World-weary and road-wise, the debut full-length from Washington, DC’s The Deadmen gazes into the sunset with a furrowed brow. Full of painterly lyrics and profoundly captivating melody, The Deadmen is both a snapshot of a moment in time and a timeless portrait of the struggle between temptation and righteousness that simmers just beneath the surface of our shared humanity, wrought with a masterful economy of language. For what is ostensibly the band’s first proper release, The Deadmen is a bracingly complete work, polished and deeply arresting.
Before The Deadmen, Justin Jones and Josh Read had built independent careers and forged a friendship as singer-songwriters in DC. Jones was raised on a diet of Otis Redding and The Band in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia. He picked up the guitar at an early age and eventually moved to Washington because, in his mind, that was the biggest music town in the region. He got a job bartending at the famous 9:30 Club and on his off nights put out a succession of self-released records. Jones went on to release two records through Thirty Tigers, and toured North America extensively.
Read came to DC by way of South Africa. Immersing himself in the DC music scene, he founded the now defunct Gypsy Eyes label, releasing records from Vandaveer, Brandon Butler (ex-Canyon and Boy’s Life), John Bustine and his own band, Revival. After a few years and a dozen releases, the label folded and the members of Revival left Read to join Son Volt… leaving Read without a band.
Fate had more in store for the duo. One day, as their kids played in the yard, the seeds for The Deadmen were planted. While the children ran rampant the two talked about music and the business thereof, and eventually shared some songs they had each been writing. Soon enough, they agreed to take it to the stage. As a four-piece, The Deadmen became fast favorites in their adopted home town. They recorded a five-song EP, only to shelve it when Jones took to the road in support of his latest solo record.
Justin Hoben is a native of New England who bounced around the United States working odd jobs until settling into Washington, DC, working as a bar back at the 9:30 Club. A singer/songwriter in his own right, Hoben took the name John Bustine and performed his punk-inspired folk songs as a solo artist. He released one record through Gypsy Eyes and received rave reviews. And time passed.
When Jones came back from tour, Read had joined Hoben in a new band. So when talk turned to The Deadmen, it was only logical to bring Hoben into the fold. They had already become good friends through their time in the home town scene, and fans of each other’s songwriting – and, first and foremost, they were all fathers.
The Deadmen released their debut EP through 8 Gang Switch in 2014 and promptly became one of the most talked about acts in DC; their record garnering praise from press both home and abroad, their shows selling out in advance. Energized, they decamped to Lavabed studios with producer Mike Faneule to record what would become their debut full-length record. And then Read and his family moved to a small island in Maine. Jones released another record. More time passed.
Yet The Deadmen is, to be blunt, too damn good to rot in a warehouse like some sonic Ark, its shining beauty hidden within an anonymous crate. Since its production the nation and the world have changed – though in some way, it feels like The Deadmen has been sleeping, biding its time, until now. The Deadmen is a record of frustration and paranoia. Of hope and loss. Of addiction, despair and infidelity. And in the end it’s about love. In times like these, what could be more American – and rock and roll – than that?