Let’s just agree up front that all rock band lead singers should have a bird of prey in their name. For Lawrence-based group The Dead Girls, it’s Cameron Hawk (at left below), and I talked with him this week about his band’s influences, recent projects, and expectations for South By Southwest.
Matt: So I see you guys are from Lawrence, Kansas?
Cameron: Yep – we’ve been a band since about 2004, actually – we’ve been living in Lawrence that whole time. And we all originally met in Manhattan, KS, which is a little over an hour from here; that’s where everyone was born.
M: The “Little Apple,” right?
C: (Laughs) Yeah, the Little Apple. They really take that pretty far… They even do this thing every New Years where they have this little apple drop on top of the university bookstore. Its kind of an interesting place; they have a lot of music there, and every now and then Lawrence or Kansas City bands would come in, and we all got pretty into that.
So at the time, Lawrence’s scene was doing really well – one of the bigger bands was The Get Up Kids at the time; they were mainly Kansas City, but they’d play Lawrence a lot. Ultimate Fakebook was another one, and actually two guys in The Dead Girls were in Ultimate Fakebook originally. Me and JoJo, who plays guitar in The Dead Girls, were in another band called Podstar when we graduated high school. We decided to move up to Lawrence and play music and see what happened, and we tried concentrating on that for a while and going to school. I eventually graduated but it took me a while because I was concentrating on music for the most part.
M: So I have to ask – where does the band name come from?
C: Well, there are aspects of our music that kind of relate with a harder rock sort of thing, and aspects that relate more to a power pop or lighter, pop-rock kind of thing and The Dead Girls kind of works for that. It was kind of a reference to a couple of song titles from one of our drummers’ older bands; our name was originally Dead Girls Ruin Everything, which was just way too long.
M: But it’s a funny name!
C: Yeah, pretty much the response we always got to that name was either laughter, or like, “What the hell…?” But it was just too long, we didn’t like the idea of having a sentence for a name; we just wanted something a little simpler and punchier.
M: So it’s interesting that you mention that y’all draw from the harder rock aesthetic as well as some lighter poppier stuff, because when I listen to your music, I personally hear a lot of Foo Fighters-type influence, but then also some lighter shades of maybe Daphne Loves Derby; so it sounds to me like an interesting fusion of influences. Could you talk a little bit about some of your favorite bands right now – is there anyone you try to emulate or consciously draw from?
C: You’re definitely right on; originally when we first started, when people would ask what kind of bands we sounded like, Foo Fighters was one of the ones we would say the most because we knew it was a band a lot of people knew and we loved the first three Foo Fighters records. And The Colour And The Shape is still one of my favorite records. But we definitely pulled a lot from older classic power pop stuff like Big Star and Badfinger. Even the Beatles is definitely a favorite for us, even though that’s obvious… And stuff like the Beach Boys – Pet Sounds is a big favorite, and post-Pet Sounds as well. Then we also love stuff like AC/DC or Kiss, and we actually got to open for Kiss a couple years ago. It’s always been an appreciation for both sides of that, and since we all love music so much, just trying to incorporate what we love into it. As far as bands right now, we all love Guided By Voices, and Dr. Dog is a big one; there’s a band from Kansas City called the ACBs that we really love; Nada Surf, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, they’re all really cool. And I guess The Get Up Kids are back together, so they’d be another big one. Cheap Girls is another one that we’ve been playing a lot, I saw you reviewed them on your site.
M: Yeah, I actually just found out about them recently, but Giant Orange is pretty incredible.
C: Oh it’s awesome; I thought it was really cool how you called it Dinosaur Jr. Jr.; they’re another band we really love. We got to play with them a few years ago, and we’re actually playing with Cheap Girls about a week after SXSW.
M: I’ve listened to a lot of your music recently, and a few of my favorite songs are “Later,” “Hair Trigger,” and “Sound the Alarm”; could you talk a bit about some of the songs that you as a band are most proud of?
C: “Later” is definitely one of them. That’s the first song on our last full-length disc, which is called Out Of Earshot – it was the first song we recorded for that record and was always one that we knew we really liked. Hair Trigger is another one; we did an EP for that one before the record came out. Those were pretty old by the time Out Of Earshot came out, and we actually had a lot of problems finishing that record. We did it all ourselves – our friend Chris Cosgrove, who’s an engineer in Kansas City, engineered and produced everything. He’s a close friend, basically the fifth member of the band; hes our go-to guy for that stuff – like our Nigel Godrich if we’re Radiohead. Anyway, for those songs, we had a lot of time to really flesh those out because we spent a lot of time recording the album, and then half of it got erased… It was basically a bonehead move by a studio intern, but it erased hundreds of hours of our work. And like I said, we were pretty new to this “making our own record” thing and we didn’t realize that it’s probably a pretty good idea to keep all of those files backed up, so we didn’t have backups and it was just a disaster.
M: But never again, right?
C: Never again! But I feel like we really learned the hard way with a lot of stuff. And it sucks when it happens but its good if you survive it, because then you really know what to do and what not to do from experience. So we’re by far not the only ones. That’s pretty much what every band has to do, and every band more than ever is on their own these days.
M: What inspires your songwriting?
C: I think a big part of it is just the fact that we all love music so much. We’re music geeks. I have a music blog, I’m always writing about music; I’m really big into music history and finding out a band’s “family tree,” so to speak, and knowing where everything came from. I don’t know if that inspires wanting to write music or if wanting to write music inspires that, but it’s definitely correlated.
Eric is our drummer and he’s actually a film critic here in the local area; he’s really into movies as well as music, just an overall arts kind of guy, and I think we all are too. But he was working at a record store when JoJo and I were in high school, and we’d come in all the time asking him what was cool, and he’d show us the Pixies records or older stuff like The Kinks… so, he’s the guy that really got JoJo and I into a broader sort of musical taste.
Photo cred to http://rocketheartrecords.com/deadgirls/EPK/
I think especially late in my elementary school years, I started to get bored with everything. I was listening to stuff on my Walkman a lot and I’d listen to a song over and over again, like a Lenny Kravitz album or something; I’d listen to it over and over again and after a while I’d realize how simple it was; like, over here to the right is a guitar part and over here to the left is another guitar part, and bass, and drums, and that’s it. After a while i thought “You know, I could do this too,” and it just got to be kind of an obsession.
M: And I think sometimes not enough credit is given to the ability to create a catchy hook; that’s definitely a lot harder than it seems like it would be.
C: Oh totally, and in a lot of cases it just kind of happens and ends up being really cool, and really big, and everyone loves it. And a lot of times you’re like “Oh… it was kind of an accident; it just kind of happened.” But if that does happen, you end up getting famous, and then the pressure’s on to do it again. And you can’t just make something like that happen a lot of times.
M: So The Dead Girls will be coming down for SXSW next week?
C: Yeah, since we all work, we cant get there until Saturday which sucks, but we’re going to take it in as much as possible. I’ve been seeing all this awesome stuff that will be on Saturday; a bunch of bands like The War On Drugs and White Rabbits are playing, and I want to try and make those for sure.
M: What are you most hoping to accomplish at SXSW? Exposure, networking, …?
C: Well, we know that bands don’t really go to SXSW to get signed anymore; we know that everyone just goes there to see bands and have a good time. And there are still possibilities for networking and stuff, but we really just want to get down there to have fun and see a bunch of our Austin friends, to be able to play for them and hang out with them and party with them. Also our friends Motion City Soundtrack will be down there, so we’ll be able to see them.
M: Oh yeah, I love MCS!
C: Oh yeah man, they’re awesome. We actually did a song with Justin Pierre for our new 7-inch that’s pretty sweet. When he was doing that My Dinosaur Life Tour, where he was doing like a solo acoustic tour in weird venues, he came to a blue collar pressing plant here and did a little acoustic show and while he was in town we just hung out for four or five hours and wrote and recorded a song, and it was pretty sweet, so we put it on a 7-inch. We had another song we did as a one-off that was really good, so it worked out. We had actually hopped on a couple of their tours in 2008. And Eric and Nick, our rhythm section who were in that band Ultimate Fakebook – MCS used to open for them when they first started. Ultimate Fakebook is like one of their favorite bands, and they actually brought them to Chicago to open for them for a few shows. Even though they’re not technically still a band they still get together and do reunion shows every now and then. Yeah, MCS is definitely a great live band and Justin is one of the best frontmen around right now.
M: So are there plans for a new full-length album or EP anytime soon?
C: Yeah, we’re working on a third full-length right now, although plans are kind of up in the air about when it’s coming out. The original plan was spring, but that’s not happening now. We usually say one thing and it ends up being later so i don’t want to say when it’s going to be yet; I’m hoping for fall, but it’ll probably end up being spring of next year. Our label is Rocket Heart Records; they’re a label out of Topeka and they’re really small, but they’re great guys. They do a lot of stuff for us around here so we’re just now trying to branch out a little more and focus on other places. Its been so hard to tour with all of us having full-time jobs. One of our band members is a 4th grade teacher so touring isn’t really in the cards most of the time, but if we plan far enough in advance and have like these three weekends we can do, we try to get as far out as we can. But I really hope the album will be out by fall. It’s definitely the best thing we’ve done, so we’ll just have to see.
M: Where would you like The Dead Girls to be as a band in five years?
C: I just hope that we keep learning and keep progressing in some way. We all love music enough that we’re going to keep making records no matter what, even if it’s with a different band. I’m actually working on two other records with two other bands right now, so its just something that we all really like to do. If in five years we’re still just doing what we’re doing now, I would be fine with that. I don’t know what the other guys would think, but i think they’d be cool with that too. We don’t really have any delusions of being huge superstars or anything; we just really love to make music, and we know there are people out there who feel the same way and can relate to the music we’re making. There needs to be more music like that out there I think. That doesn’t seem to always be the main priority of bands to just make music for the fun of it, and that really makes a big difference for me. When I’m listening to something, I can always tell how much love is there and how much fun is there.
But I don’t know. I don’t want to say in five years I hope we’re headlining freaking Warped Tour or something like that… Well, I don’t even want to play Warped Tour… I mean, it would be nice to get something that would be a little more up the rungs of the ladder so to speak, but we’re a band from the middle of Kansas and we don’t tour, so we can only do so much. There are more bands recently who have figured out how to use the internet to their advantage and that’s kind of what we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to find people who dig the music we play and just go from there i guess, and play some good shows every now and then with bands we like and put out records that we can be proud of. And if we’re doing that in five years, then I think that would be pretty awesome, actually, that we stuck with it, because there are people that get fed up after a year and that’s not something we’re going to do.
M: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions, Cameron. It looks like you guys will be in town Saturday, March 17 at Shangri La around 9:30 PM?
C: Yep! That’s it.
M: Awesome, looking forward to coming out to the show.