Delivering an unorthodox sound with their post-punk hooks and brazen lyrics, Dead Tooth has been building a reputation in the industry by differentiating themselves and avoiding being pinned into a particular genre.
The band was formed by frontman, Zach James and DIIV's lead guitar aficionado Andrew Bailey. Together, the formation of Dead Tooth has been combining dark elements that reflect societal influences, provide delirious melodies, and give concepts that are visually and sonically appealing to listeners and creatives to perceive with their deep meanings.
To further discuss the band’s history, upbringing, and their musical journey, they sat down with Variance's Ethan Ijumba to converse about their upcoming EP and newest video for their song “Blind.” Be sure to stream Dead Tooth on all platforms, as well as the full video for their song below.
When I listen to your music it strikes me as a mix of influences - post-punk, art rock, industrial, folk, and new wave. What’s the origin of Dead Tooth’s sound? What are some of your primary influences as a songwriter?
Shlop some old sad country songs and hip hop in there and you've just about covered our wheelhouse of influence as far as genres go. The sound probably originated somewhere in my Dad’s CD collection in the late 90s when my brain was just starting to get spongy. One year I had asked for a Smash Mouth CD for my birthday and my Mom obliged, pairing it with Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and a heavy nod towards the Sabbath. I’ve dreamed of opening up for a Sabbath/Mouth tour ever since.
With that being said, do you feel your band has so far been able to individualize itself in the robust music scene in NYC?
Yeah for sure. Genres don't make the band IMO. It’s how you affect that genre and the heart and soul you put into it the music. In my opinion, the most important part of having a band is having fun. There are hundreds of bands scrutinizing their sound and trying to take themselves super seriously but the minute you stop having the time of your life on stage the audience is over it. I think that’s what separates us from a lot of what’s going on. We’re playing rock music. I happen to think it’s really good rock music but no matter how you spin it the genre’s been done a million times over. It’s about giving the music life. That’ll affect everything throughout the whole process. In the studio, on the stage FUN, FUN, FUN, FUN. That’ll cause you to experiment. That’ll take the song outside of the genre and give it life and separate you from the rest.
The “Blind” music video just oozes Brooklyn, NYC - in a good way. Firstly, how long have you been a New Yorker? And what was the experience like shooting through those alleys at night? Who played the dancer that we follow throughout?
Haha that's so awesome that you say that. Shooting it was so fun, there was great natural lighting from all the street lamps and nobody bothered us at all. People here don't care what you do. There's too much going on and the specific area we shot is very much a place of the industry so, after a certain hour, it closes down and feels like a concrete desert. Nola, the dancer, was born and bred in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She's the coolest. Her father worked for the MTA until he retired. A true New Yorker. I grew up in NY state but in a rural town about an hour and half northwest of the city and moved here right after high school. It's been over 15 years in the city and I’d still hesitate to say I’m a New Yorker. To me, the real New Yorkers are the people that have been here forever. The Mom and Pop shoe repair shops have been at it for 50+years. The bodega workers that don’t stop. These are the people that make this place really special. I still consider myself a guest and try and keep humble.
How did DIIV’s Andrew Bailey become involved with the project? What’s the likelihood of a Dead Tooth x DIIV tour down the line?
Andrew and I met when we both used to work at a vegan diner called Champs some seven years ago. He was making the juices and I was delivering the food. He'd get me stoned on smoke breaks and I'd fuck up the deliveries. It was a blast. We’d go off on our fascination for conspiracy theories and turned into friends quickly. I invited him to come to see my old band The Adventures of the Silver Spaceman play at Rippers. He came with his ex and they were the only people at the show but he told me he really liked it and that we play guitar in very similar ways. We decided to jam and he was right about our guitar styles and it was really fun. For a guy who listens to strictly hip hop, he’s such a ripper. I tend to live under a rock sometimes and didn’t know he was in Diiv. He invited me out to a show and put me on the list and sure enough, they were headlining Music Hall of Williamsburg. What a show! I’ve seen them many times since and they just get better and better. We'd love to tour with DIIV! I've become a huge fan of their band over the years and they’re all such chill and talented people. Deceiver is my favorite record yet and the new stuff sounds even cooler from what I’ve heard. I think it’d be tricky having Andrew on double duty and wouldn’t want him getting worn out before their set but we’ve got people in the mix playing those parts live when he’s gone so I feel like it could work. Maybe he could just come out and rip a solo to warm up before their set. But yeah that’d be super sick. Cole, if you're reading this, let's tour together!
Can you give us the backstory on the upcoming EP, Pig Pile? Where did you record, who produced it, what were you aiming to achieve in making it? And what’s the inspiration behind the EP’s name?
I produced the record myself with help from a lot of people. For the most part, I wrote the songs from my bedroom and made lo-fi prototypes of each one in logic. I knew how I wanted it to sound and had the tools to make sketches of that. I drummed out beats on my laptop and tracked the cords and lyrics with an sm57 in my room. Once I had the structures all finessed, I began getting the actual sounds and having the band put their spin on the parts. That was the process for pretty much everything except Hollow Skin which came from a dancey droning jam me, Dylan, and Jason did at our old practice space. We must have jammed on it for 30 minutes. Pretty much one cord the whole time. I recorded it on my iPhone and then chopped up the parts I liked. I looped and re-structured it into a song adding a chorus and then wrote a bunch of lyrics/additional guitar parts over it. We went to Trout Recordings where my bandmate from Wives, Adam Sachs works and re-tracked those parts there. Trout has the coolest vintage gear and Adam’s insane at getting sounds. He went on to mix the whole EP and master all the songs but Blind. The name Pig Pile comes from the title track and alludes to a lot of things. The Orwellian pigs represent greed and corruption, most of this music was written in the Trump era, so there’s a lot of angst in it. Not to say things have gotten much better but he had a way of inducing angst and anxiety-like no other which in turn helped fabricate some of this music. There’s also a card game called pig pile where you’re constantly throwing down on top of your opponent’s cards. It feels similar to our internet-curated culture where the desire to be heard and seen vastly takes precedence over creating things from the heart and having genuine experiences. Feels like everyone is competing to be that top card. Nobody is more guilty than our former president. It’s all very upsetting. This album felt like a way of expressing that loosely veiled allegory.
On the name-note, how did you exactly settle on the name, DEAD TOOTH for the band?
My front tooth is dead from a bicycle accident. Our previous band name was long and fantastical so I wanted to go the opposite direction. Dead Tooth felt simple and honest. Some people have suggested getting the tooth capped or at least dyed white to match the other teeth but I like the way it looks and decided to own it. It’s been really fun on tour because someone in every city has a dead tooth and it’s cool to hear the stories.
Forming a band almost always comes with unforeseen obstacles - did you face any notable challenges to get this project off the ground? How have you navigated Covid through it all?
It's all obstacles. You've got to want to be in a band deep down to do it. Once you have songs and people that are willing to play with you the main obstacle is balancing everyone's schedule/work-life. The more a band picks up steam the more is required of their members and the more it affects everyone's lives. There's a juulsexual meme that's like a picture of a puzzle called "successful music career" or something like that and then the one piece of the puzzle that's missing just says "rich parents" on it which is just about says it all. This band doesn't have any inheritances or funding meaning at this point everyone in the band has a day job and there are six of us give or take. It's complicated as hell making that all work. Navigating covid was a real trick. It stirred a great transformation in everyone. Some of my best friends had kids and took out loans for houses. For me, it only invigorated what I wanted to do. Also, conveniently one of my favorite pastimes is to sit in a room for hours writing/producing music. I could live off rice and beans and do that forever so it allowed me freedom and time to do that in ways I had never had before. So, while the band went through certain transformations, hardships and line-up changes it gave me the time to be able to deal with those things all the while still creating more than I ever had before. The whole pot got stirred up, but Dead Tooth is feeling stronger than ever.
When did you link up with your label, Trash Casual? Are there plans for a full-length album after the EP drops?
I met AJ through our lawyer/publisher Dave, who came to a show at the Broadway. Dave is one of those cool rockstar lawyers who builds his guitars and motorbikes when he’s not trying to help bands. He brought AJ to a show at Rubulad over the summer. Upon meeting AJ you can tell he's a very genuine person and music lover. He loved the set and that kind of kicked everything off. We had a finished EP and were trying to figure out how to release it and it felt like a really good fit. AJ gives off such good energy and genuinely cares about music. He's done it all from touring in bands and doing door at DIY venues to working on publishing with Fugazi. He knows the whole industry from personal experience. It seemed like the proper home for our EP. I hear horror stories from people signing to smaller labels. I have friends who've been ghosted for months by their labels. We have a constant dialogue going and feel genuinely cared for. Yes, we've got a few follow-up singles as well as a Dead Tooth full length in the work, as of right now the release date is unknown.