For a band called Dead Now, the Atlanta trio of guitarist/singer Andrew Elstner, bassist Derek Schulz and drummer Bobby Theberge has been especially active. The stoner-rock outfit played its first show in August 2017 but has already embarked upon a month-long tour with like-minded heavy rockers Red Fang. This run of shows kicked off on September 7, the same day vinyl specialty label Brutal Panda Records released Dead Now's self-titled debut EP. Along the way, the group has received press from the likes of Consequence of Sound, Revolver Magazine and Metal Injection.
It's been a quick return to prominence for St. Louis native Elstner, who returns to town with Dead Now on September 13 at the Firebird. Known here for his work in loud but melodic local luminaries Riddle of Steel and Tilts, Elstner gained relative fame for his five-year tenure in Miami-based pop-leaning metal act Torche.
It was during that run that he discovered Day Old Man, an Atlanta doom-metal duo composed of Theberge and Schulz. An instant fan, Elstner got to know the group both on and off stage when it joined Torche for a tour.
"I was already thinking of hitting them up just to do something 'cause I love the way they play," Elstner says. When Torche parted ways with him in November 2016, he didn't waste any time turning thought into action. "I came back from the last fateful tour," Elstner says. "I was working at [Atlanta venue] 529. I think one of them came to say hello and I was like, 'Hey, do you guys want to start a band?' And they're like, 'Yeah!'"
The trio soon convened to write with just a single loose direction for its sound.
"The only thought I had was 'let's do what you guys have been doing [in Day Old Man] but in tighter passages,'" Elstner says. While he says he loves Day Old Man's ability to fit multiple tunes' worth of ideas into twelve-plus-minute opuses, Elstner generally prefers to write shorter songs.
"It's not for like commercial reasons," he says. "It's more short attention-span reasons."
The resulting Dead Now is the best-case scenario for the marriage of the sludgy, mostly slow and hard-hitting approach of the still-active but backburnered Day Old Man to Elstner's power-pop-meets-heavy-rock stylings. The former's foreboding atmosphere is found in the half-time meter and brooding riffs of "Brunette" and "Bird Leaf," but Dead Now can do fast just as well. In addition to sporting self-aware song titles, fist-pumping '70s-metal-inspired jam "Ritchie Blackmourning" and the motorik rush of "Motorekt" illustrate that Elstner remembers a few tricks he learned in Tilts and Riddle of Steel, respectively.
Throughout the EP, Dead Now showcases a balanced attack. On "Brunette" and "Motorekt," Elstner rides a fifth-interval drone while Schulz establishes the melody through roving basslines. Later Elstner leads the charge with blistering and spacey solos on "Ritchie Blackmourning" and "Powershapes." Theberge meanwhile lays down heavy complementary grooves and matches the axes' accents until it becomes necessary to take over a song with punishing but tasteful fills. Such a versatile nature is necessary when songs are subject to sudden shifts; "Powershapes" goes from a stomping march to an eerie quasi-funk breakdown that slams into a repeating chromatic riff that accompanies furious drumming.
Despite the variety on display, the EP is a cohesive 23 minutes that forges an adaptable identity rather than trying on many. Credit for this may be due to the group's writing process, in which, with few exceptions, songs were created and refined through jamming. Elstner is a big proponent of this method.
"It just sort of pushes your brain in more creative ways, I think, because you're getting immediate response," he says. "And something that you might not even really think is cool somebody else picks up on immediately and goes, 'Oh my God! What was that?' And then ... you have something that you definitely would not have come up with on your own. I love it."
It didn't hurt that Dead Now features a rhythm section that has played together for over a decade in various bands. Noting that they "function as a single unit," Elstner holds his bandmates in high regard. "A lot of times at practice we're just jamming, it's just me holding on for dear life while they're just writing away," he says.
An experienced rhythm section is not the only advantage Dead Now has.
"I have zero shame, I don't know why anybody would feel bad or embarrassed, plying every connection I still have," Elstner says. "From label people to promoters to other bands to gear endorsements, anything that makes touring and writing and recording easier for a band so you can more quickly get out there and get something released."
One such connection is Red Fang, who Elstner bonded with as a member of Torche when the bands toured together. This led to an opening slot for Dead Now when Red Fang came to Atlanta in January. Impressed by the band's set, Red Fang recommended the group to Bob Lugowe of its label Relapse Records (also home to Torche). This led to Lugowe seeking out early Dead Now recordings, and based on their strength eventually releasing its EP on his side label Brutal Panda Records. From there it was only natural that Dead Now would join Red Fang on the road.
Elstner is grateful for the help. "I think they're absolutely wonderful human beings and a killer band," he says.
While Elstner acknowledges that Dead Now has had some breaks, he emphasizes that they didn't come out of the blue.
"[We're] very lucky to be in the position [we're in], but all three of us have worked our asses off to get to that position as well," he says. "It wasn't like we won the lucky dice roll."
And outside of its doom grooves, the band has no intention of taking it slow. After all, Dead Now was partially formed out of Elstner's feeling that he was "not done at all with writing, recording or touring."
That sounds pretty alive to us.