It's been a year since we've heard anything from James Dewees, aka. Reggie and the Full Effect, who played a one off reunion show last year in Philadelphia, at which he showcased his first two albums, Greatest Hits '84-'87 [re-issue], and Promotional Copy, in their entirety, and also played many tracks from his later albums, Under The Tray, and Songs Not To Get Married To. Dewees was also a member of influential bands The Get Up Kids and Coalesce, and most recently he is the touring keyboardist for My Chemical Romance. James granted staffer Sean Mikula a permission to photograph last year's reunion show and spoke with him recently about his career, relationship with Vagrant Records, and the future of Reggie and the Full Effect.
So how did this all start? Forced piano lessons when you were a kid?
I actually wanted to take piano because my older brother took lessons; I think I was 7 when I started. I decided to play drums at 11 in the Lewis and Clark elementary school band. I carried a concert snare drum back and forth for a year, and drove my parents nuts.
So did you start writing your own tunes back then?
I think I was around 12; saw the film Amadeus and it changed my life. I started to flake on my lessons and write my own stuffâ¦ I won this national song writing contest, I donât remember what it was called - my mom would - she was super proud. Then the next year I placed 3rd.
I taught myself how to write sheet music but it was a very slow process at that point. Lots of erasing and my parents were not thrilled with me because I developed a bad habit of staying up 'til 3 or 4 in the morning on school nights playing the piano and writing; basically playing the same song over and over and over and over.
Wow. So would you say you know quite a bit about music theory? Or rather, the technical aspects of writing and composing?
I do now. That was college, and the funny thing about basic theory is that I knew all of it, just didn't know that musicians and composers etc. had names for all the things I had been doing for years. It also came in handy that I am pretty decent at math; the two go hand-in-hand.
So were there any bands pre-Coalesce ?
Oh yeah, there was "Prime of Life" which we were on the radio for a local band contest. We lost, of course, but at 14 getting on the radio was fucking sick! Then it was "Trip Doll", then the Matt band just written "Matt" with a 3 exponent cause everyone in the bandsâ name was Matt - my middle name is Matthew so it counts. We did a lot of cool shit like get the cops called to a Christian teenagers thing called Younglife, then we played a festival that turned out to also be Christian, they thought we were a Christian band because of our name; they thought [it meant] Matthew verse 3, ha! Me and the bass player, Matt, took acid, he got lost in the woods for a few hours and delayed our performance, then they pulled the power out on us during our first song because they figured out we weren't a Christian band. Then there was "Mailbox." Mailbox was basically another band that played Matt band songs. "Dethno tronic" was actually a Mailbox song.
Awesome. Still talking to these Matts?
No, I wish I was. We kept in touch until I moved away and everyone got busy, married. Lives basically. Fun memories though.
Wait, so where was this? And you've moved around a bit right? Where are ya these days?
All of the early stuff, until Coalesce, was in Liberty, Missouri, my hometown. Then I moved to Columbia, Missouri for college, then back to Kansas City, Missouri for Coalesce. Then onto The Get Up Kids, Reggie, New Found Glory, My Chemical Romance. I have lived in Long Island for seven years now. My wife and I moved back to Lawrence to do the Get Up Kids reunion, but then moved back to Long Island about nine months later.
So you released Greatest Hits in 98 on Second Nature, and then Vagrant released Promotional Copy in 2000. What was their interest? Did the The Get Up Kids connection help at all? Did you demo Promo Copy for the label?
Well when Get Up Kids signed to Vagrant we got our own label called Heroes & Villains, we signed Reggie and The New Amsterdams, then The Anniversary and Hot Rod Circuit, since Heroes and Villains was a part of Vagrant, the bands also became a part of Vagrant too. Promotional Copy is the demo of Promotional Copy ha. The budgets for Reggie were always very, very cheap. Greatest Hits was only about $1700 to do. I think Promo Copy was like 2500 bucks. Under the Tray was like $1300 now that I think about it.
Wait, Under the Tray was the cheapest? That's insane, I would say Under the Tray sounds like your most polished record.
Yea, I did it with Ed Rose at his house instead of the studio in like four days. It was also the first real tour on a Reggie record, things kind of picked up from there.
Under the Tray was released after the major bought stock in Vagrant, did that affect you at all, or your contract?
Nah, Interscope only took on Dashboard Confessional, that was all that happened [laughs].
So it didn't help distribution for the whole label? Or promotions for bands? You had your first music video for Under The Tray, a lot of us assumed it was because of the major.
I dunno, I think the peanut butter and jelly video was what helped Reggie out a lot. I did cause a big problem though because there were thousands of returns to record stores, people couldn't find the CD [laughs] It was…..drum roll……. "under the tray" [laughs]. Now there is some cheesy arrow trying to show people where it is.
Promo Copy and Under the Tray are kind of famous for fucking with merchants. So was Under the Tray your best selling record?
I donât know, I never paid attention, either that or Songs Not to Get Married To. Seriously all I wanted to do then was play music and party. And I seriously did it 24 hours a day for about three years. I had a manager and a business manager. It amazes me now, that back then I was a hot mess and doing very well for myself, and then when I decided to get my act together everybody wanted the hot mess back. Bizarre!
It seems like you had a great time at the reunion show last year, don't you think you can have both?
I personally can, it is just so expensive to do a Reggie show, all the costumes props.etc etc. It honestly was easier to do, when I was wasted all the time cause then you donât give a crap about stuff, it ends up just being ridiculous. Then when you do it sober you give a shit about stupid things like, " Where are the cups of blood?" [laughs]
I know that your last two records were pretty personal and started getting a lot darker, but your first three, and I would even say fourth, were so fun, do you think it was because of your loose attitude and no expectations about the whole project? Maybe even the fact that the records didn't really cost anything to make either?
It was something that started as a fun side project, and it was. As it became more successful, more people got involved, it became less fun, and then less fun, and instead of keeping my head together I chose to get wasted and just deal with how I felt I had lost control of my fun project. And then when the smoke cleared I was okay but Reggie had kind of crashed and burned. I didnât think so, but the label did so they shelved it. Then I was stuck with nowhere to go. I couldnât tour or record anything without their permission and support. It just seemed the right time to take a break.
Influences for me are hard, because I like so much stuff. Queen, Nine Inch Nails, Slayer â¦ I recently have been back down hardcore lane - listening to Disembodied and Botch and Coalesce and Harvest - all my old stuff.
You mentioned at the reunion show last year that "Vagrant owns Reggie." How do they own your band? And how can they shelve it? Are you still under a contract with them?
They donât "own it" but they decide if the records come out and when and what songs go on it, etcetera, etcetera. So in a way they donât own it, but they do. I donât think I am under contract with them but I havenât tried to release anything under the name Reggie and the Full Effect. So I really donât know. One day I will go record all the songs I have and then we will find out, donât get me wrong being on Vagrant was great, the guys really work their asses off for ya. Things just became very complicated and they didnât need to be. If there was no Vagrant there would be no Reggie. In all fairness.
You said earlier that there werenât really demos for your older albums, but did you ever make any? If so, ever think of releasing a demos record? That could be interesting coming from you.
There were a few scratch demos but I have lost those over the years and honestly I would record every song I wrote and release every song I wrote. Iâve never been one for writing too much ahead of time. A lot of the songs are just ideas when I go to record, the songs develop in the recording. I remember doing Lord of the Bling in two days and only having the idea two days before I just went in and recorded the three songs. All the while my friend Burton was assembling the amazing cover and artwork. Shit was seriously funny.
Lord of the Bling was a three song suite featured on the Greatest Hitâs Reissue, whoâs idea was it to reissue that record and why?
It was a good idea in theory and it allowed the 7-inch songs and Lord of the Bling to come out, but re-releasing it ruined a really important friendship for me. It was kind of my idea and my old managers, but if I could go back and change what happened to Dan from Second Nature Records, I would. Reggie brought a lawyer in and got the record back from Dan, and honestly I think Dan and I could have worked it out on our own. Dan helped me from the beginning, way back way back, and I still feel like shit for the way we got the record back. Being sued by your friends is never good. Money is the worst part of this industry…it really is.
So was he unwilling to release it to you initially? Or was the lawyer something you did right off the bat?
It was just over money. The lawyer was brought in to keep everything professional. But when itâs between friends it sucks.
Everyone is Crazy from your split with Koufax is on that record, thatâs one of my favorites. The 7-inch art is great too.
Yea, Travis Millard did that. It is me stealing my own records.
So with Songs Not To Get Married To, was that also on a shoestring budget or did you get more support for that? Songs Not To Get Married To had more of a budget because Under the Tray did well, but I still refused to overspend. Reggie songs donât get better with more production. Thereâs a point where the songs recorded sounded fine. Iâm also not a perfectionist, Iâm more of a "soundsfinewithmein-ist".
The way you write songs…for example "What the Hell is Contempt", "Apocalypse WOW" and "Thanx for Stayin' " and countless other are all pretty epic on their own. It's probably those awesome synth lines.
I usually either start with drums or synth lines first, vocals are always last for some reason, I hate writing lyrics. I wish I was good at it, I feel the urge to make everything rhyme. I donât know why I do, but only on Last Stop Crappy Town did I get away from the rhyming.
I think Last Stop Crappy Town is a solid record. I've read/heard a few interviews from that time period where you talk about fans strange response to it. The label put off releasing that for a bit, right?
Yeah, I was bummed they waited for two years. I wrote it as a continuous piece of music and in its entirety it is really good to me. Vagrant took out three songs that fudged up the flow, and then the whole thing becomes another regular record. Bummed about that. The record was really me telling my story of partying too much and going to rehab, but when you remove chapters from it, it makes little sense.
If you had to rank your albums, from favorite to least… what would they be? Promotional Copy, Under the Tray, Lord of the Bling, Greatest Hits, Songs Not to Get Married To, Last Stop Crappy Town. Under the Tray should have had Apocalypse WOW! as track one and then I would of had it be my favorite.
Why didn't it?
Iâm not talking trash here but Ed threw a little fit about "Your Bleedin Heart" being number one. He won the argumentâ¦ I don't like to argue.
Favorite Reggie songs?
Hmmmm, probably "Food" or "Happy Chickens" [or] "Brandiâs Birthday Song" too.
"Happy Chickens" sounds like it was recorded on a 4-track
Not even 4; try one.
What do you think of the cassette resurgence? Even The Get Up Kids have a cassette being released.
The Get Up Kids do? [Laughs] I didnât know that, it must be the cool thing to do [laughs].
So can we talk about how you got involved with My Chemical Romance?
Sure, Gerard and I have been good friends since 2003 and kept in touch. And perfect timing that I was at my Reggie limit when he called and asked me to come play for them. [That was[ February 2006 and itâs been going great ever since.
Ever feel strange doing such huge shows? Like the Blink shows this past summer?
If I think about it, it is strange, but at the same time it isnât, because Iâm making music with my friends. Canât ask for anything better.
Oh, I have three bulldogs climbing on me cause its their playtime!
Ok, one more and it's the obvious one - Itâs been a year since the reunion where you mentioned you do have songs, but do you think we'll see another live show any time in the future? Maybe even a record?
Of course, Iâm starting to get decent with Logic so who knows when I will write lyrics to these songs. Performing live is something I will do until I die. Thereâs nothing like being on stage doing what you love.