Interview: Reggie and the Full Effect
Thu, 19 Jun 2008 21:29:30
Reggie and the Full Effect Videos
It's been a long strange trip to Crappy Town for Reggie and the Full Effect mastermind James DeWees. A particular Los Angeles night stands out for him. It was August 2006, and James was supposed to go see Venom and High on Fire at The Sunset Strip House of Blues. He was going to experience the metal mastery with Paul Gray from Slipknot, who was also playing alongside James on the latest Reggie epic Last Stop: Crappy Town. "Paul called me, and he was like, 'Hey dude, do you want to go see Venom tonight?' I was like, 'Fuck, yeah. Come pick me up!' He just said, 'I'll be there in an hour.' I waited for him for six hours, and he finally showed up where I was staying in Burbank at like midnight." James sighs with a laugh. "I just said, 'Dude the show's over, we can't go now!' He was just like, 'Nah, everyone's there still drinking in the Foundation Room, let's go!' Then the rest of the night was just crazy!"
Though he wasn't in L.A. for very long, James managed to create Reggie's best album to date while in the City of Angels, even though the record's largely inspired by the New York Transit system. It's an epic concept album that sprawls the spectrum of heavy metal, electronica, punk and emo, without sounding decidedly like anything but Reggie and the Full Effect. Though James is Reggie and the Full Effect, both Gray and producer Sean Beaven [Pantera, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson] helped him realize this twistedly delicious vision.
Chilling at his Long Island home during a sweltering June afternoon, Dewees has some time to reflect on this Reggie record. The album was done in 2006, but then he hit the road as touring keyboardist for My Chemical Romance. That wasn't his only other gig. The man has history stretching back to long stints in Coalesce and The Get Up Kids. He's something of Renaissance man for the emo generation, and Last Stop: Crappy Town validates that claim. Right now, he's just trying to keeps his dogs indoors to avoid the heat. James laughs, "One of my dogs is looking at me right now like, 'You fuckin' piece of shit! I want to go outside!" While kicking it with his two bulldogs, James gives ARTISTdirect an exclusive interview about the trip to Crappy Town and back.
The new album is heavier, darker and even catchier than Songs Not to Get Married To. Would you agree?
I was really happy about this when we finished it. I love Ed Rose. He's an amazing producer for Reggie, but Sean Beaven helped me move to a new level of songwriting. Working with Sean was so easy, because it was just us sitting in a room together and talking about what we really wanted to do with the songs. We finished the album in 13 days, and it was just amazing how much we got done in such a short span of time. We even cut three songs off the record because of time. However, every single song flows into the next, like an opus would.
There's a real cohesion. The transition between the first two tracks, "G" and "Smith & 9th," is seamless.
That's the way the record was written. I wanted it to be completely seamless, with counter-melodies coming in over melodies. As one melody stops, the next melody takes over, and that either modulates the key or the tempo in order to fit what we need to go through to get to the next song. It's called Last Stop: Crappy Town, because it's written about how trains work in New York. When my wife and I got an apartment in Brooklyn, I had to learn my way around on the subways. I just thought it was amazing how everything connects. It's all off-time and weird, but it's all connected. I thought about the concept of riding a train in relation to how songs connect. The first track is "G," and G-Train takes you to Smith and 9th Street. "Smith & 9th" is the second song. From there, you get on the F-Train. That's a more violent train, so "F" is a more violent song. F-Train took me all the way to rehab. It was just full of people going to rehab. I saw my first subway fight on there. It was between two little kids, but this old woman tried to step in and break it up. That's why that song's a little heavier. Right when the old lady stepped in, the kid punched her, and he was like, "Stay out of this, bitch!" She was just some 40-year-old woman. I was like, "This is fucking awesome. New York is so fucking cool!" [Laughs] New Yorkers are so used to seeing weird shit all the time that they just stop looking at it. That's why so many famous people live in New York, because no one cares.
There's a real underlying anger to the New York mentality.
Definitely! You've got to try going food shopping here. The grocery store is grab-and-go. Every day of the week, people act like the apocalypse is coming. I'll see some lady buying 30 cans of pork and beans, and I'll be like, "You don't need 30 cans of pork and beans. The world's not ending! The pork and beans factory will produce more for you tomorrow, lady. Put some back!" The lady's like, "Mind your own fuckin' business! I like pork and beans! Eat a dick!" [Laughs]
Would you say the new album's a concept record?
It's a concept record in the content of the lyrics, definitely. It's still a Reggie record though, because the lyrics have those stupid jokes and things like that. My psychiatrist found out I was from Liberty in Missouri, and he was like, "Oh man, there's this great thing there. It's the Jesse James bank robbery re-enactment, and they do it there every year." While he was saying that, I was like, "Yeah, I'm from Liberty. I've seen that thing like fifteen fucking times in my life. It was something we went to every single year." He just didn't even hear me, and he kept talking about it. I was like, "Dumbass, just write the fucking prescription for shit that will make me act normal, and I'll get the fuck out of here. I'm not going to listen." For 350 bucks an hour, I sat there and listened to how much this dude likes Westerns, and that's incorporated into "G." Part of the lyrics of the song are me talking about that fucker. The album's about me pulling my life back together after a divorce and The Get Up Kids splitting up. With the band split up, we're all still really good friends. When I moved from Kansas City to New York for a fresh start, it was rocky. My new wife stepped in, and she was like, "You're a really great person, and you're really talented. Don't fucking waste that shit. It doesn't take much, just pull it together. Get back to being the amazing person that I'm in love with." I was like, "You're right." We did it together, and I owe it all to her, because I have no idea where I would be now, if it wasn't for her. She's the best. One of the first times we hung out, we started talking, and I'm obsessed with the whole Dune book series by Frank Herbert. That was her favorite book, and I was like, "Oh shit! I've got to hang out with this girl." We get along. We're best friends, and we have the same goals. It's cool. She always keeps encouraging me. Even though we had to wait to get this record out, I did the tours with My Chemical Romance, and she was supportive. After like nine Reggie tours on Songs Not to Get Married To, I was like, "This is enough, I can't tour on these songs anymore." Thank God My Chem called.
The last record was such an intense record. Was it hard to tour on it, because the songs are so emotional?
I'm not the type of person that makes up songs that are all emo. I always like writing stuff that's fucked up and weird. That was almost the best therapy for me—to get it out and get it off my chest. It was weird, because it seemed like the worse my life was getting, the better my songwriting was becoming, which is really shitty. That was just a mindset that I put myself into. Now my writing is going really well, and I'm nowhere near the mental state that I was in two years ago or four years ago.
The final song on Crappy Town, "N," feels like a light at the end of the tunnel.
Yeah, without sounding like a cheeseball, there's always a tomorrow. There's always a week away. The other message of the record is "you can't just put shit off and expect it to solve itself." If you make a mistake, you should own up to it, realize you made a mistake and try not to ever make that mistake again. I spent a lot of time putting shit under the rug. Finally that rug was full, and shit just kept pouring out. Of course, over time, things have cleared up, and they're back on track. That's all you can really ask for. Be honest with yourself, and be honest with everyone around you. Sometimes honesty can really fucking suck. But in the long run, it's the best thing that you can do.
“It was weird, because it seemed like the worse my life was getting, the better my songwriting was becoming, which is really shitty.”
That honesty makes for the best music. There's a raw emotion to it.
With raw emotion, you're allowed to represent yourself. I'm from Kansas City, which is so tiny. I knew every single person in town. I knew who was sleeping with who, who was doing drugs when they weren't supposed to be, who was cheating on their taxes and all that shit. Then I moved to New York, and it's a huge pond. Everybody's fucking famous, and nobody cares who the hell you are. You have to be really famous to get people to pay attention to you. It was nice, because it was like, "This is how small I am in the world." In Kansas City, I kind of got a big head about shit, and I felt a little indestructible, because I was getting away with everything. I was doing horrible things to myself and my friends. People were putting up with it, because I had money. In New York, everything's really expensive, so nobody has any money. So you're stuck with being yourself and who you're supposed to be. It was a definite wake-up call. It made me realize a lot about songwriting. Sometimes you want to scream about shit, and sometimes you want to talk as softly as possible.
Did Paul add a heaviness to the new album?
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