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Album review: The Dead Girls - Noisemaker

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
 
There’s a certain poetry to the way music communities ebb and flow. A band will manage to capture a certain something that attracts interest, if not devout fandom, but at some point the end of the road lies ahead. At this stage, many musicians decide that it was a good run but now it’s time to do something else. In other cases, band members go off on other musical pursuits. Sometimes a new band arises from the remains of those no longer working. Such is the case for The Dead Girls (formerly Dead Girls Ruin Everything), who came to life in 2004 when members of Ultimate Fakebook and Podstar combined their talents. For the past decade the band has been on its self-described search for “the perfect hook,” and they’ve been successful far more often than not. With their most recent (and perhaps final) album Noisemaker, the Lawrence foursome is hitting on all cylinders with an eleven-track offering that seems primed for radio airplay. I count at least nine of those songs as being ready not only for local airwaves, but much more widespread exposure.
 
The Dead Girls (Cameron Hawk and JoJo Longbottom sharing guitar and vocal duties, Nick Colby on bass, and Eric Melin on drums) take their powerpop pedigree seriously, listing Big Star, The Replacements, The Beach Boys, and Cheap Trick among their influences. It’s a lineage they are clearly determined to be worthy of, and Noisemaker provides 33 minutes that are saturated with crunchy chords, rock riffs, and vocal pyrotechnics that are super, super tight.
 
“I’m On a Mission” opens the album with a blast of all the aforesaid ingredients. From the opening moments it’s clear what that mission is—“to rock!”—and that mission is followed to the letter throughout Noisemaker. A bit later, “Downtown on a Nice Afternoon” offers a burst of jangly guitar sounds, but with an underlying sense of urgency, as if the singer has to be somewhere important… but, well, we’ve already started the song and it’s kind of important that we finish this too… so let’s get it done already! Those opening chords are reminiscent of the sound of early MTV commercials, which is a nice touch, and … oh, I’m sorry, I should explain: “MTV” is a television network that used to play music videos 24 hours a day, and … oh, right: “music videos” are brief vignettes that were made to give television viewers visual connections to the music they listened to.
 
Everybody caught up? Good. On we go.
 
“That Shit Gets Old” is a straightforward rocker that shows me hints of Gruff Rhys on vocals, which is never a bad thing. Perhaps if Hawk or Longbottom was Rhys’ younger brother it would make perfect sense. “Dress Up Dress Down” has almost a summery-surf quality, like it would be the soundtrack to a midnight drive along the beach. “Calling You Around” is a primer in how to blend powerpop guitars with classic-rock arrangements, and “I Don’t Wanna Hafta Hold Your Hand” closes the album with the most uptempo song of the lot, as the band realizes that it’s time to put the guitars and drums down, jump in the Barracuda, and head off to the next adventure – maybe that’s the midnight oceanside drive that I mentioned before.
 
Almost without fail, every album has that one song that stands apart from the others stylistically, as if the band is saying “See? We can do this kind of music too.” This doesn’t work for every band that tries it, but with “Sun and Rain” it absolutely works for The Dead Girls. The dual electric guitar and thunderous rhythm section is replaced by gentle acoustic strings, an ever-so-slightly-out-of-tune stand-up piano, sweetly earnest lead vocals, faraway harmonies, and tonal choices that give this song a very Beatle-esque feel. When a song not only offers a change of pace but shows the true musical talent and potential of the band, that’s when you know that said band is bringing its A game. This song does that for me.
 
The Dead Girls offer something special during their live performances as well, which is something that I’ve said before as being a prime factor in determining the legitimacy of a band or artist. Sure, they’re energetic and do their best to connect with the audience, as most bands at least try to do, but there’s something more here—and it’s evident on Noisemaker as much as it is on the stage of The Bottleneck. It’s the simple fact that you just know these guys are having fun doing what they do. They look like they enjoy every second of music making, and that’s a camaraderie that can’t be faked. Their sense of teamwork carries over to a very important off-stage pursuit that the four of them share: every band member is also a top-notch competitive air guitarist. This is especially true of Eric “Mean” Melin, who won the 2013 World Air Guitar Championship. These gentlemen take their fun seriously—and have serious fun doing so.
 
As of this writing, The Dead Girls only have a precious few shows left before going on an open-ended hiatus; Hawk is going to be teaching English to classrooms of eager students in China next year. There’s no doubt that he’s going to do very well—he could use his song lyrics as pop quizzes—but it’s my hope that he brings a guitar with him. I don’t know much about China, but I have a feeling they could use some rock ‘n roll in their world, and they would be all the richer for it.
 
I know I’ve had a blast listening to every bit of noise made by The Dead Girls.
 
--Michael Byars
 
Michael is looking for a handheld Yahtzee game for his mom. Because he cares.
 
 
 
Join The Dead Girls for their last KC show this Friday night at Harling’s Upstairs. Facebook event page. Their final show will be in Manhattan at Auntie Mae’s, next Saturday, December 20 with The Field Day Jitters. Facebook event page.
 

  

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Spotlight on musician/songwriter Cameron Hawk

(Photo by Rachel Meyers)
 
“Sometimes I get kind of destructive, and music is part of how I keep everything together.”
 
Cameron Hawk already has quite an impressive resume: he’s been in a number of successful bands, he’s opened up for KISS, he’s organized the annual Lawrence Field Day Fest, and now he prepares to embark on a completely different adventure. In early 2015, Hawk will be taking off to China to teach English for 8 months.
 
“I’m 33 years old and I’ve never lived outside of Kansas in my life,” says Hawk. He’ll be going to China in early 2015 with his girlfriend Rachel, and stepping out of a comfort zone he’s carved out for himself in the 15 years he’s lived and made music in Lawrence. “I’m always going to love this scene and playing here and the music that comes out of here. But I know that as humans, we are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.”
 
After graduating from high school in 2000, Hawk and his band Podstar relocated from Manhattan to Lawrence. They released two albums on Noisome Records before calling it quits in 2002—right around the same time many other notable area bands broke up, including Ultimate Fakebook, The Get Up Kids, and The Creature Comforts. Hawk recalls, “A huge chunk of people integral to the scene moved away or went on to other things in life right at the same time, and it really felt like a musical ghost town around here for awhile. But that ended up being the best time to start Dead Girls Ruin Everything.” He—along with Podstar bandmate JoJo Longbottom and Ultimate Fakebook alums Eric Melin and Nick Colby—formed the group that same year. “By that time, we cumulatively had a lot of experience with band stuff, and we were all trying to take a more realistic approach to music and how we handled everything.”
 
More than 10 years and a name change later, The Dead Girls have become the area’s most heralded power pop supergroup. They’ve released a number of albums (4 LPs, 3 EPs, and a 7”) and have shared the stage with the likes of Motion City Soundtrack, Dinosaur Jr., and yes, even KISS. Hawk and Longbottom have shared songwriting duties from the beginning, while the entire group composes each song. “We are all such big music geeks that we have very vivid ideas of how a song or album should be,” he mentions. With that type of history, success, and knowledge, he’s learned a lot about being a musician.
 
“I learned how to step up and put myself out there for something I care about. I learned how hard you actually have to work to make something yourself, and how fucking awesome it feels,” he notes. “I learned to try to not rock too hard and to never scream directly into a microphone during sound check.”
 
 
He’s also been instrumental in his other two current bands: Stiff Middle Fingers and Many Moods of Dad. Stiff Middle Fingers injects a heavy dose of personality into their punk rock repertoire, according to Hawk. “We don’t worry about sounding derivative, and we just wear our influences on our sleeves and have fun.” In SMF, he comes up with guitar riffs and sends them to vocalist Travis Arey for lyrics. Hawk considers Many Moods of Dad to be a “psychopop hodgepodge of ideas,” and includes his other Podstar bandmates JP Redmon and Aaron Swenson, who co-writes much of the material with Hawk. “The whole idea behind MMOD was for us to do all the fun/dumb/weird stuff we always wanted to do on a record but never could, because it was always shot down for some reason.”
 
(Photo of Stiff Middle Fingers by Todd Zimmer)
 
(Photo of Many Moods of Dad by Quinton Cheney)
 
When he leaves, Hawk also leaves behind Lawrence Field Day Fest, an event that will be 4 years in the running come 2015. He hopes to continue planning the summer fest from China, and enlisting help from other supporters of the music community. “Even though our [scene] isn’t the biggest or the “hottest” or whatever, I have come to understand how special it really is. There are huge cities—hell, metropoli—that don’t have a music scene of this quality. There should be someone or something around here supporting that.”
 
But regardless of where he’s living and what he’s doing, Hawk will not be ready to give up on music. Since he’ll be out of the country, most of his projects will go on indefinite hiatus (SMF will likely continue with a different guitarist), but Hawk plans to release his debut solo album, entitled Dream You Forgot, in early 2015. “Music is not only what I love to do, but it’s my main source of sanity.”
 
And in this new phase of his life, Hawk plans to apply all of the experiences he’s had through playing and making music. “I think a lot of people lose sight of how every little experience they have in life eventually helps them in some way. We need to actively use all experiences as fodder for learning and growing, and pushing our own limits.”

--Michelle Bacon
 
Michelle is the editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.
 
 
 
The Dead Girls will perform their last Kansas City show this Friday, December 12, at Harling’s Upstairs. Deco Auto and Rev Gusto will open. Facebook event page. He’ll also be playing with Stiff Middle Fingers on Friday, December 26 at Replay Lounge. Facebook event page.
 
 
  
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