Brooklyn’s Dead Stars Discuss Catchy Hooks, Fuzz Rock and Songcraft
Brooklyn’s fuzziest rockers, Dead Stars, might have opened the 4Knots Music Festival activities early in the afternoon last weekend, but they put on a performance worthy of a headliner. Their set was filled with catchy tunes from their debut full-length LP, ‘Slumber.’
Playing perfect music for one of the sunniest days of the summer, the band did everything it could to ensure that it was the loudest act at 4Knots — perhaps losing out only to headliners Dinosaur Jr.
After Dead Stars finished their performance, we had the chance to catch up with the trio (bassist John Watterberg, drummer Jaye Moore and singer-guitarist Jeff Moore). We chatted about all things rock ‘n’ roll, including their favorite joints to play in Brooklyn, their affinity for vinyl and what the secret is to their catchy tunes (we’ll give you a hint: It’s called “songcraft”).
Sometimes with festival openers, the sets are hit or miss. You guys nailed it today.
Jaye: It was great. At first, you know, you just see some people milling around. Right before we started, everyone gathered up front and it was awesome. I wondered if it was just going to be moms and strollers, but it turned out great.
John: That’s how it goes with these free shows. Anyone can walk up and anyone can walk the hell away. When you have people gather around, it’s really gratifying.
How do you view playing festivals different than playing club shows?
Jeff: Playing outside reminds me of seeing festivals as a kid. It just seems like a bigger deal in a way. You can crank up really loud and the music carries. I’m not saying it’s better, but it’s definitely different.
Jaye: You can actually see the audience, too, as opposed to seeing just the first row or two of people.
John: It’s inspiring.
Jaye: Yeah, you can make eye contact, man!
I’m guessing everyone you talk to at 4Knots makes some vague reference to your sound being similar to Dinosaur Jr. What does it mean to you to share a bill with that band?
Jeff: It’s awesome. We love that band. I don’t think we set out to get compared to them, but one thing I always liked about Dinosaur Jr. is that they’re loud and fuzzy, but they also write great songs and that’s what we strive to do. We try to write really good songs and play really loud. I think that’s where the comparison comes from especially since there’s not a ton of that going on right now. I mean, they’re just as big right now as they ever were.
Jaye: Plus, if you have a Jazzmaster guitar, everyone is just like, “Oh, you must sound like J Mascis.”
Jeff: Two of my favorite bands of all time are Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana. I can’t play with Nirvana, so playing with Dinosaur Jr. is pretty awesome.
John: It comes down to hooks, melody and a catchy chorus. Tell the truth. It goes back to that classic Beatles songcraft.
Jeff: [Laughs] John is determined to say “songcraft” in every single interview.
John: [Laughs] Give us a hook, give us some melody and tell us the truth with a sweet chorus.
‘Slumber’ is definitely a sweet record, one you can listen to start to finish without skipping a track. And, to your point John, it’s catchy as all get out. Between the choruses and fuzzy indie rock sound, it definitely feels like a different brand of music.
Jaye: It’s the kind of music we like, so that’s what we write. We’re not going to write AC/DC or something.
Jeff: I just feel like I can’t write anything unless it sticks in my head. Otherwise, I just think it sucks. I guess that can be a detriment, I don’t know.
Jaye: Then when I start singing back to him, that’s usually a good sign that it’s catchy.
John: And my special lady friend –my wife — she doesn’t know any rock lyrics. But whenever she’s hanging around the house or washing dishes, she’s humming our stuff. You know when she catches it, it’s a catchy song.
Is the writing process collaborative between the three of you?
Jeff: Somewhat. I usually come up with the basic idea and then we get together and decide on arrangements.
Jaye: I tell him how the drums are going to go. [Laughs]
Jeff: We’re not the type of band that sets out to get together and just write. It’s not really like that. Our songs are mostly written on acoustic guitar. That’s the infancy of it. When we get together, the three of us are what make it sound like Dead Stars.
Jaye: My drum style is drawn from the styles of John Bohham and Dave Grohl, very simple. I’m not trying to play like Neil Peart, I mean, even though I can. [Laughs] I choose not to. No one is going to bust out any double bass drums on these songs, you know?
John: That’s what’s funny about being the bassist in this band. Jaye is an afficianodo of the drums, but he dials it back. Jeff is a frontman in the classic sense, he writes the songs and brings them, you know? I just have to accompany both of their styles. I’m standing behind the frontman, in front of the super f—ing drummer, just holding down a rhythm. It’s so much fun.
How does it feel to have your first full-length studio album out to the masses?
Jeff: We’re psyched that it’s out. It feels really good. The response has been good so far. It’s been a long process so we’re just glad it’s finally out.
Jaye: We’re excited to do the next album.
Jeff: Yeah man, we’ve already got like 16 songs for the next record. We just started writing on those this week and going back into the studio in October.
Will the next record have a similar sound?
Jeff: Yeah, pretty much.
John: Yes, we are making crystal meth out of the Sudafed of ‘Slumber.’
Jeff: We’re going to take everything we did on this last record — super fuzzy and minimalist — and do that even more. We want to do everything we really liked on the last record.
John: Pull no punches, cut no corners. Trim the fat.
One of the cooler things about ‘Slumber’ is that you also released it on cassette. Was that your idea?
Jeff: That was the label’s idea. I mean, we were definitely not opposed to it because a lot of our friends have put out tapes. I bought a $10 Walkman so I could actually listen to it. [Laughs] There’s something about a tape that’s cool. If you’re at a show, you can just buy the tape and put it in your pocket.
Jaye: And you get the digital download with it, too.
But you didn’t press this on vinyl, right?
Jeff: No, we were thinking about it. We’re just waiting for more money. [Laughs]
Jaye: It’s expensive, man.
Are you guys fans of vinyl?
Jeff: I am, but I’m actually on this super I-don’t-want-any-possessions kick. I sold all of my vinyl and basically have nothing now.
John: Jeff is in his George Harrison phase.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m just waiting for the zombie apocalypse. When that happens, I’ll pack my bag and I f—ing go.
Jaye: I love vinyl, man. I don’t know if I have a big collection, but I love going down to the record stores. I live in Greenpoint [Brooklyn] and Permanent Records is my favorite store. A lot of times I end up buying s— I already have on CD just to have it on vinyl. The last thing I bought was the new Queens of the Stone Age deluxe vinyl. I’m a big fan of that band.
You all live in Brooklyn. Do you have any favorite venues?
Jeff: I like Union Pool and I also like playing Grand Victory on Grand Street. There’s something about that place that sounds really good. It’s small but I like it.
Jaye: I like Union Pool, too. I’ve got a lot of buddies that work there and they treat us nice.
John: And for me, I mean, they’ve really been working to correct their sound issues, but Radio Bushwick has a really fun local vibe for that community. It’s a lot of fun, man. It’s got a lot of heart. The neighbors keep trying to shut it down, but it’s just so fun and sweet.
And leaving Brooklyn for a moment, you played Alabama last week. How does your sound fit into other areas of the country?
Jeff: It definitely fits everywhere. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of support in Alabama for that sound like Pavement, you know? It translates really well. I think it comes down to if the songs are good and people like rock music, then it’s going to work no matter where you’re at.
John: It’s all about songcraft!
Watch Dead Stars Perform ‘Waste Away’ Live at Diffuser