Saturday, December 01, 2007

Exclusive Interview with Frank Lee Drennen of Dead Rock West

There Stands the Glass conducted an email interview with Frank Lee Drennen of Dead Rock West last week. The California-based band's Honey and Salt is arguably the best roots-oriented rock album of 2007.

The band is currently on tour with John Doe, Exene and the rest of the The Knitters. (The tour stops at Davey's in Kansas City on Tuesday.) Dead Rock West travels to Great Britain in January.

Drennen seems annoyed by the tone of a couple of my questions. But what's the fun of an interview without a little tension? I put Drennen's best quotes in bold.

There Stands The Glass: I listened to the new release before I knew anything about your band. I was initially put off. It seemed too polished... Is there something to be said for young-and-dumb primitive rock'n'roll, or is
the music always better when performed by knowledgeable and experienced professionals?

Frank Lee Drennen: Rock and Roll to me means doing what the fuck you want to do when the fuck you want to do it.  If it's from the heart and honest in the moment you're in, it's rock and roll to me.  Some folks would disagree and want to discuss production values or the age of the performers, what they wear, how they move, if it sounds "raw" or "polished."  I don't make music to please others.  Mind you, I want to connect with people, but if I second guess myself and write or record something that is not actually coming from me but out of need for approval, I'm fucked and might as well get a job with health insurance and a pension.
This record was made with love.  We labored hard to make a record that
would be timeless, not flavor of the week.  Honey and Salt is not a
Pro Tools-manipuated, beat-detected, auto pitch-corrected Frankenstein
creation made "in the box."  These recordings were made by our own hands
and mouths.   We recorded it on analogue  2"  24-track-tape and mixed it
to half-inch tape using all mechanical effects. The songs came from
heartache and doubt and a determined hope for a better day
.  This is
the very best we could do in the moment.  This record is meant to come
on slowly (if you give it a chance) and stay with you, in the mind and

TSTG: Out of the hundreds of live performances I saw this year, a few of the best came from veteran musicians. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think those artists are still on the road because it's in their blood, not because they need to pick up a check. I sense that Dead Rock West shares that sensibility.

FLD: Listen, we all gotta eat, but for me if the fire is gone.... I'm out; I'll
go be a carpenter.  Music is just another form of artistic expression.  If
passion and determination to express an ever changing personal view of the
world is non-existent, why do it?

TSTG: Cindy Wasserman's duet with John Doe on "The Golden State" is incredible...

FLD: Cindy has recorded on records for Rickie Lee Jones, Grant Lee Phillips and Mark Olson among others and I constantly get this question.  She is the best harmony singer I have ever met.  She has a born ability to meld exactly with who she's singing with, yet sound like herself.  She is amazing to me.

TSTG: What's your goal for Dead Rock West? What level of popularity to
you hope to achieve?

FLD: World domination, of course. :)   We write songs to connect with people
and want to do that with as many people as possible.  That said, we are
committed to being ourselves and not making apologies.

TSTG: My favorite Dead Rock West song is "Pretty Disaster." I love... the way it recalls other great bands while simultaneously sounding brand new...

FLD: Thank you.  That is what I want to do, honor the past while making a mark uniquely our own.  We are all music fans and listen to many types of music. We never sat down and wrote a mission statement for the band, except for maybe two singers singing great songs.

TSTG: What's it like touring with X and the Knitters? Do their audiences automatically take to you?

FLD: Our first gig with them is tomorrow night, but I can tell you that touring
this summer with John Doe was a wonderful experience.  I was impressed
with how generous and open minded his fans are.  They are the best, loyal
and willing to go along for the ride as the artist changes.

TSTG: I find your decision to include a cover of X's "Burning House of Love" surprising. It seems like you're making the comparison to X too easy for guys like me.

FLD: The X comparison is obvious as we are a guy/girl duo like them, but we are decidedly more folk and country.  Know that I am a huge Byrds, R.E.M., U2 and Waterboys fan.  In my mind covering "Burning House Of Love" is not obvious.  But that is just my perspective.

TSTG: It seems like honest, no-frills roots rock bands like Dead Rock
West are out of style. Do you expect that to change?

FLD: don't understand.  Do you mean out of style with the charts?  I am a
music fan first and I can tell you the popularity of a style or band has
never never never influenced me to listen or to not listen.  Good music,
that is want I want.  It is what the world is screaming for.  I think
there are way too many bands that sound like a Pepsi comercial. That's bullshit.

There Stands the Glass thanks Drennen, Alex Steininger and this photographer.


Anonymous said...

I saw Dead Rock West with John Doe earlier this year, and they do rock! So does the record, a fitting, 21st-century addition to the SoCal country rock canon.

Unknown said...