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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Dead Americans Sophmore Debut: Pig Fish

The Dead Americans
Pig Fish
Keep it Fake 
Celebrating their sophomore release, The Dead Americans will debut their CD Pig Fish Saturday, February 18th , 2012 at a free show at the Oak Street Speakeasy with Hot Drama
The Dead Americans, a blend of pop, ska, rock and punk got their start in 2003.  Capitalizing on their right to freedom of speech, principal songwriters are Zak Johnson and Kyra Kelly.  
The current lineup has been together since 2005 with John Raden, on drums.  Raden, like Johnson, teaches music for a living.  Currently, Raden and Johnson both also play and tour with Candy Apple Bleu and David Jacobs-Strain.  Bass player, Josh Britton,  a U of O music school graduate, proficient in jazz and well as rock, country and metal. He, too, teaches music for a living and regularly gigs and performs with other acts.  Rhythm guitar player, Terry Travis is the soft spoken one in the band, lending a “touch of class” to the band’s often rowdy performances. 
The bands first CD, The Boy Who Shot Out the Sun, was released in 2006 and was met with some acclaim not only locally, but throughout their West Coast tour, opening up for such well-knowns as Shiny Toy Guns and the Trucks to the all girl AC/DC tribute band, Hell’s Bells.
Speaking with Kyra Kelly, singer/songwriter of this Eugene-based band, I was able to gain some insight into the CD, the band, and a little bit about the politics of the band’s music. It's apparent from hearing this CD this band is destined to headline.
Kelly explains a little bit about how this CD came to fruition. This album was a long labor of love. During the course of the past 7 years, the band has written approximately 60 songs, recorded about 25, and whittled it down to the current selection for Pig Fish.   Several of the songs on Pig Fish were recorded by our friend and fellow musician Dave Trenkel.  We recorded the 3 newest songs at Gung Ho Studio with Billy Barnett. We had help with mixing from Billy and our friend and fellow musician Blake Padilla. The final album was mastered by Billy Barnett at the beautiful Gung Ho studio right here in Eugene.”   

The Dead Americans
 I also had a chance to listen to the tracks of the CD.  Kelly’s voice is as strong as Aimee Mann (of ‘Til Tuesday), as rough as Joan Jett (Joan Jett and The Blackhearts) and as a raw as Janis Joplin.  This CD has some socially sobering songs as written by both lead guitarist and vocalist, Zak Johnson, as well as some in collaboration with Kelly.
When trying to make some sense of the title of the CD, I asked Kelly for some kind of hint.  She explains “the take home message of the album is that it’s important to challenge systems that ultimately suppress you or eat you up inside. If we as Americans can’t intelligently question authority, then we’re already dead, as in zombified and powerless.  It’s a play on the phrase “big fish in small ponds.” The new phrase “Pig Fish” takes it up a notch as a social critique. The Pig Fish are the tiny minority of bloated untouchables who create the laws that govern the rest of us.  The Pig Fish are up there in their exclusive cliques, above the law and unreachable for the average person. I think of these “Pig Fish” who create magical ladders that they take right up behind them as they climb their secret path into privileged safety zones, thus denying others access.”
At this point, asking about religion really seemed pointless.  Especially given the fact that this very topic presents itself in  a song off the CD. 
Like most albums, Pig Fish is an intimate audio accounting of the lives and times of the songwriters.   This eleven-song CD illustrates angst for a decaying society, demoralizing social mores and the upheaval known only to true revolutionaries.
Kelly wrote the first track, Born Again, a song inspired by her rejection of her Catholic faith at the age of 17 by refusing to be confirmed.  Musically, the song is reminiscent of the song Dragon Attack by Queen off The Game album.  This song pulses with a beat that is difficult to forget.  The title track song, Pig Fish,written by Johnson, outlines the different levels of hierarchy. It details how innocent lives are often lost within the system of power and how being locked into a corrupt system can be a frustratingsoul sucking thing. Both of the songs Cryin’ Sunshine and Mercy deal with similar subject matter and metaphor: Kids who have been cast out by their parents/people that have been cast out by society.  
While the CD is a strong representation of this skill this band has, both musically and lyrically, there are two songs that struck this writer’s attention:  Agnostic Song and Rainy Day. Both are songs that illustrate this band's strengths.
Agnostic Song, written by Zak Johnson, is melodic with a catchy guitar hook permeating the entire song, coupled with Johnson’s Elvis Costello like vocals and the ‘mixed down’ production.  It’s not rock, or pop… The vocal harmonies depict a vocal discipline not often heard in clubs and certainly demonstrates the caliber of talent this band possesses.  Originally titled “Et Tu, Jesu?” This song grapples with socially prescribed belief systems vs. trusting in the wisdom of your own soul’s path. 
The song, Rainy Day, lyrics by Kyra Kelly, music by Zak Johnson, is a song that was inspired by the concept of domestic unhappiness stemming from socially prescribed gender roles & financial stress which many people feel unfulfilled in or trapped by.  This punk-like song is tight with syncopated rhythms and strong guitars.  Johnson shines in his guitar solo with Raden's masterful drumming.  

Kyra Kelly
 Kelly sheds light on the band’s name and explains “Sometimes I feel like the phrase “Dead Americans” is another metaphor for the sort of trance so many of us are living under, as we unquestioningly swallow the things we see and hear through media messages, political campaigns that we don’t really have the full story on, religious institutions that also brainwash much of the American public into passively accepting a position of powerlessness. It’s easy to feel like voting is a waste of time with all of the contradictory messages you hear and all of the half-truths we are told.”
She goes on to say, “In spite of all of this, ultimately there is hope. I think it starts with waking up and questioning things that will break the spell and allow us to come back to ourselves and each other. Being yourself doesn’t always come easy when there are lots of other forces telling you to “be the best, eliminate the competition, do it your way at all costs… oh, and by the way, hurry up!”  
Explaining some of her stage show antics, she says, “I like to poke a little fun at the whole mess, too. That’s why I occasionally do things like dress like a playboy bunny, pour fake blood on myself, and writhe around the stage strangling myself with a gigantic $100 bill. It’s a great stress reliever!”
With this new CD, this band has proven their ability as individual musicians as well as a band.  Exploiting the material-rich social climate, The Dead Americans do well at punctuating their view of this world with pounding beats, steady rhythms and music that makes you want to move.

--Nancy Glass

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