LIKEYOUSAID recently had the chance to interview the Dead Milkmen, a Philadelphia-bred punk band that’s been making fast paced, satirical music for over forty years. Best known for tracks like “Bitchin’ Camaro” and “Punk Rock Girl”, the Dead Milkmen fuse their jangly sound with provocative lyrics to form sometimes humorous, often hypnotic punk rock anthems. The witty and outspoken group of jokesters shared their insight on a range of topics including the definition of punk rock, the strangest places they’ve heard their own music, and how the online experience has impacted their personal lives. They also talked about “Pretty Music For Pretty People”, the title track off their tenth studio album. Read the full interview with founding members Rodney Linderman, Joe Genaro, and Dean Sabatino, as well as 2008 addition, Dan Stevens, below.
If someone came to you and said listen, I don’t really like punk rock music, what would you tell them to listen to, to have a gateway to have a whole genre of music?
Rodney: Young people should like music that has explicit and big letters on it. [Whole band laughs.] I think the problem right now is, people are listening to a lot of shoe-gazy, I’ve got a folk guitar, I’m an introspective songwriter, but look, I just sold a song to a credit card company and Levi’s sort of music and that’s horrible. If you’re trying to sound punk rock, you got it wrong. Punk rock is an attitude. Rome is one of my favorite bands, and that’s punk rock and fantastic. Rasputina, that’s punk rock. Young people should be listening to anything that’s angry, subtly or verbally. Young people should be angry. Would you trust a young person that isn’t angry?
Would you say you have the same anger you did in the ’80s?
Rodney: I’m much angrier now! I think the music situation was bad then, it’s worse now. I have lots of friends that should be more famous than they are, but they’re not and I have friends that shouldn’t be famous. If I was young now I’d be angrier than when I was as a teenager…
When “Punk Rock Girl” comes out in 1988, the big prevailing bands on MTV are Guns n Roses with Appetite For Destruction, Bon Joni with New Jersey , and U2 with Rattle and Hum, how does a song like yours come into public consciousness with all this big, overproduced music surrounding it?
Rodney: Probably payola!
Dean: Someone was probably sleeping with someone at the record company. It was sex payola [Laughs.]
Joe: Exactly, someone must have been sleeping with someone.
What’s the strangest place you’ve ever encountered your music, have you ever been walking through a shopping mall and heard your song and thought, “Holy shit, that’s us”?
Joe: I was working at a coffee shop making sandwiches in the kitchen and I heard it on the radio.
Dean: I went into an Old Navy Store to buy clothes or whatever, and I walked in and I was shopping and I heard this music in the background and I was like, “This sounds really familiar” and finally heard Joe’s voice and thought, “Hey, that’s Joe!”, “That’s ‘Punk Rock Girl’”.
Dan: They had their monthly background music corporate take that they get sent, maybe it was satellite broadcast to all their stores, and it included “Punk Rock Girl”, that was very strange.
It’s an amazing phenomenon as you get older, sometimes you go into Whole Foods or something and you’re like, this soundtrack kicks ass, I just heard Johnny Cash, I just heard a bunch of things and you’re like holy shit, I’m officially old and I love music and Whole Foods now.
Rodney: The strangest place I ever heard our music was on my own computer because I never listened to us!
What about satire, do you feel that it’s an import part of your music, to hold up a mirror to society?
Dean: I don’t think we purposely try to be satirical but there’s a lot of humor to be had in music.
Rodney: Bands are funnier now! MC Lars is hilarious….MC Chris…
What was the motivation behind putting that making of the “Pretty Music for Pretty People” video online for people to see?
Joe: It was kind of an accident because our friend Tom Cassidy is a great photographer who came to the studio to take some photos and he brought around his friend Brian, who does video stuff, and Brian asked if it’s okay if he made some video footage for us. We said yes. So he ended up sticking around during the recording process. He was able to edit together not only the footage for the song, but that extra footage that we released.
Do you think the online experience has changed your relationship with your fans or is it just another way to get music instead of going to a record store?
Rodney: I like it a lot better. There are a lot of bands I interact with that I wouldn’t interact with otherwise.
Dean: When we started out, Joe created a newsletter and at one point we had 10,000 people on the mailing list and now we’re on Facebook and we have like 50,000 fans.
Joe: Before people had to buy a stamp and address an envelope.
Is there any negativity to giving fans that much access?
Rodney: The way I see it is that the craziest people are often the most interesting. In Amanda Palmer’s latest book she’s asked if she’s worried about some of these crazy fans. And she responds by saying it’s minimal, most of them are harmless. “They can’t be any crazier or more dangerous than I am!” I think she hit the nail on the head with that. If you sleep at someone’s house you might get hacked up and murdered but the odds of that are pretty small, most people coming to these things are pretty nice. Unless you say something sexist or racist or homophobic, I’m not going to drop you.
I hear that. Now, when it comes to your live shows, are your set lists set in stone or do you listen to shout outs from fans?
Rodney: We have a 30 song setlist so there’s something for everyone. We like to take the things can fall apart aspect out, so I prefer everything set in stone.
Joe: If we play an encore, sometimes we come up with a couple different songs.
Dan: We sometimes do that! We did that in Chicago.
Thanks so much, guys. That was fantastic.
Rodney: Thank you. I’m having a beer!
You can keep up with news and updates from the Dead Milkmen, watch the making of “Pretty Music For Pretty People”, and subscribe to Joe’s famous zine on The Official Dead Milkmen Website.