Guitarist Jeff Dean is a prolific musician. Currently playing in five discrete Chicago-area bands, Dean rocks with some of the Midwest's best. Right now Dean is focused on The Bomb, fronted by Naked Raygun's Jeff Pezzati, and their new Jay Robbins produced album. Interviewer Brandon Campbell met up with Dean for a couple of PBRs in Chicago's own Beat Kitchen for a friendly chat.
Where are you from, originally?
Jeff Dean: I'm from Las Vegas, originally.
How long did you live out there?
Dean: That's where I grew up and then I left Vegas in 1995 and I moved to Detroit, actually, to play in a band out there called Cleon's Down. It was me and Jay Navarro from the Suicide Machines. Jay and I just ended up being super good friends and he was like "Dude, you need to move to Detroit."
As soon as I moved to Detroit, Suicide Machines got signed to Hollywood Records, so it made our band completely part time. But, then I ended up being their guitar tech for like that whole year of '96, the whole Destruction by Definition tour.
So, Jay was a big influence on you?
Dean: Oh, fuck yeah. Jay has more vision as a songwriter than most people Iâve ever met. Heâs fucking incredible that way. Even as a guitar player, even though most people see him as just a singer. If I never met Jay I donât even know what my life would be like. I wouldnât have moved to Detroit and played in these bands. Thereâs a chord that Jay would do, I donât even know if it was a real chord, that I picked up from him that I use in like fucking half the songs I write.
You moved from Las Vegas and moved to Detroit…
Dean: And then I stopped going on the road with the Suicide Machines.
After that one tour?
Dean: Well, I mean, it was like six tours. It was like that whole year I was gone with them, more or less. And then like when we would have a couple weeks off when we were back in Detroit, you know Jay and I would play shows with Cleons Down. And we're trying to do Cleons Down, and Jay's gone all the time and then I was just like, "Fuck this, dude. There's no reason for me to be here if I'm not playing." So, then I moved back to Vegas because my old band, Tomorrow's Gone, we still kind of kept it going even though I was living in Detroit and we had a seven inch come out on Element Records. I moved back and we were supposed to do this tour and it was like a month long, booked. The day I got back to Vegas the band broke up. It was a fucking mess, dude.
Was it internal conflict or was it the scheduling?
Dean: Everybody was down for the tour and then I got back and I can remember being in Fred, our drummer's living room and I'm like, "Alright, we're supposed to be practicing, we leave on tour tomorrow…" and it was like "Uh, we just can't do it." I mean, after I packed up all my shit and moved back to Vegas.
You must've been pissed.
Dean: Dude, I was hella pissed. (laughs)
So what did you do? What was your reaction?
Dean: There was nothing I could do. Literally, the next day Lance the singer moved to California and then I didn't really know what I was going to do. It was this weird, back-ass turn of events. I started this new band out there called Zero In Trust. I mean, we only had like a song on like two compilations, but that band was going to be like the band. The first show that we played was with Boy Sets Fire and King for a Day, then we did all these shows around Arizona and in Vegas. Then we flew to New York to play with Hot Water Music and Saves the Day. I thought that band was going to be like the end-all-be-all. I ended up going to Spain for like a month and when I came back from Spain my friend Mike, who was playing drums, was like "Dude, I don't want to play anymore." And that was it.
Dean: Again. (laughs) Dude, this was like two times within a year. That band was only together from July of '97 to April of '98. But in that time we recorded a record that never came out. That was done and the girl I was dating at the time, I met here when I was in Detroit, was like, "I gotta get the fuck out of this town." I was like "I'm never moving back to Detroit." So we kind of just settled on Chicago. This was always my favorite town.
Why? What about it?
Dean: I dunno, man. Everything about this city… The first time I came here on tour it was like the city rules, all the people I met on tour were awesome, the bands were good, the scene was cool. It was like, yeah, the only place I wanted to be and I still feel that way. (laughs) One of my favorite things about this place, seemingly, no one ever kind of leaves the scene. Growing up in Vegas it was like every few years people got too cool for music and shit sucked and a new batch of kids came in and started bands and it just kind of always rotated like that. Whereas, the thing I noticed about Chicago, or it seems that way, is that no one ever really leaves. It's not uncommon to go to shows and see 40-year old dudes and 17-year old kids at the same show, which is freaking awesome.
Is that something you noticed coming through on the tours?
Dean: Oh, yes, definitely. I mean it's like a very deep-rooted scene. It's just Chicago, man. (laughs)
When did you start playing guitar?
Dean: I didn't start playing guitar 'til I was 19, dude. I just decided that I wanted to start playing and I did.
Why guitar? Why not bass or drums?
Dean: I was a super big Dag Nasty fan and I always loved the way Brian Baker played guitar, at least at that time and I just always thought it would be cool just to play guitar like that. I actually went to a show this one night at a record store in Vegas and this band Wax was playing. You know, this was when nobody knew who Wax was. I think this was the end of '92, '93. It was a Sunday night in the record store. I think it was like 50 kids jam-packed in. And Wax is kind of like a poppy, punky band. They're not very aggressive, but Joe Sib is like jumping off the CD racks and knockin' shit over and I was like, "Alright, you know what? I just need to start a fucking band." (laughs) So, I talked to a friend of mine who played guitar in a band and I said, "Dude, sell me one of your guitars." And, so he sold me one for like $150 and then I just locked myself in my room and tried to figure out the first Dag Nasty record.
That's what you weaned yourself on?
Dean: Yeah. Dag Nasty, Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, Swervedriver. There was always something that struck me about the way, at the time, for Brian Baker and then the way that Bob Mould and J. Mascis and Adam Franklin played that just really resonated with me. I just thought it was cool. If you listen to the way I play guitar, it's not all power chords. It always was like dissonant, weird shit, just fast.
Do you think you use that stuff in The Bomb?
Dean: Bob Mould is always going to be my favorite guitar player, so it's like I am never going to get away from that being an influence. But, I kind of feel like we have our own certain style, I guess. Which, obviously, is derived from all of those it's just more straight forward punk than hardcore.
I was going to ask you about how the song writing process goes with the band. Is it pretty democratic?
Dean: Oh, yeah. I definitely take the bulk of the music on and then Jeff does all of the vocals. That's just kind of how the dynamic's been set since him and I started playing together. Jeff's a pretty cool, weird dude. He's got a lot of obscure influences and I think it definitely comes out more in The Bomb then probably in some of his past endeavors. Although, maybe not, but I mean vocal-wise, maybe not song writing or music-wise. I donât know; he's a weird dude, man. (laughs)
Jeff's always doing something different. He's never rehashing whoa-ohs. He's always using them ecclectically. I always anticipate whatever he's involved with. I want to hear what he's going to do next; you never know where it's going to go. I can only imagine, what is that like to write for?
Dean: (laughs) I bring a song to practice, Pete and Mike and I learn it and then Jeff will just eventually come in with something. Usually what he comes in with is awesome and completely what none of us expected.
That's got to be exciting.
Dean: It can be. It can be frustrating at the same time. It can be frustrating because the three of us will get something down and then since I write the music and Pezzati writes the vocals it takes a while. We'll end up having a song for months before it is something. But, then other times it will happen just like that.
Does conflict ever arise from that?
Dean: It's never really happened. Every time he comes in with something, it's usually pretty great. The four of us work well together. None of us can explain it. I don't mean for that to sound weird or stupid. We won't practice for two months, then we'll practice and it sounds like how the record sounds and we'll all just laugh. We're like, "Yeah, we don't need to practice." (laughs)
You're not on Torch Songs, are you?
Dean: No. I didn't join the band until right after that. I used to play guitar for The Story So Far and that's how I met Jeff and Paul, who played drums at the time. And when The Story So Far broke up they asked me if I wanted to play guitar for them and I was like, "Yeah, ok." Pezzati was going for more like a mod kind of thing. I mean, it was cool. There's some good songs on those records. But I was like, "Look, I want to write some different kinds of songs and really try to rock this out a bit more." And they were cool with it and I kind of took the reins.
Being a fan of Raygun and Pegboy especially, like Haggerty's guitar playing, when I first heard The Bomb it was good, but it wasn't exactly what I was hoping for, which isn't bad. It's just that, for me personally, it wasn't what I was expecting. When I joined the band I decided that I was going to try to punk it up a little more. Basically, I just tried to make the band sound like what they sounded like in my head.
Like if I heard Jeff Pezzati had a new band, this is what I wish it would sound like. That's what I tried to do. I don't know if it worked or not.
Are you guys done with the new record?
Dean: Yeah. We already have copies. No Idea printed up a few record-release copies for a show we had here a few weeks ago. The new record is better than Indecision, easily. I know everybody says, "Our new record is way better," but everyone that's heard it has been like, "Wow!"
So, you've been getting a positive reaction from the people you've showed the record to?
Dean: Yeah, definitely. Var and Tony from No Idea are really happy about the record. And so is Jay Robbins who produced both this album and Indecision.
I love Jay Robbins.
Dean: You'll love this record. Robbins did backups and him and Pezzati collaborated together on one of the songs. It's all over the place. Fucking Bob Nanna did backups on one of the songs; Dan Yemin did backups on one of the songs. We just wanted to make a good record, you know? These are dudes that are just like our bros.
How did you guys hook up with No Idea?
Dean: Indecision came out on Thick, but Thick didn't do vinyl anymore and Var contacted Zack at Thick records and wanted to do the vinyl version of Indecision. Var's a super big Raygun fan and Pegboy fan and just a big fan of Chicago music in general. Obviously, we were fans of the label so we were like, "Fuck, yeah." So, they did the vinyl for Indecision and they did a really great job and we stopped working with Thick. When it came time to do this new record it was kind of…
…a no brainer?
Are you not involved with any other bands right now?
Dean: (laughs) Dude. Fuck, man, I also play guitar for Four Star Alarm, Explode and Make Up, Noise By Numbers and Certain People I Know. I'm all over the fucking place. (laughs)
So, you're in five bands right now. How do you find the time to do this?
Dean: My wife's supportive, so… (laughs) I never would have thought Iâd ever been in a band with Denis from 88 Fingers Louie, Bob Nanna, fucking Jeff Pezzati, Dan Schaffer. I never would have thought that shit wouldâve happened. It still blows my mind when I think about it. How do you feel about playing The Fest? Have you been there before?
Dean: Oh, yeah. I've played The Fest, I think, for the past four years. The Bomb played once right after Indecision came out and then Four Star Alarm's played there the last two or three years. The Bomb's playing there this year. Everything about The Fest rules. I look forward to it every year. It's like three days of chaos.
You're going as a musician and music fan. What bands are you Stoked to see?
Dean: This year it's going to be kind of tough because we're only going to to be there the one day that we're playing. But, obviously Samiam, for sure. I don't know if 7 Seconds is playing the same day that we are, but I'd be really happy to see them. Obviously, Strike Anywhere. There are all kinds of like smaller bands, like this band that's from down there called Lazerhead that I really like a lot. Good dudes. That's a band I just stumbled across randomly the first time Four Star Alarm played down there. I mean, that's what's so great about The Fest. You can just be walking down the street and discover some fucking rad band.
So, you guys are just driving straight down there?
Dean: No, we're doing a full East coast tour. We're playing two shows in September with New Model Army, which just blows my mind. I'm so fucking hyped about that. And then we're playing Riot Fest the first day with the Butthole Surfers, which is fucking awesome. And then we do 10 days down to The Fest.
Youâve seen a lot of action this year. Youâve got a new album coming out, a lot of shows and The Fest to look forward to. Beyond that, what do you see happening?
Dean: We talked about doing another record, actually. Mike and I talked about it a lot. So, I think what were going to do is do this East coast tour, do The Fest and try to do a West coast tour too and maybe shoot for another record and see what happens from there.