After cutting his teeth in the St. Louis music scene in the 1980s, Larry Dersch moved to Boston in pursuit of big music industry success. But while he fell short of his youthful, glossy-eyed visions of rock stardom, Dersch did become a well-respected drummer in the thriving Boston music scene and has collaborated with some of the city's best-known independent bands and musicians.
In 2006 he helped form A.K.A.C.O.D. (that's "Also Known As Colley, Ortiz, Dersch") with former Morphine baritone saxophonist Dana Colley and vocalist Monique Ortiz from the Boston band Bourbon Princess. The result is a new take on the "low rock" sound Morphine made famous. Even though the band's debut, Happiness, contains plenty of Colley's trademark dirty, electric, bari-saxophone sleaze — a sound at one moment hypnotic and the next completely maniacal and guitar-like — a Morphine clone A.K.A.C.O.D. is not.
Ortiz's sensual female baritone adds even more mystery to a sound that's ripe with dim-lit, back-alleyway psychedelia. Dersch's drumming lends subtle jazz influences, which perfectly accentuate the interplay between Colley's sax lines and Ortiz's dark, soulful vocal output. During a recent phone conversation, Dersch talked about the band's plans for the future and his connection to St. Louis.
Shae Moseley: How did the three of you come to form A.K.A.C.O.D.?
Larry Dersch: Monique and Dana were working together first with Monique's band Bourbon Princess. They just started writing some songs together and decided to start collaborating, not really with a specific idea in mind. That went for about six months. In fact, even "Yellowest Leaves" on the CD actually came out of that. That was a demo version of that song that we always liked the best.
I remember getting a call from Monique saying that she had this solo show booked that following night, and she kind of wanted to do it with a band. So we had a rehearsal that afternoon, went and did the show, and really enjoyed it. And that was almost two years ago now. We just started playing out together here and there, and about a year and a half ago we started really getting serious and thinking about doing the album. And it was last spring that we actually holed ourselves up basically for a month. That was at Mark Sandman's studio, where he lived and recorded lots of the Morphine stuff.
You and Mark [Sandman] played together over the years in Boston, right?
Yeah, I played on some of the later Morphine stuff, but I would record with Mark all the time. He played music constantly and always had side projects going. My favorite thing he had was called Supergroup. That was with Chris Ballew, who later went on to be in Presidents of the United States of America. They would make up songs and it was total improv — like, the audience would write down song titles. I had the chance to participate in that. It was like a total free-for-all. But Mark would often call up and just ask if I wanted to come by, and we would record everything and things would sometimes either end up in a movie or on a Morphine thing or a side project.
I guess it's obvious that A.K.A.C.O.D. is carrying on that "low rock" sound that originated with Morphine, but it seems like you guys are doing something new with it as well. How much does that play into your creative process?
Well, that's certainly our intent. Monique has that style with her bass-playing, and with Dana, my joke now is that he could play with the Boston Pops and they would start to sound like Morphine, because he's just got that sound. You hear it and, bam, you're right there. But I wouldn't be doing this if we were trying to sound like Morphine. I don't want to be in Morphine Jr. We do have our own thing, and it will get more like that as we go along.
You're from St. Louis originally. Were you part of the music scene here before you moved to Boston?
Yeah, I was definitely into the scene. I moved in 1986, and the whole St. Louis scene then, and the few years preceding, was really great. That was the beginning of a lot of awesome independent stuff, and great touring bands would come through St. Louis and play these tiny clubs. I mean, I saw U2 on their first tour at, like, some bowling alley up in north county somewhere. I was lucky to see some really awesome bands. It was really a pretty exciting atmosphere.
So what bands were you involved in around that time?
I was in a band called Common Ailments of Maturity. We actually started off as a new-wave cover band and played constantly and were pretty popular around town, but we always wanted to do our own stuff. So after a few personnel changes, we started writing, changed our name and started playing less in town. We did that for about a year in St. Louis and then decided that we just wanted to go somewhere else to find our fame and fortune — I guess, which you know, never worked out. But we settled on Boston, and I immediately took to the scene here. I just fell in love with the energy.
I was playing with people who I didn't even know were from Boston, but I was aware of their music through college radio — like Roger Miller from Mission of Burma, who I now play with in another band called Binary System. And people like Rich Gilbert, who was in a band called Human Sexual Response who had a pretty well-known hit "Jackie Onassis." But I had a chance to play with [Gilbert] in various projects, so I've really loved being here.
So, what is your vision for the future of A.K.A.C.O.D.?
Well, we're just barely starting our touring now and my friends ask me where we're planning on going and my stock answer is, "Everywhere." And that's basically the plan. It's strange, because I haven't done the "real thing" for a while. I've toured a lot with bands over the years, but I had gotten to a point where I was really happy being a musician in Boston and I was comfortable with the fact that I was never going to "make it." But then this came up it was like, "All right, I'll give it one more shot at reaching a higher level commercially." So we're going for everything.
Well hopefully it's the right time for a "low rock" revival of sorts.
I think maybe it is. You know, if we would have done this five years earlier, it might have seemed like trying to ride the coattails of Morphine. But it's been eight years since Mark died, and some of the mail we get from people is so encouraging. They miss that sound and see us not as a replacement, but something else that brings them back to that — but is new at the same time. I loved Mark and what he did. He not only put together a great band, he invented a sound, and to let that die with him I think would be wrong. I really think he would dig what we're doing.
9 p.m. Monday, February 11. The Bluebird, 2706 Olive Street. $7 21-plus, $10 under 21. No phone. www.thebluebirdstl.com.