Deathfix is a supergroup. Although people haven’t been batting around that term with Deathfix, it is wildly appropriate. The group consists of Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Rich Morel (producer of everything from Depeche Mode to the Killers), Devin Ocampos (Faraquet, Medications) and Mark Cisneros (Medications, Chain & The Gang). Despite the band’s collective background they want to make one thing clear, they are a band with its own voice and goals, not a project. The band will be bringing its blend of ’70s power-pop, guitar wizardry and explosive punk to Northern March 20, but first I had a chance to chat with founder Brendan Canty on the new group.
WEEKLY VOLCANO: What was the genesis of Deathfix?
BRENDAN CANTY: What brought Rich and I together was a friendship that we struck up while touring as part ofBob Mould’s band. We did a couple of years together touring. When sitting around in the back of the car or just talking about things as you do while touring – you talk about your favorite Bowie records, your favorite Eno records, you just constantly talk music forming a deeper bond and we realized how much we had in common. After we were done with that project we thought, “We’ll let’s just give it a shot, meet on a Tuesday night and see what each of us has.” It was just one of those things where we just meshed really well. The proof is in the pudding, if you are prolific – not quality wise as much – but in terms of working together, things come quickly, which was really important. I had a bunch of ideas I’d throw at him, and he had a bunch to throw at me and we just started working. There was a real sense of trust and it became a true musical collaboration. The nice thing is it is really two producers collaborating which helped let each person be the artists and freed up a lot of stress – the things that came in common from making records for thirty years.
VOLCANO: Did you have any kind of sound laid out before you started?
CANTY: I had been writing songs on my own for years, many of the songs came from my own library of songs originally; just kind of taking stabs at things. Because Fugazi has been dormant for the last ten years a lot of work I currently do in my warehouse rehearsal space is soundtrack and film work, but I have always continued playing music – playing music with other people, mostly playing in drums. Although I’ve always been a guitar player – I played guitar first in my life – I never did that in a band setting really. I would always write and build ideas, but not with the idea of finishing anything, it never occurred to me. The idea of writing songs and lyrics never came to me. So it came to me to take a stab at it, which has given me a greater appreciation of the Guy Picciotto, Ian MacKayeand Lois‘ of the world who do such a great job at it.
VOLCANO: Are there any feelings involved with starting something new at this point?
CANTY: It is so refreshing and new. It is hard when you have been a band for so many years that carries a lot of weight. Whether it was something somebody said, or so many kinds of songs you have already brought into the mix, to have something new is freeing. It isn’t to say that something is better or worse than the other, but it is a question of what your band can take. Whether it somebody gets lit up by an approach as you do. As soon you get with somebody and they get lit up by the things that get you lit up you gotta go in that direction, and navigating that is interesting.
VOLCANO: What does releasing an album in 2013 mean to you compared to even say 10 years prior?
CANTY: I am kind of getting the idea that the Internet is kind of a monster sponge that needs to be fed a bit every day. You have to stagger things in a different way and not throw everything out at the same time. We’re going to have to release a video here and there, a song stream – It is just one of those things that you have to do to get people to give a shit for more than a couple of days. I don’t mind it because ultimately having been at my home in D.C. and raising kids and not touring, I felt I was not communicating with a greater public. So this whole thing hinges on communication. That dialog can start from simply presenting a record as an object is sped up with the Internet. You can start these dialogs without that artifact. I mean our record is not even released yet and I am already doing interviews, communicating with audiences and starting the conversation about something that is a stretch musically for me. To me that is meaning, it is about communicating with people, and in 2013 it is more immediate and quick than before. It is a process, starting now it is nice not to be making your fourth record, to release a first record is liberating because it is the beginning of the story.
VOLCANO: How do you feel about how your music is being filtered through the ears and words of writers, the Internet and a greater world? … I mean how do you feel about being called openly and abundantly a prog band?
CANTY: It just sort of depends on what part of the prog spectrum they are talking about. I mean I don’t mind any comparisons to say King Crimson or something like that who I love. Honestly, truly, I would be happy to be considered to certain periods of King Crimson, I would be less than stoked to be compared to Yes or Jethro Tull orWeather Report – I just don’t really feel it is our bag, but I don’t mind it as long as it is you know within the realm of where were fit. It is kind of like calling yourself a punk band – you know you can be a punk band like Discharge, or you can be a punk band like Green Day, in the end it isn’t important to push something like that as an idea. I certainly wouldn’t call us a prog band, but I don’t mind it. We do have a love of that sort of that thing, and Devon and Mark are just total monsters on drums and bass, so I can see it I guess.
VOLCANO: Do you have any way that you try to impart what your band sounds like to people, or do you just let people try to get there on their own?
CANTY: It is a lot of pop, vocals, backing vocals and harmonies – but there is a lot of shit on the guitar. It is a bit unwritten in a sense of what it is bound to become, we are still forming new ideas and developing. We approach each song on its own right. We start off with an idea and generally explore that idea, which is why our songs are so long.
VOLCANO: Maybe the length that is something that gets the prog attachment, I don’t know. When I hear it I hear a lot of ’70s power pop – Big Star and Teenage Fanclub kind of vibes, or late period psych guitar.
CANTY: It really doesn’t sound like prog does it? I mean I feel that deep in our hearts there is a King Crimson record ready to be made, but that is going to be like the fifth record, and it is going to be only two songs on the record. So just enjoy the pop while you can. (laughs)
CANTY: I am trying to make this function as a band, and part of that is playing festivals. I don’t mind it as long as we also play in that general vicinity to a non-festival audience. I am just trying to make it work, and part of that is being honest with ourselves on how to function as band in this landscape and part of that is playing festivals. Playing a show like Coachella pays for the ability to tour the rest of the West Coast. We kind of can’t do one without the other. We would be going broke and killing ourselves if we couldn’t subsidize the rest of the tour and the band would break up in a month and a half. Right now, for us, there isn’t enough money in touring to sustain otherwise.
VOLCANO: How does anyone in your band handle expectations based on past projects that you have been involved in?
CANTY: I don’t worry. The record will be streaming on NPR and people will know what to expect. I am hoping that people show up. I hope people don’t show up and expect to hear “Waiting Room” or something like that. It is just a totally different band. I wouldn’t want to just go out there and try and emulate. If I tried catering in 2013 to what I thought people would want, it would be the dumbest thing I could do. You really just have to write and be true to your own instincts. We are just a band that is true our own aesthetic. We really feel strongly about our music – love playing live and I think everybody can play and it is a big, loud, live thing. People will dig it if they come out with an open mind. It will be interesting to see how people respond to it. I don’t think people would come just to throw shit at us, just to be that way. I think people are pretty open-minded.
VOLCANO: With Deathfix there is a change. You are playing guitar and singing, but a lot of people view you only as a drummer despite the fact that you have a varied background.
CANTY: Honestly I haven’t given them too much of an opportunity to listen to anything otherwise. Basically, Fugazi is a big present in my past, and it still is. Ian and Guy are amazing guitar players, songwriters, singers and I just loved playing drums in that band. I played drums because nobody played drums. My brother said when I was 13 years old to play drums because you will always be in a band, and if you’re in a band you will always have a girlfriend, and I thought, “that makes perfect sense to me.” And then you realize it is true.
VOLCANO: How does working in other art forms – like your work with the Burn to Shine films – influence your work musically?
CANTY: Burn to Shine was just a project because I was curious who was doing what in each city. With Fugazi no longer touring I was looking for that same sense of communication that touring provided and that is how that started. I was really missing touring, and missing everybody, and the films were an excuse to get back out there. The films allowed me to work with Wilco, the Decemberists, the Thermals and Eddie Vedder – It was a nice thing that happened and became a nice group of people to work with. But there is a solitary method to it, sitting at home and staring at things behind the computer is not sustainable. I didn’t really wish to spend the rest of my life sitting behind a computer, and really the filmmaking taught me it isn’t something I want to do for the rest of my life. I have to get out, I have to play and I have to create my own music. Mostly I just want to collaborate with other people.
VOLCANO: Do you see yourself as a collaborator as a producer?
CANTY: Each situation is different. With Lois, I definitely felt like a collaborator. She had the lyrics prepared and some of the structures – but it was simple. She allowed me so much space to experiment with it. It was so fun. I loved working with her. I was a huge fan for years before I met her. I was giddy to get to work with her and I am really glad I got to do that.
VOLCANO: For someone who has played for over 30 years, do you still get the same sense of excitement that you did as a teenager?
CANTY: I do, but not as much playing drums. I play drums right now for Kid Congo and I really love it. When we playCramps songs with Kid Congo, I’m a kid – I’m happy. But the newness of playing guitar and singing with Deathfix, I am real happy and excited. It is a real challenge. I’m really happy to be making myself uncomfortable again and it seems like the right thing to do – something I always wanted to do – and something I always wanted to make and I am super excited. You can ask me again in a couple months and maybe I’ll be totally defeated about it all, but I doubt it.
This interview originally appeared in the Weekly Volcano on March 14.