Interviewed by Molly Alexander, Photographed by Lauren Montgomery
Detroit band, Deadbeat Beat, fuse their past musical experiences with robust lyrics of introspection, creating a sound that defies labels. In preparation for their sophomore album, How Far, I spoke with guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Alex Glendening and drummer/vocalist Maria Nuccilli. We discussed their early days with Tacocat, the queer themes of their album, and drawing inspiration from the freaks and weirdos.
Deadbeat Beat has a long-rooted history, with music spanning from the early adolescence of your high school years all the way to modern-day adulthood. You’ve worked in various other bands along the way such as alt-punk group Tyvek and psychedelic pop band Outrageous Cherry. How have these previous experiences influenced your current sound and values?
Alex: Tyvek and Outrageous Cherry have been two of my favorite contemporary groups out of Detroit since right around when I started attending shows in Detroit in the early 2000s. Both bands deserve far more attention and praise than they get. Though sonically they exist in different sections of the record shop, both bands consist of members who will get animated if you bring up the Spike Drivers. I am very grateful to play in Tyvek. Tyvek is a band that was (and still is) super influential and adored by people my age. I feel like sometimes when I come to town long term fans feel one way or the other about this random guy who looks like them being in the band.
Maria: I am very grateful to have played with Outrageous Cherry! Alex and I, as he said, we're big fans of both Tyvek and Outrageous Cherry when we were in high school. We met Matthew from Outrageous Cherry when he worked at our favorite record store in town, Car City. We used to come in and bug him and he would actually take us seriously and vibe with us about records. Definitely one of the first musicians I respected that we ended up feeling respected by, especially as kids. A few years later he produced our first record, When I Talk To You. We recorded it with an eight-track at his house. My drums were in the kitchen and guitar amps were in the living room. We did vocals by the front door. Matthew’s style of recording and producing emphasizes the capturing of live energy of the band, whether or not the instrumentation is technically perfect, and if you spend obsessive time on anything it should be getting the vocals perfect ala Beach Boys. We learned from him that the best take of a song is often the first one and if you can’t get it in three you should move on. This is an approach that has stuck with us. It’s how we did How Far - pretty much everything on there is the first or second take.
Your upcoming album combines your familiar pop melodies with emotionally charged lyrics. How did you unify each other's personal stories and emotions into the narrative of the final album?
Alex: Every time I write a song it's different than the time before. I like to think that I will continue to get better at writing them as time goes on, or at least I continue to approach the writing in different ways. Also, songwriting is kind of a fluid experience. I'll sit with chord changes and riffs for years and years before they find the right mood. There are so many riffs that I play to myself constantly that I am very annoyed by. I'm annoyed that they haven't found their song yet, and that they're stuck with me for the time being. What is similar about both of those records is that I was involved in a love-based identity crisis when I wrote them. AKA I was hung up on some dude.
Your music explores what it means to be queer amongst a predominantly heterosexual crowd. What message do you hope to share with the LGBTQ+ community?
Alex: I like to write pop songs because they can reach people on a weird base emotional frequency. You don't have to completely vibe with what actually happened to the singer to relate to the song. I like the idea of my songs reaching lots of different people for lots of different reasons. I remember in high school hearing about the Magnetic Fields’s 69 Love Songs all being written by a guy who was obsessed with his boyfriend, and I thought that was just the greatest. I like the idea of someone hearing about how my songs are written by some gay guy trying to sort out their love life and identity and liking that.
Honestly, I’m interested in sharing my experience openly with allies and non-allies alike. Everyone needs to hear as much about the lives of queer people, even if it’s just that they went to CVS or whatever. It’s about recognizing that queer people are right next to you always and deserve space in real-time, not just in June when corporations don a rainbow trying to sell us sneakers and insurance. There’s room for us at every show for every genre of music, there’s room for us in public bathrooms, and there’s room for us to talk about our experience not just when it’s our turn.
When I was younger at a show or playing a show or at the record shop there was always some dude gatekeeping, saying things like “do you even know who Mark E Smith is” or something. Now that it’s 2019 and it’s chic that I’m gay at the punk gig or whatever that doesn’t happen as often, but just because you’re not actively antagonizing queer people at the show doesn’t make you an ally. All you’re doing is not being terrible.
While you borrow sounds from the music of your youth and even earlier 1960s pop, your sound takes on a life of its own and redefines traditional genres. How would you describe your current sound to new listeners?
Alex: Since we draw from a lot of different influences, it's nice when people react to our music and tell us what it reminds them of. I write songs like a pastiche, taking small experiences and influences and tucking them into corners of the songs.
Who are your biggest musical influences and what inspires your band outside of the music world?
Alex: Here is a list of bands we love: Sparks, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Buzzcocks, Parliament, the Clean, La Düsseldorf, the Byrds, Wire, Roxy Music, Look Blue Go Purple. This is not exhaustive.
Maria: Outside the music world, we were discussing this as a band and Alex shouted “Everything! The freaks and weirdos!” Which is basically it. Which is not to say we don’t actively enjoy stuff from mainstream culture, because we all sure do.
Your music videos open the viewer up to a side of yourselves that is both cinematic and sentimental. Watching “You Lift Me Up” for the first time felt like discovering a Wes Anderson B-Roll, it has this contagious warmth and colorful candidness. Where do you draw inspiration for your videos?
Alex: I would say that if anything I was inspired to film in front of a wind turbine because of a cool shot in Pedro Almodovar's Volver. Also just generally any time I've driven by wind turbines I've just obsessively stared at them as long as I could. Also, I often think about the title of the song "The Windmills of Your Mind". I like older movies because I like seeing how innovative they were with shots through the limitations of their equipment. I also love drone shots. Any time I have an idea for a shot it's usually something that requires a crane, and a drone is like a new, creepier type of crane. Drones make so many shots that were impossible possible now. And, also, I am very terrified of drones. I also love closed-circuit camera feeds.
You have played with the likes of Tacocat, Guided by Voices, and even Anna Burch. Looking back, do you have a favorite moment or memory that stands out? And How have these experiences influenced your current sound and performance presence?
Alex: My favorite moments are the time I threw a house show for Tacocat in 2011 which was the only time I ever got a keg for any reason, and the time Robert Pollard poked his head out of the stage curtain to watch the band better, then after the set he sang the hook to one of my songs at me.
Lastly, What's next for Deadbeat Beat?
Alex: We're going to tour, and then hopefully people like it and then we'll tour even more. Having toured internationally with other bands has made me really want to do it with this band. It's on the list. We've already started writing more material, and I would like to try and get some of it recorded before the end of the year. I know those songs are going to sound a little different than what I've done before because that is just what happens.