LA Beat Interview – Scott Guerin of the Deadbeats Chats Us Up On 666-1313

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Deadbeats at the Echo 7-31-16. All photos by Bob Lee for the LA Beat.

It’s 2016, and despite the intervening years, many of the bands that burst out of LA in and around 1977 are still making music. Some are better than others, many are still quite good. But almost none of them feel as vital as the Deadbeats right now.

With the release of the 2-LP set 666-1313, only their second full-length in a near forty-year career, they’ve instantly doubled their repertoire and taken it in a number of new directions. Work began back in 2000, and was halted indefinitely following the death of co-founding drummer Shaun Guerin.

Lead vocalist Scott Guerin is now the lone original member, but the band he’s had together for the last several years to play the occasional gig – including bassist David Jones, sax player Tony Atherton, drummer Joe Berardi, keyboardist Paul Roessler, and recent additions singer/ guitarist Heather Galipo (Egrets on Ergot) and legendary guitarist Rikk Agnew (Adolescents, Christian Death) – are all formidable musicians, faithful to the sound and spirit of the original group. For fans of the 1978 EP that implored its listeners to “Kill The Hippies”, there are still plenty of familiar elements – busy rhythms, skronking horns battling blaring guitars, Guerin’s sarcastic, gleefully cruel treatment of his subject matter and a generally frantic mode of expression.

Interview and photo gallery after the jump.

But they’re also capable of learning new tricks. 666-1313 makes extensive use of female vocals, which Galipo turns into show-stopping performance art when they play these songs live. The band’s usual uptight groove manages to get a little slack here, during funky, straight-ahead raps about deadbeat dads in bachelor pads and a little girl getting her period.

Much of the current lineup turns up on the new album via overdubs, with some songs appearing more or less as recorded in 2000 and others extensively re-worked with new contributions in the studio. The title track is a rewrite of an outtake from those sessions, based around Shaun’s drum track, so he gets to be the only drummer on the album even as his brother is writing new material.

It’s rare, and always welcome, to discover a new record by a beloved old band that actually feels essential, equally essential as their early work. Maybe, by constantly breaking up and not spending much time as a unit in their four decades of existence, the Deadbeats have managed to avoid the aging process and retain the creative lifeblood that some of their peers had used up by the early 80s. Their age ends up being measured in dog years.

Given the tragic circumstances of the album’s creation, it feels like it must have been a difficult thing to complete. Certainly it doesn’t seem like anyone is doing it for the money. The Deadbeats’ very existence has always carried a high degree of difficulty, which may explain why it’s only ever been able to exist in fits and starts.

But with the release of 666-1313, the group suddenly seems to have a future worth pondering. When we talked to Scott Guerin by phone, he was upbeat about the prospect of future releases, including some tracks already in the can and others – including a possible Deadbeats Christmas song, a possibility that charms my black little heart – still on the drawing board. Our conversation is lightly edited for clarity and length.

Were you a MAD Magazine reader as a child?

Uh, well, comic books. So, I had MAD Magazines too, early on, but more of a comic collector.

 What were some of your favorites?

I don’t know. Just growing up. (As an adult) I would go to Golden Apple and I would spot five comics. It was just, too much. I was just buying underground stuff and superhero stuff. But even as a kid I liked the Legion of Superheroes.

And this is kind of far removed from MAD magazine… I liked characters that were the least powerful, like Triplicate Girl. She was slashed by a bottle so she became Duo Damsel. And Bouncing Boy, and Matter Eater Lad. Matter Eater Lad came from the planet Bismoll, and his only power was to eat things and digest them. So… not exactly Superman.

I was listening to your music this weekend and noticed the spoken bit at the end of the first single where someone hollers “I never want to play that song again!” before it fades out. I was wondering, is that degree of difficulty part of the reason that the band itself has kind of existed in fits and starts over almost forty years? It seems tough.

That’s just… When we recorded “Deadbeat” there was a piano there in the studio. And so either I or Geza decided that I would use it as a percussion instrument, I mean, I don’t play the piano. So we did several takes, I don’t know why there was a problem… well, he made me do that probably five times. The piano thing. I can’t remember if there was a problem with the vocal. I never wanted to over dub, because there was all the background vocals. I know that one took a little longer than the other ones, where they kept making me go again on either the vocal or the piano part. Of course it’s kind of funny, because it’s such a simple song. And I just got so frustrated that at the end I said “I never want to do that song again.”

And they just left it in. So that’s all there is to that.

Was there a potential for more records being made during the 70s?

Yeah, actually Dangerhouse was sort of keen on us doing an album and maybe we would have been the first Dangerhouse album before Black Randy. But I had problems with Dangerhouse and then we had such internal problems within the band that by the time that EP came out, we were pretty much history at that point. We broke up about a month after the EP came out, so it wasn’t really good timing for our career.

What’s the impetus to periodically regroup? There was the Sympathy album in 1996 (Deadbeats on Parade, also a great album) and obviously the sessions that led to this album in 2000.

Well, I probably would have put some more stuff out. I can put it out myself now, so you might now see a little of our stuff coming out, kind of, better late than never.

After the Deadbeats broke up, Geza went on to do Geza X and the Mommymen. Different things and so he released an album. There were several incarnations of Bent, when I played under the name of Bent. That was originally the band that Pat Delaney and I were trying to get together which led to the Deadbeats. The only recording we did, there’s one song on the Found Objects release, Mark Wheaton’s on it, Johanna Went, Joe Berardi. We had a song on that …. I had so much trouble keeping a band together that I just sometimes wouldn’t play for a year or two.

Paul Roessler was in the very first version of Bent, but you know, I’d put together a new one, we’d play for a while, then something would happen and we’d never got any momentum. So consequently other than that, other than one song on one compilation.

And Josie Cotton had a recording studio in her home, and Geza was living there. And he came up, I don’t remember how, but he had the ability to go in and record anybody he wanted. So that’s how Deadbeats on Parade happened.

And Long Gone John wanted to put it out. I guess he got wind that we had tapes of the original band live. So we did that one, and he put that out, and then he ended up putting out Deadbeats on Parade. And Geza was like, well, “because we never got to do that album”, so we got back together. There’s a few new songs on there, but, “Lobotomy Victim”, that was a song that Pasquale Amadeo, the bass player, wrote the music for that I never wrote lyrics for. Otherwise that song is one the original band would have been doing. So finally I came up with the lyrics 15, 20 years later. Again, better late than never.

But mostly it was that we had the opportunity to document kind of what that album would have been like if we had recorded it in 78 or 79. So the sax player that’s on there was a guy that played with me in Bent, and he wasn’t going to keep playing with us. Geza opted to not play with us live at that point so that’s when we got Nate Scoble who was in the Blue Daisies, he came in on guitar. And the record you have now, 666-1313 was stuff that started with that lineup in the year 2000.

There were all kinds of problems, the band fell apart at one point. Financial problems… as you may know, three of the people, including my brother, died. The first guy was named Spider Middleman, the sax player. Then my brother. Then, when close to finishing the record, I found out that Bill Reger (the band’s bassist) had rolled his van on the freeway and he wasn’t wearing his seat belt.

Oh God!

Anyway so, yeah. It just, there were a lot of things. I couldn’t even believe when I looked it up online that he died in 2000, because that’s when we started this. The whole thing was supposed to be that we were writing a lot of songs and we were just going to back them up and use them as a reference. My brother was doing the recording. It was starting to sound pretty good, so I was thinking maybe we’ll do something with this. So we just kept going until stuff started happening, you know.

But then after my brother died, there was probably a year where…I got the tapes back, there was one DAT missing, I got the tapes back and thought that I was going to get back into it but, I was in a weird place. It was a grieving process and that whole thing. Then after we did that last reunion, I was saying let’s do this. So that’s when we started that up, getting back into it, until basically we finished it.

The one upside I can say, to going through the whole protracted recording process, is that I rather like the way the record came out with multiple female vocalists, the cello, the trumpet. All that stuff probably wouldn’t have been there. It was part of the way things just turned out. So I would say the record turned out better than we even hoped, but it was under some pretty terrible circumstances.

There’s been a lot of different people in the band with you as a constant. What do you look for in a possible collaborator?

Well there’s several. One is the theatrical….   Sometimes you get players that are technically (advanced), really, the first version of the Deadbeats. I mean, my brother had been playing drums since he was a little kid. Psaquale Amadeo was quite proficient on his instrument. And while we were trying to put together Bent, we had this guy Brad Rabucin, he’s played with Weba a long time ago, and I guess he still plays around town. He’s like a jazz influenced rock guy.

Well, the first Deadbeats show we did was at the Whisky, and he was the guitar player. Geza wasn’t the first guitar player. But after one show, (Brad) decided not to continue. And Nicky Beat was actually who got Geza in, so as much as Geza was the least proficient – and I think he would agree, I’m not saying that disparagingly – the least proficient on his instrument of all those players. BUT he had a Marshall amp, and he brought a rawness there that was… it was totally the polar opposite of how Brad Rabucin played. I mean, Brad was really clean, he was a jazz musician. Geza couldn’t play like that.

So, you know, that was good for the time. And Geza had a theatrical thing, a certain theatrical bent to him, maybe more so than Brad.

Well, he had teeth. If you can find a guy that’s got teeth, that can play the parts, that’s a strong contribution.

Yeah! Well this last gig was really good, we’ve got Rikk Agnew playing with us.

And he’s got teeth too. He’s a really good guitar player and I thought he fit in with you guys really well.

I’m excited, I know Paul is. I think even after the first rehearsal playing with Dave Jones and Tony Atherton, they were just saying “Wow”. You know, “Boom.” It just felt right, it was just… it came together.

And you know the funny thing with Heather singing with us is that, Paul’s throwing out names of people we could try to get to audition to be the female vocalist. Because, I mean, some of the songs, one there’s duets now and certain songs like “Period 4” or “Sally’s Collection”, they won’t work the same way (if I sing them). They have to be sung by a female.

It just works. That’s just a thing now. And going forward there’ll be more of that. The last track that we did is the title track, “666-1313”, and that’s the only one she sings on the album, What we did with that, we had recorded a cover version of a little song called “Hypnotized”. I didn’t want to put it on the record, but I wanted my brother to be the only drummer on the record. And so, I offered lyrics I had and picked that song out because I thought it fairly closely matched the drums that we had to work with. And Paul just whipped it up, he was in ProTools, and we wrote that music.

He said at one point, as he was throwing at me (the names of) some girls, and he said, why don’t we try Heather? And she’d never even thought about doing something like that before. And she came in, nailed it in two takes.

And you saw the last show… this is only her fourth show and she’s like… haha! I mean… afterwards I go MAN, I have to up my game to keep up with you! It was great. I mean that whole thing with the theatrical bit for “Sally’s Collection”.

Oh yeah, she’s fantastic.

Yeah. I couldn’t be happier.

When you say “looking forward”, that makes me hope there might be new music coming from this lineup.

Yeah well, the thing is about it, I don’t know if you were familiar with this project that Bill Bartell was putting together, for a Germs tribute, and there we go again. He passed away before he could put it out. But Greg from Artifix is putting out the White Flag tracks, the Adolescents tracks, and we did a cover of “Shut Down”.

And that has Saratonin on guitar and Geza. So kind of going forward, I mean, for live shows I’m happy with Rikk, but we’ll probably use Harry Cloud who’s played with us, and Rikk, and the guitar slot could be open-ended depending on the songs. But there’s one song left that I didn’t think fit on the album, that we started, that my brother and I recorded with the old lineup. And so that’s probably going to be the b-side of a single… well I don’t want to give too much away on the title but Heather’s going to sing the track.

So the Germs thing should probably be out in six months or something like that. Maybe this other 45 will, and then we’re talking about another record. Although it might be kind of a different project than Deadbeats On Parade.

Tomorrow I turn 60, so I figure we’ve got a limited amount of time left. So rather than just doing multiple versions of the same kind of thing, like, “oh look, this is their new version of ‘Kill The Hippies’” like a lot of bands do, I figure, I’d rather do just a few different things. I don’t know how you feel but I think this new album is different than Deadbeats On Parade, different than the Dangerhouse EP. It’s got a different lineup but you can kind of see it’s the same band, at least I hope so. That there’s some sort of thread that connects it, but that it’s not the exact same thing.

Plus, even if we recorded something in 1978, it’s thirty or forty years later. And if it just sounds like the same thing, like you just got out of your coma and it doesn’t sound like 38 years have gone by… I don’t know, that’s just kind of sad.

We have a continuation of the story of Mugsy on this album. Is there any plan to do an all crime rock opera?

It’s funny you say that! I actually was trying to do something that was going to be like a comic book. Mark Wheaton helped me. It was going to be some of those characters and some similar ones. I do want to do a book with the writing and with the next album, at least one side of it being spoken word, dealing with those characters. And it would be one story, and it would continue the story of Mugsy after that breakout. There’s only a couple of those guys, Baby Face Short-Eyes lives, it sounds like the guy…. There’s a lot more to talk about after that escape. I actually have written a whole lot about him and some of the other characters but he’s actually pretty minor to the whole thing.

And there’s some things in there like Sister Mary, and there’s other characters mentioned in this. Even Sally, now she’s in an asylum. They had to put her away. She’s the girl that collects guys’ dicks, so… I have a Christmas song with her, and you can guess what she decorates her tree with!

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One Response to LA Beat Interview – Scott Guerin of the Deadbeats Chats Us Up On 666-1313

  1. catasonic says:

    thanks for the great review and interview. Is it possible to have a link to the disco site for sales? It is currently the only place and somewhat obscure so it would help.
    -Mark Wheaton

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