Theory of a Deadman – Spinal Tap Drummer Syndrome?
Songs make statements at just the right time. Born at the intersection of insurgency and inspiration, music props up a sounding board for the people to be heard. Theory Of A Deadman amplify this voice on their seventh full-length offering, Say Nothing [Atlantic Records]. The award-winning multiplatinum Los Angeles-based Canadian band flip the pulse of the world into scorching songcraft, integrating experimental vision, rock ‘n’ roll attitude, and clever pop ambition. A whirlwind two years awakened this feeling in the group. After nearly two decades together, Theory landed their biggest career hit in the form of “Rx (Medicate)” from 2017’s Wake Up Call. Not only did it receive a platinum plaque, generate 250 million-plus streams, and become their third number one on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, but it also received a nomination in the category of “Rock Song of the Year” at the iHeartRadio Music Awards. The musicians quietly reached this high watermark by remaining consistently prolific. To date, their discography encompasses several platinum and gold singles, a platinum album, two Top 10 album debuts on the Billboard Top 200, and eight Top Tens on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart. In addition to selling out shows worldwide, they’ve toured with everyone from Alter Bridge and Bush to Stone Sour and Big Wreck and more. We sit down to talk with drummer Joey Dandeneau about the new album and all things Theory Of A Deadman.
You just dropped the new album Say Nothing. Every time this happens, are you like an expectant father waiting on the birth of a child? What feelings do you and the guys go through?
I’ll take it as that. I never had a child before. (both laugh) From what I understand of the feeling of it… yeah. Every record is the same. That release date never seems to get old. I don’t know how it’s like for other bands and artists, I feel like every record that we do is something different. It seems that every record we do is not the same and especially the last two records – Wake Up Call and this record coming has been quite a different move for us. It’s certainly exciting, nervous – we run the gamut of emotions..
What is your opinion of the change? You guys have gone from being more of an alternative/hard rock sound to more accessible, more mainstream – and I don’t mean that as an insult. A lot of people see it as a smart move. Is it a comfortable move what you’ve done the last two albums compared to what was your forte for so long?
I certainly don’t take offense to it. Over time you grow as a person – at least you try to anyway. I certainly try to. And you learn as you go, right? And when you are stagnant that never seems to be a good situation to be in, right? There’s no moving forward. The band, I feel as if we’ve sustained our career because we don’t make the same old, same old. Yeah, the stuff is a little more accessible to a broader audience now I’m aware. We are all aware you can’t please everybody. When we came out we had a different sound than we do today and I know there’s a lot of people out there that don’t like that we’ve changed, but I would beg to differ if we made the same old, same old, we’d just get tired of it.
Were you guys comfortable with the change?
Yeah, we were. It was a change we wanted to make and it was a change we had to fight for. Eventually enough people just said okay. Go ahead and do this and let’s see what happens. It kind of worked for us. It worked a lot. (laughs) We came out with the last record. We had a song on there that arguably is the biggest song we ever had since 2002. I don’t know about you, but that was a good move. I think it made people aware we aren’t kidding around and that we know what we want to do. Like I said, there’s going to be people that aren’t going to like it. I’ve notice there are more people now that know who we are because of that. We can’t please everyone. We know that. We feel bad for the people that hate it and love the fact that other people love it. At the end of the day we’ve got to just make music and whoever comes on board, come on board and if we loose people, then I hate that, too. You just can’t please everybody. You can’t. It’s impossible.
It’s like The Beatles. They did not sound the same in 1968 as they did in 1964.
And you’re bound to grow. It’s not like you’re abandoning your old catalog. I’m guessing you guys will still play “Bad Girlfriend” and songs like that – songs from your earlier albums.
Everything live that we’ve ever recorded. We don’t play a lot from the first record in the states because it didn’t do that well for us as it did in Canada. As of the second record on, we play all that stuff live. We still have a catalog of songs that we wrote. It’s not like we hate what we did before. We loved those songs. We just can’t keep writing the same songs. We still play them – because they’re great songs and people love to hear them. So come to the show, you’re going to hear all of it. All the old stuff that everybody loves – it’s all going to be there. We’ll never change that up.
You are the fourth drummer in Theory of a Deadman. You’re also the longest tenured one, going on ten years. I have a lot of friends that are drummers and a lot of band seem to have a Spinal Tap thing going when it comes to drummers not being able to hang around for very long.
Four drummers, I guess, I suppose. Tim [Hart] was the first. Brent [Fitz] was the second. Robin Diaz, he was never in the band. He just recorded the first three records – that’s all he did. He didn’t tour with the band. He was just hired to play because they didn’t have anybody to do the record. I guess that’s four. I don’t know what the deal is with the changing. (both laugh) It just worked out that way. The first drummer, he was a friend of theirs and then they got signed. They really didn’t have a drummer. They would play Tyler [lead singer Tyler Connolly] songs and then they would play Tim songs. The Tyler songs were more fitting for what the band was trying to do. Tim ended up becoming the drummer, but he wasn’t like a professional drummer. So when they took the first record touring they kind of realized his skill set wasn’t where they needed it to be. Then sadly, and believe me they didn’t like to make the decision because they were great friends, but they had to let him out of the band. It just wasn’t where it needed to be, so they hired Brent Fitz and he came in as a professional and had a lot to bring to the table. He taught the guys on the second record what it was really like out there. With the second record they started to get a little more success in the states and brought a lot of professionalism to the band. He got called to play for Alice Cooper and I guess that was more interesting for him. He decided on his own to leave to be in a position to leave to be in a position he felt more comfortable and more where he wanted to be. So that was his decision to go play for Alice. He called me and said, “I think this gig is perfect for you. You’re the right age; you’re the right mentality. You want this. This is exactly your skill set. You’re perfect for this and I think you’re the guy”. That’s how that all came in and how I got in the band through him.
How was that initiation into the band? Was it a very smooth transition? What do you think you brought to the band that made you guys whole?
First of all, I had to go through the audition process in Los Angeles and they had 20 drummers from the states auditioning through a talent agency management had hired. I didn’t go through that. I went through Brent and he kind of set it up for me. I just had to fly myself to Los Angeles to be there on time kind of thing. I guess what I brought to the table, because the rest of the guys were Canadian – I’m Canadian as well, so I had that home country feel. I was young with a massive amount of drive and ambition and a massive love of the music and massive love for drumming and a love for wanting to tour and conquer. I guess maybe the other guys there didn’t really have that. And then on top of that, they also needed a singing drummer because Brent did all the harmonies – and he told me that. He said they need a singing drummer. None of these guys showing up for the auditions sing. And so when I showed up, sure enough not one guy offered to do harmonies for the band – and they put a microphone next to the drum set in the rehearsal studio where we were auditioning and none of them had touched it. I was one of the last guys to audition that day and I asked Tyler if he’d be willing to let me do harmonies with him and he’s like – yeah, that would be amazing if you know them. And I’m like, yeah, I got this. And so that was the inside tip that I had that none of the other guys knew about. So when I came in and did the harmonies it was kind of like I had everything that they needed. I had to go through this secondary process back in Vancouver when all the guys were still living there and that’s when they decided I was bringing everything they needed. The singing was the big tipping point for them when none of the other guys sang.
Your new material is more socially aware – political, but not in a pointed way. A lot of the band’s earlier material was relationship-based stuff; very personal and relatable. Do you see your songs coming more from a third person perspective or still very first person?
We switched from first person to third person for sure. Everything we talk about now is all third person. It’s all current events that are happening around the world, in America – everywhere. And like you said, there is some political stuff; it’s not learning towards any direction. It’s basically making more awareness of the issues opposed to telling a story of how we really feel from one side or the other. It’s what we’re noticing as a whole.
Do you guys feel like you’re holding up a mirror to the world and letting it look at itself to see what’s happening around it?
That’s a perfect analogy. That’s it.
You guys begin a tour shortly that will go into the spring and summer. I know some of the material has been road tested a bit, but what’s it like playing songs off the new album live compared to working in the studio?
I think generally speaking because we’ve been a little bit hard, not metalhead – not even close. We had tendencies to dive into the harder rock stuff. So we are still a rock band at heart. So a lot of people that have heard some of the new stuff if it’s the difference between the record and the live ism “ You guys play your new stuff with the same kind of feel as the old stuff. You songs definitely sound bigger and heavier live than they do on the new record”. I think for people that are worried that we don’t have as much guitar-driven music that if they come see us live they’re still going to be happy I think because the way we perform it live just throwing that rock vibe. It’s certainly different. The studio is just a different animal in general, too from live. Even bands that I’ve seen that are very alternative and they’re still a little bit heavier than the record comes across. That’s just based on using a producer and having different people mix the stuff differently. When you’re doing it on your own; people that wrote the song – live is more efficient to show how you really feel about the song. It’s hard to capture a live feel in a studio.
With the change in style – not necessarily change, but growth in style; as a drummer how did you modify your style?
I did more electronics to my style. I had to think more like a computer as opposed to a rock drummer. And that was not easy to do to be honest with you. But it has taught me a lot what a hit song really means. It’s easy to overplay and add all kinds of drum fills underneath stuff in a song, but the more you do that, the quality of the song can get lost. This new style has kind of taught me how to keep it more solid and simple, but yet still make people want to tap their feet or bop their head an stuff like that. You still have to have a fat groove but without a lot going on. The trick is how do you do that. So I spent a lot of time trying to figure that one out and adding sampled sounds on top of and incorporate into songs was a new one for me too. I didn’t know much about that, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what that whole world is about and for now I feel I’ve incorporated it well and live I use those sample sounds on my light kit as well with triggers and stuff. It actually creates a really cool contrast live. When the real drums kick in to a chorus it really stands out. It creates this wicked contrast we never really had before. It adds real depth to our sound.
You guys have sold a lot of records over the years. You guys are all involved in the songwriting process these days. When you’re sitting there writing a song and laying down the tracks is there a time when you get that feeling that this is going to be a hit or afterwards surprised one didn’t go over as well as you thought?
100 percent every time. It happens every time and now I don’t try to think about it any more because it’s happened so many times that because we’ll play the track back on the mix. This is going to be a hit – they’re going to love it and we put it out and it doesn’t do anything – that’s odd. And the one song I thought was wild did great. So what do we know? I don’t know. And what’s funny is I’m not the only person talking about this. We talk about this as a band all the time. We all say the same thing. We all think we know what will be a hit song, but have no idea actually. (laughs) You never know until we put it out and the people that decide that are the fans. They tell us what songs are good and what songs aren’t.
Say Nothing came out at the end of January and Wake Up Call was kind of a diversion of your usual songs you’ve done on the past. As a musician and a member of the band is there a song you personally look forward to playing each show? Do you have a personal favorite?
There’s a few that I like more than others.
I realize they’re all your babies. (laughs) You’ve got to love all your children.
They are, but there are still songs we, as individuals like more than others. You can’t like them all the same. Some songs are just better, right? There’s jus something about that song that attracts you as a music listener. There’s a song off the first record that we only play in Canada called, “Nothing Could Come Between Us” that’s one of my favorite songs to play live. We don’t play it in the states any more, which is too bad. The reason for that is based on the fact we have so many records and so many songs now we can’t play them all. That’s a good problem to have, of course. That’s one of them. I’ve always liked playing “Not Meant To Be”. That’s off the third record. That one I love playing live. I don’t know what it is; it’s got this groove. We kick into the chorus, the whole crowd lights up, sing along. They know all the words. I don’t know – it has this feel. It’s like this – it makes you want to weep inside. You can feel the energy between the band and the crowd – and it’s every night. And so, that song really stands out to me and I love playing it for that reason. That may be one of my favorite songs to play live right now.
– Dave Weinthal