Latest release: Dead City Ruins (Independent)
While many Australian bands struggle to gain a foothold in their own territory, Melbourne rockers Dead City Ruins have been gradually making Europe their own, one hired van at a time. Last year they swept through 13 countries as they played 34 shows opening for Skid Row and Ugly Kid Joe, financing each leg of the tour with merch and CD sales and keeping afloat by not paying for accomodation.
“To tour with Ugly Kid Joe and Skid Row was a dream come true, really,” vocalist Jake Wiffen says, enthusiastically. “Those guys are all amazing, really cool dudes. Not a rock star among them and they really helped us out. The road crew was amazing. The crowds was incredible. We sold a lot of merch, sold out of CDs. We had to get a lot more of them sent to us out on the road. It was just great.”
Wiffen and bassist Mick Quee have been touring and couch-surfing around the world since meeting up in London in 2007 and performing with an early version of the band around Britain. After a year or so of that, the pair decided they’d “been drinking too much and had to come home”. Back in Melbourne, the singer auditioned for guitarist Tommy Teabag’s band but decided to steal him and form his own band instead.
“I got straight into looking for a band and happened to come across an ad,” Wiffen explains. “A kid was looking for a singer for his band, and that turned out to be Tom. I went and tried out, in the middle of nowhere, for this band that he had. As soon as I saw him play, I knew: ‘I gotta steal this guy’.”
In short order, the new Dead City Ruins threw together the eight-track album Midnight Killer to some wild acclaim, recruited experienced metal guitarist Sean Blanchard and headed straight back to Europe for a haphazardly-planned three month tour. Wiffen had only booked a dozen shows before they arrived. They ended up playing 50.
“Our first tour was chaos. Absolute chaos,” he says. “As soon as we started the band, I said, ‘Look, we gotta strike out and get tours’. We gotta strike out in Europe, because metal and rock is just so big over there and there’s so many places to play and people are really supportive of the scene. As soon as we had an album together, I got on the Internet and started booking a tour. I must have sent like 5000 emails, and we decided to go for three months. I think we had maybe twelve shows booked, so we just thought, ‘Stuff it!’ Went over and bought a van and just went door to door man, handing out CDs. Calling people, emailing people, going to every pub we could come across, just begging for shows. That’s kind of how we’ve done everything. No brains, no ideas. Just kicked down doors and hoped for the best.”
Their reckless DIY attitude paid off. Word got out about the tenacious hard-rocking Aussie five piece. Twelve months later they were on their second European jaunt, except this time they were opening for bands like Mastodon, Orange Goblin and Faster Pussycat. Unsigned and unheard of back home, they launched a Pozible campaign to fund a new album before they were in Europe once more, warming up the stage for Ugly Kid Joe and Skid Row, with whom they developed a very healthy rappore.
“They’re all good dudes. We had a lotta laughs on the road,” Wiffen says. “We were trying to teach them to speak in an Aussie accent and they were coming up with some pretty legendary stuff.”
As usual, Dead City Ruins funded themselves while on the road. A kickstarter program paid for their airfares. Merchandise did the rest.
“We sold a lot of merch and pretty much the way we tour is, it’s all at cost,” Wiffen says. “We don’t book any hotels or anything like that. We know we’re going to be able to afford it. We just put a sign on our merch desk that says if you give us a place to sleep, we’ll give you a free shirt or something like that. And we always had somewhere to sleep. The crowds were really good, man. They were really supportive.”
They got on so well with the other bands that when the Americans decided to bring their tour to Australia, Dead City Ruins were invited to be support them here as well. Wiffen says his group are ready to show the visitors a good time.
“It’s just going to be awesome, actually. They’re all pretty keen on seeing a few… seeing Australia through our eyes. We’re gonna take them out to the bush and show them a few things they wouldn’t normally see on their other tours, you know.”
Even though they’ll be in their own backyard this time, the Dead City Ruins touring guidebook will still be in play: don’t pay for hotels.
“We start on the 23rd over in Fremantle. That’s gonna be pretty rad. We’ve actually got some mates over there who play in a band called Chainsaw Hookers, so they’re gonna let us crash on their floor. Because we went over there last year and met a few people over there, so that’s gonna be good. Brisbane – we haven’t got anywhere to sleep, so if anyone can hook us up in Brisbane, we’ll get them a free shirt or maybe the boys will make out with you!”
The tour will be the ideal promotion for their self-titled album, released in March. Dead City Ruins shows a growth and expansion of the rock-solid heavy rock style that the rough-hewn first album only hinted at.There’s a much-developed and more versatile band on display now.
“The new album we really spent a lot of time working on and we all had a bit of input,” the vocalist says. “There’s quite a lot of influences in there from classic rock and classic metal. There’s a bit of Maiden in there and our guitarist is a massive Thin Lizzy fan, so there’s dual solo work. We tried to put it all in a pot and see what we come up with.”
With any luck, Dead City Ruins’ old school rock n’ roll work ethic will pay financial dividends for them one day, but Jake Wiffin is living under no such illusions and holds no pretensions. So far, they’ve achieved everything on their own, in their own way. Three overseas tours in three years, with little help from anyone except their fans. For other bands hoping to do the same, the singer has some advice.
“Don’t do anything the way we did it!” he says with a laugh. “Man, we slept in parks… we blew our first tour van up. Left it in the five-minute parking at some German airport… just got on the plane and flew home! I wouldn’t recommend doing things the way we did it – BUT, in saying that, no one’s gonna help you. Even where we are now, we just did 34 dates in 13 countries with Skid Row and Ugly Kid Joe and looking at out next tour, we’re doing it all ourselves. No one’s gonna help you. You’ve gotta get out there and do it yourself. It all comes down to what you’re willing to do.”
Dead City Ruins will be opening for Skid Row and Ugly Kid Joe on their tour this month:
23/4: Metropolis, Fremantle WA
25/4: Palace Theatre, Melbourne VIC
26/4: Eatons Hill, Brisbane QLD
27/4: HiFi Bar, Sydney NSW