Interview: David Rosenberg (Deadguy) & William Saunders (Documentarian)
Deadguy: Killing music is now available to rent through Forth Media, deadguykillingmusic.com
Deadguy are back and for that we have William Saunders to thank. His film, Deadguy: Killing Music documents the seminal New Jersey band from inception to implosion, a story told by every member of the group along with the likes of Steve Evetts (producer), Ben Weinman (The Dillinger Escape Plan), Randy Blythe (Lamb of God) and more. In creating the documentary, the filmmaker was able to reunite all five members of the classic lineup, the first time they had all spoken in 23 years. That moment, which is seen on screen, has led to a handful of shows, a live album, and even writing sessions, with plans for more activity in the near future.
Deadguy: Killing Music has been screened in multiple cities and has been available for viewing on Saunders’ Fourth Media website, but the film is getting it’s streaming service premiere August 31 with Rewarded TV, an event that will feature a live chat with the filmmaker and band members.
Saunders and Deadguy drummer Dave Rosenberg talked to us about making the movie, the band’s subsequent reunion, and what the future holds for both parties.
This whole project started with you two; can you tell me about how it gets rolling?
William: Dave and I worked together on a different project, and a couple days into that project I was like, "Hey man, how about we do a documentary about Fixation On A Co-Worker?" Because nobody really knew how the band ended or transitioned because there was no Twitter back then, so we didn't know exactly what happened every moment of their day as their inevitable demise unfolded. Originally it was going to be like a 30-minute thing about Fixation On A Co-Worker but I came back to New York—that was in Amsterdam that we met and did that—I came back to New York, wrote an outline, sent it to him, and he said, 'Yeah, here's a bunch of e-mail addresses of people to get a hold of."
Dave, were you interested immediately?
Dave: The reality is that I didn't believe that anyone cared and I stand behind that now. The thing is, we didn't talk for 23 years. There was one brief interlude where we had done some e-mails and that was it. And we remained—I don't know if it was mad at each other, but we just didn't even know anything. So when Bill said this, I was like, "If you think it's interesting I have no reason to say no at this point." I think there was still a lot of bitterness amongst all of us, very stupidly or misplaced, I would say. We didn't even know why we were even mad at that point. So we started asking around about it and people were like, "No, this is interesting," and for us as the band, it was a little bit of a way to get back together and see whether or not we could ever be friends again.
Did you think that any of the other guys would be interested?
D: Well, I knew that Jim [Baglino] would, I knew that Tim Singer would, and Keith [Huckins] would, because they just have the egos [laughs]. And I knew that Crispy [Chris Corvino] would not, because I've known him forever and funnily enough, me and Crispy go back to maybe '91 give or take, and we were roommates for a long time, we were in the band forever, we were roommates afterwards and we stayed friends. I had bad carpal tunnel for several years—not quite debilitating, but I wasn't playing a lot, and then I went back to taking drum lessons and I was back to playing multiple hours a day, and it got to the point where my grip strength and everything was gone. I'd be playing drums and sticks would fly out of my hand and I had this real serious problem, and at one point I said to Crispy, "Look man, there is a real world here where I won't be able to play this idiotic music that we made up, we should do something about it." And that was when he finally was like, ok, let's at least kind of pay respect to what we did.
How does it go from the idea of a 30-minute album-overview into a full-length documentary spanning the band’s entire existence?
W: Really, the big impetus was, we starting shooting this in 2019 and we got all the Deadguys back together in the same room early in 2020. So things were going well and nice and tight and compact and then the pandemic happened, which then opened us up as filmmakers to interview a lot more people, because everybody was sitting at home doing nothing. So we reached out to a lot of those people in the documentary just on a cold email. I e-mailed Randy Blythe and said, "Hey man, do you want to sit down and talk about Deadguy?" And he was like, "Hell, yeah let's do it." So as I started interviewing more people, the broad story of Deadguy really started to show itself, and then on top of what I had gathered from getting them in the same room, I kind of realized that we needed to push this into a career-spanning thing because the breakup really ended up being the big moment of the band and of the documentary.
So in a way did the pandemic help to shape what the film becomes?
W: Yeah, absolutely. It shaped it not only content-wise, but visually by using Zoom interviews. That was something I never would have done pre-pandemic, but the fact that it landed in our lap, we really leaned into it with people flipping their phones back and forth and trying to get the right angle. So we kind of leaned into it and made it part of the timestamp of the documentary, which is also kind of funny because the poor quality mimicked the VHS quality of the shows that I had.
D: What's interesting about it is that suddenly mortality becomes a lot more real. This, I think, was a part of it too; that a couple of us had kids and whatever else, and suddenly the world was completely sideways. We really couldn't remember what we were even mad about at that point, or we got past it, at least. So not that there was a lot of benefits to the pandemic, but at least it made us have an appreciation for some things that we had done in the past. Also that we could all die.
W: And the band is called Deadguy.
D: The irony is not as delicious as I'd like it to be in that case.
W: Nobody died.
D: Yeah, not yet. We're working on it.
Once the original lineup is together in a room, is it difficult to get people to open up?
W: In a lot of ways I think they were all ready to go. It was almost like a little mini Mexican standoff, who's going to move first and who's going to do what. But I think once they all got in the interview room they were all very comfortable about each other and talking about their past, and you could see that they were excited to be in the same room together again. And like Dave said, they never really knew what they were mad about it, they had just slowly gotten over it, but this was a total reset of their friendship and of their relationship because it had been 20-25 years since they had been in the same room together. I think they were ready to talk. I think they realized how important Fixation On A Co-Worker was to the rest of music going forward—at least some of them, maybe not at all of them.
D: We had done quite a few interviews. I was at the time still living in Europe and I would come back every couple months for work stuff and me and Bill would do a sort of timestamp interview and see who we could get to do stuff. I feel like my first couple were probably still a little bit bitter but then as we talked, Bill is like my therapist now. The reality was once everybody got in there—I mean I had seen Crispy a bunch of times and Tom Yak in between, but I hadn't seen Tim or Keith or Tim Naumann for a long time—it was like, I couldn't even remember why I was mad. I was like, "Man, we should just go rock." I think that was the reality of it. These are people that we spent a lot of time with, we got to do things that most normal people don't get to do, and I have a much bigger appreciation for that now than I ever did, especially as a pseudo-adult.
I have a 15 year-old now and she had seen me play jazz, but she came to see us at Saint Vitus and was like, "What in the hell?" How do you explain this to people, that this is something that you did for years? I live in New York now and I walk past the store that was CBGBs and I try to explain, we recorded a live album; we would play Saturday night sold-out at CBGBs. Those types of experiences are very hard to come by in the new world and I think we all were like, "Oh man, we got to do some cool stuff, we got to do it together and boy were we stupid for not reveling in that." These were great life-defining moments and we just didn't have good coping mechanisms at the time of how to deal with ourselves or others, and we were too young to know better—and too poor to be able to buy our way out of things, which we can do now.
W: I think to Dave's point about interviewing him a couple times before they got there, it was becoming genuine frustration and we really didn't think Tim was going to show up that day,
W: That was true. As a documentarian I was just trying to shoot everything and if I had to do the whole documentary with just Dave then so be it, but I think the more we got together and the more we kept saying, "Dave and I have been together three times to do interviews, are you yahoos coming or not?" Eventually they started trickling in.
D: What's funny about it too is we hadn't seen each other in so long and we really didn't know anything about anybody. Tim is a little flaky; Tim is late all the time. I had no idea. Meanwhile I'm like, this dude is not going to show up. I flew from freaking Amsterdam, I've been here for three days, and then it turns out no, he's just late. It was that type of thing. It was just so stupid and we just didn't know because we didn't know each other as our future selves that we knew in the past. And that's been fun too, because now we have this whole sort of bizarro—we still act exactly the same as we did then but we have all these other weird trappings of life to laugh about. If there's one thing that we've always gone in on, it’s how long can we keep this joke running. I gotta say I'm pretty proud. We've made this last 25 years and we're still going.
To that point, Deadguy is known for this intense music and insane performance, but as the documentary shows, the guys are really funny and goofy. Was that a certain element you wanted to focus on in the film?
W: Absolutely. I wanted to bring the essence of Deadguy into the film, which is exactly what you said. Absolutely savage and terrifying live show, but when you get them together they just started giggling about shit. You could see it right away and it was definitely something that I wanted to pull into the documentary, which is why it has some kind of kitschy elements to the graphics. I mean, we didn't have a gigantic graphics budget, but also I kind of ran with that idea that it was a serious joke, that they were there to get one over on everybody and do their own thing and thumb their noses at any establishment that happened to be around them. So definitely tried to integrate that aspect into it, which is why there's jokes about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and stuff like that. That essence was something that I definitely wanted to put into the movie.
D: Partially I think it is growing up in New Jersey. I lived in San Francisco for like 20 years and they didn't understand sarcasm, which was an interesting thing to me. Growing up on the east coast—I almost go back to the Muppet Show and say if you didn't watch the Muppet Show you're not a well-rounded adult. That was always us. I wouldn't necessarily say that we were a bunch of goofballs, but we were typical New Jersey somewhat-suburban kids who were–
D: Yeah, wise-asses. Basically all our parents had gone to college so we were maybe one step removed from working class, so you kind of get a little, but of a different perspective I think. But none of us grew up with money or anything, so all you had was your skateboard and a sense of humor back in those times. So we were always that way. It's interesting because we've been—spoiler—we've been writing new songs, and it sounds like Deadguy. That's just what it sounds like when we play, and Crispy was the first one who said that to me years ago. This is what comes out when we play together. So those jokes and everything else has always been a part of what we do.
The other side of it is, when you're playing that kind of music you have two options, you can either be like Cannibal Corpse and blood and guts, or you gotta go in the other direction and be campy, sarcastic, whatever, because it's just too heavy otherwise. It's one thing to play heavy music, but if you have heavy imagery, a heavy approach to it, it's a little bit onerous and less fun, so no matter what we do—because of Bill, I blame him for this— we've had to kind of think about music a little bit. The one thing that we've come to realize is that there's a little bit of a groove, for lack of a better term, and that's not what Cannibal Corpse was, that's not what Carcass or whoever is, it's not even Lamb of God. So for us it became, how do we represent ourselves in a way that's true to form knowing that we are playing what we try to make as punishing as possible. It's a fine line to cross, and when you look at it from that time period—Biohazard, they had an image, and that was never going to be us. We would never be those jock guys from Brooklyn; we were dorks from New Jersey who just really liked heavy music.
So is there a more deliberate nature to writing a Deadguy song now knowing what has transpired with the legacy of your music over the past 25 years?
D: I don't know; I've been trying to figure this out as well. I can find a formula because you spend enough time as either a musician or a music historian, you can figure out a formula. If anything, we're trying to still avoid that. I think the expectations are going to be problematic in certain ways. Bill heard a couple of the new songs and they sound like Deadguy, but so far, the first two that we just finished last weekend are kind of on the faster side; they're more Black Flagy—noisy Black Flag—and they have some weird Voivod parts. So I think that's the hard part of this, the options are rehashing the same crap, or are we keeping the lineage alive? That's the only part that I think we all feel a little bit weird about, and Crispy feels the most consternation associated with it. Everybody's happy with what we did in the past but is this going to be, not sucky, but is it going to not live up to what people want it to be, and does it live up to what we want to be? Ultimately that's all we really care about, but it's a tough reality to sort through at this point.
I was in Europe and I was bored and I've been playing guitar now for however many years and I wrote a lot of songs. I once read this interview with Dio and it was like you get 14 Dio songs and they're all great, and I can tell you honestly I wrote 50 songs and of them maybe 2 are usable. But I think now we're old enough to say, "This part sucks, let's throw it out," which I don't know that we could've done that in the past.
So William, you get the band in a room for the first time in 25 years and get them to play music together, was that a secret you had planned?
W: It kind of organically just happened. We happened to shoot that set of interviews in Hoboken, New Jersey in a music studio and there is practice rooms and all that stuff. It wasn't intentional, but once I saw that starting to happen, I seized it and went and got a couple guitars and awkwardly shoved them into it. Dave was behind the drumset automatically and I got Keith a guitar and they were just kind of noodling and then we slowly worked into it and then I was like, 'Hey why don't you guys play some songs?" And when they started playing I was grinning from ear to ear. I was watching Deadguy play, because I had never got to watch Deadguy play back in the 90s because I'm not from the east coast and they never played Detroit. So I was pretty giddy that it all happened, but it was very organic. I didn't really have that plan in mind, but once I saw it forming I went for it.
D: He wanted a private concert. That's how it works; it was all worth it. What a terrible choice you made, you could have had Barry Manilow. What's funny about it, though, is that me and Jim had played a little bit and I had played with Tom Yak as well, and I had been practicing, to tell you the truth. I was living in Amsterdam, as I said, bored to tears, I started practicing a lot because I thought maybe we're going to play again. I learned all the songs again. I had maybe a higher degree of confidence, and Keith never stops playing no matter what he says, so he's still got his chops. The surprise was Tim Naumann could still play the songs because Tim is a high school teacher and we don't talk about it in the movie, but Tim actually had a kidney transplant in June of last year. He hadn't played at all; he didn't have a bass. He had been occasionally playing acoustic guitar, so I was like Naumann can still play these songs.
When we first thought about playing some shows we thought about doing it with 2 bass players—that Jim would play dirty and Tim would play clean—but Tim, to his credit, was smart enough to be worried about his health and fortunately he's fine. But he's like, "Dude, I can't be out with 3,000 people in this world of a pandemic when I'm getting a kidney transplant." He's fine, but me and Jim had played together before and hungout and whatever, so once we got back—the one thing I will say is we practiced more for that Decibel show than we had probably ever in any other context as a band.
So, is the film—and particularly the jam that happens in the film—the catalyst to start playing again?
D: Yeah, because after that Albert from Decibel—the Decibel guys have been big supporters of ours going way back, they put Fixation in the Hall of Fame I think in 2006—and when we said to Albert, "Bill's doing this movie," he said, "Look, you guys need to play this. This is it. Play this show as your thing." It made us focus, it made us get our act together and the reality was it was fun to be in the band again, and it's hard to come by as an adult, to find things that are fun. And so being able to get together, and being able to rock and play those songs, it was a big relief. There obviously was some catharsis, but I think it was like, ok we got through playing together, this is actually pretty enjoyable, let's go see if anyone else cares, and I think we were fortunate that people were into it.
I have to tell you, first show back was that Decibel festival, which was like 3500 people—it was like, what are we thinking here? There's a funny picture on the live album, which is just us in front of the empty room, which was basically what we thought it was going to be, without exaggeration. So I think it was a big relief for us, it was also sort of funny that, again as adults—me and Tim talk about this all the time, but we both started working out [laughs] because we're like, "I don't know if I can get through 45 minutes of this." That was kind of funny, but then since then it's been good.
We've been writing new stuff, we're playing a couple shows in October, we've been talking to a bunch of festivals and stuff. We're going to do a split that we're also working on which is going to be with Pig Destroyer, which is fun. This is the thing, it's hard to get it together just because life gets in the way, but the fact that we can do that—Pig Destroyer; absurd band, absurd name, everything about it is great in my opinion—and the fact that we get to go do this stuff now because we're sort of a functioning unit to me is awesome.
W: Let's back that up, Dave, because that's a pretty big announcement. That's big news.
D: Sooner or later. Sooner or later it's coming. We also remixed the half of Fixation that we had digitally, which is pretty fun too.
W: For the record, I begged for an autotuned remix set-to-the-grid, but Steve Evetts wouldn't do it.
D: It didn't work. Turned out we broke the grid.
We have the future of Deadguy, what is the future of the film?
W: The Blu-ray should be out fairly soon, I think end of September was the target date, and then we're doing a VHS which is also in the works right now, and then we're doing our streaming premiere with Rewarded TV which will be super fun. They're going to have a watch party chat feature, so if anybody wants to pop in and talk to one or all of the Deaguys, and I'll be there, and I think Decibel is probably going to show up and hang out. It'll be fun to watch it on a streaming service. My website's been nice, but it doesn't reach everybody all the time. And then we have a bunch of other streaming options coming out as well, along with some bigger names that I'm not going to say yet because they're not done. But yeah, we'll have all of it and then I'm not thinking about Deadguy again.
Dave, how is it for you to sit there and actually watch the film?
D: Yeah, embarrassing. You just feel like such a dick, there's no way around it. You feel so stupid, and always, how do you fix the thing that you said [laughs]? I fortunately had been media trained back in the day for a job, so I had some sense of it, but then Bill would be poking me with emotional questions. At this point I can watch it because I think there's a lot of things that are funny to me, and maybe not as funny to everybody else, but it's worth it from that perspective. And I gotta say, it's somewhat amazing that, whoever it is, Randy Blythe or the guys from Converge or whoever who are like, "This is super important to me." It's a little bit shocking in a lot of ways. If you do anything that's important to other people and it helps them get through something, I feel like that's a huge win in life and we should all take what we can get. So that stuff I feel very thankful. I don't know what the right word is. I felt glad that anything that we had done had a meaning to people and it got them through a tough time or whatever it may be, and that they still like it.
William, now that you're officially done with Deadguy, what do you have planned for the future?
W: We have a couple others in the works. Through this documentary I sort of started becoming friends with Steve Austin, so we have some exciting Today Is The Day stuff that we're going to do through Fourth Media and some stuff that he has. And we started on one other documentary and then there is one golden-goose documentary that I really want to get, that I've been pulling all the strings I can to get that done. Not going to say who it is so I don't jinx it, but it would be super cool if we got that done and I think we're going to get that done.
D: The hidden story of Cap'n Crunch is his white whale.
W: You know, he was a Lieutenant for over a decade before he made Captain. Cap'n Crunch actually didn't make Captain until he had slaughtered the Captain before him [laughs].
But no, we have stuff coming out. I was surprised by the reaction to this documentary. I still get e-mails from people saying, “Thank you for doing this, you got Deadguy back together,” and people are really stoked to have this happen, and my producer Nathaniel and I are definitely trying to push forward on a couple other things. We're going to try to bring more obscure hardcore band's stories into the limelight.
D: I can't believe you called us obscure.
[For more information on the film such as the Rewarded TV premiere and other viewing options visit www.fourth.media.]