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Ultimate Fakebook

Album review: The Dead Girls - Noisemaker

(Photo by Todd Zimmer)
There’s a certain poetry to the way music communities ebb and flow. A band will manage to capture a certain something that attracts interest, if not devout fandom, but at some point the end of the road lies ahead. At this stage, many musicians decide that it was a good run but now it’s time to do something else. In other cases, band members go off on other musical pursuits. Sometimes a new band arises from the remains of those no longer working. Such is the case for The Dead Girls (formerly Dead Girls Ruin Everything), who came to life in 2004 when members of Ultimate Fakebook and Podstar combined their talents. For the past decade the band has been on its self-described search for “the perfect hook,” and they’ve been successful far more often than not. With their most recent (and perhaps final) album Noisemaker, the Lawrence foursome is hitting on all cylinders with an eleven-track offering that seems primed for radio airplay. I count at least nine of those songs as being ready not only for local airwaves, but much more widespread exposure.
The Dead Girls (Cameron Hawk and JoJo Longbottom sharing guitar and vocal duties, Nick Colby on bass, and Eric Melin on drums) take their powerpop pedigree seriously, listing Big Star, The Replacements, The Beach Boys, and Cheap Trick among their influences. It’s a lineage they are clearly determined to be worthy of, and Noisemaker provides 33 minutes that are saturated with crunchy chords, rock riffs, and vocal pyrotechnics that are super, super tight.
“I’m On a Mission” opens the album with a blast of all the aforesaid ingredients. From the opening moments it’s clear what that mission is—“to rock!”—and that mission is followed to the letter throughout Noisemaker. A bit later, “Downtown on a Nice Afternoon” offers a burst of jangly guitar sounds, but with an underlying sense of urgency, as if the singer has to be somewhere important… but, well, we’ve already started the song and it’s kind of important that we finish this too… so let’s get it done already! Those opening chords are reminiscent of the sound of early MTV commercials, which is a nice touch, and … oh, I’m sorry, I should explain: “MTV” is a television network that used to play music videos 24 hours a day, and … oh, right: “music videos” are brief vignettes that were made to give television viewers visual connections to the music they listened to.
Everybody caught up? Good. On we go.
“That Shit Gets Old” is a straightforward rocker that shows me hints of Gruff Rhys on vocals, which is never a bad thing. Perhaps if Hawk or Longbottom was Rhys’ younger brother it would make perfect sense. “Dress Up Dress Down” has almost a summery-surf quality, like it would be the soundtrack to a midnight drive along the beach. “Calling You Around” is a primer in how to blend powerpop guitars with classic-rock arrangements, and “I Don’t Wanna Hafta Hold Your Hand” closes the album with the most uptempo song of the lot, as the band realizes that it’s time to put the guitars and drums down, jump in the Barracuda, and head off to the next adventure – maybe that’s the midnight oceanside drive that I mentioned before.
Almost without fail, every album has that one song that stands apart from the others stylistically, as if the band is saying “See? We can do this kind of music too.” This doesn’t work for every band that tries it, but with “Sun and Rain” it absolutely works for The Dead Girls. The dual electric guitar and thunderous rhythm section is replaced by gentle acoustic strings, an ever-so-slightly-out-of-tune stand-up piano, sweetly earnest lead vocals, faraway harmonies, and tonal choices that give this song a very Beatle-esque feel. When a song not only offers a change of pace but shows the true musical talent and potential of the band, that’s when you know that said band is bringing its A game. This song does that for me.
The Dead Girls offer something special during their live performances as well, which is something that I’ve said before as being a prime factor in determining the legitimacy of a band or artist. Sure, they’re energetic and do their best to connect with the audience, as most bands at least try to do, but there’s something more here—and it’s evident on Noisemaker as much as it is on the stage of The Bottleneck. It’s the simple fact that you just know these guys are having fun doing what they do. They look like they enjoy every second of music making, and that’s a camaraderie that can’t be faked. Their sense of teamwork carries over to a very important off-stage pursuit that the four of them share: every band member is also a top-notch competitive air guitarist. This is especially true of Eric “Mean” Melin, who won the 2013 World Air Guitar Championship. These gentlemen take their fun seriously—and have serious fun doing so.
As of this writing, The Dead Girls only have a precious few shows left before going on an open-ended hiatus; Hawk is going to be teaching English to classrooms of eager students in China next year. There’s no doubt that he’s going to do very well—he could use his song lyrics as pop quizzes—but it’s my hope that he brings a guitar with him. I don’t know much about China, but I have a feeling they could use some rock ‘n roll in their world, and they would be all the richer for it.
I know I’ve had a blast listening to every bit of noise made by The Dead Girls.
--Michael Byars
Michael is looking for a handheld Yahtzee game for his mom. Because he cares.
Join The Dead Girls for their last KC show this Friday night at Harling’s Upstairs. Facebook event page. Their final show will be in Manhattan at Auntie Mae’s, next Saturday, December 20 with The Field Day Jitters. Facebook event page.


Spotlight on musician/songwriter Cameron Hawk

(Photo by Rachel Meyers)
“Sometimes I get kind of destructive, and music is part of how I keep everything together.”
Cameron Hawk already has quite an impressive resume: he’s been in a number of successful bands, he’s opened up for KISS, he’s organized the annual Lawrence Field Day Fest, and now he prepares to embark on a completely different adventure. In early 2015, Hawk will be taking off to China to teach English for 8 months.
“I’m 33 years old and I’ve never lived outside of Kansas in my life,” says Hawk. He’ll be going to China in early 2015 with his girlfriend Rachel, and stepping out of a comfort zone he’s carved out for himself in the 15 years he’s lived and made music in Lawrence. “I’m always going to love this scene and playing here and the music that comes out of here. But I know that as humans, we are all capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.”
After graduating from high school in 2000, Hawk and his band Podstar relocated from Manhattan to Lawrence. They released two albums on Noisome Records before calling it quits in 2002—right around the same time many other notable area bands broke up, including Ultimate Fakebook, The Get Up Kids, and The Creature Comforts. Hawk recalls, “A huge chunk of people integral to the scene moved away or went on to other things in life right at the same time, and it really felt like a musical ghost town around here for awhile. But that ended up being the best time to start Dead Girls Ruin Everything.” He—along with Podstar bandmate JoJo Longbottom and Ultimate Fakebook alums Eric Melin and Nick Colby—formed the group that same year. “By that time, we cumulatively had a lot of experience with band stuff, and we were all trying to take a more realistic approach to music and how we handled everything.”
More than 10 years and a name change later, The Dead Girls have become the area’s most heralded power pop supergroup. They’ve released a number of albums (4 LPs, 3 EPs, and a 7”) and have shared the stage with the likes of Motion City Soundtrack, Dinosaur Jr., and yes, even KISS. Hawk and Longbottom have shared songwriting duties from the beginning, while the entire group composes each song. “We are all such big music geeks that we have very vivid ideas of how a song or album should be,” he mentions. With that type of history, success, and knowledge, he’s learned a lot about being a musician.
“I learned how to step up and put myself out there for something I care about. I learned how hard you actually have to work to make something yourself, and how fucking awesome it feels,” he notes. “I learned to try to not rock too hard and to never scream directly into a microphone during sound check.”
He’s also been instrumental in his other two current bands: Stiff Middle Fingers and Many Moods of Dad. Stiff Middle Fingers injects a heavy dose of personality into their punk rock repertoire, according to Hawk. “We don’t worry about sounding derivative, and we just wear our influences on our sleeves and have fun.” In SMF, he comes up with guitar riffs and sends them to vocalist Travis Arey for lyrics. Hawk considers Many Moods of Dad to be a “psychopop hodgepodge of ideas,” and includes his other Podstar bandmates JP Redmon and Aaron Swenson, who co-writes much of the material with Hawk. “The whole idea behind MMOD was for us to do all the fun/dumb/weird stuff we always wanted to do on a record but never could, because it was always shot down for some reason.”
(Photo of Stiff Middle Fingers by Todd Zimmer)
(Photo of Many Moods of Dad by Quinton Cheney)
When he leaves, Hawk also leaves behind Lawrence Field Day Fest, an event that will be 4 years in the running come 2015. He hopes to continue planning the summer fest from China, and enlisting help from other supporters of the music community. “Even though our [scene] isn’t the biggest or the “hottest” or whatever, I have come to understand how special it really is. There are huge cities—hell, metropoli—that don’t have a music scene of this quality. There should be someone or something around here supporting that.”
But regardless of where he’s living and what he’s doing, Hawk will not be ready to give up on music. Since he’ll be out of the country, most of his projects will go on indefinite hiatus (SMF will likely continue with a different guitarist), but Hawk plans to release his debut solo album, entitled Dream You Forgot, in early 2015. “Music is not only what I love to do, but it’s my main source of sanity.”
And in this new phase of his life, Hawk plans to apply all of the experiences he’s had through playing and making music. “I think a lot of people lose sight of how every little experience they have in life eventually helps them in some way. We need to actively use all experiences as fodder for learning and growing, and pushing our own limits.”

--Michelle Bacon
Michelle is the editor of The Deli KC and plays in bands.
The Dead Girls will perform their last Kansas City show this Friday, December 12, at Harling’s Upstairs. Deco Auto and Rev Gusto will open. Facebook event page. He’ll also be playing with Stiff Middle Fingers on Friday, December 26 at Replay Lounge. Facebook event page.

On The Beat with Eric Melin

This week, we put drumming madman Eric Melin in the hot seat. The Dead Girls' drummer talks to us about his rock-n-roll-all-night approach to the skins, his passion for air guitar, and his life as a movie critic. Catch the beat right here!

On The Beat is typically brought to you by Sergio Moreno, but has been overtaken this week by drummer and The Deli - Kansas City editor-in-chief Michelle Bacon. This weekly interview features some of the many talented drummers in the area.

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On The Beat with Eric Melin


When Eric Melin is behind a drum kit, you know Eric Melin is behind that drum kit. He's not the type of drummer content with blending in the background. Instead, he illuminates the stage by banging out each beat with force, flipping hair, and a smile that tells you he loves every second of his job. The mad machine behind The Dead Girls talks with us about his long career as one of the rockingest drummers in KC/Lawrence music scene.

The Deli: So, how did the drums find you?

Eric Melin: Wow. That's a big one. Well, ever since I heard KISS, I wanted to play rock music. I just knew that what was what I had to do. I tried the guitar, but it was way too difficult. I was always banging on my legs and desks during class in high school anyway, so I think drumming just seemed like a natural fit. As it turns out (I didn't even get a drum set 'til I was in 9th grade), I was practicing the whole time. I taught myself to play by plugging in a pair of headphones and listening to KISS, Van Halen, and whatever other hard rock I could get a hold of.

My parents were so supportive, they even signed me up for lessons at one point. The teacher sat me down at my first lesson and said, "Let's see what you can do." I played and he said, "OK, you know how to play rock. Let's start you on jazz fusion." Needless to say, it didn't stick. Reading drum music didn't stick either. A friend in the marching band asked me to join, so I did, for about 30 minutes. After getting up at 5 am to stand out in a field with a big bass drum strapped to my back and wait my turn to hit it, I nixed that as well. I was very focused on playing what I have come to call "the rock n' roll drums." I love listening to jazz drummers, but that's not what I do well and I haven't pursued it.

The Deli: You're a mad man on the drums and you put more emotion in them than a lot of other people I see locally. What's your approach to drumming?

Eric: Good segue -- ha! Everything I learned about drumming I stole from John Bonham: simple, powerful, serve the song, lay down a groove and put your arm into it. I don't go for the Neil Peart approach, which seems to be: hit as many drums as you can, as often as you can, in 7/8. I love flams and using ride cymbals as crashes. I learned to listen to the bass player after Jody Stephens from Big Star was essentially my drum teacher for a month while co-producing the Truck Stop Love full-length album, which is one of my proudest moments. All the recordings on that album were single takes with no click track and they have a classic, natural sound with a thumping bass drum.

The Deli: One of your most notable projects was Ultimate Fakebook. Though UFB and The Dead Girls both have a similar power pop twist to them, have you approached them differently? What other projects have you been in?

Eric: Truck Stop Love put out an EP and LP in 1993/1995. I was in Kill Creek for about a month, and then UFB and The Dead Girls after that. I was way busier a player when I was younger, especially in terms of fills and stuff. I've laid back a little more with The Dead Girls because we have a more open sound with two guitars. In UFB, even the guitar playing was percussive, so Bill [McShane] had very specific marks with his songs that we would hit all three together and orchestrate these strategic drum parts to go with. I think the older I get, the better my feel becomes, but I don't play at some of the breakneck speeds I used to...

The Deli: Obligatory question: favorite drummers?

Eric: Easy. Top 10: John Bonham, Keith Moon, Dave Grohl, Jody Stephens, Mac McNeilly, Bun E. Carlos, Steven Drozd, Kliph Scurlock, Billy Brimblecom Jr., Erik Conn.

The Deli: So, Mean Melin, you're reportedly the fourth best air guitarist in the United States, yes? Do you enjoy being able to get out from behind the kit and show yourself off a bit?

Eric: Hell yes. I'm kind of an attention hog so it's frustrating to be behind the drum kit all the time. And frankly, playing lead drums isn't an option because unless you're a noise rock band, it ruins the song. So I have the US Air Guitar circuit to flaunt my front-and-center rock skills. It goes back to wanting to be a rock n' roll drummer. I just want to rock. This means I'd rather play air guitar than jazz drums. That said, I've been lucky to play with people who write great songs and like to collaborate and be unique. I don't think I could play in a cover band for any length of time. One-off cover/tribute shows every now and then are fun (like Thik Lizzy, Heaven Tonight, and Sweet Band O'Mine), but I think I would get very bored playing covers every night. I always want playing the drums to be something I look forward to and not a chore. That would make it a chore, and that would suck.

The Deli: In addition to being a badass drummer and a rock star air guitarist, you're also a movie critic. Tell us a little bit about that.

Eric: I went back to school in 2004 when UFB broke up and got a film degree at KU and just started writing about movies. I started Scene-Stealers.com as a natural outgrowth of all the movie discussions we would have in the UFB van, and eventually was writing for the Lawrence Journal-World and The Kansas City Star. Now I also do reviews on 3 TV stations in Topeka as Kansas First News as well. Movies have always been a passion and it's another hobby that doesn't pay much. The thing is, you got to have things that keep you going and this is one of mine. I also got to make a couple of videos for The Dead Girls with some awesome local filmmakers, so that was pretty rad as well. There are many more, but these were the first that sprang to mind.

The Deli: So, I understand you guys have a full-length coming out pretty soon. Tell us a little about it.

Eric: Yeah, The Dead Girls just finished recording Fade In/Fade Out, our third full-length album, produced by the amazing Chris Cosgrove. We'll be finalizing mixes this week. I think it's going to turn some heads. It's definitely the most mature thing we've ever done and it has the most variety of any record we've made. We didn't skimp on the number of tracks. No idea was left unturned! But it's not all over-produced jackassery either. It's very focused on bringing out the songs.

The next time you can catch Eric rockin' out with the boys live will be Wednesday, September 26 at the Eighth Street Taproom in Lawrence. In the meantime, you can listen to The Dead Girls' exclusive Daytrotter session available today. Also, see the video to the right of Eric's sponsorship with Silverfox drumsticks. He's also sponsored by C&C Custom Drums.

--Michelle Bacon

Michelle is editor-in-chief of The Deli - Kansas City. She also has a weekly column with The Kansas City Star and reviews music for Ink. She plays with Deco AutoDrew Black and Dirty Electric, and Dolls on Fire. If you ever ask if she's a foreign exchange student, she is finally prepared to answer the question.

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Eric Melin

The Dead Girls - Out Of Earshot



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