Words: Miljan Milekić
Growing up, I had a few things that fueled my life: punk rock, hip hop, drum and bass, skateboarding, BMX, street art. I tried all of them and failed miserably at every single one. But I’m still here, in the trenches, writing about them and doing my part. Therefore, having a chance to interview a person who’s good at almost all of them wasn’t the one I was going to miss. Especially after the amazing new album ‘Dancing With a Course.’ Check-in below for an interview with Get Dead‘s singer, skateboarder, and graffiti artist Sam King.
Hi Sammy, hope you’re good! So, what have you been up to in these crazy days?
Sam: I Just bought a new MPC One. It works like an instrument – you don’t need a computer to run them, they are standalone. We’ve been doing rehearsals for the band, and the new album has got a lot of weird background shit, weird samples, and stuff. So hopefully, when shows start back up, when we do play, we’re going to be able to play the whole album front to back. It’s not to make it sound exactly like the record, which is really hard, but we’re getting there.
‘Dancing With The Curse’ is out for a few months now. Is the feedback so far in line with your expectations from the new record?
Sam: No. I mean, I just figured that the feedback was going to be awful, I was like – “People aren’t gonna like this.” We were fucking around with a formula of music and doing different stuff. And a lot of times when you start doing different things, a lot of people trip out on it. But we’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from it, and everybody really seems to like it. And we’re psyched about it, man. We’re glad that our fans do like that direction that we’re going and everyone was psyched about it. We didn’t alienate anyone. And now that we know we can push limits and stuff, we can start doing weird shit. Maybe we’ll make a techno album, who knows. (laughs)
On the new record, you once again managed to reinvent yourselves as a band, but still deliver a record that has ‘Get Dead’ written all over it. How did the writing process look like for this one? Did you do anything different this time around?
Sam: I think we did a lot of things differently. We made it a point to write all the songs before we got into the studio. A lot of the times we were not prepared at all, and we’re just – “Yeah, sure, we got stuff.” We also wanted to get more of that ska dancey vibe to it. That came a lot from touring in Europe. In the States at like 2:00 AM they kick you out of the bar. Out there, there’s always a DJ that goes to like six in the morning. So we just started throwing around dark party ska.
We’d always enjoy ourselves at the after-party, so we started with it and then just built from there. And my background in hip hop, it always, kind of, shined through a little bit, but we just explored it a little more on this record. We tried to be really good at not beating people over the head with it because next thing you know, you can sound like Limp Bizkit or some shit. (laughs) This record around, we were just more focused, we took it a lot more seriously, and put a lot more time into it. I mean, this record took us almost two years to write.
What feels really weird about this record, is its timing. Like you said, most of the songs were written before the pandemic, before the Black Lives Matter protests, and yet, still, it’s like a perfect soundtrack for the last year and all the weird stuff that has happened. Do you have any idea of how that happened?
Sam: Magic! (laughs) I don’t really don’t know. The only way that I can explain it is that a lot of the music, it feels like it fits with what happened because it was what was happening to us. I’m sure it’s like that where you’re at too – by the time the rest of the world hears about something going on, it’s, it’s already been going on for us, you know? We’ve already seen the police brutality and the racism and just the overall bullshit that Trump brought with everything. It was a frustrating time to be here and deal with shit like that. And then the pandemic came. I think that the music just reflects the lead-up to everything blowing up, you know?
As I said, you are not afraid to dig deep and touch on some heavy and serious topics. However, despite everything, it feels like ‘Dancing With The Curse’ offers a glimpse of hope and optimism.
Sam: Sure. You got it. There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel. I think that vibe is what we were talking about earlier, that dark party ska. It’s almost like when you’re going to a party, but the party is in some basement with some mafia people. It’s a good time, but it’s really dangerous at the same time watching all that shit. But it’ll be okay. (laughs)
Was that a conscious decision? To point out the negatives, but not to completely give in?
Sam: That’s pretty much punk rock’s message almost the whole time. If it’s not super political, it’s – “Hey, things are fucked up. We know they’re fucked up and we’re here with you in this.” Together we can make a better day tomorrow by not giving in and not just doing what everybody else is doing. By actually thinking about things critically and trying to make it a better place versus, just living. I’m a house painter when I’m home from tour, but for the past year, I’m not touring, you know? So I have to think about it. What am I doing here? I can still drive around America and go see friends and stuff. I don’t want to paint people’s houses to just live in this house. It’s like you’re just working to live somewhere. It’s just that feeling of hopelessness.
Now I’m getting to the point where it’s like – “Fuck this! I can rent my house out to somebody else and just go for a couple of months until tours start back.” And that’s because there are other people who feel the same way. This helped me realize that it’s not just playing shows that make the punk rock community dope. It’s the fact that even when there are no shows, we’ve still got places to go. It’s like being a skateboarder, wherever you go worldwide – if you got a skateboard, you know? I think that kind of like outlook on things is that little glimmer of hope on the album. But I mean, it’s 99% fucked. (laughs)
So, how was it to be in the studio with Fat Mike?
Sam: It’s crazy. The fact that he comes in dressed pretty crazy, and everything. He’s a wild dude. Throughout the years, Mike‘s become a really good friend of mine, and I like working with him because he knows how to – no pun intended – but he knows how to cut the fat off the songs, and help us streamline stuff. And it’s good to get another ear in there. We worked with Chris Dougan too on this album, he does all the engineering for Green Day. I mean, it was just awesome, man. Baz who did the orchestra for NOFX was on it. Johnny from Old Man Markley is a phenomenal singer, he helped me out a lot. Just being at Mike‘s house in Los Angeles, all kinds of crazy shit going on. Like porn stars are living in the back, and they got a tennis court and a swimming pool, and they got clown cars that drive around the place, helicopters… But it was good, man. I always enjoy working with Mike, and I enjoyed working with Chris and Johnny, and Baz.
And how important is it to have someone like Mike, who’s not only an engineer or a producer but also a musician? Also, I’ve never had a chance to meet him, but I got the impression he’s the guy who will call you on your bullshit, and make you push your boundaries, and became better at what you do.
Sam: Well, yeah, 100%. And he knows what he’s doing. He might seem like he’s spaced out or, he’s not listening to you when you’re talking or you’re playing in demos, that he’s not paying attention. But if you change something six months later, he’ll be like – “Hey, what the fuck is this?” He KNOWS. But you also have to be open to taking criticism. I’ve seen bands going there and work with Mike, and he just frustrates them to the point where they start breaking shit. But that’s because they don’t want to change their way.
You know, Mike‘s not telling you to like, change something to make it worse. It’s always better. So, once you’re comfortable with that, even though there’s a lot of the times he wants to change things and I’ll be like – “Nah,” and he’ll listen to me. But then, stuff that he knows isn’t correct, or knows can be better, or he knows you could be better, even as given as a person, he’s going to call you on your shit and make you uncomfortable until you’ve become better.
And I’d say that’s important when you’re in the studio, going all-in on a record.
Sam: Putting out a record is hard already because, by the time you get to the last song, you’re a better musician than you were at the first song, you know? So it’s hard to say like – “Oh yeah, we should keep that first song.” Because a lot of times those first three songs you start writing for the record, just make a stepping stone to point you in the direction you need to go. But they’re going to get cut because you’re a better musician, you know? So it’s tricky. I rather do it like this, where we have other collaborators coming in and pushing us to be better people, than being able to just go in there and do it first take.
I know that being unable to tour sucks, especially for a band like you that practically grew up on the road. How much do you miss the interaction with fans, and playing new songs for them?
Sam: It’s a double-edged sword because, personally, I’m going crazy just being at home, doing the same thing over and over. They’re starting to open up bars and stuff, but as far as music – we wrote this record and it’s probably the most successful Get Dead record ever. And randomly, I got divorced. So, I’m single, we have a good record out, and we can’t tour. It’s just like AAARGH! (laughs) But on the other hand, even though online everybody likes it – because that’s all we have, it’s our only interaction – you can’t tell if the record is good or not unless you can play it for people. If you can see the crowd go off, then you know you’ve done your job.
The good point about it is that now everybody has had the time to digest the whole album. So we can play the whole album when we go tour the new album, versus when bands who tour their new album and play two new songs, and everyone goes and gets a beer because they don’t know them. You know, like – “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll buy the record, dude. Just play the songs I know.” So that’s good because, hopefully, when we do get out, everybody else is going to be just as excited as we are to be out of the house and be going to shows. So I think it’s going to be a really special time, especially when people get to connect with their favorite bands again and see their friends at shows. Just like the pandemic, it will be like something that we hadn’t really done before. It’s going to be a whole new territory.
And speaking of shows, tell me more about the Weekend at Fatty’s. From the outside, it seems like it was the place to be for a few days.
Sam: Uh, from what I can remember, it was a good time, it was wild. They just invited their friends over, you know, you’re sitting there next to like Fletcher from Pennywise and the dudes from Fishbone. It was awesome. The guys from Fishbone were fucking amazing! Great dudes! The drummer was playing facing the house. (laughs) He was like – “I’m not playing music to you white people.” (laughs) Fuck yes! The guy’s a legend! We were psyched to be there, it was a good weekend. I’m bummed that they couldn’t get it together to keep doing it, but it was just too much going on with the Covid. That was the last show we played. And it was the only show we played for the past year and six months.
And the only time you got to play some of the new songs…
Sam: Yeah. I mean, we’ve been talking, but we haven’t been the biggest fans of online concerts. It’s cool if you can do it in a space where it’s almost like pre-recorded and the sound is right and you can make it interesting. But as far as like me just putting this camera right here and I was sitting right there, and doing like this to a computer, (showing around the room and mimics playing guitar), it feels ridiculous. It feels like you’re not giving the music, the respect that it deserves. But the more this goes on, the more we want to stay relevant and interact with our fans. So we’re going to have to do something.
Yeah, but if you do it in a perfect setting, with the perfect sound, then what’s the difference between that and the record?
Sam: Yeah, exactly. I guess the only difference would be that you would have control over your visuals to go along with the music. We’ve been trying to figure out a way around it where we’re not just going to be playing stationary, with a camera walking around. I’ve been kicking around the idea of going to different spots, different places to play these songs. Places where some of them were inspired by.
Like ‘Disruption,’ we’d go break into an abandoned building and they’ll play it, we can do all kinds of different stuff. It’s just logistics and then power… But you’re right. Once you start doing edits and putting things on and setting things up, what’s the difference between that and the music video? So, but you would be streaming it live, I guess. Or you would stream the feed live, so it would be new for everybody. And then, you would have all those different songs that the different spots, that you could release as music videos.
It’s actually a great idea. I would love to see it happen.
Sam: Well, I think we’re going to do it then. So you can go around and tell everyone it was your idea. (laughs)
Being a website that covers punk rock, but also hip hop, skateboarding, and urban culture in general, Get Dead is like the perfect band for our pages. But what came first for you, and how did you become who you are today, creatively?
Sam: Alcohol. (laughs) For me, it just started with skateboarding. When I was younger, I used to skateboard for a shop, I used to do contests and stuff like that. And through skateboarding and skateboarding videos, hip hop and punk rock were the dominating force. I mean, you buy Thrasher and see fucking Slayer and stuff like that, but normally, it’s like good underground hip hop and good underground punk rock. And I grew up listening to that.
And when I started getting a little older, I’ll always skateboard my whole life, but I realized that being able to skate like I used to is super hard. If you’re not pro by like 17, 18, it’s gonna be a long fucking road. And then by 25, you’re done anyway. I mean, there are some, you know, 30-year-old pro skaters, obviously, but there are not too many of them. So you just start thinking, and punk rock and touring is the same lifestyle as skateboarding. There’s nothing more punk rock than a skate trip. You have a bunch of skaters in a van going to a different state. It’s fucking chaos. Nobody wants to wake up on time, somebody is always missing, somebody is always mad in the back of the van, and somebody is always bleeding. (laughs)
So it just felt like a good fit for me. I’ve never been one that likes staying still and comfortable situations too long. So, I pretty much blame my whole life on skateboarding. It’s just dominos is from there. You know, now it’s 11 in the morning on Friday, I’m not at a job, and I’m talking to a computer drinking beer.
Well, it’s 8 pm over here, but we’re always home. (laughs)
Sam: Well, I think that’s one thing that this pandemic is going to change with the world. Even now, I’ve been noticing that a lot of the office buildings, by the freeways are all empty because nobody goes to work. So why are you going to pay rent for that building? All these companies now are going to be like – “Well, we were just fine for a whole year with everybody working from home. Look how much money we saved. Why don’t we just keep doing this?” And I hope it doesn’t go that way because I think it’s good for people to get out and interact. Even to, you know, be mad at the traffic, and wait in line at your lunch. All those little things that make life, life, would just go away if everyone just works from home.
So, how hard is it for you to balance music with other forms of art, and do you think they all complement each other in some ways?
Sam: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Doing the art and stuff like that, I mean, it’s not always legal. So that’s a tricky part for me. Doing skateboarding and art and music and all that stuff, to me, it’s all the same thing. It’s all hand in hand. It’s just like a better quality of life for me. That’s what I do, I just don’t really think about it. But it’s the consequences of the three things together that can fuck each other up.
If I’m skateboarding and I break my leg, then I gotta be a pain in the ass the on tour with a broken leg, if I can even go. If I get popped painting somewhere, I could go to jail. If I’m painting on a federal building or I do enough damage and give me a felony, I can’t leave America ever again. But because of those reasons, that they all work as one thing, and they can all destroy each other, is what makes it worth it to me. It ramps it up more. And all of it is destructive, none of it is good for me. (laughs)
But it’s awesome.
Sam: Yes, it’s so fucking awesome!
I actually had a chance to interview a few people about this, I believe Dave Smalley was the last one, and he said he stopped skateboarding when he broke his wrist for the third time in a short time and had to take a long break from playing guitar.
Sam: Yeah, that’s the thing. Other dudes in Get Dead too. We go on tour, we play a show and when we’re done, I go out at nighttime, ’cause I have the opportunity to be in different cities and different countries every night. As an artist, I’m provided a rare opportunity to get up more. And they’ve always been supportive of that. But I know that the moment that I get popped, and the tour’s off, and I fucked up four other people’s lives because now they can’t tour and make money, and they’re putting in their time with their family back at home and all that, they’ll probably make me think twice about doing it. But, as of today, they haven’t gotten me yet. I’m still here. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.