Long-running activist hardcore leaders DROPDEAD have been around long enough to know, their path is marathon and not sprint. When you make non-sellout music that demands critical thinking from fans, you are not going to get asked on late night TV, or find your music in movies and football stadium. But what drives this band, a staple of the Providence, RI music scene for two-plus decades is not the same motivation for everyone else. Ghost Cult’s Andrew Francis met up with Ben Barnett and Bob Otis in Austin Texas, a long way from home. The band was in town for the Housecore Horror And Music Festival, and despite playing an incredible set, true to form, they never felt “at home”.
Curious about the origin of the band, we started off by asking Ben and Bob what has a great influence on their style: the scene in New England or was it shaped by other bands and their teachings?
Bob Otis: “It was a combinations of things really, me Ben and Bryan started the band. Ben came from California and Bryan and my self grew up in Providence but we all listened to a lot of different stuff.”
“Ben brought a lot of his California influences when he joined the band that I had never heard and I did the same for him with a lot of the anarco – punk, Bryan was in to Japanese punk but we all bonded around the same like of similar forms of music and hardcore punk and the philosophy behind it.”
DROPDEAD is the epitome of n East Coast Hardcore band, but like most in the genre, one can’t deny a multitude of broader influences in the punk rock spectrum: Bob: For me it was more to the punk side, I was really in to anarco-punk and the philosophy and Ben was more to the hardcore side”
Ben Barnett: “I was more into Infest, Negative Approach”
Bob: “Where I was in to Crass and Conflict”.
Ben: “But still in to the politics of that stuff.”
The band has an unmistakable agenda, but bandmates don’t always have the same word view. We asked Ben and Bob if they shared a lot of the same political ideas
Ben: “Oh yeah definitely”
Bob: Whats great about these guys is that they believe exactly the same thing as me, and they allow me to get up on stage and expound upon the beliefs that we all have, together. It’s not just we are going to get together and write the music and you can just go do what ever as long as it doesn’t sound silly?
Bob: “We believe the same thing ,we have the same core values.”
Ben: Yeah I don’t think we could go up there and say what we say and do what we do if we didn’t mean it.
Bob: “No one in the band is going to McDonalds that’s for sure.”
Aside from punk, few bands shaped the political landscape for bands in history like Napalm Death has. A definite influence on the band, we asked both at what point did they discover the seminal Brit grindcore band and if they seeped in.
Ben: “That first Napalm record in 87 definitely blew my mind at first, i never heard anything like it.”
Bob: “To be honest with you they weren’t one of my favorite bands but I can appreciate what they did and stood for, but at the time i was more in to anarco punk but i appreciate it. You can see where the comparison comes from with short song times and ferocity and lyrical content.”
Bob: “Well yea we can see that but we also got a lot of our sound from the Boston Hardcore bands, Siege and California bands like Infest.”
Ben: “We acquired our name from a Siege song the and store name are from a Siege song, we became very influenced by a band from Weymouth.”
If a band was to be considered top-tier and the biggest influence on the band you would all say its Siege?
Bob: “Musically for sure.”
Ben: “Lyrically its not terribly that far off either. If you don’t listen to them already, Siege comes highly recommended young readers!”
Ben is the owner of Armageddon Record Shop and its accompanying label. One of the defining businesses in the North East music scene at the moment, we asked if the distro through the label was created because it makes life easier for a DIY band.
Ben: “I had done a label since the late 80’s up until 98 and I decided it was just time to call it a day. we had a record to put out and we wanted a fresh start and we figured we would do our own thing. we had some not terrible but not fantastic experiences with some people. back in the day Earache hit us up, Century Media hit us up it wasn’t really what we wanted to do.”
Bob: “Part of it was it was all stuff Ben could do himself so why get some one else? I don’t think any one could do it any better than him. he has an invested interest as our guitarist and best friend so obviously he’s gonna put every thing he’s got in to the band so i don’t think a record label would have as much invested in us as someone who’s in the band.”
Ben: “There might be more press, maybe more hype but ..”
Bob: We’ve done pretty good for our selves, he’s done a great job!”
Ben: “We just chug along do our own thing if people buy the records we appreciate it and if not then.. oh well? we’ll play a show some one may be excited then that’s pretty cool too, they go slow but they go.”
We then asked if starting the label became a necessity of being in the band or as a fan of music who later ended up in a band:
Ben: “Originally it was cause I was excited about music, I put out my first record for a California band Apocalypse in like ..1989. Just cause they were friends. It was kinda like you can be a guy going to shows or you could do something, and Otis can attest to this, I’m not really a do nothing kinda guy. kinda a workaholic.”
Bob: “One of the busiest guys I know.”
INTERVIEW BY ANDREW FRANCIS
PHOTOS BY EMMA PARSONS PHOTOGRAPHY