Dead Rock West began in 1999 in a Southern California living room with two singers working out harmonies. Charming, you might say, but where's the mission statement, the blog buzz, the L.A. sleaze to grease the publicity wheels? Those two singers, Cindy Wasserman and Frank Lee Drennen, don't want to hear about marketing plans. This year, they released Honey and Salt, an honest rock record with country in its soul and punk blood in its veins. The band sounds familiar, the way well-rooted rock & roll always does, but the tone of the harmonies and the spirit of the playing are fresh. Roy Kasten caught up with Drennen at the start of the band's tour of Italy with X side project the Knitters -- the band whom Dead Rock West is opening for tonight, at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. This show starts at 8 p.m. -- earlier than normal! -- and tickets are $15. Roy's interview (and an MP3) are below. -- AZ
Roy Kasten: If I were a fly on the wall as Cindy and you worked together, what would I hear? Frank Lee Drennen: With this last record, I brought most of the songs to the table, and she arranged vocals. She'd say, "I've got these great harmonies. Why don't I take the lead melody, and we'll work in the harmony?" Her harmonies are like a second melody. There's a standard way of doing a harmony and sticking it on a chorus, but she has a gift for really working the melodies through the song. She's more intuitive.
Does your relationship with songwriters like John Doe [playing with DRW tourmates the Knitters] work more as emulation or extrication? I've known John since '98, and I've always been influenced by people I work with. He's a great songwriter, singer and hard worker. But to be an artist is to put your own stamp on things. That's not to negate influence. It would be foolish to close myself off to what's happening around me. That said, no matter who I find to be an influence, I don't want to emulate anyone. If I'm not being myself, I'm not being honest and I can't communicate an honest emotion.
Some of your recent reviews, though positive, make the point of there being "nothing new here." Reviewers, what do they know? The fellow on All Music Guide, it's clear he didn't like this style of music anyway. So it doesn't matter if it's the most brilliant thing ever created. He's not going to like it. And how many of those people have seen us play? It angers me when a review is written ignorantly or poorly. But in the whole scheme of things, you just play your music and write your songs. It's what you got. You ain't got what you ain't got.
I was thinking about that assumption, that the music has to sound new to be of value. I think that's a fallacy. Something can be new and just be emotionally void of anything of value. So what's the point? I don't know what to say to those people. The only thing that's going to make rock and roll new is some new gadget. As far as emotions go and expressing something that's true, inside of yourself — that's timeless. It's not old-school or new-school. You're either hitting the mark or not.