'Bands You Should Know': Dead 27s July 22, 2016 13:28
Live & Listen is pleased to continue a brand new weekly feature known as Bands You Should Know. This new concept will highlight a different band each Friday with an interview, general background information, current happenings, as well as videos and audio from each band. After nearly two years of various interviews and artist spotlights, we feel that installing a consistent weekly feature is the perfect move as we progress forward.
For our fourth edition of Bands You Should Know, we sat down with Trey Francis (vocals) and Will Evans (guitar/synth/hamony vocals) of Dead 27s, an incredibly soulful five-piece out of Charleston, South Carolina. Since their formation in 2012, Dead 27s have racked up a total of six Charleston Music Awards, including Rock Band of the Year, Song of the Year for "Don't Comfort Me," Album of the Year for "Chase Your Devils Down," Guitarist of the Year for Wallace Mullinax (3rd straight year), Drummer of the Year for Daniel Crider, and Bassist of the Year for Oliver Goldstein. Dead 27s blends a contagiously warm, soulful vibe with honest Southern Rock roots, and we look forward to watching this band continue to flourish for years to come.
Dead 27s is Trey Francis (vocals), Wallace Mullinax (guitar, harmony vocals), Will Evans (guitar, synth, harmony vocals), Oliver Goldstein (bass), Daniel Crider (drums, harmony vocals)
Here we are in the summer of 2016, and Dead 27s is now in it's fourth official year of existence. How much experience did you guys have playing together before the band became official? What led to the band's official formation?
Trey: The level of experience playing together kind of varies across the board. Oliver (Goldstein) and Wallace (Mullinax) played together for years with different projects. Daniel (Crider) played with the two of them on a few things. Will and Wallace...y'all met at Carolina, right?
Will: Yeah thats right. We met in college at the University of South Carolina. I actually met Oliver through Wallace back then as well. They were friends, but I wasn't as close with him at the time.
Trey: Will and I met probably a year or so before the band got put together. We both grew up in Greenville (SC), and a mutual friend of ours actually passed away in an accident. His brother asked if some of his friends who were musicians could play at his funeral and a little gathering afterwords.
That was actually the first time that Will and I ever played together, at our friend's funeral. We got together and started doing a little acoustic duo around Greenville here and there. He was playing with another band at the time that he was pretty busy with. We did some acoustic gigs at bars here and there. He ended up introducing me to the rest of the guys. Another friend of ours, who is actually Wallace's cousin, puts on this show at the Pour House every year called the "Strap On Face Funk." He wanted us to put something together for that. They didn't have anyone lined up to sing, so Will brought me down and introduced me to those guys. The drummer, whose name was Cre, was living in Richmond (VA) at the time.
We did a handful of gigs after that whenever someone called and asked. We did those with different drummers until we called up Daniel for a wedding that we booked. After that, we immediately decided that the chemistry was so good that we should make it a real thing. We started playing a lot more, booking more shows, and named the band. That's the genesis from my perspective I guess.
Will: Yeah, that's pretty much it. It was very organic, you could say. It just kind of happened, and we went with it.
I try to avoid this once, because it's such a stereotypical interview question, but the name of this band intrigues me. Dead 27s is obviously a reference to so many musical legends who lost their life at age 27. How did you guys end up landing on this decision for the band's name?
Will: That's absolutely what it is (laughs). The only other assumption people make is when we show up, "Aww man. Are y'all a Dead cover band?"
Trey: We get asked if we're a Dead cover band. We get asked if we're a band that only plays songs by those artists that died at 27. That's the only fallback from it, I guess. I think Oliver and Wallace, a while ago, were going to play a show that was with some other people in Charleston. It was a Dead 27s or 27 Club theme. It was going to be at the Pour House, then it ended up not happening. It was actually that same night that we played that wedding. We were talking and decided that we should pursue it for a while.
We started tossing around band names. I think Oliver suggested it. It was the only name that anyone threw out there that drew positive reaction from anyone else. We had played under some random names a few times. I think Bunko Squad was one of them, which is terrible and I don't even know where it came from (laughs).
Will: Yeah...that was terrible, but we definitely did that (laughs).
So there was supposed to be a "Dead 27s" themed show. It ended up falling through, and you guys just kinda rolled with that concept?
Will: Yeah. That's how it came up. Then we started thinking about it, and it really made sense. In some shape or form, all of those musicians have had a major impact on us. I can't even remember them all. There's the famous ones: Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin. In some shape or form, all of them have influenced us and had a major impact on the music industry in general. It's all kind of interconnected. It made sense for us and sounded pretty good, so we decided that it would work.
I would definitely agree with that. So, it's no secret that Charleston is a city like no other, and the music scene has really become something special over the years. You guys are surrounded by some amazing talent, and you've managed to rack up quite a few accolades in the local scene.
Will: I think in general, it has helped the band a lot. One thing you want to do when you're playing in a band, whether you're doing it for fun or pursuing it as a career...you obviously want people to enjoy it. You want your music to impact people in a positive way. The support from everyone in Charleston, in a way, made us be like, "Ok...something's going on here. People dig it, and we did it. Let's keep going with this." So I guess it helped gel the band more and made us take things a little more seriously. The reception and support we have gotten from Charleston in general has been amazing. I think everyone in the band would agree.
Trey: Definitely. Early on, we got a lot of endorsements right off the bat from a lot of local musicians and local press. Right away as soon as we started playing shows, there was a lot of really positive feedback and encouragement from the whole scene in general. That really helped us out in giving us that initial push that bands need in order to have that recognition. It's reassuring that what you're doing is the right thing and something that you need to pursue.
When I listen to your music, I immediately identify with that warm, pleasant "southern soul" sound. It's a really diverse concept; one which I feel has a really wide appeal. I hear clear, honest southern rock roots with an energetic twist of modern soul. Where do you guys look for inspiration when continuing to carve out this band's identity?
Will: As far an inspiration, it really comes from a lot of different places. Like you said, there's that obvious classic rock, if you will, and that's the foundation. We build off of that through different influences. The first EP that we recorded, Chase Your Devils Down, had a lot of tunes. They were pretty much all written by Wallace and Trey. It was kind of the start of the band. Since then, everyone else has really pulled in their own stuff.
Everyone listens to a lot of different styles, and I think that reflects on our upcoming album. I know Wallace listens to anything from rock to jazz to blues. We all listen to a lot of Tedeschi Trucks, so there is a little bit of that going on. I like a lot of electronic stuff, so there's some of that going on. I know Trey's got some soul stuff. Each band member brings a different vibe, and I think we all share a lot of common ground as well. So, we kind of pull that all together and that's been the most recent process. That's kind of the quick story of it coming together.
Trey: I think that one thing that has really helped us move towards solidifying a musical identity within the band is just being on the road. Spending that time together has a band has been huge for us. The more time we've spent around each other...I think a lot of those influences naturally bleed into one another. Between being on stage, rehearsing in a hotel, or even each guy taking turns as the DJ on a long ass drive...just being around each other and immersing yourself in that lifestyle has really helped us. Each member's style blends together really smoothly. I think that on the upcoming record shows that the identity of the band has been much more solidified. It will reveal itself much more to whoever listens to it.
That makes a lot sense. All of that time on the road ends up almost serving as a "band retreat" if you will. I know that opens to door to explore each other's musical tastes, and that ends up being the perfect recipe for new concepts and ideas.
While we're on the topic, you're preparing to put your first full length studio album Ghosts are Calling Out. This is clearly a pivotal moment for you guys. You were able to bring in Grammy-nominated producer and Galactic saxophonist Ben Ellman to the studio. How did you guys get hooked up with Ben, and how big of an impact did this make on the final product?
Will: So our manager, Rusty Cole, had that connection through working with Ryan Montbleau. We started putting some demos out there. We recorded everything that ended up making the album and a whole lot more. This was all done at a combination of everyone's houses. I've got a little Pro Tools rig, and we'd get together and get a few demos out. Then, we would do overdubs, harmonies, vocals...we pretty much recorded everything on our own at first. We would then send them out and get some feedback.
Our manager had some of the demos, and he reached out to Ben (Ellman). That opened up the conversation, and Ben really liked what he heard. We took it from there and got on the phone with him soon after. After we talked, at least for me, he put me at ease. I think he put all of the guys at ease. He was just such a cool guy, and we could tell over the phone that he was the right guy to work with. Just by the direction he was talking in and some of the stuff he was saying, we knew it would be a really cool project.
We kept staying in touch and sending more demos. He wanted to do it. The next thing you know we're emailing demos, and he's sending feedback. We did as much preproduction through phone conversation and emails as possible. By the time we got to New Orleans, it felt like we already knew him. It was a great experience.
You've taken to PledgeMusic to allow your fans to get involved with the finishing touches. We're in a different musical age, where album sales are almost nonexistent. Let's talk about the crowdfunding process and how this has worked thus far for Dead 27s.
Trey: I think this is the second crowdfunding project that we have attempted. The first one was not anywhere close to the scope of this one. We did it on on our own, through our website and social media. It was to raise money for our van, and we barely got enough money to buy a solid touring vehicle (laughs). So, we had a little bit of experience with it going in. It's been really positive all around. The guys from PledgeMusic have been really helpful and supportive. Our management team has been great. Our friends and family have been really supportive as well. We've had people coming out of the woodwork to step up and give their hard earned money to a project that they believe in. Seeing that type of response and feedback from a lot of people that we may or may not even be that close with has been really awesome. We have a little more over 24 hours left to reach our goal. We're getting pretty close. We have a little bit left to fill, but we have some verbal commitments that we will see here over the next day and a half.
Have you seen many people cashing in on all of the different packages/rewards that you guys offer with each level of participation?
Trey: Yeah...we've done quite a few "Happy Birthday" videos on Facebook (laughs). To be honest, I think what has surprised us the most is the lack of taking advantage of some of these more unique packages. A lot of people would just get on there and buy a CD or vinyl package or maybe a t-shirt package, which is super easy for us to make good on. Once everything is released, all we have to do is mail that shit out. In terms of us having to go out our way to make good on some of these things, it really hasn't been a hassle or even a chore. It's been pretty easy breezy so far.
That's great. The personal interaction that the crowdfunding creates really goes a long way. The people that are participating obviously believe in you guys. They wouldn't get involved and help the cause if they didn't. Things like this will end up paying dividends down the road. That gives someone that much more of a reason to throw on the Dead 27s t-shirt and spread the word. It's crucial.
So, I know you guys are getting ready for a really exciting run over the next two weeks. You're supporting Galactic at Brooklyn Bowl this weekend, and playing FloydFest next weekend alongside Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, Bruce Hornsby, RRE, and so many more. I'm assuming excitement is at all time high for the band right now.
Will: Hell yeah. Everyone's pretty pumped. On a side note, at least me, between playing the gigs and finishing up the album, I feel like we've been so fucking busy that I forget where we're even playing sometimes. I have to look at the calendar (laughs).
Trey: I forget what day it is sometimes (laughs).
Will: Just knowing that we are going to be in New York on Saturday with Galactic at this amazing venue, I don't think we could be more excited. And of course FloydFest...we're really pumped. Those are definitely going to be some highlights for us coming up. I don't think it's going to feel real until I'm in the van driving. There are so many things throughout the day that keep your brain occupied, and you don't even think about it. We're super excited about it though.
Trey: I'm super excited just to be included on the same festival bill as Gregg Allman. Just for me personally, the Allman Brothers are my all time favorite band. I always wanted to maybe sometime play at the same festival as the Allman Brothers, but since they stopped touring, this is probably the next best thing for me.
Will: On top of just playing, I can't wait to just be there and go see these bands. There are so many guys that we really respect and admire. It's going to be a really cool weekend.
Trey: I've also had a handful of interactions with Oliver Wood from The Wood Brothers. He's given me a little advice here and there on songwriting and whatnot. I know they're going to be there one of the days that we're there. We're all fans of The Wood Brothers, and we're super pumped to see them. The whole festival is going to be so much fun. I've never been, but I've heard so many great things about it. Can't wait to get up there.
Will this be the furthest north that you guys have played?
Will: Yeah...we've gotten up to the DC area...Bethesda, which is pretty much the other side. This will be the furthest north we have played. We haven't ever played New York. Playing our first show up there with Galactic at Brooklyn Bowl is obviously exciting. I don't know exactly how long of a drive it is, maybe 13 hours? I don't know. We've done some gigs that are that far away. We were recently down in the Keys doing a little run. I think it took about 16 hours to get home (laughs). We try to make all of the stops on those long drives, but sometimes we won't have a gig for several days, and we try to just high tail it on home.
The journey to an exciting weekend or a big show always seems to be a lot more exciting than the journey home. You don't necessarily have that "golden prize" waiting for you on the way home.
Trey: Yeah you pretty much nailed that, especially after three days in Key West. The only golden prize you're thinking about on the way back is your own bed...and maybe a huge jug of Gatorade.
Aside from the new album and the next two weekends, what can we expect from Dead 27s here in the second half of 2016?
Will: Touring is obviously going to be a priority. We're going to get this album here sometime this fall. We've got some announcements coming up that we can't talk too much about, but there are definitely some positive things on the horizon. I think the ultimate goal for everyone is to be able to continue making music that people relate to and enjoy. We want to grow on our fan base, and that's our ultimate goal. We're going to be touring a lot and playing some music (laughs).
Trey: We've done a pretty good job of seeing most of the east coast areas. I think moving forward you will see us start to move west a little bit. Hopefully, as our touring expands, so will our fan base. Like Will said, we have a handful of things in the works that have to be finalized before we can really talk about it. I wish we could divulge on more of that.
No worries. I certainly know how that works at this point. We are announcing the details of our big annual show in a few weeks, so I can relate. Everything has to be in place.
Trey: Definitely. Oh yeah, on September 23rd, we're playing the Chucktown Ball with Umphrey's McGee, Moon Taxi, and Dangermuffin. I think I speak for everyone in the band when I say that we could not be more excited for that show. Those are bands that we absolutely love. The next night we are playing in Charlotte at the Whitewater Center with Moon Taxi again. Playing back to back dates with Moon Taxi and of course Chucktown Ball with Umphrey's is super exciting for us.
I'm really glad you mentioned that. I can't believe I forgot to ask you about that show.
Will: Yes...I'm glad you mentioned that as well. For me, Moon Taxi...I'll tell you what. I started getting into those guys a couple of years ago. I heard some of their stuff, and it was good. Then I saw their live show, and honestly, my face was blown off. I was in Austin, Texas at South by Southwest, and I saw them on this little back deck. I was just like, "What did I just see?" I had heard a lot of buzz about them, but I really didn't understand until then. I went and saw them again a few nights later, and it did the same thing to me. So from then on, I've gone to see them every chance I get. We've all been longtime fans of Umphrey's as well, so that's going to be a really special show.
That will be amazing. It's been great to see Moon Taxi really blow up the past few years. They are that one band that I started seeing at the bar in college that has really made it big. They've worked their asses off, and it is really paying off for them. The results speak for themselves.
Trey: Absolutely man. We are very fortunate to be a part of those shows.
On their debut EP, Dead 27s brilliantly infused rock-and-roll and classic soul with both raw energy and refined musicality. Now with their first full-length effort Ghosts Are Calling Out, the Charleston-based band expands their sound by pursuing their passion for loose and joyful experimentation. Working with a treasure trove of obscure and vintage lo-fi gear, Dead 27s have widened their sonic repertoire to offer up an album that’s boldly inventive but rooted in pure emotion.
The follow-up to 2014’s Chase Your Devils Down—an EP praised by the likes of No Depression, who remarked that “you can feel their music in your bones”—Ghosts Are Calling Out builds off its predecessor’s earthy sensibility and gritty spirit. But while Dead 27s maintain their soulful melodicism and knack for heavy grooves, the new album finds the band crafting gorgeously warped textures that take their music in a thrilling new direction. “Making this album, we wanted to push ourselves and bring much more attention to detail to the production—and at the same time have some fun with all these weird, distorted sounds and tones that we were coming up with,” notes Mullinax.
That creative abandon is palpable throughout Ghosts Are Calling Out, which was produced by Ben Ellman (a member of the funk/rock act Galactic) and mixed by Mikael “Count” Eldridge (a producer/engineer whose past work includes releases by Radiohead, the Rolling Stones, and a Grammy Award-winning effort from Mavis Staples). To record the album, Dead 27s headed to New Orleans and set up shop in The Living Room (a studio housed in a 1930s church by the Mississippi River). While in New Orleans, Dead 27s took advantage of their surroundings by pairing up with local musicians like Pretty Lights touring keyboardist Brian Coogan (who performed on several tracks on Ghosts Are Calling Out). The band also had a major breakthrough when Ellman sent them to the home of Ani DiFranco and her producer/husband Mike Napolitano to borrow a stockpile of gear that would play a major role in shaping the album’s sound. “All of a sudden we had all these new toys and a way bigger palette to paint with,” recalls Francis. Among those toys: a pocket amp, a miniature synthesizer, and an Omnichord (an electric harp-like device that generates what Evans calls “these very ’80s-Nintendo-sounding chords”).
Despite the playfulness of its production, Ghosts Are Calling Out attains an emotional depth first glimpsed on Chase Your Devils Down. “The title for the new record comes from a line in ‘Only One’: ‘Down on Desperation Lane/Ghosts are calling out my name,’” explains Mullinax, referring to the album’s closing track. “It’s about the ghosts of your past experiences, the things that haunt you throughout your life—not necessarily in a bad way, but in the sense that certain experiences just stay a part of you forever.”
In capturing experiences both bad and good, painful and euphoric, Ghosts Are Calling Out endlessly shifts moods and embodies a broad spectrum of feeling—a feat achieved with great help from Francis’s stunning vocal command. Kicking off with the one-two punch of “What a Waste” (a harmony-laced number featuring some fantastically skewed guitar work) and “Queen” (a feel-good track shot through with hip-shaking rhythms), the album then drifts into melancholy on songs like the beautifully bittersweet “Already Dead” and the deceptively breezy “Grey Skies.” “That song’s about someone who’s brokenhearted after the girl he loves leaves him,” explains Francis of the latter. “It’s about feeling like you can’t enjoy yourself at all anymore, and it’s meant to give you the feeling that you’re almost getting past that and moving on to something better.”
Elsewhere on Ghosts Are Calling Out, Dead 27s explore darker territory with “Scarecrow,” a song that threads its sinister guitar riff through lyrics about “watching someone get caught up with a very powerful and negative person,” according to Mullinax. With its sleepy melody, spacey tones, and smoldering guitar work, “Fantastic” slips into dreamy psychedelia but delivers a message that Mullinax describes as “wanting change instead of just accepting things that aren’t exactly right.” On the hymnlike “Emanuel,” the band quietly reflects on the 2015 shooting at their hometown’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. “I was away when that happened, and when I got back I went straight to the church,” says Mullinax. “When I got home that night, the song came together so easily, although now it’s very difficult to play.” And on “Only One,” Dead 27s shake off everyday frustrations and lay down an all-out anthem whose groove gives a nod to the then-recently-departed New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint.
The intense vitality that powers each track on Ghosts Are Calling Out has much to do with Dead 27s’ undeniable chemistry, a force they discovered the very first time they played together. Initially teaming up for a one-time gig at a local festival in spring 2012, Francis, Mullinax, Evans, and Goldstein quickly decided to collaborate on a new project, and soon brought Crider into the fold. Seeking a name for the event, the band began to brainstorm ideas and decided to pay homage to 27s club, a group of musicians known for leaving an indelible mark on American music. The name stuck more for the appreciation of pushing musical boundaries and leaving nothing on the table at live shows, than a direct mirroring of any of the 27s club members sound. In that moment, Dead 27s was born.
After releasing Chase Your Devils Down in spring 2014, Dead 27s earned the Charleston City Paper Music Awards’ Song of the Year prize two years in a row, ranked in the top 24 of VH1’s “Make a Band Famous” competition, and opened for such artists as Earphunk, Galactic, The Revivalists, Marcus King Band, and Tab Benoit. Fast gaining a reputation as an incendiary live act, the band devoted much of 2015 to touring as well as writing and pre-producing material for Ghosts Are Calling Out.
With each show serving as a breeding ground for creativity, Dead 27s mine much inspiration from their time on the road. Along with setting up makeshift recording stations in their hotel rooms, the band continually sources song ideas on the fly: the new album’s “Rainbow,” for instance, was sparked by a strange piece of graffiti carved into the wall of a bar bathroom in Chattanooga. Through that near-constant writing and performing, Dead 27s have vastly strengthened their creative connection and pushed the boundaries of their musicianship. “We’ve always worked in a way where everyone adds their own flavors to the songs, but this album was much more of a collaborative effort,” says Evans. “Each one of us more was a lot more heavily engaged in the whole process, and we ended up trying new stuff that we’re all really excited about and that goes way beyond just having some good new songs to put out.”