Dead Ellington Q&A

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You’ve read our rave reviews of Dead Ellington‘s Refuse EP (I’m speaking to the Vinyl loyalists here).  You know that they are on tour starting today (I’m speaking to the Dead Ellington loyalists here).  Now, get pumped- I have a gift for you.  A little chat with DE’s Jason Caira, Sal Medrano, and Brandon Phillips.  I know, I know- I shouldn’t have.  But here it is.  Enjoy.  And be sure to head over to one of their live shows if you are in the area (or the area adjacent to the area).

Vinyl Mag: Can I get a brief history of the band? You guys are from around Boston? And you recorded this EP in New Jersey- how did that happen?

Jason Caira: The band actually started with just Sal and myself writing songs in his parents’ basement. At the time, Sal was drumming, and our friends Andrew and Greg were singing and playing bass. We only played about five or 10 shows before we had to make a lineup change, which put Sal on lead vocals and our friend Brian on drums. This was the real beginning of Dead Ellington. After a handful of lineup changes that brought us Brandon, James, and Craig, we have what you now know as Dead Ellington.

Sal Medrano: We’ve grown up around the Allston/Brighton/Cambridge area, which is really the core of the Boston music scene. As far as how New Jersey happened, I kinda just reached out to Pete [Steinkopf of the Bouncing Souls] through e-mail. One of my first shows ever growing up was the Bouncing Souls. I have always looked up to that band in terms of musicianship, management, and ethics. So when the opportunity to record with Pete came up, it was a dream come true. Over the years we had met each other in passing and have some friends in common. So I sent him some demos, and he was down for working with us, so we set sail for Asbury Park. Since the studio is in Jersey, we aimed at recording the record in a weekend. We had to work hard to get everything done, because driving back from Boston wasn’t really an option. In February, Asbury Park is completely dead, but it was kinda nice to see it that way. It’s almost how bands go out into remote areas of the wilderness to record a record, but for us it was in an urban environment.

Brandon Phillips: When I joined the band in 2004, I added another layer of raucous riffage, and things really turned up for the band… in the best way. I give much thanks to Sal for hooking us up with Pete Steinkopf. “Maniacal Laughter” was played the f*ck out on my discman when I was 13-14 and over a decade later, getting to work with one of the Souls (in K8’s basement!) was something of a lucid dream. We worked super hard the three days we had allotted, and Pete was really awesome to work with. Super nice guy and helped us GET SH*T DONE. We all have somewhat severe A.D.D.

VM: How did you end up working with Stephen Egerton? I completely geeked out when I read that. 

SM: With Stephen it was a bit different [than it was with Pete]. I have worked for a number of bands and met people who worked for ALL/Descendents, and we have always been a huge, huge fan of both. I might be more of an ALL fan- people think I’m crazy for that, but I am. One Halloween I made an Allroy pumpkin that came out awesome…I e-mailed it to Stephen…He replied, and I mentioned I have a band. He told me to reach out if we ever wanted to record or master. Almost two years later, I saw an ad for another punk band’s record that said it was recorded by Pete and mastered by Stephen. I figured, ‘Why not do the same?’  So I reached out to him. I shot him an e-mail, and we talked on the phone.  It kinda blew my mind a bit when we were talking, and the guy from two of my favorite bands said he would master our record. I feel it’s so important to work with people who have a similar sound and have been doing this for a long time.

JC: Pete is one of the most patient people I’ve ever met.  He worked us to the bone, but he got what we consider to be the best record we could have made.  He kept everything light-hearted, but was focused and on point the entire time.  He also ate most of my cheese curls, which I wasn’t thrilled about, but I guess I know what to get him for his birthday now.

VM: Who designed the logo/how did you come up with it? Even that is reminiscent of old school/90s-ish punk to me.  I really love it.

SM: One of the most creative and underrated artists I have ever worked with is Yosef Glushien at trashpop.com; he’s done the layouts for so many of the Asian Man records back in the day and currently has done bands like Larry and His Flask, Dropkick Murphys, Bosstones, The Drowning Men, etc. We have known him for a long time, and he’s a great friend. During the first record, I told him that I wanted Dead Ellington to have a logo that was similar to an old school hardcore logo. Everyone knows the logos of Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, and Bad Religion. They’re so simple that you can draw them in a second on a notebook. I also wanted to tie it into Boston somehow, so I said ‘What’s something that everyone has to use regardless of class, gender, sex, or race?’  He said ‘The Boston T, and it sucks.’  Next thing I know, he shows me an upside down MBTA logo with an arrow symbolizing progression. It was perfect, and since then he designs everything. He has a lot of freedom with us in terms of design, because he we just love his work and he gets it.

BP: Yosef rules. If you get to do one thing before you die- Meet Yosef.

JC: There really isn’t an adjective to describe Yosef.  He’s very Larry David-like in the best possible way.  He’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever met, and every time he shows me a logo for something he’s working on, im honestly blown away.  Everybody needs to work with Yosef for at least one project.

VM: What was your Kickstarter project about?

SM: Anyone can release a record. It’s difficult to stand out, so we wanted to do something with a little more thought. All of us are computer nerds, and we’re always on our iPhones. I started using the Hipstamatic app and really enjoyed taking pictures with it. It gives your photos that retro look but with a lot of other options and filters. The cool thing with them is that you can order prints right from the phone in square sizes. They arrive in a cool cardboard package that opens into a frame. I ordered a seven-inch picture pack and had the idea of seeing if a record would fit. It expanded into wanting to put out a record in their packaging, with a different seven-inch picture in each one. We contacted them about giving us 300 packages for our idea. They said yes and gave us a discount on prints. It helped cut the cost for our packaging, but we still needed to pay for recording, mastering, distribution, and artwork. We decided that the idea was cool enough that we could probably just post a Kickstarter and make at least half of the total amount. Since we don’t have the support of a label, we’re forced to do everything ourselves. We made our goal and were very happy about that- and super thankful for everybody that helped!

VM: The Refuse EP dropped last May, and it is the first of a three-part series. I’m guessing that the next is going to be called Rethink? Where did you come up with the concept of “Refuse Rethink Rebuild”?

SM: The concept came about when we were going to record our first record. We needed artwork and I’ve always loved concept albums. Our songs have always had a message of doing things yourself and standing up for your beliefs. It was only natural for us to have a title that would incorporate that mentality. I was really into Rocket from the Crypt, at the time and their record was called Scream, Dracula, Scream. I wanted something simple like that. I don’t remember how I came up with the words “Refuse, Rethink, Rebuild”, but I kept thinking about it and saw how much power that movement could have. We don’t see it so much as a concept album, but more a life concept of Refusing the present, Rethinking the past, and Rebuilding the future. From that point, we realized that we can call any full-length Refuse Rethink Rebuild, because there will never be a point when that isn’t still important. The EP seemed like a good way to put out our songs as they are being written and keep the concept alive. We have a lot of future plans to spread the message.

VM: What was the inspiration behind “College Credit”? I love the gang-chant(ish) quality of the chorus.

SM: College Credit was written while I was going to Berklee College of Music. It’s a song about being kinda confused with the state of affairs. I was so surprised by the lack of interest in anything that wasn’t blues or jazz in the institution and by the musicians that went there. It was almost like you felt people looking down on you once they found out you play punk rock. It was even hard to find members when we need them, even though it was a music school. I spent so much time outside of school touring with other bands and playing shows. I felt like I was taking advantage of all the chances life was giving me, and all they did was act like each other. Living day in and day out with their noses in the air and just being content with how things are. After awhile, you start to question if maybe you’re wrong and you start to question what you’re doing.

VM: “Breaking Down” is a pretty intense video. But I have to ask, as someone who has smashed a few TVs before…how fun was that to make?

SM: So dangerous!

JC: Yes! So Dangerous! I had to do a lot of running, which, to begin with, is the most dangerous thing I’ve done in a while.  But smashing those TVs? I don’t know what was worse- breaking the TVs, cleaning up the mess, or disposing of 20 shattered CRT televisions… Our lungs had seen better days.

BP: I think we all had the most fun smashing all those TVs. And we followed the proper procedure in regards to disposal. Promise.

VM: About the “Feed the Scene” project- it’s all over your Facebook, and I checked it out. It’s pretty awesome. Tell us about it.

SM: I met Rachel while working for the Bosstones. She brought them desserts after one of their shows. I later read on her Facebook page that she feeds any bands that come through her town, at no charge. It’s something she doesn’t have to do, and it’s very honorable of her to do that for people she doesn’t even know. We shared her page on our Facebook and have told a lot of people about it, because it’s good to spread the word about things like this. She was gracious enough to invite us to play her one-year anniversary a couple weeks ago, and were very happy that we were able to be a part of it.

VM: What is next for Dead Ellington?

SM: We want to start working on the Rethink EP before the year is over and release it sometime next year. We want to be on the road more and go to places we’ve never been. We have a small tour with our friends, Break Anchor, (Jay from Suicide Machines new band) in the next couple weeks, but we’d love to go to Europe and back to Canada. They have poutine, and that’s good enough for me.

JC: I’ve always set personal goals for me with this band. Venues that I wanted to play, cities I’ve wanted to travel to only to play music, and bands I wanted to share the stage with. I’ve met a lot of the goals, but there’s just one more- I want us to open for Nickleback. You hear me, Chad Kroeger?!

BP: Super psyched about our upcoming Midwest tour, doing a few dates with Break Anchor this month. Excited to be on the road. As for more long-term plans…personally, just to keep writing, touring and playing as constantly as possible. A lot of people don’t realize how much of a privilege it is to be able to play the music you love with people you love (kinda). We’ll be around for awhile.


Emily is an over-enthusiastic lover of music, books, movies, fashion, and culture in general. Her love of music spans across all genres (what is a genre anymore? she waxes poetic to herself), though she was nursed on true punk and will never understand “redneck country” music – tractors are not and cannot be sexy. Emily currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and considers herself to be a great wit, though she is still waiting on validation from a credible source.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Dead Ellington’s Refuse EP proves punk is still alive | Vinyl Mag

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