Latest release: Wake Up Call (Roadrunner)Website: www.theoryofadeadman.com
Canadian rock band Theory of a Deadman will finally be gracing our shores at the end of this week. Their first ever tour here see them in support of their latest and sixth album Wake Up Call, an apt title. The album is completely different to previous releases but in a good, maturing way. Given that over the years nine of their songs have climbed up into the Top Ten of the US rock charts, they can pretty much do whatever they like at this point. To do so and have it also work on all fronts is a masterstroke. Loud Online caught up with guitarist Dave Brenner shortly before the four piece prepared to hop on a plane and head to Australia.
You’re finally turning up in Australia, which is great. The latest album, Wake Up Call is certainly a departure from previous material. How is it going over live?
We’ve been touring it and playing material form it live for quite a few months now in both the States and even in some European countries and the UK. So far the new stuff has been going over great, live and I almost feel like it is down to the simplicity. It just comes across so purely live. It is weird because when we play a song like ‘Echoes’ and instead of running tracks for things like piano and stuff like that which we’ve done in the past, now Tyler [Connolly – vocalist] is just playing it. It is really just coming across sonically and that is maybe just because of the one guitar as opposed to both of us playing guitars. The new stuff has really been coming across great.
I was wondering how you might change the arrangements and instrumentation for the live scenario.
I almost feel like it has given us a more dynamic audio and visual approach because we’ve got a lot more piano and truly, a lot less guitar on the new record. So, any of the new stuff means we really don’t need two of us playing guitars. If it is just me playing guitar then that leaves Tyler open to just walk around with a microphone or get on the piano and do some stuff. I think that visually people have liked seeing the different look from the front of the stage. I also think that us, as the band, we’ve really been enjoying just having a new challenge of a different set up with the piano.
Are you bringing along acoustic guitars along with the electrics?
I’ve been using an acoustic guitar for ‘Rx (Medicate)’ live but that’s just so far. I did have one PRS guitar that has a piezoelectric pickup in it that I use for a few other songs as well. But so far, it has just been for ‘Rx (Medicate)’ that I have been using and I think it is the first time that I have used a full sized acoustic guitar in the fifteen years that we have been touring. So, that is pretty cool.
The song ‘Glass Jaw’ has a bit of a Muse vibe to it. Would you agree?
Yeah, I would and we actually referenced them at one point in the studio. I honesty am not super familiar with them but one the guys referenced them when we were doing that song saying, ‘What if we went with this kind of guitar tone?’ and so he played a few references. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do something like that’ and interestingly enough that you’ve picked up on that because that was definitely something that we discussed.
Also, the song after it, ‘Po Mouth’ has a tiny snippet of a guitar solo near the end.
Yeah, that’s right and actually Tyler did that little part of the solo. Somebody suggested something that doing a solo at the end of the song might work. There were quite a few different parts that were recorded there and that ended up being a case of going back to the very thing that he recorded and we ended up going with it. Yeah, a tiny little bit of a solo and that is probably the only solo or little lead guitar part on the whole record.
Indeed. How would you say the song writing has changed for the band over the years?
Well I think that for this record Tyler spent a lot more time writing on the piano than he did on guitar which I think is evident when you listen to the record. I think it was cool for him because it gave him a different approach. When you’re a guitar player, if you play chords over and over again you just go to those fingerings. So it is not so natural to go to play some weird, say G minor seventh augmented chord but with piano you might come up to those notes accidentally all the time. So I think it was cool for him to just sort of write like that and to not be worried about it.
The entire band does backing vocals so when you’re writing a chorus, do you regularly consider how backing vocals might play into it?
Not necessarily from the writing approach. Really, we only worry about it in the studio when it comes to what is best for the song. I think that afterwards is when we start figuring out how to make it sound the best live. But in the studio, you might say, ‘Hey, let’s all sing in the chorus because it sounds better than just one’ and so we tend to go like that.
Do you have any say in production process of this album or was it just Martin [Terefe – producer] and Tyler on this occasion?
Oh no, I mean, we have some say in it. It was a very different situation this time than what we are used to, where we’ve been in the studio and had techs and stuff like a dozen guitars with a bunch of different stuff. But with Martin it was different as there were two or three guitars there and the strings were thirty years old. It was just a different set up from what we are used to. We largely left it up to them and when they had an idea, we were more than happy to try anything. We were also more than happy to say if we didn’t like something.
What sort of guitars were you using on this album?
I wish I could remember the model of what I was using but there was a really cool Gretsch guitar that I used for most of the electric guitar stuff. It was a Silver something that I cannot recall. I am not a gear aficionado guy, just so you know, fair warning. Ha ha. There was also a Fender Telecaster that we use a couple of times. I brought along my Gibson Les Pauls with me which I mainly only used for overdub parts so they didn’t get too much use. So yeah, not a lot of different guitars. But the acoustic guitar was a Guild acoustic guitar and oh, it sounded so good. We recorded it in this big open room and played it. At times, it was so weird because on this record you can actually hear the guitars are out of tune at times. In the past we would have never let that fly but Martin was just so cool because for Joey [Dandeneau], our drummer, who has such a good ear for tuning, it would eat him alive and he be saying, ‘Oh, I can’t stand that’ but Martin would say, ‘No, no, doesn’t bother me’. I loved that because I felt like in the past it had gotten to the point where you were trying to make it sound so perfect that it doesn’t sound human anymore. It is cool to hit a chord and hear it be out of tune a little bit because they hit it, you know, instead of it just being brushed so lightly so that everything stays perfectly in tune. It was kind of fun to be capturing the vibe of each song as opposed to just trying to nail everything technically perfectly.
Understood. Do you have a similar organic approach to amplifiers to get your sound?
I do, yeah. I play through an Orange amplifier. I’ll use Rockerverb 100 amplifiers [100 watt] live. I actually use them because I would say that they are simple like my guitar style and I love that they have only six knobs on the front of it and that it is made to just do one thing. I just let it do that and I don’t use a tonne of pedals either you know, I’ve got a wah pedal, a tremolo pedal and a delay pedal. There is not a lot of stuff but I definitely like the organic side. I like my Gibson Les Paul Juniors with the P90s pickups. That is just the kind of guy that I am.
Cool. Theory of a Deadman has toured with Mötley Crüe, Alter Bridge and Stonesour, amongst others. What live techniques have you picked up from watching bands of that calibre?
Oh man, yeah, I am just a sponge when we go out on tour like that. Every day is like, you know, a lesson and I think it is true of those guys too. Everyone can learn from each other. I mean, I guess from Mötley Crüe, Nikki Sixx was so gracious and on the first week of touring with them has asked us to come and meet with them, he gave us all a bottle of booze and a signed copy of his book and told us that we were a really important part of the tour and how valuable we were to them and is anybody was to mistreat us to bring it up with him. I thought that was really cool to see somebody who has been doing this for so long to still take a hands-on approach and to really make sure that the bands they were touring with were happy and were being looked after. You know, I always love seeing things like that. For me it doesn’t so much some down to the lessons in what people do live because everybody is doing what they are doing and just let people be who they are but it was cool to just see in the personality that, you know, even through all these years to not be jaded and to still want to look out for the young, baby bands.
Being on the soundtrack to the 2002 film Spiderman with the song ‘Invisible Man’ helped the band’s profile grow immensely. Is doing soundtracks a worthwhile activity and something that you’d entertain again given that the band’s sound has changed?
Oh yeah, I love that kind of thing and as a fan of music I used to come across things by chance just because you’d get a soundtrack and all of a sudden there would be a song that was by a band that you’d never heard of and you’d love it and that would be that. But, ah, we are always open for that kind of stuff be it soundtracks, video games or any of that stuff.
What can fans expect in the set list for the tour that is coming to Australia?
Well it is tough now because we’ve got six records. I would say that we’ve starting covering stuff from the first two records more and playing a lot more from the other records too. I don’t know if we’re going to change it a bit, that would be interesting to know what songs are in the top audio streams to try to hit some stuff that will make people happy. But, we haven’t really put an exact set list together yet so I actually don’t know exactly what we are going to do.
You’ve covered various songs over the past but what led you to cover Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’?
Ah, it is funny because between the Savages and Wake Up Call albums, we released a few cover songs and ‘Wicked Game’ was recorded at that same time. I think that we all liked it so much that we all said, ‘No, let’s just save it, let’s just save it’ and so when we were the doing the record the label said, ‘Hey, do you guys want to take a stab at doing this song up there while you’re out there?’ and we said, ‘Ah, I don’t know’. I think that they really wanted us to try it and so finally just said, ‘Yeah, okay, let’s have at it and give it a try’. It seemed like the right environment for that song and I think that the label was kind of hoping that we could turn it into a rock ballad but we went in a different direction with it. We really liked what we did and I think that so far we have been getting some positive feedback.
It works within the context of the album too because a lot of the album is very vocal line driven.
Yeah exactly and that is why it seemed like the right place to try and do it. I think it was because we tried it there, in England [Kensaltown Studios in London] while we with recording the record, I think that is why it came up the way that it did.
Just out of interest, with your Canadian heritage, is there any influence from older bands like Rush and Triumph?
I wouldn’t say a tonne, but Rush of course, and probably more now because I’ve started touring and been travelling the world to see how much of an impact that a band like Rush have had on many people. It has kind of made me go back and rediscover it. Some of that stuff is a little before my time and you know when I was really getting into music, it was in the nineties and Vancouver is close to Seattle so the grunge scene was important. I think that I don’t draw a lot influence from that stuff but since being in a Canadian touring band, I have gone back and tried to make sure that I have the proper schooling and appreciation for those Canadian bands.
Finally, covering ‘Hallelujah’ by Leonard Cohen was an inspired choice.
Yeah, that’s a song that we break out around the holidays if we’re playing a show and if it is around that season then we’ll start playing that one.