Interview: Dropdead

I wanted to progress to be honest with you and more than that, I wanted the words to be heard, especially on this record, especially at this time.

Since their emergence in the early 90s, Dropdead have always brought out music that is vital, brimming with passion amd hungry for change and nothing has changed in that respect as we have got to the present day with the band bringing out their new album Dropdead 2020. Gavin Brown caught up with Dropdead vocalist Bob Otis to talk about that new album as well as the recently re-release collections of the band’s early work, musical influences, their firm anti-fascist stance and the state of the world at this time in an informative conversation.

E&D: You’ve just released the Dropdead 2020 album. Are you pleased with how the album has been received?        

Bob: I don’t tend to read a ton of reviews to be honest with you, but I did check it out, out of curiosity and every one that I’ve read has been good. I mean, I’m more worried about what I think of it and I’m very proud of it. I think it’s a solid record and a good comeback record. It represents who we are as people in 2020 so I’m psyched about it.

E&D: How did the recording of the album go and was it all done pre-pandemic?

Bob: We started doing it prior to that and it’s just that we’ve been writing songs for a while. Usually that’s in Ben’s court, as far as music goes, he writes most of the riffs and when he’s ready to rock, we’re all ready to rock and we build around it. As far as the recording went we went up to God City in Salem, Massachusetts to work with Kurt from Converge and that went smooth as butter. I mean, the guy’s a great friend of ours, It’s like recording what a brother. Out of anybody in the band, I probably stressed the most cause I hate doing vocals. My vocals have changed through the years, you know, I mean, it’s been 30 years since our first album and you know, your voice develops and has highs and lows, and this is how it came out on this record.

E&D: Are you still pleased with your vocals, even though as you said, they’ve changed, especially after that amount of time?

Bob: You know, to be honest with you, as we are as people, my voice has changed through the years as we’ve changed as people and this is how I wanted to approach it. A lot of my influences personally are bands like Crass, Icons Of Filth, the whole anarcho movement from England really, really motivated me when I was a young person to want to be in a band so I approached this music for this record and It sounded more anarcho than anything we’ve ever done before, some of the songs. I kind of sang it in that way, like Icons Of Filth would sing it or Conflict UK, more of a controlled shout. That’s what I felt on this album. I got a little screaming here and there but you know, I wanted to progress to be honest with you and more than that, I wanted the words to be heard, especially on this record, especially at this time.

E&D: How was the experience of working with Kurt Ballou on the record?

Bob: Very easy. Him, and all the guys who work with him are easygoing guys. They’re all very similar in politics and they’re all vegans. We get along great and they’re like our extended family. Kurt’s like a big brother to me, he’s a really good guy to work with. He’s easy. I’ve worked with people in the past that were a little aggressive in their approach or whatever and he’s really mellow guy, if you fuck up the song or whatever, he’s  like, Just do it again. Very, very easy and a good guy to work with.

E&D: You would obviously work with him again?

Bob: I can’t see not working with him to be honest with you because he’s just such a part of the band at this point, and he really understands the sound we’re going for and what we want to represent through that sound, so he’s the guy.

E&D: On the album, you’re still rallying against the fascist state and injustice. Do you think things are even worse at the moment and do you think things can truly get better at all in the future?

Bob: I think things are horrifying, especially the United States right now with Donald Trump leading the charge under the guise of white power, supremacy, whatever you want to call it. He’s not outright saying it, but he sure as hell is acting it. I’ve never seen a moment like this in my entire life in American politics where the cockroaches of white supremacy are out in the open now. You’re seeing Nazi flags in American cities flying right next to Trump flags. It’s truly a horrific moment and I’m hoping everybody who is on the left or even even in the middle or whatever you want to call it, everyone’s crossing their fingers that this election is going to change things, but no one knows yet. We are actively fighting against it, going to protest and all sorts of stuff, but the country’s still varying to the right in a very negative way. We’re going to see what happens in this next election. It’s a scary, scary moment, not just for the United States, but for the world, if we tilt the other way.

E&D: With your anti fascist stance, have you had any opposition from the far right, online or whatever?

Bob: Once in a while, I don’t put too much credence in anything that happens online because the trolls are  at work. We’ve been attacked, especially for our veganism, for our stance on it, and against Trump and stuff like that but that’s just the nature of the internet. I haven’t had anyone physically come at me in the last few years or anything like that, but I’ve definitely seen it have protests and stuff I’ve gone to in marches. I mean, definitely, they’re there, they’re out in the open, the racists are showing and, and I just think that Trump is empowering them to act stupid, openly and dangerous.

E&D: Especially when he’s the one endorsing that behaviour. Going back to the music, Dropdead are going to be releasing a few discographies on Bandcamp, covering the early 90s to 2013 next month. Was that to collect all the music in one place and how was it looking back on that?

Bob: I think Ben had the idea to release a bunch of our old stuff because we were listening to it and we talked back and forth, especially me and Ben and I don’t think he was ever a hundred percent psyched about some of the recordings. We recorded at different places through the years and there were wrong speeds on some of the recordings. Some of it was wonky and it didn’t really represent what we know we sound like now, so I think he wanted to really give a kick in the ass to all that stuff, especially with the new album coming out to kind of back that all up and represent us in 2020 the way we really sound and who we are now.

E&D: The 1990 to 1993 album has been brought in its original form produced by Don Fury. How was it working with a legendary producer like him?

Bob: You know, I think if I worked with Don now, my attitude would be different. I was younger when we worked on that first album and he was like I mentioned earlier, some producers have a different charm or way that they approach you. Don, he pushed me a lot and I don’t think at that age I was a person that really took that well. I remember going in there and saying one of the first songs, I can’t really sing that one that well and he made me sing it over and over and over and over again, instead of letting me do it later on in the session because he wanted it his way. It did work out because that album is considered a classic by a lot of people’s standards now but at that point in my life, I didn’t enjoy that recording experience to be honest with you. I think he approached things differently than some of the other guys, like Bill Miller, who was real mellow and Kurt who’s a super sweetheart. He was a little more aggressive and I didn’t really appreciate it at that time of my life, when now I would just take it with a grain of salt.

E&D: Did you always want to remaster the rest of the material when you brought it out again?

Bob: I think Ben wanted to modernize it and really make it sound 2020 so a lot of that was his idea and if I have any questions, I’ll bring it up with him but I let him lead the charge, man because he’s usually right!

E&D: You mentioned Crass and Icons Of Filth earlier, are you still influenced as much today, by bands like them and Discharge, Anti Cimex and SSD as you were?

Bob: Yeah. whenI go to my music collection, there’s a bunch of new stuff that I do listen to but I really tend to find my sweet spot with all the old bands. As a matter of fact, Ben,  who owns the Armageddon shop got me a reissue of the Icons Of Filth Onward Christian Soldiers cos I lost that over the years and I was so psyched to get it again! I love all the anarcho movement, all the original bands. I know some people are huge Discharge fans. I love Discharge too, but the bands that moved me were Icons Of Filth, Crass, Conflict, all the original wave of anarcho stuff and that’s what motivated me to get into the band. That’s what motivated me to want to speak through music so that’s all my favorite stuff.

E&D: With the anarcho thing, was there an anarcho punk scene in America and in Providence where you were and growing up?

Bob: I would say, not in Providence, there probably was a band or two that I can’t recall from Boston. A lot of it was very straight edge or real like kind of macho hardcore coming out from the Boston scene, but through the United States, there were definitely pockets of bands that were doing things out in Oregon, and there was Nausea from New York City. There were definitely bands doing it. I don’t think a lot of people would definitely consider us anarcho in any way, even though that’s where our politics leaned, you know, definitely left leaning. I don’t think our music represented that at first, maybe by the second album, when some gallops started happening and there was a little more anarcho sounding but souped up. That was all the stuff that motivated me and inspired me to be honest and it still does. I still listen to it.

E&D: You have also cited Swans as an influence on the band. Was it the sheer physicality of the music that inspired Dropdead?

Bob: I would say, yeah, the largeness of it, the mood, the movement of it, the brutality of it, especially ‘Cop’, ‘Raping A Slave’, all that era is moving at a slow pace. It’s just so sonic. When we say we’re inspired by it, it is not necessarily the music itself, but the sound of it and the brutality of it, we want it to have that in our music. I think, especially nowadays with the gear we have, if you come to see Dropdead, you definitely going to get blasted! I was fortunate enough to see Swans on the Children Of God tour in Boston way back in the day and people were walking out of the building because it was just so absolutely fucking sonic that it hurt your teeth and I was just watching people walk out, but I thought it was amazing! I was like, man, if I’m ever in a band, we can do that!

E&D: It’s obviously all still up in the air at the moment but when things start to sort of go back to normal, have you got any tentative touring plans to support the new record?

Bob: We want to get out there and obviously tour, we want to play again. The only thing we have coming up right now is, a good friend of ours from the band Landmine Marathon, he just had a liver transplant, he’s in the middle of it and he needs some help medically so I think a bunch of bands are getting together and we’re going to record at a local club and do a live set, a bunch of bands around the country are going to do that and put some money forward to his bills to help a brother out, but we don’t have any plans right now and until this clears up and there is an actual cure or something, a band-aid to make this better, you know, unless it was some kind of a live show outside with serious social distancing, I can’t imagine anybody playing right now safely. Things seem to get pushed back father and father, and I keep seeing these big festivals being set up for 2021 or whatever, and even now it remains to be seen, they’ve got a long way to go and people don’t seem to realize that we’re not even in the middle of this yet, I don’t think personally.

E&D: How important is it in 2020, the DIY aspect of hardcore and your music?

Bob: I mean, I don’t know how anybody else does it. I know bands get on labels or whatever, but it always seemed like we were able to do it ourselves so why give that power over there to anybody else, from the artwork to putting a message out there to actually selling the album, when we can do it and Ben is really good at it, he’s got his own label and he’s got his own record shop. I think whatever works for people is what you should do. For us, It’s always been DIY and that’s where we came from. When we first started, all the punk bands were doing it DIY, I mean, there were a few bands trying to get on a major label that’s for sure but they weren’t in the same realm as we were, because that wasn’t important to us, so the DIY thing is just the way we do things and we don’t know how to do any other way. That’s just who we are.

E&D: Next year marks thirty years since Dropdead formed and played your first gig, are you planning to do anything to mark that anniversary?

Bob: We talked about it a bunch of times and we would have probably got a couple of  the bands that each of us like and done a big thing. We were talking about coming over to the UK and doing stuff with a bunch of bands that we know over there and going on the road, but again, at this point, I don’t know what we can do. I think everything’s going to be delayed or to be continued. I don’t really know. No one knows.

E&D: It’s a just a wait and see sort of situation?

Bob: Yeah, it’s wait and see at this point. I mean, to be honest with you, man, everybody over here is waiting for one thing, this election, to see if the world ends. I believe that we could actually have a civil war in this country, thats how serious things are. I think that things are so agrro right now, one way or the other that depending on who gets in here it’s going to change the country.

E&D: It’s like a powder keg at the moment.

Bob: It really is, and it’s a dangerous moment and anybody who doesn’t see that isn’t seeing through clear eyes and it’s very scary to be honest with you. We’ll wait and see what happens. We’ll wait to see if Trump says that he doesn’t accept the results of the election, we’ll wait to see what happens if he loses, if there’s going to be an armed resistance. It’s really a crazy, crazy moment.

E&D: Going back to the bands early days, does it feel like thirty years has gone past since you first started and what are your main memories of the early years?

Bob: You know, there are days it feels like it took forever to get here and there are other days you look back and you really have a memory and it seems like it was yesterday. Time is an illusion and it’s a weird thing, you know Depending on what day I get up out of bed, it feels different all the time. There are definitely times where I feel the years and I realize how long we’ve actually been doing it compared to a lot of bands. I’m pretty proud of that to be honest with you, even more than the band, but the philosophy in the friendship that we’ve established, we’ve had our ups and downs, man, we fought like cats and dogs. We were brothers so to just even carry that relationship this long and still love each other and still respect each other is a thing, so I’m proud of the time we put in and I’m proud of what we hopefully have established and represented people.

E&D: With live gigs, are there many in the thirty years that stand out in particular as being memorable and do you have good memories of playing over in the UK, I know you’ve played at Chimpyfest and in London a bunch of times and toured across the country?

Bob: We always love coming to the UK. We have so many friends over there. The Leeds scene, the Bradford people, London, Ireland, Scotland. We have a lot of friends there, so I love t and every time we go over, it’s a memorable moment. Chimpyfest, the last thing we played there was fucking awesome. We have a lot of memories, going back with Sned from Health Hazard and 1 in 12 club, we love all of that. As far as memories on the road. I mean, man, it’s all jumbled together at this point, but things that stood out to me, the first time we played Tokyo we played with Gauze and that was an absolutely astonishing moment that we were playing back to back with a band of that stature, that to us were giants of the hardcore scene. In the middle of our set, people were just going absolutely berserk and all of a sudden one of the Gauze guys, who’s a real intimidating looking dude came out with a little tea set and he put tea right on the stage and served us tea in the middle of of our set! I was like, that was just the coolest moment to me, I was too intimidated to even go talk to the guy because he was older than me and he looked like a tough dude but also that he was such a nice guy in the middle of that magic moment of playing a place that I never ever thought that I would ever get to, you know? That was a standout to me. I mean, I got a million moments like that. I’ve been a very fortunate man. I don’t take it for granted, you know, but a lot of hard work is going into, and a lot of sleeping on floors and relationships fucking up and losing jobs and everything else that comes with it, if you’re going to stick it out for this long.

E&D: What have been some of your other proudest moments in your time with Dropdead?

Bob: They always come in more subtle moments, like when I get a letter from a guy who tells me that he went vegan or one guy who joined the sea shepherd because of what Dropdead had to say and those are moments that really mean a lot to me, that we moved somebody enough to make a shift in their life and choose something that we really, really believe in. You know, it’s the closest thing to a religion that I have is representing. I don’t believe in God or anything, but I believe in this philosophy that we can be better people and we can do better for the planet and animals and when somebody accepts that in their own way and they feel moved enough to actually write us and explain their experience. That’s my favorite part of it. I know that we’re doing something right, and we’re doing something that’s decent, and that’s the most important thing for me as the lyricist and what I’m trying to represent my philosophy. That means a lot to me.

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