The music scene in general, and the punk scene more specifically, is notoriously riddled with tales of immensely talented artists who were taken from us way before their respective times should have been up. Many of them turned in to tragic figures, at least in hindsight, due to their respective early passings due to having succumbed to addictions, accidental overdoses, insurmountable mental health issues, or some combination therein. For specific examples, one needs to look no further than the present entry on their This Week In Punk History calendar, which marks not only what would have been the 46th birthday of the great Tony Sly, but the one-year anniversary of the death of Teenage Bottlerocket drummer Brandon Carlisle.
And yet, as long as the list of tragic, gone-before-their-time punk rockers is, there is a small but growing list of punk rockers who’ve waded through the muck and the mire that is drug addiction and come out the other side all the better for it. A non-scientific survey of this writer’s memory bank finds current and former members of Social Distortion, NOFX, Dropkick Murphys, Street Dogs, Strung Out, The Loved Ones, Fake Problems, and no doubt countless others who have put down the bottle or the baggie or the pipe or the needle in years past and still continued to make powerful, meaningful work. Hell, even the inimitable Fat Mike got rather notoriously sober over the last year, if only for a while.
That small-but-growing list can add to it one of the more powerful female figures in the current punk scene: Stacey Dee. After starting to play guitar at the comparatively late age of twenty, Dee spent years in bands like The Angry Amputees and Compton SF and Blacktop Idol and Park Royal before finally striking gold with Bad Cop / Bad Cop. The four-piece all-female “freight train of fuck yeah!” signed to Fat Wreck Chords, released one of the best albums of last year (Not Sorry), and have toured fairly regularly, including the seven-week, nationwide run as direct support for The Interrupters that they’re currently about halfway through.
Yet just as quickly as the BC/BC freight train started to pick up significant speed last year by way of their opening spot on the Fat Wreck Chords 25th anniversary tour, there was, in hindsight, the very real possibility that things could have derailed for Dee in rather dramatic fashion. A combination of years of Xanax abuse coupled with increasing amounts of alcohol, painkillers, and, as it turns out, bad cocaine in Minneapolis resulted in a bottoming out that left Dee at a crossroads: get clean and fast, or lose everything and faster.
But let’s back up. Because while stories of redemption after years of despair and descent into the abyss (and this is certainly one of them) pull at the heartstrings, it sometimes helps to start the tape at the beginning to provide context and understanding. Stacey Dee grew up in California, the daughter of a working-class singer-songwriter father. “I grew up in a very rock-and-roll, drug-infused party house,” says Dee, adding that while she considers her parents great and “fun as shit,” they also did little to impose boundaries or discipline. This marks the first of a couple of themes from childhood that would rear their heads going forward.
As should be apparent, Dee grew up in a musical household, and learned piano and drums at a relatively early age. Upon reflecting on that childhood, Dee reports “knowing that from the time I was four or five years old, if you had asked me what I wanted to be, I was going to be a famous singer… I always fucking knew.” That said, the guitar playing and the songwriting that not only marked how her father made his living but would eventually come much, much later; Dee didn’t start playing guitar until the age of twenty. So if you know from the age of four or five that you want to be famous in music, why not pick up a guitar early on? “I was real poor growing up, but I came from an affluent area,” she explains. “I couldn’t have nobody like me because I was poor. I couldn’t have it. So all of my energy went into making sure people liked me, and that was a problem I had up until this last year, even.” Instead of focusing on what she knew was her passion, Dee focused from an early age on being accepted by other people. Herein lies the second of our recurring themes…
After the breakup of a long-term relationship, Dee finally picked up an acoustic guitar at the age of twenty and armed with a few newly-discovered barre chords, she followed her instincts by moving to Santa Barbara, an early baby step toward taking a gamble on herself, and to support what would eventually become her career. She would return home from Santa Barbara three years later with a budding confidence in her newfound talent for songwriting and a desire to be “that girl in the punk rock band,” but also with a decent taste of the ‘real world.’ “I got this pretty good job for a twenty-three year-old kid — I was selling floors, making almost 50 grand a year, which wasn’t bad,” states Dee. While the job provided a certain comfort level and while she and her boss remained friendly, they also engaged in a fair amount of butting of heads. As Dee tells it, “one day, he came downstairs and he was mad at me about something. And he was like ‘I want you to lock all these doors, go upstairs, and write me a letter about how you plan to better yourself as a human being!’ And I wrote him a letter of resignation, and decided that day that music was going to be my life.”
And so began a life of splitting time between semi-stable temp jobs and a series of bands with varying levels of success, perhaps most notably The Angry Amputees. A European tour with said band brought her in contact with the man she’d eventually marry and move to the UK to be with. After a stay across the pond, the pair eventually moved to Los Angeles, where their marriage would start to deteriorate. As is the case when any relationship goes belly-up, there are obviously myriad things that can be pointed to as the catalyst for the demise of Dee’s marriage. For starters, says Dee, “around 32 or 33, a really bad thing happened in my marriage and it wasn’t my fault. I’m still trying to find what my place in all of that was, but it was really damaging.” Moreover, there was perhaps more importantly what Dee perceived as a lack of spousal support of her musical aspirations. Remember that point about growing up with a lack of boundaries and structure and normalcy? Dee’s husband, she says “wanted to be a firefighter and he wanted me to be a nurse and have that whole white picket life, and I wanted to be that person so bad. My whole life I wanted to be that person. And this is going to make me cry, but I never had that life, so I don’t know what that person is.”
And then there were the drugs, specifically benzodiazepines. “Somebody in my family had started getting a prescription for Xanax,” says Dee, an event that marked the beginning of what could conceivably had been the end. “I had been looking for a doctor to give me a fucking prescription for Xanax since I was maybe 18 years old… I would go sing on people’s records if they could fill me a prescription of Xanax or get me a bottle. But then I decided that I wanted to check out. I finally found a doctor in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and she would give it to me; I could get whatever the fuck I wanted.”
After a period of time where she was “getting launched on drugs,” Dee and her husband finally called it quits in the year 2011. Commenting on what it took to get her to leave, Dee reports that she “felt like I needed to get out of the way of my marriage so that…we could both be happy,” adding rather matter-of-factly that “it was very sad.” As one might imagine, the drugs didn’t stop with the dissolution of her marriage, particularly as she had recently torn her ACL after falling off a stage. “When I first moved out of my husband’s house and got my own little apartment,” she explains, “I was just sitting there popping Xanax and painkillers and taking Benadryl on top of that.” After realizing that, perhaps, she shouldn’t be living on her own, Dee reports that she “moved to Inglewood, California, and let the quality of my life really just go down. I was living in the basement of this house for four years. I barely left. The only time I would leave was to do music.”
While a divorce and a growing reliance on drugs could have made 2011 the worst year on record for Dee, it also coincided with what could have been the most pivotal positive moment, though it might take some years to realize. The “music” that Dee would leave the house to do was, increasingly a new band. Bad Cop / Bad Cop, you see, started that same year. As should be obvious if you’ve listened to the band or, more specifically, you’ve seen them live, it should be no surprise that this new project caught the attention of some of the punk scene’s heaviest hitters, most notably NOFX’s Fat Mike Burkett, who’d also shown an interest in a prior Dee project, Compton SF. Burkett signed the band to his genre-defining label, Fat Wreck Chords, and produced their stellar debut full-length, 2015’s Not Sorry. And though the band’s level of success continued to increase and she “should have” been happy, Dee’s drug use would continue. “I kept telling myself that I was this broken artist and that that was somehow romantic, you know what I mean?”
By the time of Not Sorry, Dee was the closest she’d get yet to seeing that dream of becoming “that girl in the punk rock band” approach fruition. The bar would raise again by mid-2015, as Bad Cop / Bad Cop would earn the opening slot on Fat Wreck Chords’ 25th anniversary tour, where they’d be sharing a stage with such legends as Strung Out, Swingin’ Utter, Lagwagon and, of course, NOFX. And while the tour would raise the band’s status yet again and be the latest in a string of increasingly monumental events for Bad Cop / Bad Cop, it was very nearly the end of their run too. The culprit, of course, was drugs. “I had been partying a lot,” explains Dee, noting that she increased her drinking and “had added cocaine to the mix,” that already included abusing her prescribed Xanax and Klonopin (a total of 120 pills a month) and snorting painkillers. The band were becoming increasingly stressed out, in part because their opening slot meant that they needed to arrive notoriously early to the respective venues. By the time they reached what, by all accounts, was a rough night of August 18th in Minneapolis, things bubbled over. “Every band fought,” states Dee, adding that by the end of the evening, “from what people tell me, because I don’t remember, I fought everybody. I was like “fuck this, fuck you guys, fuck music, fuck this, I’m not playing this game anymore.”
Things went from bad to worse, and quickly. Dee explains, with a great deal of heaviness in her voice: “I got taken away, driven to the hotel. I tried to kill myself. I took handfuls of pills, I took an X-Acto knife that I had that was dull, thankfully, and was like AHHH (*makes hacking motion towards forearms*)! I called my dad to tell him I was done. Fat Mike called me and begged me, he said “Stacey, what are you doing? You can’t do this. I love you, stop it!” I got flown to Vegas, continued to party, left my band in Minneapolis to where they had to drive back. They couldn’t play any fucking shows. They couldn’t make any money. And I left them in the lurch, you know what I mean? It was a point where I hated them and they hated me.”
Dee eventually made it home, where she was joined on September 4th (coincidentally her fellow Bad Cop Jennie Cotterill’s birthday), by her band. At that meeting came the ultimatum: get help, or they were done. Though feelings may have no doubt been hurt, Dee’s bandmates (Cotterill, Myra Gallarza and Linh Le) stood by her side. Her parents stood by her side. Fat Wreck Chords stood by her side as a label, and Burkett and both his former wife/ label co-owner Erin and his current wife Soma stood by her side personally. Burkett’s bandmate Aaron “El Hefe” Abeyta and his own wife, Jenn, offered to help. “Friends from out of the woodwork” offered to help. And so, with that support, Dee got clean on September 7th. She went to detox for ten days, and emerged bruised, battered and broken…but alive.
And while it would take some time to learn how to think and feel and see and function again without drugs, particularly benzodiazepines, Dee wouldn’t have much time to wait. “I had this acoustic thing booked five days after detox and I was like “there’s no way! I don’t remember any of my songs! They’re gone!” she explains, adding that BC/BC drummer Myra Gallarza gave her the supportive push she needed. “I managed to remember three or four songs, Myra came and picked me up because I couldn’t drive! It was like I was disabled.” She made it through that set, and the band’s first subsequent set sober, and relatively unscathed, relying primarily on muscle memory to get her through
Fast-forward just over a year, and Bad Cop / Bad Cop is as successful as ever. They’re presently halfway through a seven-week full US tour (their first), and are playing killer shows in front of high-energy packed houses night in and night out as direct support for Epitaph/Hellcat Records’ The Interrupters. In the process of getting clean and going to counseling over the last year, Dee has learned not only a lot about herself, but has learned how to become positive. “Every tour since I got sober has been so great. We have the best time together, we laugh. I’ve said this before and I saw this in a book recently, but we are a freight train of ‘fuck yeah!’ We love everything. We don’t talk shit. Once you let a tiny crack open to let negative in, it will infiltrate you quicker than you know.”
Once they get off the road, Bad Cop / Bad Cop will dive right back into the studio, in anticipation of the June 2017 release to their follow-up to Not Sorry. The writing process is progressing, as Dee points out that Cotterill is presently writing and singing better than she ever has. For Dee, however, it’s gone a little slower. “I’m having a hard time. Songs don’t come as easily now, because when you’re negative, you have shit to bitch about. But I think through all the self-awareness, the things that I am writing are better and more meaningful and will help other people if they want to listen. That’s the one thing that I’ve been frustrated about in my recovery. It’s not happening fast enough, but I just have to be patient.” Learning to be patient means going against how the drug-addicted brain is accustomed to functioning, but as a beacon of newfound positive energy, Dee has given herself more than a fighting chance, and is incredibly mindful of having to do the work and stay the course; that the band is on their most successful tour as she’s newly sober is not coincidence. “It’s almost like you’ve gotta tell the universe you’re open for more things to come. As soon as you’re closed off and guarded about taking those chances, you’re not going to get the opportunities.”
Head below to read the full transcript of our conversation. It’s well worth the time, we promise!
Dying Scene (Jay Stone): So thank you. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I’ve wanted to talk to you for a while, but you guys don’t come here much…or ever…so thanks! This is the first real big Bad Cop / Bad Cop tour…
(*in unison*) is that your feelings come back!
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