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Local musicians bring rock to life in The Deadmen

Friday - 2/7/2014, 3:23pm  ET

Justin Jones, Josh Read, Justin Hoben, John Hutchins and Miles Nasta make up The Deadmen. (Courtesy The Deadmen)

Discussing rock with one of D.C.'s bands

WTOP's Rachel Nania reports


WASHINGTON -- In a dimly-lit bar directly behind the 9:30 Club, I'm introduced to four men in their mid-to-late 30s. They blend in seamlessly with the regulars that file into the bar.

However, their experience playing in, and shaping, D.C.'s music scene differentiates them from the others.

This is the tale of one "new" band's history in local music and the musicians' approach to making more.

Justin Jones, Josh Read, Justin Hoben and John Hutchins are not new to D.C's music scene. In fact, all four have been playing music in and around the District for at least a decade, and for some, more than 20 years.

But the four local artists are relatively fresh to one project: The Deadmen, a newish rock band that balances the sounds and processes of three songwriters and a number of influences.

Jones, Read, Hoben and Hutchins all had several band experiences under their belts before joining together to form The Deadmen -- but how they formed is a process they describe as "complicated."

Read, of Revival, and Jones, who toured as Justin Jones, formed The Deadmen with two other musicians about three years ago. Shortly after, the group fell apart.

"[That] was a real bummer for those of us that weren't in the band because The Deadmen was one of my favorite bands when they were around," says Hoben, who formerly recorded and toured as John Bustine.

However, last spring, Read and Jones revived the band and Hoben and Hutchins joined -- Hoben, 39, on vocals and guitar and Hutchins, also 39 and a former member of Army of Me, on the bass.

The guys connected after knowing each other or playing with each other for years in the District's tight-knit music community.

Jones had played guitar in at least one show with Hoben's old band, Hoben and Read both played in each other's old bands at one point, and Read and Hutchins played a show together in 1997.

Now, after being together for just under a year, the band is set to release its first EP this March, followed by a 7-inch record for Record Store Day and a full-length this summer.

Roots, Rock, Reggae?

For some, describing the band's sound is even trickier than describing its formation.

The Deadmen's Facebook page references "gospel and sledge." The guys tell me they think their sound channels "reggae," somewhat jokingly -- somewhat.

But really, their music all whittles down to one genre: rock ‘n' roll.

"I think there's a solid boot-in-the-grave of singer/songwriter folk that's been amplified, turned up, psychedelicized a little bit, maybe taken to Trenchtown, you know, and [we] made it as rough as we can pretend to make it, and then try to put it out there as rock ‘n' roll," says Read, who is 39 and has been playing live music in D.C. since he was 15.

"People say rock ‘n' roll and they either think Elvis or they think like AC/DC or they think … Well, not even Coldplay, but like … Bush. But we're not like that kind of rock ‘n' roll. I think it's Americana rock," Read says.

Jones says the band's "interesting" sound comes from all of the members' different styles of writing.

"Somebody has this song and then we just all throw our noise on it until it changes in some way, this way or that way," says Jones, who is 34 and lives in Arlington, Va.

"It's not the kind of interesting where you feel like someone is trying hard to be interesting. It's just the kind of interesting that makes you want to spend time with it and listen to it."

And that is exactly what they are hoping people will do.

Making Time to Make Music: Working Smarter

A lot of bands operate under somewhat of a routine: Make music, record it, go on tour. But that is not necessarily a routine that works for The Deadmen.

Music is a priority for all of the band members. It's evident in their history, their conversations and their product. But a majority of the guys have other responsibilities, as well. And finding time to write, record and tour is a realistic struggle.

Not to mention, the band's drummer, Miles Nasta, who was "still six hours hours away" for the interview, lives in New York.

But Read says the key to the band's success so far is that they all "make time for it," as do other members of their families.

"I think it just gets harder and harder as you get older to do what you love," Jones says. "As your responsibilities grow and what you need to feel comfortable in your life, financially, grows, it gets so much harder to do what you love if you don't make money doing what you love."

So when it comes to touring -- an adventure all of the band members describe as appealing, yet expensive and not always yielding in results -- the band takes a cautious approach.

"The schedules are so tight, we're obviously not going to pile in a van and drive around the country and build up a following for the next eight or 12 months," says Hoben, of Silver Spring, Md. "We're trying to find that way of working smarter and not harder, and trying to figure it out … And it's not easy."

One solution? Don't just play a gig for the sake of playing a gig, however fun it may be. They've all been there, they've all done that, and so have their friends and acquaintances in the music industry.

"I think basically what we're trying to do is create a demand for us to play a show. Instead of going out and playing shows and trying to create a demand for our record, what we're hoping is to create a demand for the show by releasing music and hopefully people liking it enough to want us to come play in their city," says Jones, who adds that a tour lending a "new experience," such as one in Europe or Scandinavia would be well worth the effort and time.

"This is the lifestyle. This is the reality," he says.

That's not to say The Deadmen never plays live shows. The band has played a couple of recent shows in the DMV, as well as a few in Southern Virginia and other nearby areas.

If that demand for The Deadmen is not generated, the band won't be too disappointed.

"To me, that's the only way that I think we can do this (play more live shows) is if there's a demand for us to do it. And if there's not then we'll just make some kick-ass recordings and it will be really great. To me, the worst case scenario is if we have great records that we really like," Jones says.

While the band's name may be dark to some, Read says it describes their dedication to music. He says it portrays the members as survivalists.

"Whether or not anyone knows my name, I've been playing music since I was 3, and I've been playing shows since I was 15 … I've played a hell of a lot of shows and had a grand ‘ol time. And now I've got children and responsibilities and, you know, we're survivalists. We're still here, doing it," Read says.

Listen to The Deadmen's single "Let Your Fingers Rule"

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