The return of dandy rock, an interview with Roger Deering of SMASH Fashion

This interview first appeared on SMASH Fashion’s Website in 2009. The LA based band continues to kick ass and recently released another album Big Cat Love.

Growing up in South Florida during the 1980s was a heady experience for anyone with alternative inklings. Against the backdrop of endless blue skies, genteelly faded pastel jewel box buildings, midnight porch-sitting elderly and relentless heat (tempered with hope) beat the heart of the underground music world known as the Cameo Theater. And undeniably the intense rhythm of that Miami Beach heartbeat was everyone’s favorite local band, the Drills.

Most of the great hardcore punk bands such as Black Flag, Ramones, and the Dead Kennedys came to play in this tiny, decrepit hot pink and lime green art deco throwback and as opening band, the Drills were a huge part of the burgeoning all ages movement.

But as with anything that intrigues, there was always something just a little different about them. Not quite big hair and spandex heavy metal or plaid shirt and suspenders skinheads, they were stylish none the less…and very, very dangerous. Deliciously so.

Lead singer Roger Deering had a devilish stare that suggested after-show back alley meetings where you were going to get a pounding one way or another, depending upon your gender. With lyrics like ‘got a taste for original sin’ and songs such as “Got No Heart” and “Blaze of Glory”… honey, you knew he was going to deliver on that promise!

After a few years of playing around town, there was talk of them moving on to bigger and better things like making their own movie, etc. The Drills did indeed go to LA and got signed by a major label. However, things in the real world are never so easy nor straightforward. Make that doubly so in the music world. But true musicians who are not in it just for the fame and glory keep playing and keep getting better as a result.

Twenty something years later Roger Deering is still performing and creating kick-ass music with his band SMASH Fashion. Their latest album Don’t Pet the Sweaty Things will be released this coming August and according to Deering will be available on their website, CD Baby, iTunes and “fine record stores across the globe”.

In the following interview he discusses his past with the Drills, growing up emotionally and how it led to the evolution of his current sound…a mature and masterly melodic homage to all things 60s, dandy and classic rock. But make no mistake; it still has a glint of trouble in its eye.

How does one go from being dangerous to dandy?

Roger: A quite natural process of evolution. I’m not sure dangerous is the right word for either my personality or the music I was involved with in my youth. I was angry, young, passionate, hot-blooded and opinionated, with a temper to boot! I’ve found as you get older, hopefully you learn some things along the way. You learn to pick your battles. You begin to realize that you’re a mortal being after all.

Musically if you’re serious about music, you begin to drop the bravado and let the music speak for itself. You don’t have to kick someone in the head or hit ‘em with a beer can to get their attention. And believe me, I’ve done both!

As far as Dandyism, even the Drills were a rather flamboyant band. We certainly didn’t fit the mold image wise of most “punk” or “hardcore” bands. We had longer hair, wore make-up and always had no qualms about being flashy. As you go along you pick up stuff and tend to learn what works for you image wise. You get more comfortable in your skin. I’ve always liked clothes and felt that looking cool is a major part of being in a band. All my favorites always looked great – Beatles, Who, Small Faces, Stones, Bowie, Sex Pistols, etc. Besides, who says that you can’t be a dangerous dandy? John Dillinger, Wild Bill Hitchcock, Marquis De Sade, Count Dracula – all dandies. Even though I’m past the age of violence, I still have tendencies!

There was a certain kind of ‘angry’ energy to the punk scene in Miami during the 1980s. What do you think happened to that energy? Is it something that only comes with youth?

Roger: As far as the scene in Miami in the early 80s, it seems to be split into two periods. Earlier on, I found it to be more creative and adventurous. There were more clubs (although no all ages clubs). This led to more experienced musicians and better players with a more unique approach to their presentations. Bands like Charlie Pickett and the Eggs, Z-Cars, Crank (best hardcore band I’ve ever seen except Bad Brains), Catz on Holiday, The Toyz, The Eat, Espressos, Gay Cowboys in Bondage, etc. The Drills started in this scene as young kids and we were in awe of most of these people. There was Flynn’s Ocean 71, Finders Lounge, The Button South, 27 Birds and New Wave Lounge. Most of these bands and clubs were considered punk or alternative at the time because they weren’t mainstream and Florida was all about cover bands. Then the Cameo Theater opened in South Beach and that was all ages. That changed everything. This brought a different younger crowd who never got to experience this type of music in a live environment.

Punk rock was now reaching a younger crowd in Miami and was spreading to suburbia. A collective energy was building and mounting. I feel that kind of youthful movement of discovery just shifts on to the next generation. Of course every generation will probably say that their scene was the most exciting. I’m glad I got to be a part of it. There are not a lot of rewards in the music world, so when guys like the Marilyn Manson band tell me how much they were influenced by what I was doing, it feels good.

Hardcore – destructive or constructive?

Roger: Oh, it was definitely constructive in the sense that it was great outlet for young people to express themselves. Musically however, it was very limited. Quite honestly, I don’t listen to hardcore, nor did I ever really listen to hardcore. I did and do still like stuff like X, The Gun Club and The Dream Syndicate. I really love early punk, i.e. The Ramones, Dead Boys, Pistols, Buzzcocks, Gen X, etc….garage rock, soul and what’s now considered classic rock.

The Drills played on bills with tons of hardcore bands but we were never hardcore. We played hard and fast rock. A big part of the hardcore thing was the shaved heads, no drugs, etc. We were the total opposite….lots of sex, drugs, booze and guitar solos! The original Drills guitar player Alex Hood always used to say ‘I’m in this for the booze and the broads!’

When, if ever, did playing the hardcore shows stop being fun?

Roger: Well, playing music is in my blood, so I’ve always enjoyed it. However, it did come to a point in Miami where we realized we had outgrown the scene we had helped create. It came to a head when we did a show with the Circle Jerks and a gang of skinheads charged the stage and beat up some of the guys in the Jerks. I must say, the Drills weren’t the kind of guys that put up with that kind of stuff and we gave it back good. The violence at the shows got to a point where it wasn’t cool anymore. A few creepy jock “punks” were ruining it for a lot of people. I would look at the faces of the kids that were there to have a good time and dance and I saw fear and stress. Come on, that’s the last thing you should be feeling at a rock show.

After that, we just got tired of narrow-minded people giving us the finger because we wanted to grow musically. It just felt like it was time to move on. The Drills relocated to Los Angeles in 1988 and in 1990 we landed a huge record deal. But that’s another story.

Can you describe what it feels like to be on stage?

Roger: Well, at this point in my career/life it feels like home! When the band is tight and the sound and lights are good, the monitors are working and the crowd is great and you know you are either going to get paid or laid (hopefully both!), it’s utterly fantastic. There’s only one other thing that comes close and I bet you can guess what that is. On the flip side, when everything is going wrong (and it does and will) every minute seems like an hour and you just soldier on till the end of the show. Then you look forward to the next one. Even the best have terrible shows.

What excites you about the new line-up for SMASH Fashion?

Roger: Tony and Repo have been in the band for a few years now, so they are like family. They are so good at what they do. Tony played with Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls and Repo was in a Finnish glam band Smack so they come with a cool pedigree. It’s great to play with guys that have no limits. They really have a lot to offer.

When is the new album coming out?

Roger: We have a new record coming out anytime now. It’s been done for awhile but it seems that everything takes longer than expected. It’s called Don’t Pet the Sweaty Things and is a little more hard rocking and straightforward than our first release. It was done in two different sessions/studios. There weren’t as many cooks in the kitchen for this one and as a result, it’s more focused. I’m really proud of it. It sounds good and as on the first record, there’s a big variety of songs. It’s mostly recorded live with minimal overdubs, straight to tape! Sweaty Things is not a pro-tools record. It’s a good old fashioned rock and rock record. 

Will you go on tour?

Roger: SMASH Fashion has not done any touring. We do hope to get to Europe and Japan in the next year. We do play all over Southern California though.

The rock lifestyle has a high casualty rate. How have you managed to survive and thrive all these years?

Roger: Yes indeed, there is a very high casualty rate in this business. I’ve lost band mates and a lot of friends. I’ve managed to survive only by the skin of my teeth. As far as thriving, I’m not sure that word applies to me. I spent thirteen years strung out on heroin, was homeless, got stabbed in the lung and was in and out of institutions for years before I finally cleaned up eight years ago. I had lost everything and didn’t play music for around six years in that period.

Music came back to me after I cleaned up. And it means more to me than ever. I now realize it’s a gift that needs to be shared with good intent. I’ve been in the dark places with the bad people. Been there, done that. It’s not what I find cool or inspirational anymore. There’s a bigger picture that I’m interested in.

What is your secret dream?

Roger: Well if I told you…..it wouldn’t be my secret dream anymore, now would it? But I’ll give you some hints… time travel, shape shifting, levitation, holograms, rainbows, Hendrix, beehive colonies, nano technology, mermaids, talking loins, tigers and cats…. Don’t get me started!

 

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