April is for resurrections, yeah? That’s cool, because the Dead Milkmen are coming back to life. It’s been three years since the West Coast has seen the ’80s punks (responsible for the catchy hits “Punk Rock Girl” and “Bitchin’ Camaro”), and on Friday, April 24, that all changes at the Belly Up.
The year was 1983; the place, Philadelphia. Four guys -- Rodney Linderman (vocals, keys), Joe Genaro (guitar, vocals), Dave Schulthise (bass) and Dean Sabatino (drums) -- made a name for themselves as the Dead Milkmen in the Philly punk scene. College radio picked up their debut LP, giving the band its initial boost that would see them through the decade, with MTV later hitching onto their 1988 release, “Beelzebubba.” After exiting a soured label relationship, however, the band broke, releasing what they intended to be their final album.
Around the band’s 20th anniversary, talks of a reunion tour fell silent and were replaced with memorial shows to honor bassist Schulthise, who committed suicide. It would be another four years after before the Dead Milkmen talked of reuniting, and when they did in 2008, it was intended to be a one time thing, with Dan Stevens on bass. But seven years and a bunch of new material later, the Dead Milkmen play on.
Ahead of the band’s return to the West, Dead Milkmen drummer Dean Sabatino, who’s a graphic designer by day, talks with SoundDiego about how to get back on the road and into the studio without becoming an “oldies hack band.”
Hannah Lott-Schwartz: What’s it like going out on tour after so long?
Dean Sabatino: [Laughs] Well, I’ll let you know at the end of April, because up until now we’ve only done three maybe four shows in one go. I think it’ll be fine -- we’re looking forward to it. It’s only a week long, and we won’t have a big tour bus or anything. I think a week is long enough for that kind of touring.
HLS: When were you last out on the road?
DS: We did some shows last fall. Last time we were out on the West Coast was about three years ago, so it’s been awhile. But we’ve done other shows on the East Coast.
HLS: So is it like riding a bike?
DS: I think it kinda comes back like riding a bike. We do play and do rehearse -- maybe you want to call it our main hobby. We’ve been together, gee, over 30 years, so we do have some experience with what does what doesn’t work out on the road. We know how it works, so we can get rolling pretty quickly.
HLS: I can’t believe it’s been that long that you guys have been together.
DS: Yeah, when I think about it it kinda surprises me. I joined the band in 1983, and Joe and Dave and Rodney had been working on songs and writing music before then even. It was only once I joined as the drummer that they played their first show. But yeah, to think 30 years -- it’s been a very interesting trip.
HLS: What’s better -- music now or then?
DS: We’ve alway had a very varying and wide-ranging music taste. College radio was still pretty prevalent in the ’80s and ’90s. Everything is online now, but you can satisfy your musical tastes almost immediately. But I listen to all kinds of things. One of my favorite bands in the ’80s was XTC. These days I can listen to bands like Wilco or Spoon -- Superchunk is still around. I listen to lots and lots of different things. Rodney listens to industrial music for instance [laughs]. So it’s kinda cool, you know. It’s a different way of doing things, and we work with that too.
HLS: Are there any plans for a new album?
DS: We sorta got back into it in 2008 -- we’d played a fest down in Texas, and it was designed to be a one off thing, but we had so much fun doing it that we wanted to see if we could do it on our own terms. But we didn’t want to be an oldies hack band and play the same old songs again and again. And that’s how the 2011 album came about, and then continuing on from that we did a series of 7-inch vinyl singles. Yeah, I think we want to continue to write new songs. But again, we just kind of do it on our own terms.
HLS: Are you putting that out yourselves?
DS: We’re not signed to a label. We do it ourselves, and if anything, I think it’s cycled back around to the early punk ethos of DIY. It’s a lot of work, but it’s been fun, and it’s been rewarding to have a direct connection to the fans that way.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.