David Brenner of Theory of a Deadman
On July 12th Theory of a Deadman will release their fourth album titled The Truth Is…, fitting title given the band’s straightforward and unapologetic approach to music throughout their career. Known for their honest lyrics about all that life has to throw at us, good times and bad, Theory of a Deadman deliver with an album that builds on the momentum they unleashed on their 2009 release Scars & Souvenirs.
Soundwise, the band offers up what you might expect – anthemic rockers in the form of the first single “Lowlife”, smarmy, tongue in cheek rockers with crunchy guitars with “The Bitch Came Back” and larger than life choruses with “Hurricane”. Although the sound is Theory of a Deadman through and through, the band did feel out some new territories introducing horns and strings on a few tracks. And for any of you doubters, guitarist David Brenner assures “there’s definitely a place for horns in rock and roll!”
Theory of a Deadman have never been a band that take themselves too seriously, however when it comes to the music, they are all business. According to frontman Tyler Connolly, “I want to make a great song that can help get fans through hard times. I want them to take that music with them for the rest of their lives. I’m trying to write songs and change people, make them laugh, smile, or sing along. That’s what I’m looking for.” On The Truth Is… Theory of a Deadman delivers just that.
We recently had the chance to talk to David Brenner about the upcoming album, the writing process, and all things Theory of a Deadman.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
You’ve said that you really found your sound on your last album Scars & Souvenirs and continued to build on that momentum going into this new album– was that something you knew going into the writing process (finding your sound) or something that you felt developed more organically as you started writing?
I think it’s organic, I really feel like we were getting close on Gasoline. In my opinion that record sounds pretty close to Souvenirs with just some subtle changes here and there. The truth is, it was approached the same way we approached the last album which was to start writing music and see what feels natural. We go from there and we ended up with some songs that were super mellow and other songs were the heaviest we’ve ever played. I feel like we’re one of those bands that needs to really have some diversity on our records just to meet our own musical needs and because have a pretty diverse fan base.
So far the only new song I’ve heard is “Lowlife” because you’ve been playing it live and it has now been released as the first single. Can you tell me a bit about that song and how it came together? It’s got that anthemic vibe that you guys are so great at capturing.
It was actually a song that Tyler approached us with. We started jamming on the tune. It was weird but it started to feel like a song that had an anthemic vibe to it. We’re really aware of the songs, and sometimes they guide you, you don’t have to guide them. It just felt like one of those songs where the less you put into it, the better it turns out, the song just wrote itself as far as the music went. It was a simple song and we felt like the chorus was really the hook.
The band’s sense of humor has always played an important part in your songs and with a song named “The Bitch Came Back” I’m guessing that sense of humor comes into play, can you tell us about the song?
That’s actually an old nursery rhyme from back in the day. I think it might be a Canadian thing because whenever we talk to American’s they’ve never heard of it before but we grew up with it. The rhyme goes something like “..the cat came back the very next day..I thought he was a goner but the cat came back..he just couldn’t stay away..” Tyler has gone through some personal things with his divorce and personal life and he told me one day that he wanted to redo the nursery rhyme as “The Bitch Came Back”. Of course I knew the melody because I had grown up listening to it. He started playing it and I just started laughing. Something about the song must have struck him when he was dealing with something personal and I could just picture him singing it to himself. We just started jamming it and again and we liked the groove of it so much, it felt like a big band groove almost so we threw some horns on the song. We started introducing the horns on a few songs and they just turned out so good. We really didn’t expect that to happen but it worked out great.
Yeah I wanted to ask you about the horns because that’s something a little new for you. So you did use horns on other songs too?
We used them on one other songs. I think we could have used them on a couple of more but then you get into budgeting issues. The guys that played for us were the guys that played horns on Thriller. They come in, play, arrange it and ask us what we think. It was great. We don’t want the album to be so different that it doesn’t sound like us anymore though. Sometimes the songs just guide you and I don’t remember who it was but someone in the band just said “this song feels like it needs some horns” so we did it! So we did use the horns on one other song called “Gentleman”. They actually did the horns without us in the studio for that one because we were already out on the road so they recorded them and sent them to us and we made the changes from there. There was such an awesome trumpet solo at the end of this song “Gentleman” and we thought it was unbelievable. It’s weird when you introduce elements like that because you can’t emulate it live. Bringing out a string quartet and a horn trio sounds a bit excessive to bring out on the road but when you record new music you want the songs to be the best that they can be. The two songs with horns on them on the album are two of my favorites. I remember Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger had horns on it, so I keep trying to tell everyone that horns are rock n roll! There’s definitely a place for horns in rock and roll.
I know that one of the things that you personally like to bring to the band is a bit of a harder edge, are there any songs on the new album that were impacted by your love for the heavier stuff?
There’s a song on the album called “Drag me to Hell” that’s the heaviest song we’ve ever written. It’s got the best guitar solo. Tyler wanted to write a metal solo, something that guitar geeks would love, and he wrote this amazing solo. There are a few wicked solos. “Drag Me To Hell” is definitely the heaviest song we’ve ever written and I’m pretty excited about it.
On the last album, one of the songs (“Not Meant To Be”) was co-written with Kara DioGuardi and ended up being a bit of a crossover hit for you, did you bring anyone in to write with you on this album?
We did have some co-writes on this record as well. A lot of that stuff ends up being lyrical co-writes. Some of these people, like Kara DioGuiardi, who are so talented and just have the tongue for lyrics. “The Bitch Came Back” and “Gentleman” were both co-written with Kara, so the two songs that have horns. There are a few songs here and there that Tyler would get together with people and work on lyrics. I leave the lyrics to Tyler though. I love lyrics and lyrics are very important to me but it’s not my place to get involved with Tyler’s lyrics. He did collaborate with a few different people. For us, we don’t have egos, we just want to put the greatest possible record. A lot of times Tyler has the lyrics and the ideas and he’s just bouncing them off of other people and getting an outside an opinion from great songwriters. Kara’s got a resume that’s hard to argue with. I think she likes working with us too because we’ve got a sarcastic, dry since of humor and so does she. She’s not offended by us. We tend to wander around with no filter.
That kind of leads into my next question. You mentioned your sense of humor and you guys don’t take yourselves too seriously . Do you think that’s kind of a missing element in rock these days, too many new bands taking themselves a little too seriously?
A lot of the stuff to me starts with management and labels. Even us, early on in our careers, you have to have a manager who will go to bat for you who you are. Our early photo shoots for example don’t really show much of who we are. “Look serious” or “look mean” – it wasn’t really us. They try to manage your image and that might not fit your personality. I think that’s a great place for a manager to step in and say “no, that’s not this band” and for the band to voice their opinions as well. When you first get into it, you’re so green and you’re willing to jump through hoops that you normally wouldn’t be willing to jump through. Sometimes it takes a few albums to really find out who you are. Now I think here we are on our fourth record and we feel like old vets. We’ve been through so much industry bs and it just bounces right off of us. We run into bands on the road who aren’t having a good time, they hate it, they hate each other and we’re like “just go home”. We’re sick of you bringing us down. This is a great opportunity to play music for a living and they couldn’t be more miserable. They just don’t get it. I just say get over it. Rock and roll is about having a good time so enjoy playing and enjoy your fans – they deserve that.
You recently wrapped up the Avalanche Tour. I’m wondering what that experience was like for you as a band since in the past you’ve kind of been the newer kids on the block on tour (with Motley Crue, etc) and on this tour, you’re kind of the elder-statesmen (along with Stone Sour) – did you find the younger bands looking to you for any kind of advice or guidance?
The Art of Dying guys are Vancouver boys like us so we try to lead them astray and give them a lot of bad advice. We try to encourage them to say all the wrong things and then learn the lessons the right way. I think that when we first started we toured with Three Doors Down and you learn a lot just by seeing how bands carry themselves. I learned a ton and I think when you’re a young band you just have to be a sponge and soak it all in. Watch how the other bands carry themselves and how they treat other bands and local crews. I think we had such a great upbringing of the band so to speak by being babysat by the Three Doors Down guys because they really carry themselves so well and took great care of us. Even though their goal was to take care of themselves, they gave a young band like us a chance. It was the same thing when we were out with Motley Crue. Nikki Sixx would bring us into the dressing room and told us that if anyone mistreated us or our crew to come directly to him because that’s not how they run things. I think that’s a valiant thing that a guy like Nikki Sixx doesn’t really have to do and those are the things we remember. It’s good to always be learning. I don’t want go around preaching to people, I just want to lead by example. Treat people with respect and remember that we’re all out there doing the same thing.
You worked again with producer Howard Benson on this album. Howard seems to be one of those producers that bands either love or hate, what did he bring to the table for you and what made his producing style effective?
Howard is a unique personality for sure. The first time we worked with him was on our second record and we did our last record with him too, and now our new album. He’s one of those guys that have a strange sense of humor that some people just don’t get. The best way to deal with Howard is to shoot him right down. We have a strange relationship with him where we love to hate each other and then we just crack up over it. We love working together. It’s not that we actually hate each other –we’re just able to poke fun at each other. He’s really talented and he’s great for listening to the songs and picking the parts that are the best. He’s not about changing things, he really develops the best part of the songs and makes them the parts that catch your ear. He has a great ability to do that with vocals, he’s just got a really great ear. I think what happens sometimes with producers is that they try to overproduce. What is really effective with Howard is that he’s willing to look at each band individually and see what they are good at and then he focuses on that. He really works well with us. We love wacky personalities and Howard is one of those people. It’s not a coincidence that some of the most talented people in the world are these weird, wacky people. We love working with Howard and I can see us working with him again. There’s something to be said for familiarity. We know what he expects from us.
I loved this quote from Tyler regarding the songwriting process and wanted to get your take on it “When I write, I either want to kiss someone on the lips or punch them in the face. Anything in between is boring.”
Tyler is smart because he knows that people relate to lyrics and people don’t really want to relate to lyrics that aren’t really emotional. So I think it’s really important that if you’re going to write a song that it should be heavily weighted with emotion. Even if it’s a song with a sense of humor, Tyler is very much a person that wants to write from personal experience. He’s one of those people that believe that personal experience will breed more great music so get out there and live your life. Tyler is an emotional guy. I’ve seen him at the point of self destruct where he’s punched a brick wall as hard as he can and he ends up with bloody broken knuckles and I’ve also seen him bee one of the most caring, generous people so I can say that he delivers on that quote for sure. He’s one of those types of people whose emotions run from one extreme to the other.
Theory of a Deadman will be headlining the Carnival of Madness Tour kicking off in August. For all the tour dates, visit the official tour page here.
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