- Playing Hardcore Covers For Others
Interview By: Stacy Tuttle
Once in a while you meet people who are special, people who possess a great sense of purpose, MILLIONS OF DEAD COMPS. easily falls into that category. What impressed me most about MILLIONS OF DEAD COMPS. (or MDComps. for short) was not only that they are each brilliant musicians in their own right, but also that they have come together with a altruistic goal, to contribute back to the world in some positive way through the hardcore music that they love to play. MDComps.' spot-on renditions of hardcore punk songs brought back to life at their shows are an absolute delight, and knowing that 100% of all proceeds raised from the show will be given to a worthy charity gives you that warm feeling that comes from having a fantastic time and helping out others in the process. MILLIONS OF DEAD COMPS. describe themselves as a not- for-profit tribute band devoted to covering classic punk rock and hardcore compilation records ("comps.") in their entirety. I first became acquainted with MDComps. after they played a benefit show to honor Exene Cervenka on behalf of Sweet Relief Musician's Fund. Exene had made a contribution to our project to assist homeless children and adults in Los Angeles , Campaign For Care, and our family adores her both professionally and personally. I wrote to MILLIONS OF DEAD COMPS. to let them know that we thought what they were doing to assist Exene and others with their gift of music was wonderful. Low and behold, they ended up playing a benefit show for CFC which raised enough funding to make hand-tied blankets for 32 homeless children and adults. I asked MILLIONS OF DEAD COMPS. members London May (SAMHAIN, TIGER ARMY, SON OF SAM, DAG NASTY, REPTILE HOUSE, THE FOUL & THE FRAGRANT drums/vocals), Chris Bratton (CHAIN OF STRENGTH, INSIDE OUT, DRIVE LIKE JEHU, WOOL, STATUE guitar/vocals), and Stevo (MAD PARADE bass/vocals) to sit down one night after a rehearsal and tell us a little more about who they are and what they're up to.
C Since March 2008
PG Are you all original members?
S I joined in February 2009
PG How did the concept of MDComps. come about?
L We wanted to do something positive, stay in shape, help some people out and play the kind of music that we like to hear. Chris and I also have kind of have an obnoxious side, we thought we should play so fast and so hard and so long that people are just irritated, but do it for charity. It's punk in that spirit, raising money through this noisy, screaming hardcore, and we thought it was a really cool concept. We knew it would have a fairly limited appeal, but we get off doing it. A year and a half later we're still playing, raising a little bit of money, clearing rooms of people, having a good time and getting a little exercise.
PG I am not aware of any other band that exclusively plays shows to raise funding and awareness for charities specifically, perhaps from time to time, in that regard Millions Of Dead Comps. is very unique.
L Since we play all cover songs, it just seems like kind of a rip off for us to make money for ourselves by playing other people's songs. We didn't write this stuff. We're happy to play it, but we're not an original band. We want to pay respect and tribute to the bands and the music that we love, but we prefer to keep the peace and our integrity by giving the money away.
PG By donating all the proceeds you don't need to make apologies to anybody.
PG Where do you come from originally?
L I grew up in Baltimore .
C London was heavily involved in D.C.. scene.
L Yeah, D.C., New York , New Jersey , Baltimore , East Coast.
C I come from an hour east of Los Angeles .
S I grew up in East Los Angeles .
PG - How many people have been band members of MDComps.? Let's start with Sonny, he's on the MDComps. live video "3 Songs by Void".
C Since we started we've gone from a 6 piece down to a 3 piece and everything in between. Sonny was our first singer, then I took over when he left in May 2009. I had been dual singing with him the whole time, so it was easy to keep going.
L We had a show booked 2 weeks after he left and we weren't going to cancel, so Stevo and I doubled up on vocals and pitched in to fill it up. We just moved on with what we had left. I'm glad that we've pushed ourselves, the challenges have made us all better players.
C - The original idea for this band was to have a core base of London and me and have a rotating cast of volunteers dropping in and out depending on the material and availability. Thankfully Stevo helped fill out that foundation even more.
MILLIONS OF DEAD COPS. Live! 3 Songs by VOID
PG Are you in it for the long haul?
S I am.
L We are in it until nobody wants to see us play. If we can't raise money to benefit others and nobody wants to see us, we'll regroup and do something else. As far as longevity, we'll always be playing in some form. How busy we are depends on the market.
S We'll pretty much play anywhere, but it's not always easy getting gigs.
L If you're less than 40 you have to be really up on your old school punk rock and hardcore to know where we're coming from. We play a couple hits by Minor Threat, but the bulk of our stuff is really obscure, and we're really into that.
C That was one of the fun things about doing a comp., to put in exactly the same amount of love, power and energy into Red C or Youth Brigade as you would Minor Threat.
L There are some bands that never did anything but these couple of songs on comps. and then they disappeared from the face of the earth. It's not like we work hard on the songs that people know and then goof off on the ones they don't, we play everything as hard as we can, life or death. We play every song with the same intensity.
C Youth Patrol!
L Youth Patrol one song on one record in 1981, we play that song as hard as we possibly can.
PG How did you come across Millions Of Dead Comps., Stevo?
S I emailed them. It was kind of strange, London had a band in the early 90's that shared a practice room with one of my old bands before Mad Parade. We were acquaintances; I saw his name on this project
C - We had a vision of having a reserve of hardcore dudes that could jump in and know all 30 songs. We tried out some people, Stevo ended up working out for the long haul.
PG It's really tight, the shows at the Slidebar and Shelter Street and Skate were great, we loved what we heard. How did you all get started playing music?
S My dad was a studio musician for a long time, I grew up around music, but I didn't start playing until I was 18.
C His dad is a superstar of the 70's
S He played on "CHIPS".
L Stevo's dad played with Elvis Presley, and he played on the "Shaft" theme and on "Get Smart".
S Yeah, I grew up with musicians in my house all the time, I got into punk very young, 8 or 9 years old. I met one of the guys from Mad Parade in a record store, auditioned, got the job and played with them since 1991.
C I wanted to play music since I was about 11. I was really into Devo, I wanted to play drums because of Devo's drummer. I asked my dad if I could get a drum set and he said no. I pestered him until he finally got me a snare drum, which was fun for about 3 months, then it went into the closet. When punk came into my life, I asked him again for the drum set because I wanted to start a band. He told me to go get a job, I was 14. So I took matters into my own hands, put my Mongoose BMX bike in the Recycler and sold it for $175.00. My buddy had a beater kit which he sold to me for $75.00. Then I went to Toxic Shock in Pomona , which was the only record store in the Inland Empire that sold hardcore records, and bought about $100.00 worth of rad 7" records, The Process of Elimination E.P.. was one of them.
PG Did you get in trouble for selling your bike?
C Oh yeah, but within 1 month I started my first band, a straight- edge hardcore band, in June 1983.
L I was so into records and music as a kid, my parents always listened to music, it was always playing in our house. My dad played a stand up bass and trumpet in a Jazz band. I became obsessed with The Who and Pete Townsend, music and art and visual stuff, David Bowie, etc. I got my dad to rent me a guitar, a Sunburst Les Paul copy and a little amp. No lessons, I was super confident and just tried to imitate the poses and hand positions I saw in books and magazines like Rolling Stone. That lasted about a day. Then I signed up for percussion in the school band, but it was just a snare drum! That wasn't very "rock", and I wanted a real drum set so I began hanging out in the drum section of this crazy "ye old curiosity shop" type place called Ted's Music in downtown Baltimore . Too bad it burned down 20 years ago. It was one of a kind. Down there you would buy or rent the cruddiest stuff ever, and they'd drill it right there if you wanted a mount for your tom-tom. So for almost nothing they could monkey-wrench a kit together for you. Seriously, it made pawn shop stuff look like Guitar Center . Real junk yard stuff. I eventually got a bass drum, tom-toms, and a cymbal. Every six months if I did chores and if I showed a little improvement I'd get to go to Ted's and my folks would buy me some more miss matched, cheap, different color stuff. I ended up taking a magic marker and some spray paint to make the whole kit one color. Then I started high school and I was the only punk rock looking guy, with a peroxide-orange Mohawk. I used to order punk rock shirts out of Trouser Press magazine, Sex Pistols shirts with safety pins, wear thrift store stuff. I started hanging around and going to shows and playing in bands.
PG Do you do benefit shows exclusively or would you consider a paid gig?
S If we play a paid gig we donate all the money.
L People think that if we're playing, then the whole show is some type of a benefit show. We don't expect the club or the other bands to contribute. We operate just like a regular band, we try to get gigs, we try to get paid. What we do with the money we get is give it away, so personally, every show is a benefit show for us.
PG How do you choose your charities?
C Whatever moves us that week for that show. We rotate from person to person, "I chose last time, so it's your pick this time" kind of thing.
L Our friend Dan mentioned Exene and her battle with M.S. and the Sweet Relief foundation to us, so the very next show we played was on her behalf.
PG You're all big X fans?
All - Oh yeah, absolutely.
C X is one of the most important Los Angeles bands, easily.
L They were touring in Baltimore in 1981, I was too young to go see them so I went to meet them at a record store and got a Wild Gift poster signed by all the members.
S I suppose X means just as much to people on the East coast as they do to us here in Los Angeles .
C They were the spring board for the cow punk that got really big a few years later, they brought the root influence from way back in 1978.
S Just one of those bands that influenced everybody, not just one genre, they are whatever they feel like being.
C Like the Clash.
L I keep thinking about those lyrics on More Fun In The New World, "What about Black Flag, Minutemen, DOA "
PG Big Boys
L They were a major label band
L ...Yet they were name dropping hardcore bands, they were saying they support the scene, they support hardcore.
C They were on American Bandstand, they won everyone's hearts over. When I say Los Angeles band, I mean a band that writes about L.A. specifically and embodies the city. The Doors and X were amongst the most important bands of Los Angeles .
PG Where as a band like Jefferson Airplane was San Francisco
C Haight Ashbury
L The Fillmore
PG San Francisco is where I met Ginger Coyote around 1985, she's the
L The founder of Punk Globe Magazine
PG Yes, and the lead singer of White Trash Debutantes.
S The brother of the drummer from Mad Parade was the drummer for White Trash Debutantes.
PG Is that right what's his name?
S Johnny Vile
PG What charities have you played shows to raise funding and awareness for?
All - Children Of The Californias (Mexican Children's Hospital)
The Covenant House for Homeless Teens
Toys For Tots
The Downtown Dog Rescue
The Downtown Women's Shelter
Save Maximum Rock and Roll Magazine Benefit Weekend
Gente Por Los Animales
Los Angeles Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Los Angeles Chapter for Breast Cancer Research
Shriners' Childrens Hospital
Sweet Relief Musician's Fund
Campaign For Care
The Companion Animal Village
The Blind Center of Nevada
The Shade Tree Women's & Children's Shelter
Union Station Homeless Services
PG Impressive list of beneficiaries, you should put it up on your website.
L The charity component is a little tough for me to discuss, it's a conundrum. I don't like acting as if we're saints, or like, "hey look at us." We do what we do, and if people want to know more about it I will certainly tell them. There is a certain amount of not trying to advertise too much about what we do in a way that makes us seem
PG Holier than thou?
L Exactly. We try not to preach or push others to follow suit. It's our deal. We run a tight ship, and account for every penny.. We are absolute sticklers for that, and we take our not-for-profit status very seriously.
PG There is more of a responsibility to be accountable when people are donating for a cause.
L Right. So our responsibility is to make sure that we get receipts and keep proper records. We couldn't do this type of band otherwise, we want our integrity to be bullet-proof.
PG Strictly playing benefit shows does single Millions Of Dead Comps. out for additional scrutiny because it's not typical.
L People sometimes are really skeptical of what we're doing.
PG You mustn't let that deter the effort.
L - Maybe they've had bad experiences.
PG Do you have a specific fundraising goal in mind?
L We'll keep going until nobody wants to hear us.. We play every show the best we can, enjoy ourselves and hopefully have something respectable to donate. We speak softly but keep the music loud and our purpose low-key. We're not trying to be Bono
C Some of the best charity happens silently
L Character is what you do when no one is looking. The charity stuff we mention on the website, sometimes I wonder if it makes us look
L Yes, righteous, exactly. We're sincere about what we do, but it's because we like doing it.
S Yeah, we enjoy doing it primarily for ourselves.
PG It removes the whole martyr issue
L - Believe me, we are not suffering for anyone's cause. It's our own trip.
C Charity is one wing of our band. The other wing is having fun paying tribute to the bands we grew up with, playing those songs and breathing energy into them. Those two things are equally important in what we do. It's so different dropping a needle on a record to dropping a pick on a guitar.
S I remember talking with London about all this when I first joined the band. This is a different situation, without a lot of the typical band hassles. There's no manager, no pay, no record labels to worry about, no writing music. Just guys playing and giving the money away, and I just wanted to play. If we got paid and used it to help people, even better. I already have a job (as a Culinary Instructor), so when I heard the whole concept, I was in. I get to hang out with cool people, play music really fast and really loud, have a good time, play whatever we want and help other people out.
MILLIONS OF DEAD COMPS. New! NECROS-MEATMEN-NEGATIVE APPROACH
PG No manager?
All - Nope, just us!
PG No record label?
L Why? We play covers.
PG You cover the bands you like, Minor Threat, D.C. Youth Brigade, Void, Teen Idles, Untouchables. These are the bands you grew up with, London ?
L D.C. was about 40 minutes away from me when I was growing up in Baltimore so we used to go at least once a week to see shows.
C Yeah, D.C. was the kind of the hotbed of the entire East coast hardcore community back then, to put that in L.A. perspective, it would be like living in Pomona and going to Los Angeles to see Black Flag, Circle Jerks
L Chris and I were both so into that stuff as kids, flash forward to 2008 and we're hanging out, playing these marathon high speed hard core jams and it just kind of fell together.
C - We'd be jamming and I would slip in the obvious Damned, Minor Threat, T.S.O.L. stuff, then we found it's really fun to play all these old Dischord tracks too, that's how it evolved. We were joking about it, like wouldn't it be funny to have a band called Millions Of Dead Comps. because that's all we play is old compilation records. It was something I said to make him laugh
S Then all you heard were crickets?
C It was the birth of it.
PG It is wonderful to revive these old school punk songs.
C Because of the downloading age, kids are well aware of their roots now, they're totally into what came before.
PG A lot of those vinyl records didn't make it to cd or digital, and a lot of it was short-lived.
L It was hard to find the The Process Of Elimination E.P..
S I bought Flex Your Head off Dischord's website.
C The name Millions Of Dead Comps. comes from the really great band out of Texas , Millions Of Dead Cops.
C They were around the same time period as the Dischord bands. One of the first things we did was to talk to Dave..
PG Dave from MDC?
C Yes, Dave Dictor, the lead singer of Millions Of Dead Cops. We explained what we were doing so he'd be aware of it and he thought it was cool. Then we talked to Ian Mackaye
PG From Minor Threat?
L Yes, and Dischord. I also contacted Henry (Rollins), I wanted them to hear it from us first, to put feelers out, thankfully everybody thought it was cool and wished us good luck.
PG They're in the spirit of keeping the music alive, and if you play it live, it stays alive. You had their blessing.
L Right. Here it is a year and a half later
C When we talked to Ian about it he asked us if we play Jimi 45 by Red C, I told him that we play it equally as hard as we play 12XU by Minor Threat, he was happy to hear that.
L He gave us some of Flex's missing lyrics. He especially liked the sketchy rolls I replicated on Red C. We wanted to keep the character of it, to recreate the songs --and the chatter in between the songS as close as we could to provide a total experience for the concert goer, take them back in a hard core time machine to 1982. We're also an audience participation band, and we want fans and friends to come up and grab the mike, play second guitar, guest on a couple of songs. We encourage people to be involved, come out, help raise money for charity, have a good time. Anybody who knows any song is always welcome to grab a mike and sing with us.
C We even leave a live mike on the stage just for that purpose.
PG Millions Of Dead Comps. has since printed a lyric book of their set which is made available at shows to encourage people to participate.
PG How did the Metallica Guitar Hero thing happen for you, London ?
L Metallica loved the band I was in, Samhain, and they chose a song that I played drums on for the Guitar Hero game, it was awesome.
PG Any heroes?
C Ian Mackaye, "Phantom of The Paradise" Paul Williams.
L Rollins, people like that who put their lives on the line for early hardcore, trail blazers like Glenn Danzig, Iggy Pop..
S My dad, the Ramones, Julia Child. I heard the Ramones and it changed my life, immediately. I was about 8 years old, jumping up and down on my friend's couch. There are some moments in life when you know this is going to mean something to you, like meeting your soul mate.
PG What do you get out of volunteering your time and energy as you do? Obviously you love to do it.
S Something we really enjoy doing not only helps us, it helps others, which gives it some additional purpose.
L It's using whatever gifts we have been given to help out. I've done a lot of volunteering and stuff besides my job as a Pediatric Nurse, it's what I like doing.. My real heroes today are the kids that I work with, they don't complain, they're grateful, they have way better attitudes than most people I know. As far as the band is concerned, we're trying to make a difference to make the world a little better place by doing something we like doing. Look, there are really "hardcore" people out there on the front lines, assisting the homeless, helping all kinds of charities, every single day. We don't claim to be on that level of dedication. MDComps. is just our small way of trying to do something positive.
PG You really are lovely people, I'm so pleased to know you. I get a lot of inspiration from what you're doing, it's really important. Even if someone doesn't participate in what you're doing, it still feels good to know there is an act of kindness underway, it's an outstanding effort.
L Every chance we get to play is fun for us. We are happy to pay our dues, rehearse, schlep our stuff to a gig and play a show after working all day. We're not too cool, we're humble, we'll play first, we'll play last, doesn't matter. We'd like to play out even more.
PG Is it all worth it?
S Absolutely. Family, kids, doing stuff like the music, working with sick kids like London does, giving back, all these things make your life more positive, that's a good way to keep going.
PG What's on the horizon for Millions Of Dead Comps.?
L Working on some more comps.
S Come out and see us play!
C 15 years ago my advice would have been start a band, but nowadays, everybody has. The promise of punk rock in 1977 has come true, and now we need another revolution.
S Keep doing it, don't give up, don't stop.
L Find a way to keep doing (music), there's no age limit.
S Also, there's nothing wrong with doing good things for people, nothing wrong with kind acts
PG In fact, they're critical.