I recently caught up with Detroit indie rockers Deadbeat Beat before a show at Ypsilanti’s Dreamland Theater. I had seen them play in Ann Arbor a little over a week before but nearly failed to recognize guitarist Alex Glendening when he showed up to the venue, on account of the bitchin’ mustache he had grown since then. He was accompanied, of course, by drummer Maria Nuccilli, whose attire seemed to be of the same ’60s or ’70s vintage as Glendening’s ’stache, and bassist Zak Frieling, who rocked a classic Ramones crest tee.
It probably isn’t a stretch to say that Glendening and Nuccilli’s aesthetic uniformity is telling of a deeper bond. Friends since middle school, they often finish each other’s sentences and seem to have the same esoteric sense of humor. Glendening has a long, loud laugh that he appears to savor as it peals out of him. For his part as a relatively young Deadbeat, Frieling was quite unafraid to speak at length about the band, especially in relation to other bands — he’s a self-described music “freak.”
Above all else, these three are affable and laid-back. They’re rock ‘n’ roll lifers who are aware of their local hero status, without being egotistical or complacent. In fact, they firmly, but politely, resist certain perceptions about their sound that have built up over the years — perceptions that belie their love for some of rock’s most uncompromising and chameleonlike innovators.
One song from the set they played that night featured an extended solo from Glendening, who hunched over his pedals and strummed sixteenth notes with a furious expression on his face. It wasn’t exactly something you’d expect from Best Coast, a band with whom Deadbeat Beat were billed a couple of years back. Soon they’ll be in the studio for the first time since 2012 with a Detroit prog-rock kingpin; I can’t wait to hear what those sessions yield.
In a somewhat cramped, whitewashed anteroom at the back of the venue where the aforementioned show was played, Detroit Music Magazine spoke with Deadbeat Beat about their origins and influences, the perceptions that surround them, and what the future holds.
Could you give me a brief summary of the founding of the Deadbeat Beat? I read that you guys started 13 years ago — you weren’t called Deadbeat Beat.
Alex Glendening: Oh, we were a different band then.
Maria Nuccilli: [Laughs] Yeah.
When did you start going by Deadbeat Beat?
AG: 2010. April something, 2010.
Was there any shift musically, or was it strictly nomenclature?
AG: Our old band ended, and we wanted to do new material and change how we wrote songs.
So there was a personnel change?
MN: Yeah, our bass player from the prior band had moved down to Georgia, and our guitar player had been playing more with another band. Alex and I were the people who—
AG: We were like the core members.
MN: Yeah, so we just decided to keep on keepin’ on.
To what do you attribute the ongoing success of that songwriting partnership?
AG: Uhh… stubbornness.
MN: Yeah. And I guess just playing together for so long…
AG: After you hit a certain, you know, chunk of time, you just keep being able to do it forever.
Were you brought together by similar influences?
AG: We were brought together by common hates in high school.
MN: Yeah. Well, we met in middle school, cause we were both freaks.
MN: And, you know, Alex played guitar, and we didn’t start hanging out a lot until high school. But I decided to play drums because Alex can play guitar, and I was like, well we can just start a band, and I’ll figure something out.
AG: That’s what we did.
Fast-forwarding a little bit, would you call the space between When I Talk to You and your latest tape [Only Time Will Tell] a hiatus? Did you play?
AG: We played a lot.
MN: We did play a lot.
AG: We played a lot in several different lineups. And we amassed a back catalog of songs that still hasn’t been released, from that time. From like 2012 to 2016.
MN: Until now.
AG: Yeah, 2015, ’cause that’s when the tape came out.
And Zak joined in that space, right?
MN: Near the end, yeah.
Zak Frieling: Late 2014?
AG: Late 2014.
MN: No, 2015.
AG: Like early 2015.
ZF: The show was February 2015. I think we had some pre-holiday practices maybe…
MN: Yeah, Zak started playing with us in 2015. I feel like we still played some two-piece shows, though, without Zak, after we played a couple shows with Zak.
So you were very much active during that time period?
ZF: We played at Wendy’s, and we played Totally Awesome Fest.
MN: Zak knows.
AG: We played at Found Sound.
ZF: Found Sound was in October.
AG: The timeline’s a little… Basically it was a confusing time.
MN: We played with a lot of different lineups, a lot of different bass players, some different guitar players. We played shows as a two-piece as well.
Around the time When I Talk to You was released, I remember artists like Wavves, Best Coast, and Harlem all enjoying various levels of popular success—
AG: I loved that Harlem record.
That was a great record. I remember for all the cool kids in my high school, those were the bands to listen to. Would you agree that there’s less interest in the brand of lo-fi pop now that I think has a lot of similarities to Deadbeat Beat around that time? Does your latest tape reflect that?
ZF: I think that we’re pretty removed from that. I feel like, with those types of bands, I mean a lot of them are experiencing bigger success than, like—
ZF: —anyone would have thought six years ago. Ty Segall’s on TV all the time, and those bands have gone from playing the Lager House to playing The Majestic and stuff.
Right. There was kind of a lo-fi craze there.
MN: Yeah. Burger Records is doing really well.
ZF: I feel like it’s not something we consider or think about or talk about as a band, but as just like, as an Internet music freak. We’re like, “Oh, there’s this big thing in California going on, and bands like Parquet Courts in New York are like also huge all of a sudden.” It’s weird.
AG: I feel like, during that time, we got billed with a lot of bands that were like that.
I saw you opened for Best Coast, right?
AG: Yeah. That was a push for us to be with bands that we like, looked like, or something like that.
But you don’t associate with those artists super strongly?
MN: I guess never trying to specifically copy them.
AG: Yeah. We were never trying to be a lo-fi surf band.
Is your latest record maybe a reaction to the perception that you were that kind of band?
AG: No, that last record was written—
MN: Kind of at the height of us getting billed with all those bands.
AG: Yeah, at the height of us getting billed with all those bands and then… Yeah, maybe trying to write stuff that was different, starting to write long songs that weren’t fast, and I stopped using reverb on my vocals. But we’ve always been interested in vocal harmonies.
ZF: I remember one time, going back to my days before here, actually, when you guys played, someone made a comment to you guys like, “Oh, what are you into, like you guys are probably really influenced by like, the Black Lips or Ty Segall,” or whatever, and I remember thinking the case was more that there’s other bands that are also influenced by The Troggs, or The Byrds, or whatever.
AG: We’re more influenced by older records.
MN: Yeah! Which I feel like a lot of those bands probably are too.
ZF: Yeah, so it’s not like a coincidence where you guys are sitting around seeing these newer bands. It just happened to be like a shift or an alignment.
MN: The Black Lips sort of started playing shows when we were, you know— I mean, we started being aware of them probably when we were like 15.
AG: Like 2003.
They’re a touchstone.
MN: Yeah, so we were definitely into them. But definitely — at least in high school — we never tried to emulate them.
AG: We like didn’t know how.
MN: Yeah. [Laughs.]
AG: I would say our songs are more written as stand-alone pieces more than anything.
AG: ‘Cause there’s like, different genres involved. Like influences from different genres—
MN: I guess we wanna write songs that transcend any fad. You know?
ZF: It was really nice, in this review of our Hamtramck Blowout show or Music Fest show. It was one of the first articles about you guys I’ve ever seen, or us, or whatever, that didn’t include like, “sunny, fun pop band.”
AG: He was like, “Oh, these guys sound like they could be on Sarah or K Records,” and that was nice to hear instead of like, “Oh, these guys will be on Burger.”
MN: And I mean, all those bands are fine, like my other band’s on Burger. [Laughs.]
ZF: But yeah, showing that there are influences besides just like, surf music.
AG: We get really uptight about this. [Laughs.]
So you reject that?
AG: No, it’s fine. We just gotta work through it.
MN: I think all of us can be in agreement that we don’t wanna put something out, and then five years later be like, “Oh, that was really a product of its time completely.” You know? I mean, all my favorite records are definitely influenced by their time period. You know? But hopefully they also stand on their own, and hopefully that’s the kind of music we make. Hopefully! [Laughs.]
AG: Yeah. That’s what we’re going for.
I would see you guys as more organic contemporaries to those bands I mentioned earlier and not necessarily followers of a fad.
ZF: And I didn’t mean to be anything against, like, those bands or any bands that are just, like, straight-up pop-garage surf bands. But our influences have always been, you know, doing more than just one type of thing.
MN: I feel like we’re all too neurotic to just be that.
MN: Yeah, so that’s on us. [Laughs.]
For sure. You guys seem really well loved locally—
AG: [Gasps.] What?
What are the advantages and possible disadvantages of having a tightly knit scene?
AG: Good luck dating.
MN: Good luck dating is the only disadvantage, I would say.
Alright, fair enough.
MN: But you know, we have fun playing shows.
AG: It’s also nice because in the tight-knit community there’s a lot of people doing a lot of different things, and I feel like a lot of different types of musicians and artists all hang out because there’s not that many places to hang out.
MN: And you get inspired by each other.
ZF: And there’s a lot of good opportunities for collaboration. We’ve all played in other bands or done little guest spots with other bands or are currently in other bands.
You never feel like there’s an echo chamber effect, like it’s all very productive?
AG: It can be.
ZF: And everything’s pretty different, too. If you look at like, Kommie Kilpatrick and Twine Time and Outrageous Cherry and K9 Sniffies and Rebel Kind and the stuff that we’ve all kind of been with, it’s all real different but good and similar. Similar, but not like a repeating sound.
I don’t think there’s like a signature Detroit music scene sound.
MN: Yeah, not anymore.
But I think maybe people from outside Detroit would have a certain preconceived idea of what should sound like Detroit.
AG: That’s because there haven’t been records pushed out of Detroit in like—
MN: With major funding behind them—
AG: Yeah, in a long time.
I think people expect a certain grittiness, almost.
MN: I hope Protomartyr makes people expect all Detroit bands to sound like Protomartyr.
I was going to mention Protomartyr, because they’re very Detroit-centric. They sing about Detroit a lot and have a very sparse post-punk, kind of doomy vibe.
MN: I guess I’m interested to see how their success makes people think of Detroit music.
ZF: A lot of their reviews still sound the same as White Stripes reviews, where it’s like, “dark” and “gritty” and “They recorded in an abandoned building.”
You opened for Protomartyr at the Blind Pig.
AG: They’re a great band.
ZF: Yeah, they’re our friends. It’s Greg [Ahee]’s birthday.
AG: It is Greg’s birthday.
ZF: What’s nice about Detroit is it seems like the old-timey garage rock-y Detroit thing has kinda petered out a little bit. But there’s still like really great bands doing that, and then also like the crazy X! Records punk thing has also kind of shifted, and now it’s just kind of like… I don’t know, just a bunch of good bands all doing good, weird, cool stuff.
MN: Yeah, different stuff.
ZF: It’s a good mix of weird, but also there’s a lot of good poppy stuff and beautiful stuff and things that are both.
So can you see you guys moving away from that kind of fuzzy, garage sound? Not that you guys are strictly that but certainly bear some resemblances.
MN: If we got, you know, ten more band members and an orchestra behind us, maybe, but—
AG: Which sounds nice, so if you’re interested, call us. There’s no money in it. But yeah, I think we’re writing new songs that sound different. Like we’ve been doing instrumental jams at the beginning of practice that sound more dance-y.
ZF: Like this. [referring to electronic music in background]
AG: Just like this.
ZF: But speaking more to what we were saying about different styles and stuff, we’re all into old rock records and old ’60s garage records and stuff. We’re also really into ’70s and early ’80s post-punk records and disco records.
I saw you guys covered Wire on the first record. I thought that was telling of some heroes.
AG: I think we chose the Wire song because it’s a very melodic song that kinda sticks out from the rest of the record Pink Flag. And it has a really good bass line.
ZF: Wire are really good heroes for everyone. I think anyone. They were big with my old band where I did most of the songwriting. They were a big influence. And not exactly, like, copying that style of songwriting, but just their whole thing was just like, always changing from song to song and album to album, and doing complete left turns.
Your latest record was recorded in 2012. So you guys haven’t been in the studio since?
AG: No, but we’re going in like month. So it’s coming.
Are you going to record in the same space you did before?
MN: It doesn’t exist anymore.
AG: Oh yeah, it’s an elementary school now.
ZF: Malcolm X. But it was an elementary school that was made into like artists’ lofts and whatever for like a summer or two and now it’s back to being a school. Which is a rare and wise choice in Detroit. Enough of these artists’ studios; we need schools.
You dropped your latest release this past fall. Did you tour behind that yet?
MN: I’m finishing up grad school right now, so we’re a little bit limited until I do that.
AG: We’re going to be doing some out-of-town shows.
MN: Yeah, we’ll be going out of town, but nothing extended, until we put the next record out.
So we won’t have to wait another four years for a Deadbeat Beat release?
AG: We’re recording with Jeff from The Beekeepers.
ZF: They’re pretty weird and kind of avant-garde, but kind of poppy and psych.
AG: They’re kind of a prog band.
MN: They’re pretty psychedelic.
ZF: Their current lineup is just a drummer and two keyboard players and a bass player. And their keyboard players are all like, classically trained.
MN: Can they just do Keith Emerson night?
AG: [Laughs heartily.]
MN: ‘Cause you know, he died, and they need Keith Emerson night. He shot himself.
AG: ELP RIP.
ZF: But yeah, so hopefully recording the old batch of songs that didn’t get done and then new songs also and then recording more again soon after that.
Is the set that you play live now pretty much composed of a lot of songs that haven’t been recorded?
AG: It’s a mix of the stuff we just released, the new material, and old songs from the first tape.
ZF: I think tonight it’s two brand-new ones, two that we’ve been playing for a little while, and then three or four from the past two tapes. We usually like to keep it about like that.
MN: Yeah. But we are debuting a new song today. Hope it goes alright. Guess we’ll see.
What’s the name of that track?
AG: “As Fair as Claire.”
Nice. Well I’ll have to stick around for that for a first listen and to witness history.
ZF: And we’re playing one song that we’ve only played twice before. So it’s really new to everyone here probably.
Could you cover Wire? That would be cool. I would appreciate that.
MN: Oh, we haven’t practiced that in a while.
AG: I can play it.
MN: Yeah. If Zack’s up for it.
I was kidding. I was half-kidding. I do love that song.
ZF: Next time.
AG: Yeah we’ll do it next time.