At its most simplistic, music is a road to a good time. At its most dynamic, visceral and effective best, it’s a conduit to thought and emotional terrain that might otherwise go unexplored, as well as a native connection among us all. Cue the Los Angeles trio of high quality garage rock (and a band who puts on one of the best live shows in town), The Dead Ships, composed of Devlin McCluskey (vox, guitar), Chris Spindelilus (drums) and Alex Moore (bass) and their penchant for diving in and driving that connection with their new album, CITYCIDE, produced by Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning and released on Nevado Music.
In 2012 the band delivered a debut album of brash and dense energy: Electric Ahab. In the tradition of every The Dead Ships song we’ve ever heard, the songs on CITYCIDE – and McCluskey’s vocal cords – howl and scrape with a dark urgency in deference to life, loss, love and a bevy of other human experiences jammed in between. And there’s beauty to be found in McCluskey’s use of the songs as a vehicle. Some of them came to help him through losing his best friend to suicide, others scratch out sketches of frustration and the trials of an urban existence. And while the title track alludes to those who take to the Golden Gate Bridge to end their lives, CITYCIDE the album still manages to revere life with a raw, fervent and sharply guitar driven honesty. And now that the album is out, McCluskey takes us into the songs track by track.
“My dad grew up in England during World War II, and he’s a brilliant man with a good read on the last century. The band stayed at my house the last time we were in Chicago, and it took all of six hours for the guys to hear my dad go on a little rant about the fucking fascists controlling the country as they have for most of the last 60 years. The song isn’t about fascism, it’s obviously not a serious attempt at political commentary at all. I was just writing about how much I hated a very stupid world that built the circumstances for my best friend to kill himself.”
“This is the longest, most verbose goddamn song we have. It tends to be people’s favorite or least favorite during our live set depending on how hard you like your rock. I believe we got the tone of the one string guitar solo with a Fuzz Factory, but I think we tried every pedal combination imaginable. It’s definitely the most amount of time we’ve ever spent on one string. The only other tidbit I can think of is that I started recording a guitar part that I thought was going to be awesome and really make the song something special, then Brendan came over the talk-back, ‘Dude, you’re playing “London Calling,”‘ so we let the song just be the song and went with the part that’s on the record.”
“This was the first song we put out from the Brendan sessions and it’s still my personal favorite. I think it encapsulates what we do best: It’s fast, it’s loud, it’s heartfelt. I tried writing a song that would make my best friend reconsider taking his own life. I think in that regard it’s a total failure but, ya know, shoot for the stars.”
“This song was written before any of the others. A version of it actually went on the original demo recordings Chris and I did five years ago. Thankfully, we held off on putting out a version of it because it was the song that made Brendan want to record with us. I’m so glad it’s on this record because, for me, it bridges the gaps between our poppier sensibilities and the darker subjects on the album.”
“I love that there’s a place in LA called Los Feliz, and that it’s correct to mispronounce it. The movie theater there is one of my favorite places in the city. The song came from me wanting to move east and the girl I was seeing wanting to move to west. We had friends living in Los Feliz and moving there sounded like one of those horrid compromises that would have made both of us miserable. The relationship was done, it was time to split, and the song is about how the cityscape seemed analogous to what was happening.”
“This was the first song I wrote after I stopped drinking. You always hear stories of sobriety killing creativity but I think that’s just an excuse to keep doing what you’re doing. I had a bit of writer’s block; it was a scary and anxious time in general, then in the car one day the melody popped in my head, just felt simple and direct and best not to overthink it.”
“This is Alex’s favorite song on the record to play. We had the shell of the song all worked out but it felt like it needed another part, so we improvised the outro which is something we had never done before. I still don’t quite know why the guitar sounds so huge coming in on the chorus; so much of that is our fantastic mixer, Alex Newport. We definitely wanted it to have that effect, but a lot of times adding a guitar like that doesn’t work. Here I think it totally makes the chorus.”
“This is really lame and shows how musically stupid I am but hopefully some people can relate. It never felt natural going to 3rd and 7th chords (I’m pretty sure that’s Bm and F# when playing in G). They seemed to be the secret to creating interesting melodies: these less obvious chords that you could play to color the melody in a different way, but it never felt organic. So I spent months writing nothing but songs that went to Bm and F#, even in different key changes. This is actually just an OK example of that because the pre-chorus goes to Bm, and so it’s a totally separate part and much easier to pull off, but the F# really helps color the end of the chorus and brings the verse back around.”
“The original demo was even more pulsing, sort of in step with ‘Big Quiet’ but a lot darker. We had so many uptempo songs that we felt this would be more effective if it was chilled out. So in the studio we did this version, trying to listen to each other and make a really satisfying instrumental that lets the lyrics and melody take center stage. Having Brendan was so vital to the process. He’s great at encouraging the good ideas and helping scrap bad ones. This was the first time we’ve worked with a producer and the collaborative shaping adds a whole new dimension that I think lead to the best work we’ve done in the studio so far.”
“This is Chris’ favorite song, and it probably takes the most interesting parts from all three of us (slinky bassline with a lot of movement that fits so nicely between a really interesting drum groove and the weird picked guitar line with key changes that wouldn’t work in most songs). After my best friend Flynn’s funeral, I kept thinking about how badly I wanted to believe in ghosts. It’s fiction, but the lyrics are trying to have a conversation with a troubled dead person who met a bad end, trying to relate to them and show you understand their side.”
“We’re playing with a new guitar player (Chad Phillips from the band Dark Furs). And it’s kind of hilarious to show new people how to play this song. There are chords that only appear once, weird back and forths, a lot of interesting guitar noodles that Brendan came up with, and the gang vocal part is probably one of the funnest things to play in our whole set. I’m glad it sounds as straight forward as it does, because it’s secretly a little wacky, and means we probably did something right.”