Monday, June 30, 2008
More than most bands, fans have certain expectations for what they want a Reggie and the Full Effect record to sound like. These mostly teenage minions fell in love with Reggie when he was a different man: a younger, goofier, (even) more immature version of his present-day self. But the real Reggie - 32-year-old James Dewees - is every bit the enigma of the fictional characters that enliven his albums. He's also a self-effacing sort who isn't afraid to own up to his past mistakes and discuss his harrowing experience in drug rehab. His latest LP "Last Stop: Crappy Town" addresses that struggle with a from-the-gut collection of visceral rock and metal tunes (the goofy synth-pop numbers and comedic interludes will just have to wait). We caught up with the Kansas City native as he took a break from cleaning out his mother-in-law's house in Long Island.
More than most bands, fans have certain expectations for what they want a Reggie and the Full Effect record to sound like. These mostly teenage minions fell in love with Reggie when he was a different man: a younger, goofier, (even) more immature version of his present-day self. But the ...
No-fi transcript of the podcast
lawrence.com: Where are you these days?
Reggie: I live in Long Island. I've lived in New York now for like four years : I lived in Brooklyn for two years but we got a house in Long Island now. It's cool having dogs in Brooklyn, but walking up three floors with two bulldogs got kind of old.
Are you married?
Yeah. I've been remarried now for two years. She's a New Yorker born and raised.
You're 32 now?
Yep. I'm up there.
Time to get serious.
Yeah. I'm still a total dickhead most of the time, but I'm responsible. There's a difference between being overly serious and taking caring of your shit : not being in your late 20's calling your parents every time you need money because you like going out to bars so much.
You were doing that?
No. I've always been lucky enough that the bands I've been in have always done well. I've been the one supporting my friends going out to bars. Usually it's just because I need someone to go with me, so I'll offer to pay for them.
Is that how you got into My Chemical Romance buying them drinks?
No, I've known Gerard (Way) and Mikey (Way) for like 6-7 years.
They probably didn't need you to pick up their drink tabs.
Nah. They would buy mine. We've been friends and we kept in touch since the Reggie/My Chem tour a long time ago.
So what's your status on that are you in the band?
No. I'm just a hired touring keyboard player. It felt like being in the band because it was a freaking two-year-long tour. We went to Indonesia, Vietnam places that don't even have presidents or their own money. When we were in Jakarta, Indonesia, the president died and there was basically a feud between the two rival parties, so there was a martial law condition. We had to have army escorts with us at all times since we were Americans. In the Philippines, there was a travel advisory because Filipino machete gangs were taking U.S. citizens hostage for money to buy guns. And here we are playing a freaking show.
Reggie and the Full Effect
Oh god. Did you ever feel in danger?
No, because those promoters over there have to provide so much security. You have your own little private army of people. They don't speak English or anything but they know all kinds of kooky Kung Fu and they all have guns. We played in Moscow and St. Petersburg and our security guards were armed like ex-KGB dudes. They were the nicest guys in the world too.
Are you sure you didn't just watch a movie and think all this happened?
Nope I got my passport.
I don't really know where to go with this conversation after that whole machete gang thing.
You can't really top the machete gangs. There's a movie in Malaysia about the machete gangs that I've been trying to find.
Was Reggie opening those dates?
No, that was just My Chem.
So after bringing all that back home, what was your next plan of action?
With this Reggie record we really didn't have a plan for it to come out. It fulfills my contract with Vagrant. I've been on Vagrant Records for 10 years now and I'm ready to move on and do different things; getting away from Kansas City and the lifestyle choices that I made and turning a new page. Not that Reggie was anything bad it was always a positive, fun thing. But I had really gotten in way over my head with financial stuff and thing like that, so now it's my job to clear up all of that.
What do you mean exactly?
You know a lot of debt.
To your record label?
To a lot of places.
So bar tabs, basically.
No. I found all this out after I stopped drinking.
Nope. Don't gamble.
You bought some nice furniture?
Nah. You hire people to work for you, like an accountant who messes up your taxes one year, and then there's penalties added on to it, and it's been six years so all of a sudden instead of being $4,000 it's $20,000.
Those aren't exact examples. I'm not going to go into my personal finances.
I was really hoping to get a detailed spreadsheet.
I can tell you this: if you look at my bank account, it's negative $374.
Well, that's not that bad.
Yeah, it could be worse : I'm bummed that we're not even playing in Kansas City or Lawrence on this tour.
It's Memorial Day and it just didn't work out with the routing. It's a real short tour. I had no plans to do a tour with Reggie at all. I like staying home now. I like being a homebody and enjoying living in New York. I take the train into Manhattan all the time and just walk around and look at stuff. There's so much to do here. But to pay off these debts and stuff I have to get back on the road and make some money.
So let me get this straight: the inspirations for the new Reggie record are (1) contract fulfilling and (2) making money.
Oh no : The record was inspired solely by me going to rehab. It was a choice that I made. New York is a great city and you can get anything that you want at any time of the day and I was getting anything I wanted at any time of the day. One morning I was like, "What a fucking mess I've made." I decided to get clean.
How long ago was that?
Three years now : I was a kid from the Midwest in the big city.
What pushed you over the edge?
Just realizing that I had become a mess. Shit wasn't fun anymore. You get into a depressive state where you can't function without being fucked up. It works that way for alcohol, too. I have plenty of friends who drink too much. I could never tell them to not have a drink because that was me as well. It's a sad thing that it happens, but it does.
Did you quit cold turkey?
Yeah, I didn't have a drop of alcohol for a solid year and then at my wedding I had a beer. I can't drink champagne it makes me throw up.
Are you sticking with that?
Yeah. I don't like going out. First of all, it's New York, so it's $9 if you want to drink a beer anyways. You can't smoke anywhere, so my backyard is just fine.
How are you making a living?
Now that the My Chem thing is done I'm doing construction stuff and still playing music and playing drums in a new band called Leathermouth.
Who's involved in that?
A bunch of dudes from New Jersey. Their drummer quit :I've been rehearsing with them a lot and I like it a lot.
What's the style?
I don't know, just crazy. Some of the songs are a little Motorhead-y; some of the songs are Unsane-y.
Did that whole rehab experience actually affect the content of the new record?
Yeah the whole record is about me admitting to myself that I fucked my life up.
I actually haven't been able to listen to it. I got the copy that was watermarked and it wouldn't play in my computer.
Yeah, isn't it weird how they do that now? It's easier to steal someone's identity than it is to get a watermark off a fucking CD.
It wouldn't play in my Discman either, so it's basically useless. It might play in a Panasonic from 1984.
Yeah, there you go. We spare no expense when making our CDs. They were found leftover in the bottom of the place where they held the Olympics in Los Angeles : It'll play in an Xbox 360 Live that's been modified.
Those are the kind of people you want to hear your record.
Exactly. They'll send me emails like, "What do you exactly mean when you just call the song G?" That's the name of a train than runs by my house.
So the record is about rehab, but all the songs are named after trains?
Yeah, the trains that went to rehab. I took the G to Smith and 9th Street where I transferred to the F and went to 3rd Avenue. "86th Street" is a song that didn't make it to the record, but 86th Street is where I got off and went to rehab. The L train is how you connect from Brooklyn to Manhattan if you live in Greenpoint or North Williamsburg. The E train is how you get anywhere into Manhattan from the G train. The R train is the one you have to take at night when you do rehab night classes, because the F train doesn't run at a certain time. 36th Street is where you catch the R train at night. It's 50 blocks away from 86th Street, so it's a nice little hike.
Did you write while you were traveling?
That's the thing that I didn't stop doing. I still play piano every day. I always write songs; it's just something that I do. I'm sure that rehab in Kansas City has its scary moments, but in New York if it's state funded they put everybody in same room. So I'm in the room with people that stabbed people, sex offenders, heroine addicts, crackheads, people mandated by courts who are handcuffed to their chairs with police sitting right next to them, people threatening to kill each other : I'm from Liberty, Mo., going, "Wow, I really don't want to fucking be here right now; this is actually kind of terrifying." The whole time I was sitting in those rooms taking piss tests and having to check in and out, the only thing I was thinking about is wanting it to be over.
So that was "Crappytown"?
Yeah, that's why it's "Last Stop: Crappytown." I feel for anyone who ever had to do that shit. I feel for anyone that has had to do it and then had to go back. I feel for anyone who doesn't have a family to support them or friends to support them. When you're partying and all that crap, you don't even think about anyone but yourself and the friend that you're getting fucked up with. But seeing the effect that it had on my family personally was the most devastating thing in the world. I might as well have stabbed my mom with a fucking knife that day, just to watch the disappointment. Nobody's parents expect them to grow up and be a drug addict.
Two years ago I would not have talked to you about this at all, because it's taken a long time to even own up and say, "Yeah, I fucked up real bad." A lot of shit stemmed from me getting divorced and the divorce going so shitty and just being completely miserable. I was on tour for three years straight just running away from my problems and partying. It caught up with me on April 4 boom, everything hit right then. I don't know if you could call it a nervous breakdown or whatever, but I lost my shit and went and checked myself into rehab.
Admitting your mistakes is the first step, right?
The 12-step thing that's religious. You can choose to do the 12 steps but you have to admit that there's a higher power. I'm way too into science fiction to fucking do that. My dad's a minister and I've grown up with church and religion and stuff. At the same time, I also think that Darwin has a lot of great things to say. So (instead of) the 12-step program, I was just like, "Why don't I start being honest with myself and my friends and my family and start taking care of myself and care for the people around me?" That formula has worked out real well so far.
How did all that come out on the record?
That's why it goes between so heavy and so not heavy. The lyrics are about people I'm sitting in the room with and me wanting to fucking slit people's throats and me being scared.
Obviously it's a lot less silly than your previous records.
Yeah. The thing is, I'm working on a Fluxuation record that's just silly techno songs. Reggie fans feel betrayed that there are no Common Denominator and no Fluxuation songs on this record. It's like, shit wasn't very fun and happy it was actually pretty fucking spooky and serious. I can't pretend that it didn't happen : It took time, and now that I feel comfortable getting back to being a silly jackass, cool.
What's it like performing these songs and hearing the record now that you've put a little distance between that time of your life and the present?
I don't know yet; we haven't played anything. I haven't sang a Reggie song (live) in like three years.
When did you actually track this record?
Two years ago. I tracked it and then went on tour with My Chem.
So you left Reggie behind for a couple years.
It just was at a standstill. I finished the record and Vagrant was like, "Whoa this is really intense. We're not really sure what to do with this yet." Since I was out with My Chem, they were like, "What's the point of putting this out if you're not even going to be around?" As soon as we decided on the ending day of the My Chem tour, we decided on the day of the Reggie release.
I thought you said that Vagrant had kind of a negative response to the record.
Not, it wasn't negative. They were stoked, but they were like, "You're going to need to do some explaining with this because it's such a different thing." I was like, "Well, I'm not paying the phone bill to fucking explain it from Barcelona, Spain."
Could you clarify what it is about the record that's so different?
It's still Reggie if you listen to the words. It's not synth-pop any more, but there's elements of synth-pop in it mixed in with elements of all kinds of different stuff. It's heavier to me in a good way. I wrote it with the intention of making it not sound like everything else that's out there : When you turn on Fuse now, every band sounds the same. I don't have a high singing voice, so I'll never have that super emo-screamo sound.
Back in the day when everything first started and The Get Up Kids were in full swing, people were like, "Oh god, he's just whining all the time." Of course, being a Get Up Kid, I was like, "Shut the fuck up he's not whining. He's just singing emotionally. Country singers fucking sing emotionally but they do it with a twang in their voice." But now I'm finding myself hearing it all the time, and it's kind of getting old : Now I think the singers of bands are whiny. Why would I want to write another song about a girl problem when there are already 20,000 songs about boys with tight black jeans having girl problems? Give me a fucking break.
I'm not sure if you ever did that with Reggie.
Nah. I wrote a song called "Girl, Why'd You Run Away," but that was like eight years ago.
It seems like you always walked a line between being in that camp and totally mocking it.
Yeah, that's the whole point. If you can't make fun of yourself, you're never going to be able to enjoy anything. But don't laugh at yourself enough to where you think you're the funniest person in the world. You gotta know that everybody's shit stinks.
You had some Kansas City dudes rocking with you on this new record, right?
Yeah, Cory White (guitar) and Billy Johnson (drums) : They were the touring band for the three years straight that I was touring. We all got along and wrote really well together. We worked for like three days in Kansas City, then went to Los Angeles and had a record done in 13 days.
Stevie Cruz sang on it?
Yeah, he was there with Esoteric and I was like, "Yo, you wanna scream on a song?" He came and scrame screamed for an hour.
You're wearing a t-shirt on your MySpace that says "Fuck Billy Mitchell." What's your opinion of "The King of Kong" and Mr. Mitchell?
Well, Steve Wiebe I can call my friend now.
Yeah, we played with him in Portland. He came onstage and played a drum solo. We hung out with him backstage and had a beer and talked about video games. Steve Wiebe is a fucking sweet dude.
Is he still the high scorer?
You gotta keep checking that page. I think I want to make a "Fuck Brian Kuh" shirt as well because that guy fucking sucks. When they fly up to Steve Wiebe's house and shit fuck that.
Did you get any more dirt on Billy?
Steve said he's actually a really nice guy, he's just fucking shady : We tried to order a case of that Rickey's Hot Sauce that he makes just to break it and mail it to him.
I'm sure in real life he's a nice guy, just in the movie it comes across funny. We only made those shirts for Steve Wiebe.
How was his drum solo?
It was amazing. Dude, that guy rips.
Yeah, he rips in the movie.
And that's on his little kid's kit. You should have heard him on a big one.
How come he's not touring with Reggie?
Dude, I can't afford to pay anybody shit.
We don't want him picking up your bad habits either.
Well, my bad habit now is "Battlestar Galactica."
Anything else you think is pertinent with regards to the record and the tour?
I guess if anybody wants to drive to Chicago, that's the closest place we're playing to Kansas City and Lawrence. I miss Gates BBQ a lot. I have the sauce shipped up here. Six Flags kicks the shit out of Worlds of Fun. Once you experience Six Flags, there's no going back. The Batman ride is fucking unbelievable.