In an unlit corner of Alessandro’s Pizza & Grill on North Broad Street, Brady Ettinger sets up the kind of massive speakers you would expect to find at a club. It’s early on a Saturday night and the restaurant is empty. For now.
“We’re expecting to see three to four hundred people come through tonight,” he says, unwinding an XLR cable and attaching it to a speaker.
No, three to four hundred people aren’t coming just for a bite to eat. The pizza at Alessandro’s is good but patrons who don’t already know what’s up for tonight will find a lot more than just tasty pie. Ettinger, who is better known by his DJ name SYLO, is throwing a party. Along with his friends and compatriots in STUNTLOCO, the party crew he started at Silk City, SYLO is holding the 10th installment of the Pizza Party, which is exactly what it sounds like. Starting at 10 p.m., Alessandro’s will transform from an unassuming pizza parlor to a nightclub that also serves free pizza. Though the last few installments have been garnering plenty of buzz online, SYLO says he refrained from announcing the details on this one until just a week before the date. For him, it’s all about cultivating an underground feel.
If this all sounds like many a millennial’s dream it’s because SYLO, 23, has been deeply involved in the nightlife and party scene for years and he knows his audience. He’s put in so much work that he doesn’t have to do anything else for money. DJing is his one and only occupation.
For now, SYLO has to make sure everything is right. He checks his watch and runs a hand through his platinum hair. There’s still time to grab a few things from his place that he forgot.
SYLO exits the building and walks up Ridge Avenue at a fast clip.
“Our generation is harder to trick,” he says, darting quickly across the street to avoid traffic. “Everyone is more media-literate. They know when something isn’t real.”
Being a poseur is not something that has ever been on DJ SYLO’s agenda. Though he believes his STUNTLOCO brand is on the verge of breaking out into the big-time, SYLO’s biggest hope is that it always maintains a grassroots mentality. He talks more about his goals in a collective sense, desiring success not just for himself but for the people in the STUNTLOCO “movement.” That doesn’t mean SYLO hasn’t given some thought to how he’d like his own name to be perceived.
“I’m not trying to be the best DJ,” he says, “but what I am trying to be is undeniably unique.”
Like everything else in his career, the Pizza Party concept started as a house party. SYLO asked a friend if he could throw a party at his place, bought a whole bunch of pizza, texted a few friends and the rest is history. At this point in his career, SYLO may spend plenty of time spinning at more established venues like the 700 Club but his artistic ethos was formed out of the sweaty basements and tight spaces of house parties.
SYLO grew up in Maryland, where he got his first turntable at the age of 17. He DJed his first house party while in high school. His first exposure to the Philadelphia scene was through the world of college parties.
“I feel like I moved from Maryland to Temple,” SYLO says about his migration from his home state to the city of Philadelphia.
He came to Temple University to study media studies and production and learn more about the technical aspects of audio, but fashioned himself a more personal curriculum in the DJ profession by spending most of his free time hosting or planning parties off-campus.
It didn’t take long for his roots to grow well past the college scene. In the seven years he’s been a part of the city, SYLO has woven himself into the community so much that he has started to become a landmark in his own right.
It’s approaching 11 p.m. and SYLO, as excited to be here as anyone else, dances around the faux-Renaissance architecture in the dining room of Alessandro’s with a pizza box in hand. He slides happily into the midst of some young ladies in full party attire, flips open the lid and offers up a slice. The ladies smile and dig in, some of them leaning in for a friendly hug. After the brief encounter, SYLO floats off somewhere else.
“As a local DJ in the city you came up in, you’re kind of like a community leader,” he says.
A lot of the people here tonight either know him or know of him. It’s not the 400 they were expecting but there are a lot of people.
You’d think any sane restaurant owner would be terrified by the idea of letting some kids run wild in their establishment but Alessandro’s owner George Tzinas has been smiling the entire night.
“The important thing about this is that the group has such good energy,” he says. “There are never any problems.”
To hear Tzinas tell it, the story behind the Pizza Party’s move to Alessandro’s is that SYLO simply walked in one day and pitched the idea. SYLO says he had been out skating on Broad Street and stopped in for something to eat. He found the ample space in the dining area and side room with a bar. He came up with the idea on the spot. It was too much for him to pass up.
SYLO’s set starts at midnight. With things heating up, MC for the night Fidel pops in an old VHS tape of the Michael Jordan documentary “Come Fly With Me” to display on the old TV they plugged in and propped up on a table.
“We used to play young bol shit like ‘Land Before Time’ — classic ’90s stuff,” Fidel explains over the thumping of the speakers. “Now we’re trying to make it more adult.”
Fidel, born Matthew Ford, is SYLO’s self-proclaimed “partner in crime.” Their relationship is a creative one. SYLO and Fidel refuse to define it in any concrete terms—they just kind of go together as a package deal. They throw out names like “Jay-Z and Kanye,” “Simon and Garfunkel” and “Siegfried and Roy” to describe the nature of their relationship. They’re not only friends but also huge admirers of each other’s work.
“It brings every type of person together,” Fidel says about SYLO’s parties. “SYLO brings them all together. They don’t want any drama. They just want to coexist.”
As he thinks about what music he might play tonight, SYLO says his choices change depending on the space. His forte is hip-hop but he’s been expanding his palate with more house music. For tonight, he thinks he’ll “try more weird stuff” because the event is a little more exclusive.
He’s also been working on his own original music, some of which he plans to throw in to his list for the evening. Watching a human body move to his own composition is much more telling feedback to SYLO than a comment online. He’s excited to test out his new tracks but nervous at the same time.
“I know every twist and turn in the song,” says SYLO, “but seeing people react for the first time is amazing.”
As someone whose self-appointed job is to make sure other people have the night of their life, SYLO stresses the importance of focus while standing behind a turntable.
“You have to stay smooth as a DJ,” he says. “You can’t get too excited or you’ll get distracted. You have to take all the energy and hold it in your gut.”
As SYLO finally gets behind the table, his night is just beginning. He goes right from his set to an after-hour party somewhere else, where he says he’ll keep going for as long as the people want.
When things finally do die down, the sun is already beginning to peek up on the horizon. SYLO has time for a quick nap, then another gig at the Dr. Martens store at 1 p.m. He’s tired but only because his body says he’s supposed to be.
“Yo,” he says with a smile. “Tonight was crazy.”
Walla Fest is a two-day music, art and film fest happening August 8 and 9 at PhilaMOCA. This is the fest’s first year in Philadelphia after spending a few years at The Center Theater in Norristown. Mannequin Pussy (above), Norwegian Arms, Shannen Moser, Clique, Kississippi, Elliot Bech, Cory McConnell and others are scheduled to perform.
Our Tim Mulhern caught up with Makeba Robinson and Yesenia Bello, the co-founders of the fest, and learned about the history and mission of the event.
Makeba: I think our first two-night show, we only had an early show and a late show on the second day and then the first day was a typical one-day Walla Fest. Then, the second year, we did a two-day show was when we had an early show both days. This year, we’re having an early show and a late show both days, as well as screenings and vendors on both days. So I think this year is the first time that we’re doing everything on each day.
Yesenia: Also, I think before, our early show was smaller and more of our friends were playing.
Do your goals for each fest change or do they remain the same?
Makeba: I think each with show there are many goals. Some of them have been the same and some of them have changed. I think since the very first Walla Fest, we’ve always had a goal of just trying to make a place that people want to be in. Just an exciting environment where you could get into more than one thing at once. In terms of the music and the art that we have, I think maybe the goal for what those things should be has changed a little bit. I think something that we kind of enjoyed about Walla Fest is that it was a thing in the suburbs, which is unusual to have something like Walla in the suburbs. Now that we’re going to PhilaMOCA, that has changed a little bit.
Do you think the move to Philly will solidify Walla Fest’s place in the city’s music and arts scene?
Yesenia: I hope so. I think we’re kind of new to it all and we’ll kind of see. This whole audience is a little bit new to us.
Makeba: I feel like a good amount of people in Philly know about Walla Fest already. I hope it can be something that people will remember.
How do you decide what bands will perform and who will show art and films at the fest?
Makeba: I think we keep our ears to the ground. We keep up with who is playing music and we pay attention to it just naturally as people. We’re into finding new music. I think for the past couple Wallas, we’ve kind of made lists of who were interested in way ahead of time. It’s never really hard for us to know who we want to play at the show.
Yesenia: Usually people that are involved are also doing something else and have other side projects.
Where do you see Walla Fest going in the future?
Makeba: I think we want it to be something that is small but meaningful and exciting. I don’t think we see us becoming some big, outside festival. I think this next show is kind of close to what the future of Walla is. Every year really has been super different from the very beginning. Moving to Philly is a big thing.
Wildflower opened the night with a set that was pure, raw energy. From the first garage rock chord, the guitarist’s orange curly fro was banging harder than any bobble head I’ve ever seen. The set was full of theatrics, from teeth strumming to spinning on top of a bass.
S.M. Wolf traveled all the way from Indianapolis to grace the Pharmacy stage. The four piece gave those at the Pharmacy’s intimate setting a taste of their full length album coming this October in their highly polished set.
From the get-go, S.M. Wolf garnered respect and interest from the mostly fellow musicians in the crowd. Lead singer and guitarist Adam Gross face was red and his neck veins ever-present as he belted out songs like “The Meadow” from their cassette Canine Country Club.
The psychedelic four piece Zuli hit the stage and displayed the joys of their record Supernatural Voodoo despite having to combat some feedback issues. Feedback in one way, shape or form reared its ugly head in every band’s set but not one let it get in their way.
Zuli made a particular note to the crowd that “we’re going to power through,” and the feedback didn’t cause a hiccup in the harmonies of “Keep it Together” or stifle the cool vibes of the title track “Super Natural Voodoo.”
Closing the night was Shy Boyz, a motley crew of snazzy dressers that could be one show away from a cult following. To say it was an experience wouldn’t really do it justice. There was a literal love TKO, a dead lover’s ballad that included a zombie ghost grind fest, and I was given a lap dance by a man in a diaper. All that was backed by the sexiest sax in town and vocals that Ron Burgundy would sell his soul to have a tenth of.
By the end of the show I was personally drained and I didn’t even do the workouts guided by Jim “You don’t have to go to the gym” Daily, the band’s personal trainer.
Again, the show was an experience to say the least.
We were able to catch up with the guys from Zuli for a few Q’s and a few A’s…
Can you tell us a little bit about the album Supernatural Voodoo?
Ryan Camenzuli: I had just graduated college and I really wanted to do music, so it was an outlet that reflected the things you aspire to in life and everything that every 20-something goes through with kind of my own perspective on that.
What do you want listeners to get out of your music?
RC: If they connect to a lyric that’s awesome. If they just enjoy the melodies or enjoy the vibes that’s awesome. Most art is like you put it out there from a way that you see it and a way that you would feel towards it. As long as it’s positive, it doesn’t really matter to me.
Do you guys have a tour date you’re most excited for?
RC: I’m excited for everything but our home show will be at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands there. It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be a free show too.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Baby’s All Right and the Brooklyn music scene?
RC: We’re a little bit outside of the Brooklyn music scene because we’re from Long Island but we’re in there all the time. Brooklyn music scene is interesting. Obviously there’s a lot of awesome Brooklyn bands. I also think all these bands are very close and intimate, there’s definitely like a scene to it. Sometimes whether playing with this band or some others in the past, you definitely get a like “Okay, all the Brooklyn bands kinda sound like this right now. Alright, all the Brooklyn bands sound a little bit like this right now.” So I kind of feel like there’s like a bubble to it sometimes. Some bands that are from New York but not in Brooklyn sometimes have a little bit of a different flavor that they can bring because they’re not so zoned in, if that makes sense.
Joe Villafane: At the same time I would say Zuli’s music isn’t your typical Long Island sounding band. I feel like in New York, especially between Brooklyn and Long Island, you can kind of tell that “Oh that’s a Long Island, that’s a Brooklyn band.” This music is a lot more vintage and pyshcdelic sounding than what you hear off the Island usually. I can say that objectively because I didn’t write it and I just get to play in the live band.
Do you have any advice for any up and coming musicians?
RC: We don’t have any label backing us, no booking agent right now, but just not being “Oh I’m going to wait for so-and-so to do it for me.” Or like “Oh I would put my music out but I want this person to be in contact with me before I do it.” Just do it.
JV: I would just say go with your gut. Don’t let other people tell you what you should or should not be doing. If it doesn’t feel right, there’s probably a reason it doesn’t feel right. And if it feels really good, there’s probably a reason for that too. Don’t play music with people you don’t love genuinely. Don’t let anybody bring you down at all. Just create the music you want to make, not what someone else wants you to make.
Kyle Conlon: I would say just keep going. For me, I’ve been playing for almost ten years now and it’s just kind of like you’ll find the right people. That’s like the hardest part honestly and I found the right people. I’m happy where I’m at and that’s the main goal.
Greg Coffey: Do it now, don’t wait until tomorrow.
Anything you feel like people should know?
RC: We have an awesome van that has N64 points built into the walls of the van. That’s probably the coolest part of our tour, not the Baby’s All Right show, not any of the parties or people.
JV: We have a few off days up at Zuli’s lake house. We’re going to go paddle boarding and discover a 5,000 year old mask that if you touch it you can live forever. That I’m looking forward to.
GC: That’ll be an adventure.
JV: N64 and that (5,000 year old mask) borderline sums it up.
By five o’clock, when the event was to begin, the liquor store was a complete madhouse. Hundreds of people had lined up to see the Get Rich or Die Tryin‘ rapper. And in a shop that is already disorienting due to the sheer size of the store, the excited crowd only made things worse.
In order to even get within three feet of 50, people were required to purchase a $24.99 bottle of his vodka. The line that zigzagged through half of the store extended all the way to the back door, where fans of the multi-platinum artist were required to wait outside in the scorching heat. For those who were uninterested in purchasing the liquor but wanted to catch a glimpse of 50 Cent, there was a wide aisle where people mulled around, unsure of what to do or where to go.
Around 5:15, 50 arrived in the building, creating much buzz. Ten minutes later, the man of the hour appeared before the crowd.
“He didn’t come in through the back,” said Ebonie Phillips, a Wine & Spirits employee and 50 Cent fan. “He just showed up. It was like he appeared out of the men’s room. He just walked by and I couldn’t do anything but smile.”
50 looked completely unbothered, as if he actually wanted to be there. As he walked toward the front of the store – flanked by his security and other personnel, all eyes were drawn toward his electrifying smile. He quickly posed for a few pictures, waved at fans and made his way toward a small area where he would sign bottles and pose for pictures with fans. Before taking a seat on the throne-like chair, 50 Cent stood on the chair and began recording video of the loyal fans going wild.
In addition to the visitors clutching the surprisingly smooth-tasting vessel of vodka, a few people were holding on to original artwork. Apparently there was some sort of art contest that was facilitated by the EFFEN team where creatives were asked to paint their version of the EFFEN bottle. A few people brought their work with the hopes of winning the contest.
“I am a self-taught artist,” said Michael Courtney, who was juggling multiple paintings and EFFEN bottles. “I was entering the contest, so I brought in some paintings to show him and try to get him to sign one.”
50 Cent’s vodka is actually pretty tasty and affordable. His fans seemed like the couldn’t get enough of it. But the real question is, will EFFEN take the top spot of rapper-endorsed vodka from Ciroc?
Only time will tell. Until then, grab a bottle and try it out.
Text by Brendan Menapace. Images by Stevie Chris.
Walk into the Blair brothers’ studio on Frankford Avenue and the first thing you’ll notice (after petting the not-so-vicious guard dog) is the multitude of string instruments lining the back wall. After that, it’s the speakers and computer monitors that sit on a desk and two keyboards positioned around the desk. On the computer is an image of Patrick Stewart.
No, the two aren’t watching “Star Trek” while they write music for a new album.
They are composers for award-winning films, documentaries and television programming, creating the sounds and music that add suspense, depth and emotion to a director’s visuals.
Last year was huge for the brothers. IndieWire recognized the duo as Composers to Watch in 2014. Their music for director Jeremy Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin,” which was an official selection at Cannes and Sundance among other film festivals, garnered a Public Choice Nomination from the World Soundtrack Awards and an inclusion in ASCAP’s Composer Spotlight, as well as an honorable mention nod on IndieWire’s list of the best film scores of the year.
Today, they’re finishing a big project.
“It’s Friday, so we’re enjoying some beers,” Will, the younger Blair, says as he opens the door to the studio where older brother Brooke is sitting at the computer, Narragansett pounder in hand.
The two are putting the final touches on the score to an upcoming film by Saulnier, starring the aforementioned Stewart as a Neo-Nazi hunting down a punk band.
The Blairs, natives of northern Virginia, use their history of playing in bands like East Hundred, as well as influences of Philly music, to create their soundtracks.
When they were in college, their friends asked them to score short student films and they built their portfolio over the years. Brooke now lives in Chestnut Hill and Will lives within walking distance of their studio in Fishtown.
“We grew up with Jeremy,” Will says of Saulnier, the director. “As we went to college, we veered off toward music and he was heading toward film. We did all of his short college films and his first feature in 2007. We started looking at it more seriously but we were still busy with band-related stuff.”
“I had my little film posse with [Will and Brooke’s] older brother Macon,” Saulnier says during a phone interview. “They were very talented musicians and they were available and worked for cheap.”
The two did the score for Saulnier’s short film “Crab Walk” in 2004 and he wanted them to do more. In 2007, when Saulnier did his first feature, “Murder Party,” he brought them on.
“As we built our careers together, they just proved themselves as collaborators,” Saulnier added.
Now they are finishing his third feature, a film Will calls a “punk rock thriller,” which will also premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
“There’s one scene where feedback almost becomes an instrument, like a deterrent,” Will explains. “The word ‘feedback’ is in the script as a sonic detail. It appears in different scenes where things are going crazy. We use that as a starting off point.”
To get this sound, Brooke records hours of guitar feedback in the studio.
“It’s like the one thing that you try to avoid in a studio situation,” Will says. “We try to encourage and create and control it. So we had tons of guitar feedback. We got a trombone to feed back and drums to feed back.”
“Also, the sound of it, it has an abrasiveness and a grittiness that goes well with a punk rock sound,” Brooke adds. “You think, ‘Oh, here’s a punk rock film. That’s probably what the score should be.’ But that’s already such a part of the film that our approach was to weave in and out of that as part of the story, but also not be totally noticeable.”
Brooke contrasts what they’re doing on this project to what some might see as a traditional film score, with sweeping orchestras taking over the film, like John Williams’ epic “Star Wars” soundtrack.
“They’re made to be felt and almost take over a little bit sometimes,” Brooke says. “Sometimes dialogue dies off and they become these moments. We’re kind of doing this the opposite way. We’re still sneaking in melodies here and there but for the most part it’s textural. It’s meant to be there and be felt, but not be overtly obvious.”
Their job is to find the right sound to enhance the emotion and tempo on screen. It changes with each project.
The Blairs believe that they’re currently part of a shift in the industry’s dynamic, with more and more young composers establishing themselves. With Brooke, 37, and Will, 36, they’re certainly on the lower end of the age spectrum in the industry, but that’s changing at a fast pace.
“I think even like 10 years ago it was rare to see a young composer,” Brooke says. “Especially in, like, old Hollywood stuff. Now, part of it is the advent of home studios and that kind of thing, and being able to pull off that sound outside of an orchestrated Hollywood score, younger guys are getting into the game a little more.”
There are still a few scene cues yet to be crossed out on their whiteboard to-do list. After finishing this Saulnier project, the two are switching gears completely – from the distorted terror soundtrack to a documentary on collegiate swimming. A tub, which will be filled with water for an underwater mic to record the muffled aquatic soundtrack, sits patiently in the corner of the studio.
A young looking 19-year-old sits in the first row of the upper-floor auditorium in the Central Free Library of Philadelphia, enthralled by The Dead Milkmen performing an acoustic show in front of her.
The event is part of local author Andrew Ervin’s book release party for “Burning Down George Orwell’s House.” He’s a friend of The Milkmen, and it’s hard to tell who of the hundreds of people in attendance came to hear his reading or their music. But what’s apparent about the Philadelphia-based punk band – with its more than 30-year stake in the local scene – is that people of all ages, shapes and sizes have come to enjoy their music. Some have young children. Some have gray, braided hair. Some sport shirts and bowties, others are dressed in casual tourist garb or sport black denim vests and purple mohawks.
After the performance, that 19-year-old in the front row snags frontman Rodney Linderman to sign her T-shirt before heading for the elevator. For her, the music of The Dead Milkmen is more about nostalgia than relevance.
“My dad was only 24 when he had me, not much older than I am now,” says Jade Richmond, a Temple University student. “The music he was listening to, he wanted me to listen to because that’s what he considered good music. So listening to it now reminds me of being a little kid and sitting in the back of my dad’s car, rocking out to The Dead Milkmen.”
The Dead Milkmen’s music presumably conjures many memories for many people, and means a lot to a lot of Philadelphians. Maybe people reminisce about the basement shows they attended in the early ’80s when the band started. Maybe they can imagine themselves walking down South Street as the punk haven it once was or can remember how it felt to cruise down to the Jersey Shore for a weekend or a summer.
As a satirical band – forever a perpetuator of wacky, intricate and out-of-the-box lyrics to complement a clean musical approach to punk – The Dead Milkmen brought humor to a genre and a scene they say was full of people taking themselves too seriously at the time. From the absurdity of “Gorilla Girl” to the mundaneness in “Punk Rock Girl,” the commentary of “Beach Party Vietnam” to the insensitivity of “Takin’ Retards To The Zoo,” the band has undoubtedly made fans laugh multiple times through the years.
But they’ve also made them think, or possibly even cry. They admit their lyrics are dark, and Linderman, otherwise known as Rodney Anonymous, jokes that they are sometimes even “a desperate cry for help.”
Dark humor is something he feels audiences often need from music, but has become harder to find in modern times.
“There’s a whole genre of what I call ‘happy, clappy’ music out now,” he says while perched on a plastic chair in the auditorium after the show. “It’s like, ‘Hey everybody, we’re having a good time, yeah!’ But I’m not having a good time. I’m angry. If you were angry in the 1980s, most of the music was Michael Jackson and basically people would say, ‘Come on, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white.’ Well, it does if the cops are shooting at you! So I think that’s how bands like Black Flag and those began to get the undercurrent because not everybody was buying into that big lie. I think that’s why you really need somebody out there saying, ‘Hey, it’s not all pretty. Here’s an option for dealing with it.’”
Just as The Dead Milkmen may remember the 1980s differently than a Michael Jackson fan, their view of Philadelphia is different than that of current city-dwelling youths or young adults.
There was much less to do, they say, and places like the Northern Liberties, Fishtown and even South Street were without the booming businesses and attractions they have today.
The bandmates also remember punk music as much less restrictive than it is today in terms of maintaining a certain style.
“It was more an attitude and it was more DIY,” says guitarist and vocalist Joe Genaro. “The whole idea of the punk thing was that you didn’t even need to know too much about music. You could just play it.”
Linderman says punk bands arose back then due to two key factors: desperation and boredom.
“You literally had nothing to do, so people formed bands so that they had something to do,” he says. “It was like living on the prairie in the 18th century, where people were like, ‘Oh, I’m going to play the fiddle now.’ People didn’t like fiddle music but it was something to do. It was better than going out and sticking your face in the blizzard. So yeah, I would say that that sense of desperation, which I miss oddly enough, isn’t there anymore.”
The times and punk music have changed but the members of The Dead Milkmen haven’t really, aside from aging. They constantly joke with one another and carry absolutely no sense of ego or palpable realization of rock stardom. Linderman is loud and erratic. Genaro is quiet and guarded. Drummer Dean Sabatino is straightforward and level-headed. In other words, Sabatino seems like the one used to following the rules, Linderman the one used to breaking them and Genaro the one to run away at the first sign of conflict.
A steadfastness of self has allowed their music to change but remain relevant, as well as satirical and poignant at the same time.
“If you scratch the surface of our songs, they’re about being broke, they’re about junkies, they’re about crazy people in small towns, they’re about homophobes,” Linderman says. “So I never particularly found that we were a humorous band. I’m glad that people have to categorize it that way. Otherwise, they’d be as depressed as I am.”
The Dead Milkmen found fame when their debut album, Big Lizard in My Backyard and the song “Bitchin’ Camaro” got picked up on the college radio circuit. That led to the immense success of “Punk Rock Girl,” a single from their 1988 album Beelzebubba, which made it into MTV rotation.
“That was back when college radio meant something,” remembers Sabatino. “It doesn’t mean anything anymore really.”
“The radio used to be a life changing thing,” adds Linderman. “I love Internet radio now because it’s kind of, in some ways, the same way. When I get an Internet station that is regularly updated and the DJs are good, I love that. That’s kind of the magic of it. But I don’t think it will ever happen for young people again the way it happened for us, where you would tune in to the radio and just be blown away by it.”
Just as the radio once had the capacity to make or break bands, getting picked up by a major label could also change an artist’s career overnight. But for offbeat punks like The Dead Milkmen, it came with a price. Linderman recalls the band’s time on Hollywood Records, from 1991 to 1995, and he immediately says, “It sucked.”
“Back then, the only way to get heard was to be on a label,” he says. “Now you can make an MP3. You can do it at home. You have basically a recording studio at home and you can get it out there.”
Genaro remembers the band making their own tapes so that they could go out on tour. That was around the time that DIY and independent labels started gaining ground. But before they knew it, they were swept up into a wave of industry frustration, poorly performing albums and the threat of being dropped.
The band announced its breakup in 1995. Twenty years later, what was undoubtedly a very stressful decision can be joked about.
“The hiatus period,” Genaro says. “I think Rodney describes it as the happiest time of his life.”
Everyone, including Linderman, laughs.
“Yeah, but I thought hiatus was a wolf-like animal that preyed upon sheep,” retorts Linderman. “Turns out that’s a hyena.”
Nowadays, there is one fewer original member of The Dead Milkmen to laugh at outlandish jokes or make his own. After spending the hiatus studying the Serbo-Croatian language and even moving to Serbia for a time to teach English, bassist Dave Schulthise committed suicide in March 2004.
Linderman, Genaro and Sabatino remember him as a prankster who would put ketchup packets on trolley tracks or have long conversations with service people from the 1-800 call lines he would dial from hotel lobbies. He also had routines he stuck to, like lining the inside of dresser drawers with wrapping paper before putting his clothes in.
He always read the news. He read a lot of books on tour. He was always interesting to talk to about political events. He was an impeccable musician.
He always seemed bored – and seemed to be doing something to counteract that boredom, according to Linderman.
“He did not care what you thought about him,” he says. “He was going to have some fun and he was going to live his life the way he wanted to. If he was in Yugoslavia and you drop bombs on him, well, he’s having a good time down in the bomb cellar while they drop the bombs.
The surviving members of the band reunited for two memorial shows at the Trocadero in November 2004. Dan Stevens – who was playing in a band called The Low Budgets with Genaro at the time – played bass for the shows. In 2008, Graham Williams – a promoter from Austin, Texas who had sang on The Dead Milkmen’s album Metaphysical Graffiti – asked the band to reunite as one of the headliners for his Fun Fun Fun Fest.
“We thought it would be a one-off thing, but it was so much fun, too,” says Genaro. “At least I remember it being fun. Then we decided to do it on a regular basis.”
The Milkmen kept Stevens on bass. The band has since released two studio albums since the reunion: 2011’s The King In Yellow and 2014’s Pretty Music For Pretty People.
Linderman says the band’s new material is more complex now that they can “get more than three chords together.”
“You don’t want to keep making the same record over and over again,” he says. “You sit at night and you’re playing around with your stuff at home and you’re like, ‘That’s a really weird sound. I wonder if we could use that.’”
Brian McTear of Miner Street Records, where The Milkmen recorded their two most recent albums, says the band exemplifies the path ahead for anyone with an aim to make music until they die.
“To be a ‘recording artist for life’ was never something all that many people could do,” McTear says. “Not even The Dead Milkmen, as they learned when their careers ran out in the mid ’90s. Rodney, Joe, Dean and Dan are heroes to me because they realized they could start up the band again, so they did it. Now they’ll likely make records decades beyond what they probably ever thought they’d do when they were kids.”
Making records is certainly a priority for The Milkmen, but it’s not all they’re doing nowadays. Stevens is a family man with three kids. Sabatino works as an interface designer for an international consulting company, lives in Media and has a wife and 16-year-old son. Linderman lives and works in the city as a change manager for a financial firm and has been married for 20 years. Genero, also still a city dweller, is single and works as a software quality assurance manager for a company that provides marketing and technology solutions for the education market.
It feels just as unusual for the band to now play to older audiences as it does to play to fans who weren’t even alive when the band started out.
“I want to shake young people and say, ‘Why aren’t you at an Angelspit show?’” says Linderman. “I’m always amazed because there are these great young bands.”
The Dead Milkmen are fans of numerous young bands, evidenced by Sabatino’s Psychic Teens shirt he wears during the library performance and Linderman’s diatribes about the genius of acts like Gothsicles and Santa Hates You.
It’s almost as if they don’t realize they receive the same admiration.
“I can recall numerous times where I might be showing a young punk band the studio, and in walks Dean to drop off some records,” writes McTear. “The band might not know who he is but the second I tell them, their eyes light up and they completely change their demeanor.”
Most career people enjoy being taken more seriously the longer they’re in a job. For The Dead Milkmen, the thought of being taken seriously is upsetting.
“It’s like we’re not even dangerous anymore,” says Linderman. “It’s like we’ve become avuncular. ‘Oh, aren’t they cute? Let’s let them play in the cemetery. They’re not going to touch the bodies.’ It’s kind of a thing that’s upsetting me now when I start thinking, ‘What can we do to upset people?’”
On Saturday, the TLA is hosting an evening of body art and booze, with live rockabilly from Dibbs & The Detonators and power rock from The Workhorse III. There will be sideshow acts, live tattooing and lots of people showing off their art.
If you want to play it safe and get your own tickets to the 21+ event, find details for the show here.