DROPDEAD by Roger NBH
Interviews

DROPDEAD: 27 years speaking and living by their beliefs

Photo © Roger NBH / 413, isthismyworld.com
DROPDEAD formed officially in January of 1991 in Providence – Rhode Island (Usa). Over the years they’ve played hundreds of shows, recorded two LP’s, several EP’s, toured the USA and Europe numerous times, as well as Australia and Japan. In 2018 they reached our 27th anniversary year still moving forward with fresh energy and ongoing appreciation for the underground DIY community.

The first time I saw the band was many years ago at CSO Dordoni in Cremona (Italy). I was waiting for that moment for over 10 years. They were one of the first hardcore/grind bands that I listened to in my entire life to really care about animal rights, social problems and the environment. During the show I was so stoked to see those mature guys playing with this extraordinary rage and power. One thing that I really appreciate about DROPDEAD is that they continue to be coherent, honest and true after all these years.

I think I met Bob Otis, the singer, that time in Cremona and we have been keeping in touch for years. I have always wanted to ask him a lot of stuff about DROPDEAD and finally I had the chance to do it.

What was the reason you started DROPDEAD?

I was a huge hardcore punk fan at the time and after years of watching all my heroes playing live, the thought got in my head that “hey, I could do that!” “I have an electric guitar and a shitty amp…maybe there are some other weirdos like me that love this music?”

Sure enough…I put a flyer up around town and got an answer from our original and coming up on 30 year drummer Brian Mastrobuono. We became steadfast friends right away and then we got a call from Ben Barnett who also answered the flyer…we met up with him and ended up forming the core of the Dropdead you see today. There was no real master plan at the time…just a bunch of punk rock weirdos with an urge to make some noise.

Did you feel the necessity to write and scream about something particular?

Initially I think we just wrote about things that angered us in general… things that pissed us off like the police, nazis, war, government, apathy, animal abuse… looking back some of it was a little bit punk by numbers as far as writing about a lot of things punk has always written about in general…anti authority subjects and such.

But the things we did write about were really anger provoking issues to us, we were young men full of piss and vinegar and I think we wanted to navigate that through our music. Our early shows were very angst fueled bordering on dangerous. People have always told us they were scared shitless at our gigs which makes me laugh heartily now….

Why did you start playing grindcore / power violence and not another genre?

Those genre names were labels other people called our music. We also got called “Crust” a lot in the early days. We just always though we were just fast “Hardcore Punk”…all of us brought different influences to the table. I was into a lot of Anarcho inspired punk like Icons of Filth, Crass, Discharge, Wretched,etc…

Brian was into a lot of Japanese influences like Gauze, Systematic Death, Outo and such and Ben introduced us to a lot of West Coast bands like No Comment, Crossed Out, Infest etc…I think we just took all of those influences and played our own version of it as fast as we could. Short, angry, loud bursts of  combustible hardcore.

What was your musical background then? 

We didn’t really have one. Brian had played in a garage band or two at that point but neither me or Ben had ever done anything prior other than piss our parents off making a racket in the shed with whatever shitty gear we had. Initially I played guitar and Ben sang when we first started jamming. I think that was only because I had the guitar and amp at the time. We switched off at some point which was the right decision because Ben is a far better guitar player ha ha ha!

You guys started playing together around 1991… how was the underground music scene in those days? 

Providence was not exactly a hardcore punk mecca at the time…we had the begining of a lot of noise rock like Six finger Satellite, Von Ryans Express, and Lightning Bolt but the Punk and Hardcore scene wasn’t very big. Some bands like the Wurst, Furnace, Skinned Alive, and metal bands like Vital Remains, Phlegm, and Facial Defecation. We definitely were the only super political hardcore band in town at that point that I remember. We did start hooking up with bands from out of town like Disrupt from Boston, Deformed Conscious and Sasquatch from CT, Taste of Fear from NYC around that time and became very good friends with all those people. Our very first show was with Born Against, Inflatable Children, Puzzlehead and the Wurst I believe…

Why the choice to talk about Animal rights, social problems and the environment?

As I said earlier I was very influenced personally by many Anarcho Punk bands during that time and bands like Crass and Conflict U.K. opened my eyes (and mind) to things like Animal Exploitation, Vivisection, rising Fascism, Governmental tyranny etc. Their influence got me to want to read more about what was really happening in the world and I discovered authors like Peter Singer and his groundbreaking book “Animal Rights”.

I wanted to expound on those issues and also attack things we were seeing in our own backyard at that time like the start of the US’s excursions and wars in the Middle East. Though I write the lyrics for the band, we all have very similar beliefs and that core of thought was something we wanted to express through our lyrical dissent. We realized early on that we could use our music as a form of protest against what we saw as wrong in society. It’s sad to say most of the things we wrote about almost 30 years ago are still happening today….

Do you think that living in Providence or in general the USA in the 90s inspired you to create a band?

Musically most of the bands that inspired me most were international bands… again the U.K. Anarcho bands, but also bands like BGK and Larm from Holland, Raw Power and the Wretched from Italy, Rattus and Mob 47 from Sweden and Finland etc. But it was also when Bush Sr. came to power and the Gulf Wars were begining…there was a sense of dread and “here we go again” by the majority of politically minded young people at that time. In fact I remember the whole band jumped on a bus and went to join the massive protests in front of the White House because we felt committed to stand against it. I look back at that moment in realizing that our band and our friendship was based around beliefs that have kept us focused and energized for almost 3 decades.

Since you started playing in 1991 the the situation in Europe and the world has changed drastically. We’ve seen the rise of fascist governments, terrorism, and the fear of other religions. Does this effect your view as a musician. How so?

It has certainly fueled my fire of dissent and outrage. It has given us plenty to write about and speak about at our shows. We feel a very strong sense of commitment to communicate and share our philosophies of what we as a band would like the world to be like. I think if anything the world has taken a terrible down turn and the United States and people like Donald Trump and his right wing base of cowardly racists and war hawks have added an extremely volatile fuel to the worlds burning fires of hate. We will continue to speak out, demonstrate and educate as much as we can as a band as what we do we consider to be much more than just playing music. It is a shared philosophy of resistance.

Whats the difference in playing these days compared to the begining of your career?

I think we have pretty much the same DIY philosophy that we have always had… I feel like as older men we now try to have a little more fun with it and try to take time to not just let it be work…but to have some downtime to explore new places, new experiences, food and culture. The early days of touring were a little more urgent with trying to play as many shows in as many places as possible and we never took the time to really enjoy where we were as much, because we would play a show and bam…get back in the van and try to get to another city. The pace is a little slower now and our longevity has enabled us to pick and choose where we go and how we travel a little better. I also think this has enabled us to relax and enjoy the bonding experience of travel and our friendship as a band.

Your live sets are always so energetic and powerful. How important is the connection with your audience?

I think it’s everything. The whole thing is based on being able to get on that stage and communicate to open minded people all over the world who want to hear what we have to say. Most people that come to a Dropdead show are there because they believe in the similar politics and philosophies that we aspire to and it’s our hope that we are supporting them AND motivating them to action against the many destructive and oppressive systems that we speak of . We hope to inspire and ignite that spirit of their rebellion and youth.

DROPDEAD live

I have been following Dropdead since I was a teenager, I’m now 34 years old and I’m pretty excited to see you live again. In your opinion why is your audience so attached to you after all these years?

I like to think it is our integrity, longevity and commitment to what we have always believed in since day one. I hope we motivate and inspire and move peoples hearts. I think people know that after almost 3 decades we are authentic in what we claim to be. As an insider to the band I can tell you that all of us practice what we preach. Outside of the band I work with the disabled, I do animal rescue, I actively attend protests and actions , I do Vegan outreach… I try to walk the walk. Punk isn’t a fashion to me…it is a way of thinking..a way of life. Everyone in the band has their own version of it and practice these ethics in their every day life. I’m super proud to share this experience with these guys…

DROPDEAD

Do you have a particular memory associated with one of your shows? Maybe the coolest one or the worst one?

My favorite things that happen at shows are when people tell us how we changed their life or views and motivated them to make positive change in their life…how they went Vegan because of us or how they have joined Animal rights groups because of what we espouse during our shows. A few years back a young man told us he had joined the world famous SEA SHEPARD under Captain Paul Watson who is a personal hero of mine in the Animal Rights movement. So that was super inspiring to me. We’ve had a lot of wild moments at shows also…a riot in Mexico City, playing a cellar show in North Carolina after our club show got shut down and having so many people show up that the whole room started collapsing around us while we played…we thought we were gonna die. Getting attacked by Nazis in East Germany back in the day and having to break chair legs off to defend ourselves. We have a million stories and I could make a list a mile long. We have a lot of road time. The best thing honestly though is meeting so many beautiful, kind and decent people that we have made life long friendships with…that is really the best aspect of our traveling.

The first time I saw Dropdead was in Italy in 2011 and I had been waiting for you for 10 years. The last time you went to Europe was Sweden in 2017. Do you think you will come back to Europe soon?

Yes, I believe we will. I know we are talking about doing some shows with Infest in the U.K. this summer and hopefully we will get back to mainland Europe (and Italy!) this year. We are currently working on new material and I know we are gonna want to try those songs out on the road as soon as we nail them down!

Talking about records…you released two full lengths  “Dropdead” in 1993 and “Untitled” in 1998 on the Armageddon label. Do you think your view of everyday life ,society or political issues have changed from those albums?

Yes and no…I think our understanding of all of those problems has certainly matured and evolved over time…but the majority of things we wrote in the 90s are still happening if not accelerating since that time. I think whats happening on our planet is more dire than ever and if anything my message is more urgent than ever before. We are living in extremely dangerous and uncertain times…

Dropdead released a lot of splits with amazing bands. Are you related to one of them in particular?

Each one has a particular memory or good feeling about it at the time…but two of my favorites were the Totalitar and Ruidosa Inmundicia splits because I love both bands so much and I like the material on those records. The Crossed Out split also is a favorite.

If you had a chance to release a split with a band who would it be and why?

Many years ago we were going to do a split with Los Crudos and our side of the recording didn’t really come out the way we wanted so it got scraped. I have a huge amount of respect for those guys and have always wished we could have a do over. I would love to do a split with the Doom boys because I just love those guys…but if I could bring a band back from the dead it would have to be CRASS for me because they were just such a huge influence on my life. Conflict U.K. would also be up there as would Gauze from Japan.

DROPDEAD live in Texas

Your last split is from 2013 with Ruidosa Inmundicia… Are you planning any other releases (like an EP or split) are you working in new material?

We are currently busy writing all new material and have close to a dozen new songs in the works. I think the hope is potentially a whole album worth of material. We also have the Discography II album that will hopefully see release this year with a bunch of unreleased and remixed songs and some covers that have never been released. There has also been talk of re releasing the Dropdead / Crossed out 5 inch as a 7 inch but that remains to be seen at this moment.

Musically speaking will the new songs  be in the ordinary fast and aggressive Dropdead style or are you thinking of trying a new approach?

The new songs are blisteringly fast and brutal with many influences from Swedish and Japanese hardcore to more traditional American fastcore. I think they are some of our most mature work yet and if you are a Dropdead fan you will be extremely happy. I’m diggin it!

Can you please tell us something more about the new songs?

Writing wise there will be much subject matter about what is happening in the USA with the rise of Donald Trumps right wing government, the erosion of human rights, media manipulation and propaganda and a very heavy Animal rights message. It will NOT be a happy record…

You are one of the first grindcore / powerviolence bands formed on the East Coast, after all this time are there any new bands that inspire you?

I’d be lying to say I’m super plugged in to a lot of newer bands these days… I like a lot of the political 80s classics when I listen to hardcore at home. My last real modern music “crush” was on Ruidosa Inmundicia who I’m a huge fan boy of… I’d love to actually be turned on to some newer music in the same vein…I discover most of my new music when we get out on the road and tour.

Can you please give some advice to any young musician or any band that wants to play grindcore?

I would say believe in yourself and your music…don’t compromise and be true to the vision that you want it to be. Don’t follow any trends or fashions…make music that speaks to you. The rest will follow…

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DROPDEAD: 27 years speaking and living by their beliefs
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