Jive Magazine Interview with DEAD P.A.
Just another pair of DJs? Hardly. DEAD P.A. is a musical collaboration between Jason Walsh (aka Papa Zero) and George Blitch (aka the Human Drum Machine). The effort is more in the vein of a band or rock group than than a traditional DJ – except the music isn't rock, it's drum & bass. Here's how it works: Jason plays the synthesizer and triggers all the effects, samples, loops, and so on. George sits down at an electronic drum kit and bangs away for all he's worth. Occasionally, Jason or a guest vocalist will sing, and George also guest-raps on occasion.
The Houston-based duo just came off a multi-city tour that included Florida, Las Vegas, and my adopted home city of Austin TX, where they opened for Concord Dawn. I asked the guys to sit down and chat for a bit. Here's what they said.
JIVE MAGAZINE: How did DEAD P.A. get started? What was the inspiration for DEAD P.A.?
JASON - DEAD P.A. was the natural progression from my last project Population Zero (from which, incidentally, I aquired my tag "papa zero." The owner of 1216records just started calling me that out of the blue). I was performing solo sets and began to accumulate more drum & bass material than anything else. George and I are both extremely eclectic, but once we decided to start "jamming" we figured continuing with the jungle angle would make for the most frenetic performance.
The inspiration for DEAD P.A. is a little offbeat. We both take interest in a number of underdog causes and while the name "DEAD P.A." was intended to be tounge in cheek, we thought it might also serve as a flag for some of those causes or a means for select "dead public announcements." One such cause is the Native American political prisoner Leonard Peltier. It remains to be seen just how far we will push that aspect of the act.
GEORGE - For me it was putting together my ideas along with Jason to create something unique and energetic. I have performed as a drummer for almost 15 years in various types of bands in Texas and throughout New England. I purchased an electronic drum set just before I returned to Houston from Boston and I wanted to move into a new direction with my music. Once I reconnected with Jason and we traded musical ideas, we realized the elements we could both bring to the table, and we were ready to create our project. Our first gig came quickly, so our name did as well. Since then, we've been trucking along trying to fuse various styles and personal tastes into a form of music we never want to fully define, but continually explore.
JIVE MAGAZINE: Describe the "mechanics" of a DEAD P.A. set. How does the music get produced and performed?
JASON - Our live sets are a mixture of live percussion, guitar, keys, triggered loops and samples, live vocals, sequenced and recorded material. I'm aware that it's often frowned upon to use recorded material but then, I've never been convinced that an artist pushing play on an ADAT is doing much more than an artist pushing play on a sequencer. It all comes back to the preparation invested. I'm really more interested in the interaction with the music rather than the DJ-esque metacomposition of a set. I'd much rather sing on the edge of the stage during a track or play guitar on top of a speaker cab than alternate between sequence A and sequence B with a mouse click. Certainly anyone that has seen George play for an hour at 180 bpm can vouch for our stage show. One element that I really have fun with is running the live Roland drum kit through the DJ crossfader in my rig. I'm still pretty sloppy with the turntablist tricks, but it's fun to use "turntablism" without actually using any turntables.
JIVE MAGAZINE: How did you two meet? How long have you been together, and when did you start adding collaborators? How did you meet your collaborators?
JASON - George and I met in the early 90's while we were in high school playing in sister rock bands. I sang in a rock act called "Backlash" and he played drums for a metal act called "Hollow Point." Eventually, the line up of Backlash fell apart and I asked George to drum for us. He learned the songs then promptly stole our bassist and formed another band. This is what ultimately drove me to swear off rock bands and put me in the market for a drum machine. Drum machines always show up for practice.
We started the DEAD P.A. project in January of 2003 upon George's graduation from Northeastern University and return from Boston. I discovered he had a Roland electronic drum kit and thought it might make for a cool live show. As for adding collaborators - we added Levon in July of 2005. George couldn't make it to a show I wanted to schedule on my birthday in Port Arthur, Texas, so I came up with the idea of doing a one-off with a fellow local live P.A. artist. The gig went off so well George and I inducted him into the act. He moved to Los Angeles sometime later after receiving a job offer from Midway Games and has joined us for shows from time to time.
Krystal [Hardwick] is a completely different story. I've always sought out female vocalists to add a little something different to select tracks. Invariably, I would always run into some problem with those guest vocalists that I attempted to work with. Either they couldnt put time into a project, they choked up singing in front of others, or there was some other issue. I met Krystal on Myspace and after hearing some of her stuff, I got with her for a session. She immediately stepped up to the plate in a professional manner.
JIVE MAGAZINE: How old are you guys? Do you have day jobs, and if so, what are they and is it possible you will give them up soon?
JASON - I'm 32 at the moment. We both have "day jobs." I suppose if we can get everyone to read this copy of JIVE - we just might give those jobs up.
GEORGE - I'm 27 years old, and I wear a few hats. My 9-5 job is as a Financial Advisor. I work mainly with small towns and cities and assist them with their public finance. I love the job and feel it is something I will stick with for some time. I have had some flexibilty to create my schedule and adjust it to the DEAD P.A. touring, which has been quite a blessing...to have my cake and eat it too!
I also run a publishing company - HYT Publishing - mainly focusing on works by and about Native Americans (www.haveyouthought.com). Aside from that I dabble in graphics, video and multimedia projects with Son of a Blitch Productions (www.sonofablitch.com).
JIVE MAGAZINE: At the Austin show, you joined with Concord Dawn and Domestic Disturbance to dress like, and show your appreciation for, Pantera. Explain your fascination with the band.
JASON - Some musicians simply transcend genre. While there is no escaping Pantera's signature power groove sound, Dimebag Darrel's composition and virtuosity was unparalleled.
GEORGE - I remember covering Pantera tunes with my old metal band. I just dug their sound and how extremely hard core their music was. I feel they defined themelves as something fresh in the hard rock/metal category and they had a unique sound that was never confused with any other act. That's the kind of reaction I want people to get with Dead P.A. I want our sound to be unique, but also I want the ability for us to have the freedom to move in any direction we want it to go.
JIVE MAGAZINE: Jason, describe your synth/effects/mixer setup. What is your musical background?
JASON - My live rig changes depending on the songs and preparation in any given show, but most often I have my K2000s, Access Virus, Electrix MoFX, Behringer mixer, and a crappy DJ mixer we picked up in a pawn shop. Now and then I'll have a DX21, Oxygen 8, DR-5, or SH-101 on hand. As I mentioned earlier my background as a musician was rooted in my role as lead vocalist in a rock band. I picked up guitar playing while in the band to facilitate my ability to write music. I never really received any formal training in the way of an instrument or music theory.
JIVE MAGAZINE: George, describe your drums setup. What is your musical background?
GEORGE - I have a Roland TD-10 electronic drum set. The TD-10 is the brain unit which stores over 800 sounds, and gives me the ability to tweak each drum sound and add effects if I want - to customize the drum sounds accordingly to what the song needs. I've been playing this set up since 2002; however, I've been playing drums since 1992. I've been in rock bands, blues, punk, metal, hip hop, funk...you name it and I've been a part of it. I've recorded with many talented musicians and it has truly helped me to build my own skill level to where I feel comfortable performing any type of music as a drummer/percussionist. I have also honed my skills at being an MC over the years. I have dabbled with the guitar and have written about an album worth of my own tracks. One will be featured on our album - "Lifeguard."
The cool thing about Dead P.A. is that I get to explore so much of what I've always wanted to do with a band. I got tired of being in the back of the stage playing drums in a band. I wanted to get out and sing, rhyme, be the entertainer that gets the crowd pumped up. I always felt limited as a drummer in being a part of that showmanship. I've found everything I've wanted to be with Dead P.A. and I couldn't be happier. I have the freedom to work on every level of performance I've ever wanted to and soon I'll be pushing a lot more multimedia work within our set. This next year we're going to blow your minds with what we have in store for you!!!
JIVE MAGAZINE: Why not just be DJs?
JASON - Although I have great respect for the role of the DJ, I've never really had an interest in DJing. I enjoy the interaction with the music and audience that comes from the performance of my own material. I believe that a big part of why we've made so much headway is because of the more "in your face" delivery - something people aren't used to at dance or club events. Unfortunately, it's quite common that crowds will cluster up and just stare at whatever is going on behind the decks which is usually a DJ with his head down focused on a mix. We like to get a little rowdy and make it more of a show.
GEORGE - First off, I don't know how to DJ. I'd like to learn how, but that'll take some time to master. The main thing is that I love the incorporation of live instruments during performances. A DJ can knock the doors off its hinges with a nice drop, but I'd rather blow the roof off a building and watch the walls collapse around me while someone is ripping it up live on stage. The energy that a performer gives the audience when playing live makes the audience give more energy back to the performer and that cycle can continue exponentially. A DJ has set songs to work with, whereas a live performance gives the performer the ability to step it up to another level, try out new things, and create new ideas on the spot, without restrictions. There is room to work within a live performance setting. I love DJs and I am not blasting them. I wish I could have the equal skills many of them do. I just prefer doing the live performance thing.
JIVE MAGAZINE: Describe life on the road between here, Vegas, Florida, and everywhere in between. How successful has your touring been?
JASON - We've had an incredible time touring. From the Vegas Halloween party Devil's Night 9 to playing on South Beach during WMC, we've seen some interesting things and places but it's always the people that really make it worthwhile. Jackson, MS; Mobile, AL; Dallas, TX; and Jacksonville, FL; have become favorites because of the warm reception we always receive!
GEORGE - The touring life is not for everyone. Long flights, road trips, crazy hours, mediocre food, very little sleep....it can be draining. The plus side is that we've been able to travel around the US and see cities we might not otherwise get the chance to explore, and concurrently, meet the people in these places we might not normally run across in our daily lives. We both have wanted to live this dream and now it is our reality. We may be tired from performing a show and not sleeping for more than a few hours before jetting across the country to another gig, but I think we both leave that weariness behind when the first beat drops. There is something so amazing about performing your own music and having the crowd react to it that just gives you so much energy to work with. Sometimes I feel like I've downed a case of Red Bulls before we hit the stage. I think that can be seen in our stage show. We bring out a level of live energy that shock people sometimes. I think it just shows how passionate we are about putting on a great show every night.
We've been received very well at every show we've played. A lot of people are taken aback at the fact that we do everything live. It really is unique in our genre of music. The touring has given us a chance to play in front of so many different people and they've in turn spread the word about us and its created a buzz about us in the scene. That's helped our touring out tremendously - as promoters talk to other promoters and have been invested in wanting to see us become more successful. We owe a lot of thanks to the promoters and the fans that have spread our name around. We've showed up to new cities and crowds are singing our tunes right along with us and that is something that makes us even more pumped up. Those moments are truly memorable. There is nothing like doing something you love and having people enjoy it.
JIVE MAGAZINE: Who inspires you musically?
JASON - Ironically, I find a lot of my inspiration to create outside of music. I'll see a brilliant movie or find a good read and it will leave this residual feel that I will attempt to translate into song. This is probably a big part of why I rarely produce stuff in lockstep with what is going on in conventional dancefloor. I may not always capture the same essence of that resiual feel - but as an artist I can find satisfaction with whatever creature takes shape thereafter.
GEORGE - I have a variety of influences. I listen to all types of music. I just enjoy great music - whether that means rock, rap, blues, jazz, folk, classical, or whatever. There are a lot of times when I put on music because I am in a particular mood or because I want to be in a certain mood. I have thousands of CDs, and I turn to them quite often. Recently I've seen a lot of live shows and I get inspired every time I see someone doing something on stage. Just the live musical atmosphere gets my blood pumping and my ideas flowing.
JIVE MAGAZINE: Where do you see DEAD P.A. in 2007 and beyond?
GEORGE - I see Dead P.A. having a very successful year in 2007.
We'll be dropping our album at the beginning of the year, and I think that will be a great thing for us. We also are planning on doing a lot around the Winter Music Conference in Miami in March. We've done so much grassroots work in the last couple of years and 2006 was a huge year for us. We played a lot of different shows throughout the country and have received amazing feedback from everyplace we've gone. People know most of our songs now, but we've been working on a lot of new ones and with the inclusion of our female vocalist, Krystal Hardwick, we've entered a new realm of abilities for our own music, both live and in our recordings. Things have been snowballing, in a good way, and I think with that success, during 2007 we'll be getting offers from all around the US and we'll begin to play some international shows as well.
Look out for us this new year and be prepared for us to come and rock your town upsidedown! Also, check back with our website and keep an eye out for our album release The Dead Will Rise. See you soon!