Dean Clean (The Dead Milkmen)
by Interviews

Philadelphia’s most famous punk band, The Dead Milkmen, are about to release their new album Pretty Music for Pretty People. The album is one of the group’s most frantic, jumpy, twisted releases to date. The band flips off mainstream pop, ganks a Stooges title and, as always, take a couple of kidney punches at Reagan.

Because the band is on the verge of releasing a new, perverse marvel, features editor John Gentile spoke to drummer Dean Clean about the new LP, Tastykakes, playing shows in cemeteries and another famous Philadelphian band.

Dean, you recently enjoyed a pumpkin Tastykake. For those outside of the Philadelphia region, can you explain what a Tastykake is?
Tastykake! Tastykake pumpkin pie comes but once a year and that is the fall. Tastykake is a local, or was, a local baking company that sold cupcakes and stuff like that, which I grew up with.

And like the Tastykake, the Dead Milkmen are always associated with Philadelphia. Dean, are you always happy to have Philadelphia mentioned alongside the band, or do you sometimes want to be seen as band that just happens to be from Philadelphia?
No, I think it’s cool that they always say that we’re from Philadelphia. Philadelphia has got a bad wrap over the years. It’s stuck between New York and Washington and bands don’t always come to Philly, at least back in the day. We’ve always been very proud of the fact that we’re from Philadelphia.

Similarly, Dean, you’re a drummer but you are a very visual and identifiable part of the Dead Milkmen. Why are you such a personality when so many other drummers remain in the background?
I don’t know! Maybe because it’s that our band is highly democratic. We’ve always shared interviews throughout the band. I like talking to people and meeting people. I don’t shy away from fans -- none of us do. So, it’s kind of cool just to meet people.

The new album is very up-tempo, very cracking! Did you plan it that way, or is that just how the songs came out?
I’d say it ‘s just how the tunes came out. One of the things of making music in this day as opposed to 15 years ago, everybody has their own studios and we work at home and then bring it to the band. We actually collaborate more now because it is so easy to bring stuff to the studio and send files to each other. I just think that it’s the way things turned out organically. The songs turn out the way they turn out. We don’t say that we’re going to make a fast song or a slow song.

The title track is called "Pretty Music for Pretty People," and comments on the emptiness of a lot of modern pop music.
It is kind of a comment on fluffy pop stuff that is so prevalent. It all seems very fluffy to us. There’s not much substance. It seems like something needs to happen to shake the music scene up again.

Are people less proactive in changing the world, or even their immediate surroundings, than before?
I think it depends. Because people can be exposed to a lot more music now, because of the Internet for one, maybe their attentions are just too scattered. They can’t really focus on things. I think that there is so much different music out there that it seems like the fluffy stuff makes tons of money, even today, and so it just gets thrown in people’s faces so much that people don’t ask questions about it, or even think about what the songs are saying. Because there is so much fluffy stuff out there, people just accept it without thinking.

Some artists take the position that "art should be left to the artist and politics should be left to politicians." By, it seems you feel that they can cross over.
I think that they can cross over. The approach that we take is approaching issues in challenging people to think. We always try to publish our lyrics so people can read them. We make cultural references and we make references to certain issues, whether they be environmental or like that, and I would hope people would read them and say "Hmm, I want to learn more about this." Hopefully, that will encourage them to learn more about that and push them along to become more involved in that thing and really make a difference.

Dean, you’re well known for writing Dead Milkmen songs. What’s something that you’ve written on the new album that people will really surprise people?
A lot of it is nicely collaborative. One of the new songs is called "I’ve Got To Get My Numbers Up." Rodney did the lyrics, but I did most of the music. I really like the way it turned out. That’s how we work. We each bring something to the table. It always turns out different when we get the guys involved. That’s the key to our process.

Unlike so many other bands, you guys never really had a big fight or vicious break-up. It seems that you all get along pretty well.
Yeah, we do. We’ve gotten along pretty well over the years. Even when we took a long break, we went to each other’s shows.

That’s interesting because Philadelphia is a famously brusque town. Why have you all not succumbed to that attitude?
That’s a good question. Maybe it’s because we all grew up in suburbs. I don’t know!

Could it be that you’re all just nice guys?
Yeah, we’ve held up. With any group of people, disagreements arise, but it’s not like we’ve ever gotten to not talking with each other or something like that.

What’s the band’s status these days. Are you going to keep recording and playing the occasional show when you can?
That’s where we’re at. We’re gong to continue to write and record new music. We’re going to play as many shows as we can. We’ve got Baltimore and Lancaster coming up.

You also just played in a cemetery! I missed it! What was that show like?
That was an awesome show. It was very stressful. We had to organize it all ourselves. We had to get the sound system together. It turned out great. We had almost 1,000 people there. The rain held off. In the end it was great. You missed a good show!

Ha! Ha! Ha!

Why did you choose to play a cemetery?
Rodney was the mastermind for the show. He’s a big fan of the cemetery. They have a lot of events there. They show horror movies and other things. It’s a beautiful, beautiful place. We wanted to see if we could play a show there and we pulled it off.

Dean, I need your help! I’m a fan of another Philadelphia group, Hall and Oates! But, all the punks laugh at me about it! Dean, I believe that you are a Hall and Oates fan!
I have a Hall and Oates best of record downstairs on vinyl! Ha!

What are the merits of Hall and Oates so that we all may appreciate this wonderful duo.
I mean, they write great songs. They are song craftsmen, if you are a student of that. I can’t say that I listen to them all that much…

What! You’re hanging me out to dry here, Dean!
Well, I do appreciate their talents…