Saturday, February 21, 2009

IN CAHOOTS: The Dexateens

In Cahoots is a reoccuring feature here at Saints Don't Bother where we chat with various artists and bands. This past week, we caught up with John Smith, one of the vocalists and guitarists in The Dexateens, who will be at Barley's on Saturday night with Lucero. Since they are on the road, we emailed back and forth some questions, answers and random tidbits about the South, music and college football. See what you think, and check'em out!

SDB: Knoxville is really excited about y'all's upcoming show with Lucero at Barley's this weekend! I'm pretty sure that y'all have played here, but I have actually never seen y' I am super excited about the show! Tell our readers (and me) what to expect from a Dexateens show if they have never seen y'all.

JS: First off, we played the Greater Metro Knoxville-land area (Maryville) in 2007 and it was a TERRIBLE show, so we're hoping to redeem ourselves in east TN this weekend. We have guitars, bass and drums and a lot of singing/hollering. We try to maintain a healthy balance of Black Flag, Blackfoot and Black Oak Arkansas. Sometimes there's a little bit of Black Dice in there at the end of songs too.

SDB: Y'all are no strangers to the road and touring, and have been playing in bands for years. Any surprises or stories that you are dying to share from the road? Any anecdotes from the road? What are some of your favorite cities and venues to play?

JS: We were attacked by a werewolf in Athens, Georgia. He left a teal blue polo shirt behind that we kept as a protective talisman. Elliott replaced the fuel pump in a 1985 Chevy Silverado at the side of the road in Mississippi using a socket set, a swiss army knife and cussin. I fractured my skull in two places in High Wycombe, UK (two places in my head, not two places in High Wycombe). A founding member had a recurring dream that his poop turned into a fish. I could go on and on!

Regarding cities and venues, The Chukker in Tuscaloosa was always the best. It was like the Ryman Auditorium of scuzz-rock and other weird music. Everyone had played there--from the Replacements to Eugene Chadbourne to Sun Ra-- but absolutely anyone could get on a Tuesday night bill. For years it was the only place that would book us. They also paid bands like eleven bucks. The upside of that came later on when we thought we were Led Zeppelin because someone paid us triple figures at the end of the night. We thought we needed a metal briefcase and a set of handcuffs. Thanks, Chukker!

Martin's in Jackson, Mississippi is always an excellent time. I don't know why they're so nice to us but they always are. This is extra good because the Martin's crowd are brutal hecklers. We played there one night with a band from LA who had just come off a string of opening slots with some huge arena rock tour. Nice guys and a fine band, by the way. But they had some kind of paper lanterns strung up on stage and people just kept yelling for "More ambience! Turn up the ambience!" between songs. That kind of considered criticism stings more than a simple "you suck!" That's what makes Martin's special, I think.

SDB: You are no stranger to the road yourself, John. You lived in Ohio and now in Nashville. Both are a considerable distance to Tuscaloosa where the rest of the guys live in Alabama. How does that work out exactly? That seems like that would be difficult to be that far apart from the band, and still be able to be a prominent member of the band.

JS: Well, Nashville's pretty easy. Ohio was a bad commute. But everyone's scattered now--only two of us live in the same town. Being so diffuse has forced us to be innovative in our use of precious band time. For example, we have eliminated practicing. How much does it really help anyway? You learn by doing, right?

SDB: I'll be honest- I am a newer fan of the Dexateens and am still learning your discography and history. However, I have seen y'all's name around for a few years, and have heard y'all in passing previously. Tell me, and the readers, what y'all are about, and a quick history of the band. (For a more detailed and entertaining version, see their myspace:

JS: Capsule version:
--wanted to be the Ramones
--wanted to be The Quadrajets
--wanted to be the MC5
--wanted to be Tim Kerr
--wanted to be Beefheart
--wanted to be Tim Kerr again
--wanted to be AC/DC and Palace at the same time
--major lineup shift 2004
--wanted to be Stones circa Emotional Rescue
--major lineup shifts 2007-8
--back to wanting to be Quadrajets.

SDB: Lucero is a great band that has been around for a long time. How did y'all get hooked up with them? Did they pick y'all out for some of this tour? Tell us why y'all like them and what to expect from them.

JS: I'd guess someone in our circle called in a favor or someone in their circle lost a bet. However it happened, we are delighted to know those gentlemen. They are the actual, factual Real Deal. I've never seen anything like the audiences at their shows. All that hooey you hear from people like Jimmy Page about bands "giving and receiving energy" at shows ACTUALLY HAPPENS at Lucero shows. And no theremin/violin bow solos!

SDB: What's the 2009 plan for the Dexateens after these February tour dates?

JS: We have a new record called Singlewide coming out in the Summer sometime. Past that I really don't know but i'm sure we'll play out as much as possible and do another record. A lot depends on what kinds of things become available, like opening slots for bigger bands. We're pretty much waiting by the phone, wondering if anyone will ask us to prom this year...

SDB: The Dexateens have several albums spanning the last 5 years. But y'all put out your latest album, Lost and Found, for free on your website. Why did y'all do that? What has the response been to this so far, and how has this affected your record sales?

JS: We didn't have a way to put those songs out. Any by "way," I mean "any money." Plus, it's only about 24 minutes long, which is a brutal ripoff for $12.99. I'm a big fan of the "take it, leave what you think it's worth" model. Granted, it has more immediate tangible benefits if you're Radiohead, but it's a fine idea for us on the micro-scale, too. I really think everything is going in this direction, or at least I hope it is.

We've sold a modest number of records since 2004. People have downloaded (or torrented or whatever) those same records at a rate of 2 or 3 to 1 over "legit" sales. With Lost and Found I felt like we were just streamlining the process and giving people the option to pay as their consciences and enjoyment of the record dictate. It's a ringing affirmation of the essential decency of the Dexateens-listening public! Or something like that!

SDB: How is Lost and Found different from your previous records? How does it carry on the Dexateen sound and continue in the same sound that y'all were founded on?

JS: It's shorter! And free (see above)! It's pretty similar, really. If you like the previous two records, you'll probably like Lost and Found. A lot of the songs on these records were written at around the same time so there's a certain consistency. I sing a lot, but everyone says Elliott and I sound alike so that's not particularly striking either. There are more Dexateens Slow Jams for close dancing and romance than on previous releases. Seriously.

SDB: Who else/what are some of your biggest influences, and what did you take from them?

JS: Well, between the five of us we like nearly everything there is to like. Of course, anyone playing the kind of stuff we do has to contend with the whole Stones/CCR/Burrito Bros/Crazy Horse axis, but that's so pervasive that it's more like a vocabulary than an infuence anymore. It's like a fish being "influenced" by water. There is a small but growing faction of DLR-era Van Halen loyalists in the band who are working to skew the music in that direction.

SDB: How did y'all's homebase of Tuscaloosa affect the musical interests of you and the rest of the group when y'all were forming and shaping the sound and feel of the Dexateens? How did the town react to your sound, especially a town not known for its musical lineage?

JS: They HATED us and we richly deserved it. We always has a couple dozen friends who came to throw beer at us and such, but we were pretty awful for a long time. Fun awful, but awful. The good bands in and around Tuscaloosa (DTs, Penetrators, DC Moon) played stuff we couldn't touch technically or genre-wise, so we latched on to the Quadrajets as our polestar. In an unrelated story, the Quadrajets broke up shortly thereafter.

SDB: Who do we need to know about that is coming out of the Tuscaloosa scene now that we should look into, so we can say that the Dexateens told us so before they were big? ...or anybody else for that matter...

JS: Go to and they will tell you EVERYTHING about Tuscaloosa music, etc.

SDB: Besides already having a handful of albums, and without blowing your showmanship secrets and giving away surprises for the show, are y'all playing any covers, older lesser played songs or do anything in particular to surprise the crowd with that "Oh, Wow! I can't believe they are doing that" feeling and moment? Any treats that y'all will be serving up to Knoxville?

JS: There is often an "Oh, Wow! I can't believe they are doing that" sentiment at our shows. It's followed closely by an "Oh, Wow! I can't believe they won't stop doing that" feeling. We do a Gordon Lightfoot cover. I'm not sure if that qualifies as a treat, but it's a fact. For a band at our level of obscurity, it doesn't really work to bust out a "deep cut." They are ALL deep cuts for 95 percent of the audience. But we have been playing more of the loud/fast stuff lately.

SDB: Just a couple more questions for ya... What's your favorite thing about performing live?

JS: The beginning. To swipe (some more) from Paul Westerberg, it's always "one more chance to get it all wrong." And I don't mean that in some "beautiful loser" kinda way either. It's the mistakes that make shows good half the time.

SDB: Do you have a favorite song to play live, and if so what is it and why?

JS: I like the ones we don't know we're going to play until we're doing it. These are usually bad Stooges covers.

SDB: Do you have a favorite song that you've written? If so why and is it the same as your favorite one to play live?

JS: "Still Gone" on that first Estrus record. I like it because it's got a nice KISS-style riff and a fully functioning middle section. It's tended to be total crap live so we don't do it much...

SDB: Is there a song out there that you love that you didn't write and wish you had?

JS: A gajillion of em! I love songs. That sounds stupid, but what I mean is that I tend to fixate more on songs than bands in my old age. I love all radio hits of a certain period bracketed roughly by "Patches" and, say, "Straight Up." I'll take Neil Diamond over Neil Young every time. Sorry.

SDB: What are 5 artists/records that you've been digging on lately that you might suggest to our readers? Or a few records from 2008 that we need to know about?

JS: Micachu and the Shapes
Vulture Whale
Mt. St. Mtn. (pronounced "mount saint mountain")
Turf War

Micachu certainly doesn't need my help to raise her profile, but it's good stuff that's new to me. The other bands are regional (AL, GA) and are awesome. Seek them out.

SDB: Ok- I know that y'all are Alabama football fans. We are Tennessee football fans here, so I gotta ask- Who's the better coach- Nick Saban or Lane Kiffin?

JS: I prefer Kirk as a character but the scripts for Picard are consistently superior. A draw.

SDB: Saban or the Bear? (dumb question, I know)

JS: If Saban somehow acquired Kryptonite, I'd say even odds. We were discussing a hypothetical Thunderdome-style death match, right?

SDB: What's the word on new UT Coach Kiffin down there in Crimson Land?

JS: Keep in mind I'm in Nashville, so I can't really say...Sorry.

SDB: Who's hotter: Saban's wife (is he even married?) or Kiffin's wife? (that's what I thought!)

JS: Based on a quick Google image search, they are two lovely women with widely divergent wardrobes.

SDB: Lastly, my fellow blogger "Davy Vegas" and I have a theory that the single greatest sound on the face of the earth is that of a well-played steel guitar. Is this a theory you can support or do you have other thoughts on the subject?

JS: I'm guessing neither you nor Davy Vegas are married. If you were, you'd know the correct answer: The single greatest sound on the face of the earth is the voice your sweet, precious wife telling you she loves you. Right Honey?

Find more on the Dexateens here.


LD said...

Hey man, great interview. Love the Dexateens. Just wanted you to know that I linked to this at my blog, The Adios Lounge ( Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

simply dropping by to say hey