DS Interview: John Maiello (Dead Bars) Talks ‘Regulars,’ playing with the Souls, and life after ‘Dream Gig’

“Keep on dreamin’.”

For myself and many others, the chorus has become a warcry. The punky, rock ‘n roll stalwarts have a way of getting you on their side—whether it’s through their blunt, too-real lyricism, or their bar-uniting singalongs, there’s the palpable feeling that no matter who you are, you belong at their show. This is Dead Bars—eternally scrappy, open-throated, and always rockin’—and with Regulars, they’ve kept the dream alive. 

In honor of the new album (May 3rd on A-F Records, don’t sleep on it!), I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with frontman John Maiello. We talk about the band’s journey thus far, finally getting that dream gig, and their incredible new record. 

Check out the interview below!

So, last time we talked, Dream Gig was just coming out. I swear that when I saw you guys at Fest, I saw more Dead Bars shirts than any other band. How has the rock ‘n roll dream been treating you—and do you feel like you’ve found an audience willing to go along for the ride?

I think Dream Gig really cemented what the Dead Bars sound and message is. We’ve definitely found an audience who connects, and it keeps building day by day. As far as the rock ‘n roll dream, Dead Bars is just lucky to have fans and friends who believe in what we do, and we do everything on our own terms.

On “Dream Gig,” you sing, “My only goal is to play with the Souls.” I was stoked to see a song lyric come to fruition. What was playing with the Bouncing Souls like and how did it happen? Did it feel like you closed a circle? What’s the next big goal for Dead Bars?

I have been talking to the Bouncing Souls about playing a show together (with any of my bands) for over 10 years. I have a lot of respect for how the Souls operate, and I look up to them as an example of how to achieve longevity in an ever-changing musical landscape. They are a constant. In regards to Dead Bars playing the Souls’ 30th Anniversary Tour Kickoff show, I guess I first proposed the idea in the summer of 2018. I knew that 2019 would be their 30th anniversary, and I wanted to let them know we were interested in doing a show or a tour. They replied back something like “We’ll keep an eye out for an opportunity.” Fast forward to January of 2019 (6 months later), a reply back from that email thread, was their manager offering Dead Bars an opening slot for their New Jersey hometown tour-kick off. It’s a combination of hard work, determination, timing, and luck. My advice to young bands that want to play with their heroes is to start trying early because in 10 years it will happen. I just saw the Souls in Seattle and I got a chance to talk to their bassist, Bryan. I just thanked him for inviting us to play, and he enthusiastically replied, “Fuckin Dead Bars! Fuckin Dream Gig! It had to happen!”

For Regulars, you guys swapped labels, moving from No Idea to A-F Records. In the last couple of years, I’ve heard lots of rumbling controversy about No Idea. Did this have anything to do with the swap? How’d you end up on A-F?

When we put out our first album ‘Dream Gig’ on No Idea, we were told that the label was not going to release any more new music and that Dead Bars would be the last new release on the No Idea label. As far as I know, this is true. I think Dead Bars is the last band to ever put out an album on No Idea Records. So that left us in the spot of finding a new label to work with for our next album. We recorded ‘Regulars’ and I sent it around. Sub Pop said no, and Epitaph never wrote me back, but A-F was interested before they even heard the album so we just thought it was a good fit to go with someone who already liked what Dead Bars was doing. I never really wanted to search for a new label.  I always thought Dead Bar’s was a perfect fit on the No Idea, but that’s just how it worked out. A-F has been great so far.

The new album is amazing. I feel like you guys doubled down on all the stuff that was great about Dream Gig and took it a little further. I think, between these two albums, you’ve really developed a specific sound and vibe to go with it. Where was your head at when you were writing these songs? What kinds of ideas and experiences inspire you enough to write?

Specifically, the album title ‘Regulars’ is about the Dead Bars fans. I wrote these songs for them. Musically, we tried to focus on dynamics and vocal production, and tried to make something that was better sounding than ‘Dream Gig’ without going for a very produced sound. We called on legendary grunge producer Jack Endino to engineer the album, and we just set up in one room and played the songs live, as if we were at band practice. There is a real energy to ‘Regulars’ that I truly love.

“I’m a Regular” is one of my favorite songs in the Dead Bars catalog. Much like “Tear Shaped Bruise,” it’s written by Neal Kosaly-Meyer. I know you’ve talked about Neal live, but can you fill our readers in on the mysterious fifth Beatle of Dead Bars? How did “I’m a Regular” end up as a Dead Bars song?

Neal is my friend and co-worker. I’ve known him for almost 10 years. For years, we would show each other songs we each had written, and I would help him out and he would help me out. He particularly liked the first batch of Dead Bars songs I showed him like “Party At My House” and “Funhouse Monday.” When we were writing for ‘Dream Gig’ album, he came up to me and said “I wrote a song that I think should be a Dead Bars song”, and proceeded to show me ‘Tear Shaped Bruise.’ I liked it, and he said Dead Bars could have it if we wanted it, and we definitely wanted it, so that ended up on our album. For the song “I’m A Regular,” I was trying to write a song, and I had the chords to “I’m A Regular” and I showed them to Neal, and the only words I could describe to him for what I was going for with the chord progression was “It’s way Tom Petty, right?” He agreed and told me it was a cool riff. The next day he came back in with some handwritten words and told me he wrote a vocal melody and lyrics (which included my line “It’s way Tom Petty…”) to the chord progression I had. We sang it together, and I was blown away by how good it was. We decided to give each other co-writing credit for that tune. It’s still one of my favorites. Neal is one of the best songwriters I know, but he didn’t start a band until he was in his 50s! He and his sister have a band called Your Mother Should Know, and they have a version of “Tear Shaped Bruise” that I think Dead Bars fans would be shocked to hear!

What’s your favorite song on the new record and why?

I think my favorite song on ‘Regulars’ is “Rain”. I really like the simplicity mixed with the lyrics that tell a story that’s like a movie but it’s like just the middle of the movie. You don’t know how the story begins or ends, so it leaves a lot of interpretation for the listener. I really like that. This song was also one of the only ones where I actually wrote every piece of music, including the ripping lead guitar in the intro and middle. I can’t physically play it on guitar, but I hum it to the guitar players and they turned it into something real. This song is special to me because it has so many elements of past Dead Bars style songs mixed in with the new ideas we’ve been trying.

Cold-calling Jack Endino to get him to produce your record is something out of rock history. What was he like in the studio, do you feel like he shaped Regulars in a meaningful way?

As far as I know, Jack will record anyone as long as you pay him. He’s old school. He’s got a flat rate and you call him up and if he’s available, he’s producing your record. He’s a real great guy to work with. He works harder than any engineer/producer I know. He understands that bands are on a budget and makes sure that he gives his everything to the band for the time that they are in the studio with them. I would describe his production style as very hands off. He very much wants to capture a band being a band, and I think his best records are less about production and more about capturing a band’s true sound. I feel like ‘Regulars’ is the closest recording to what we sound like live, and I’m extremely happy with how it turned out. We couldn’t have done it without the additional help of Aaron Schroeder and Jay Maas who worked on ‘Regulars’ after we did the initial tracking with Jack.

You guys have really developed as a band since that first EP. How has your vision for Dead Bars changed or expanded?

The vision is still the same. We’ve grown as musicians and it is reflected in our songwriting but we still have goals. We want to be doing Dead Bars for the next 50 years. We will play wherever people will have us. But we have to be smart about it. So many bands burn out, and then they’re gone. Neil Young said, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” I think for the most part he’s right, but Dead Bars hasn’t really caught fire yet, so for us, we’re gonna keep playing, and keep touring, and keep rockin, one dead bar at a time.

The thing about Dead Bars is: you guys are a punk band that transcends punk. You guys work with that sonic palette, but at the same time, it’s clear you’re reaching for something bigger. All through your lyrics, there’s this unabashed love of rock ‘n roll. I think it’s a genuine affection that a handful of punk-adjacent bands have begun to embrace. Why rock ‘n roll? What makes it so intoxicating—and how does it survive?

Rock ‘n roll is timeless. Dead Bars forever.

Now that the records out, what can we expect from you guys in the next year? You guys touring?

We are booking a world tour. If you want us to play in your town or country, email us at DeadBarsBand@gmail.com

It’s always a pleasure chatting with you, John. I hope we see Dead Bars for many years to come. I’ll give you the last word, anything you want to say to our readers?

Dead Bars is nothing without all of you. Thank you for believing in us over the years, and we’ll see you at the next show!


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