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Dead Neighbors Talk Beginnings, Local Athens Scene, and Creating Their Debut LP

Music InterviewEllen WilsonComment

If you’ve been to Athens, Georgia lately, you’ve probably seen the name of local standouts Dead Neighbors around town, from Caledonia Lounge to Flicker Bar. The DIY trio played countless shows over the last two years before finally recording their self-titled debut, which came out on June 24th via Fall Break Records. Transverso sat down with Sebastian Marquez (vocals/guitar), Howard Stewart (Drums), and Alex Addington (bass) over some popsicles in the sticky Southern heat to talk about their beginnings, the making of the album, and the local scene. Click play, sit back, and enjoy.

Transverso: You’ve been a band for two years now and just put out your first album. How does it feel to have finally reached this landmark as artists?

Sebastian: It’s weird. It’s weird for me. Back in middle school I always thought about being in a band, then I had to switch districts in middle and high school and all the people who I thought I would’ve been in a band with, I ended up moving away from So that was interesting. The closest thing I got to being in a band back then was a talent show in high school. But yeah, it’s been really cool. It’s like I’m playing Guitar Hero, but in real life.

Howard: It’s been cool for me, not so much on the weird side, but yeah, it’s good to have records of yourself playing so you can show people. It’s nice.

Alex: I felt like we’ve been working up towards it the whole time we’ve been a band. It feels like the next logical step we needed to take to move forward as a band. 

I understand you all used to be in another band before this. What can you tell us about that?  

Sebastian: So, this is actually the origin story of dead neighbors: through sheer luck I was walking down the hallway when I lived in [University of Georgia dorm] O House on the fourth floor and I just saw two dudes playing Guitar Hero. This was at the beginning of the semester so everyone was being extra friendly, so I was like, “I love Guitar Hero!” and they were like “We love Guitar Hero!” One of the guys turned out to be Brad Gerke, and all four of us just kind of met through a series of coincidences starting with Guitar Hero. It just kind of happened.

What was that band called?

Sebastian: A Lot More Less.

How did you come up with the name Dead Neighbors?

Alex: The funeral home.

Sebastian: Oh yeah. So, when Dead Neighbors first started I was living in a house on Atlanta Avenue that was across the street from an actual funeral home. Like, I’d be sitting out on the porch reading like, Faulkner or something like that, and there would just be a funeral there. So right after we moved in the house, [my friend] came over and we were talking, and he just said randomly, “Yo, you live next to a funeral home, you should name a band that lives here The Dead Neighbors.” And I was like “drop the ‘the’ and you got a deal!”

If you weren’t called Dead Neighbors what would you be called?

Howard: I spend a lot of time coming up with ridiculously band names but I don’t know if I would want to be called any of them. One of the names my roommates and I came up with was Freudian Nip Slip.

Sebastian: I have to think about this one. Probably like, The Silver Rockets. It’s a Sonic Youth song, so…

Dead Neighbors  cover art, by Austin Lonsway

Dead Neighbors cover art, by Austin Lonsway

What can you tell us about the process of making Dead Neighbors?

Sebastian: We’d been playing these songs for about a year and a half at that point. I was talking to Xander [Witt] from Muuy Biien about what we could do on a budget so he pointed me towards his friend Scott, who used to live at the [creative space] Secret Squirrel. He’s up in New York now. We just recorded the whole thing in his bedroom in the basement of the Secret Squirrel, which is beneath Ben’s Bikes. It was cool. [It was over] a period of about like a month or so?

Howard: Yeah it was like February.

Sebastian: Yeah, just over the course of that month we would just go over there on weekends, I would just drink a shit-ton of tea and either do guitar takes or vocal takes. Howard was able to get all of the drum takes out in one day. There was minimal confusion honestly. All things considered it went really smoothly considering our budget of nothing. It was really cool. So we recorded the whole thing for about a month, we sat in a listened to some mixes and I just gave him some notes on it and then we had the first copy of the album ready within a week after that. I sent it over to Terence [Chiyezhan], you know, murk daddy flex, [and] he mastered that first copy. But that mastering brought out some things I didn’t like about the album, like vocals too loud on Stereo Song or the guitar not sounding right on Ever or something like that. By that point, Scott had already moved to New York so it was emails back and fourth for about another month, giving him notes, trading music back and forth. After that was done, I brought the album over to Terence and we mastered the album in one day. We just sat in his bedroom and we mastered it using his monitors and his computer. I know enough about studio work to be dangerous enough but for the most part he was like “just close your eyes and tell me when you think there is enough reverb.” It was actually really easy and very fast. We knocked the whole thing out in about four hours. On a side note he had some of the best tea I’ve ever had.

What was it like recording in a bedroom?

Sebastian: Cozy. It was a cool bedroom so that helped psych me up for it.

Howard: It sounded pretty good. I don’t know a lot about sound but Scott told me it was a good room to record drums in, it was like L-shaped.

Sebastian: It was very asymmetrical.

Howard: So the drums sounded good. It was a very relaxed thing. I feel like in a studio there would be a lot more pressure to get stuff done as soon as possible.

Sebastian: The vibe felt good.

What would you say is the overall mood of the album, what it felt like when recording?

Sebastian: So, have you ever watched Neon Genesis Evangelion? It felt like that!

Howard: I’ve never watched that.

Sebastian: It’s an anime. But you know, it felt surreal for me. Just doing exactly what I wanted to do. Getting to play guitar really loud and sing into a microphone for money. It was cool.

Howard: The mood of the album itself, there are some more angry songs on there, but I think as we progress we get a bit more chilled out.

Alex: I’ve done my own stuff when I’ve recorded myself a long time ago, but it felt pretty natural. It was exciting to record all of the music we’ve been working on and playing at shows.

What equipment do you use that affects your sound most?

Sebastian: The combination between guitar and amplifier always has a weigh in on it. The guitar I was using was the very first electric guitar I owned. My dad got it for me for like, an eighth grade birthday present. It was a really crappy guitar, but it could still play and I think that guitar specifically had a greater effect on the way the album sounded, pedals notwithstanding

Alex: Sebastian doesn’t really use pedals all that much, and I don’t use them at all. I really just mess with equalizers a lot on the amps. 

The album is a sort of mixture between shoegaze and punk. Do you identify with one more than the other?

Sebastian: I feel like I listen to more shoegaze. I started discovering punk the summer after A Lot More Less ended up disintegrating and it heavily informed me when I was writing the album. Bands like Mission of Burma and Sonic Youth. Sonic Youth isn’t necessarily punk, but they do have their punkier moments.  It’s kind of hard to put Dead Neighbors in a box but I end up saying, for the sake of ease, that we split the different between Mission of Burma and My Bloody Valentine. I guess myself, I identify with the shoegazer archetype if there is one.

Howard: I’d say for drumming, I’ve always played punk rock beats on the drunk set. So I guess the default, go-to drum parts that I wrote, especially for the first songs, were a lot more punk influenced for sure.

Fall Break Records is distributing the album as cassettes. How do you feel about that particular format and are there plans to release it in others?  

Sebastian: I feel like a cassette is the best way to listen to the album honestly. There is just that layer of hiss that adds something else to music. And I think specifically what we’re playing is going to sound really good on it. We don’t have any plans to release it on any other format right now. For most of our shows, what we’ve been doing right now is just burning CDRs in my room and having people pay what they want. Technically its out on CDs but only if you come to our shows. [Dead Neighbors is available on cassette and digital format here, as well as on iTunes here.]

What is your favorite song off the album?

Sebastian: That’s a tough question. It’s probably “Tell” because it’s got both sides, it has both of the moods that we explore on the album in one song. That and it’s just really fun to play. The transition part with all the snare drum hits and all the harmonics on the guitar part is really cool. It’s the most fun to play for me.

Howard: Yeah I like “Tell.” I think it’s my favorite because the song was written very well. It has the light airy part in the beginning and then hits you in the face.

Alex: I would probably say, I like “Stereo Song,” but Tell is probably a close second. It’s either or.

 What is the song you hate most in this world?

 Sebastian: You know, for a while it was actually “Hey QT” but I’ve done a complete 180 since because I fucking love PC Music.

Howard: There are a lot of songs that I’ve heard that I just think are terrible and I would want to do most things other than listening to them, but I don’t know the names of them or who it’s by.

Alex: This is specific and it’s not like they wrote the song but I just recently heard Guns N’ Roses cover of “Knocking on Heavens Door” and that would have to be one of them to be honest. Or anything written by Nickleback.

What is a lyric you’ve misheard in the past?

Sebastian: This happens to me a lot. I was reading the lyrics to “Zebra” by Beach House and for the most part I just didn’t understand anything Victoria Legrand was saying at all. I looked at the lyrics, they’re actually really pretty. I always thought the song was explicitly about Zebras but now that I’ve read the lyrics I have no idea.

Howard: Recently I listened to a Smashing Pumpkins song called “Lucky 13” and I swore that he said something about Obama in the chorus. They I looked it up and the song was released in 2001.

Alex: 75% of what Nirvana preforms. And in studio too.

What does it mean to you to be in an artist in Athens, Georgia?

Sebastian: It feels really cool to me. With the album now, I feel like we just kept this really cool tradition going, kind of like the passing of a torch. Right now we are just a little scribble in a really big book but I think it’s pretty cool to be a part of a scene that is bigger than yourself.

What are some of your favorite local bands?

Sebastian: Always much love to Muuy Biien. RIP Nurture. Lets see, if we’re talking Athens and Atlanta I love Warehouse so much. We’ve been super tight with Swamp since day one.

Howard: Yeah, I like Swamp. And in Atlanta I like the band Sling.

Sebastian: Shouts out to Saline too.

What is your favorite venue to play?  

Sebastian: I love playing Flicker. The sound guys are cool, you get two free beers, and I like how it looks and the way the stage is set up. They have some weird stuffed birds above the stage and some flags. My favorite addition is if you’re on the stage and looking directly forward and then up there’s a big black light poster that just says “Don’t Fuck Up.”

Howard: Flicker is my favorite as well. If you get like 15-20 people there, even that amount of people it feels like it’s full.

Alex: I think my favorite to play would be the 40 Watt but in terms of places we regularly play at I would say Flicker also.

What other cities would you like to play most, and which bands would you most like to tour with?  

Sebastian: I want to play in New York, Berlin, and Tokyo and I want to tour with Deerhoof. On a slightly more realistic note, we’ve had multiple bands from Boston and Philadelphia play with us and they’ve always been really receptive to it. So I think playing there would be really fun. Also on a more realistic note, I would like to tour with Scooterbabe.

Howard: I’d like to play in Chicago maybe, or like San Francisco or London.

Alex: In terms of a venue I think it would be cool to play Royal Albert Hall or something like that. 

Why should people care about what you’re doing?

Sebastian: Well, I can’t tell people to care about it, but it’s really earnest I think. We didn’t make this band because we wanted to make money, we’re doing it because we want to make music and it really comes through on the album. I think people should care because it’s such an earnest offering of music. It’d be really cool if everyone listened to it.

What’s next for Dead Neighbors?

Sebastian: Even while we were recording the album I was working on new material. We have two new songs that weren’t on the album that we’ve been playing live for a few months now. I’m working on writing words for a third song so I was thinking we get like, two more and I make some ambient stuff and we could have a good EP on our hands.

Dead Neighbors is out now on Fall Break Records, and you can buy it in cassette and digital formats here, as well as on iTunes here.