Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Dead Rock West

Meet Dead Rock West.

You may think that’s a cliche opening, but just wait, there’s more than meets the eye.912presspass

Meet Dead Rock West.

You may think that’s a cliche opening, but just wait, there’s more than meets the eye.


DEAD ROCK WEST (Dead Rock West Press Photo)

Nearly every review of the California band involves that word, “meet,” in some way. For example, their eclectic sound has been described as “Americana meets punk.” Moreover, many reviews have couched comparisons in a similar phrasing, a la the Ventura County Reporter’s “X meets Wilco” likening.

At one recent show a fan approached singer Cindy Wasserman and told her she thought they sounded like “Willie Nelson meets Sex Pistols.”

“I think that’s funny, because I’ve always thought we sounded like ‘Johnny Cash meets Tom Petty,’” Wasserman says.

According to the band’s list of influences on its MySpace page, Dead Rock West sounds like a mish mash of Merle Haggard, Gram Parsons, Emmy Lou Harris and The Who. Now wouldn’t that be quite the party?

If all of this musical mingling has you intrigued, you’ll want to check out the quintet and their unique sonic blend, which, getting back to our theme, projects another musical meeting — East and West. On one hand, DRW’s frenetic strings project an East-coast urgency. On the other there are songs with the deliberate pace of a Western Country ballad.

You can find a slew of such examples on the band’s debut LP, Honey and Salt. On “Pretty Disaster,” the reverb-laden vocals echo off the red-rock walls while the fuzz-filled guitars ring like the scream of a Manhattan taxi.

That sort of diversity isn’t altogether foreign to today’s musical landscape. What makes Dead Rock West’s blend impressive is that while certain songs feature one style more than another — a little more X than Wilco, a little more East Coast than West Coast — the contrasting style is never entirely absent.

So when these reviews and fans and band members use the word “meets” it isn’t just a “Hey-how-are-ya?-How-are-the-kids?-Give-my-best-to-your-family-Talk-to-you-soon” encounter. This is Johnny Cash and the Sex Pistols pulling up a chair, knocking back a few brews, then sitting in on each others sets for the evening.

It’s that mix that sets Dead Rock West apart from the crowd and, for its members — Wasserman, Frank Lee Drennen, Bryan Head, David Carpenter and Phil Parlapiano — brings the group to the forefront of their many musical ventures.

“I love singing with Frank,” Wasserman says. “Dead Rock West is our own thing. We’re in control. We can do whatever we want. I still get to sing on Sue Vega’s new record, and John Doe’s, but now I get to say, ‘Hey, we have our own band.’ I’m always blown away and feel like a little kid that I get to do all these great things.”

That sense of joy appears to be in no short supply either. Wasserman laughs through much of the interview, particularly when recounting the antics penned by Drennen in the band’s (partly true) tour diary.

“It’s always based on fact,” Wasserman giggles. “But you can probably guess which parts are not true.” Meaning, Wasserman may or may not have been carried away after scrawling song lyrics on a hotel’s walls, as one entry suggests.

With Dead Rock West a top priority for Wasserman, she’s looking forward to the potential release of two new LPs in the coming years. The band already has one album — a collection of American standards — nearly finished and plans to work on a new original album following this tour. But for now the focus is on the road, playing shows, fittingly, both East and West of the Mississippi River.

Soon they’ll be stopping at The State Theatre May 21 along with Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers.

Meet you there.

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