Music interviews

Spreading the virus of rock ‘n’ roll: Interview with Theresa Jeane of The Nearly Deads.

Being chased by a bunch of zombies is something that is definitely on my bucket list. I’m deadly serious, in fact, I have the perfect song for the occasion called Never Look Back by The Nearly Deads. It’s an infectious anthem that exploded seemingly out of nowhere, powered by grungy distorted guitars with an angelic vocal wail in tow back in 2011. Some seven years later, Theresa Jeane on vocals, Steven Tobi on lead guitar, Kevin Koelsch on bass, Javier Garza Jr. on rhythm guitar and Josh Perrone on drums, have all grown in stature and confidence to become a well respected live act in Nashville’s burgeoning rock scene and across the United States. The fact that their international reach is as far as Melbourne, Australia, thanks to their loyal Zombie following seemingly spreading The Nearly Deads rock ‘n’ roll virus, is a testament to their steady rise. But the most interesting thing about The Nearly Deads is their relationship with their fans. Their loyalty to them is second to none and quite evident in the exclusive access they give to their Zombie Nation of followers. Their ability to not take themselves too seriously is also quite refreshing, especially “…their love of all things geek and message of positivity and empowerment.”

I first came across The Nearly Deads last year with the release of their EP, Revenge of the Nearly Deads (2017) and have since then kept a curious eye out on what this female-fronted band has been up to throughout 2018. More recently with the release of their latest music video Revenge I felt compelled to reach out to the band. I was fortunate enough to catch up with livewire and band vocalist Theresa Jeane. In short, we briefly reminisced about the road they’ve travelled so far, the empowering message behind their music and what’s up next for The Nearly Deads. Here is some of what we talked about.

More recently, I’ve been reliving how it felt when I first heard Revenge of the Nearly Deads last year, and I still get excited at hearing your explosive sound and your amazing wail. When you look back at the production of the EP, what are you still most proud of, both lyrically and sonically?

TJ: We appreciate the kind words! I think what we are most proud of is staying true to ourselves after all this time. The meaning behind Revenge and the title track is really a nod to the fact that staying a band and continuing to make music (thanks to crowdfunding and our awesome fans) is truly the best revenge. We’ve seen a lot of bands come and go in our genre and scene, and there have been a lot of ups and downs for us along the way. Frequencies is also a standout track for the band. The lyrics are all about finding yourself again. We wanted to incorporate more piano into the songs because that’s another thing that separates us from other bands in our genre. We’re also really proud of Diamond in the Rough and love the opening riff and piano bridge. 

If we can briefly look back briefly into your catalogue, there is so much there that has such a real adrenaline edge to it. What would you say has to this point been your signature song? And why?

TJ: It would most definitely be Never Look Back! We’ll be lucky if we’re still performing it when we’re 80 years old. It was the first song we ever really wrote as a band, and it’s our most successful song yet. Everything we do is held up to that standard. It’s the clear fan favorite. I believe the message of that song is really what makes it special. It’s about moving on, finding yourself, and quite literally never looking back. I think a lot of people are able to relate the lyrics to different aspects of their lives, no matter what kind of background they might have or how old they might be. Everyone has something to look forward to, and I think everyone has felt judged at some point in their life whether that be by their family or their peers. 

I am blown away every time I hear you sing. How much of a factor is what you do upfront the key to your success? 

TJ: First of all thank you so much! We like to think of our sound as ‘polished grunge’.  I idolize singers like Brody Dalle and Courtney Love, but I just don’t sound like them naturally. A lot of finding myself as a vocalist involved accepting the fact that I’m never going to sound that way, and that I needed to accept my voice for what it was. So we kind of ran with it in that aspect. I’d be nothing without the band. The grungy guitars, Steven and Javier’s riff writing… it’s all so inspiring to me, and I believe the combination of that with the clean vocals really defines our sound as a band. 

I can’t help but hear an empowering message throughout TND’s music. How much of that a deliberate statement on your part? I understand there have definitely been some difficult times?

TJ: It wasn’t so much of a deliberate statement as it was simply what felt right for us. It was never a conscious effort in the beginning. I’ve always wanted to be a role model, especially to young women. I’ve been through bad breakups, we’ve been through the music industry ringer together. Never Look Back and Easy Way Out were inspired by a former band members who seemingly lost faith in us. Whatever is bothering me, I write about it. Sometimes it makes it into a song. I have notebooks full of bad ideas. After Never Look Back started to get millions of views and we started touring and getting a lot of press and fans, we realized that there were a lot of young people listening to our music. It became almost like a responsibility to show them that things get better. Hearing the stories of how our music has helped people get through a tough time in their life really keeps us going on the “Positivity Train” as we call it. So, it didn’t start off that way, but it’s now become a part of our message and our band identity. 

As Good as it Gets stands out as my favourite track on Revenge of the Nearly Deads EP. Don’t get me wrong I love all the power rock-pop-punk thrills but you can really hear your classically trained voice come to life on this track. Was it a deliberate choice to slow things down and let us enjoy a really tender moment here?

TJ: Our fans were really wanting more piano, and we tried to deliver! We had done Never Look Back (Reanimated) and had such a great response that we really wanted to include a ballad on the new EP. 

Let’s talk about your new video for Revenge. What was that like filming? 

TJ: It was a lot of fun! We got a bunch of friends together underneath a bridge in the backroads of Tennessee, illuminated everything with our car headlights (along with a couple professional lights of course) and just rocked out. It really felt like a secret show was happening. However, when you film a video, you have to perform the same song over and over again. We probably played it all the way through at least 20 times. It gets a little goofy after a while, but it makes for great footage! 

Your latest single You Got Me is again another beautifully piano-driven arrangement. Can you tell me a little bit about how it came to life?

TJ: We get asked to play You Got Me live all the time, but because it’s an older song that we rarely play, the band always moans and groans (sorry guys!) when we get a request for it. One night I was determined to play it live, so Javier and I did it as an acoustic song with clean electric guitar and vocals. The entire crowd sang and clapped along and we were like – yes – this is awesome! Initially I wanted to record it just like that, ala Glycerine by Bush. But the guys suggested doing a piano arrangement, and I’m glad they did! We also released it for Valentine’s Day since the timing was right and it was the perfect song for the holiday. 

Eight years is a long time to be living in each other’s pocket, so to speak. What are some of the surprising things you have discovered about each other? Can you share a funny story?

TJ: We are family. The guys are like brothers to me. It’s so important to be in a band with like-minded people who you can get along with, party with, joke around with, tease, and at the end of the day – perform with night after night. Touring can get tedious. You’re dirty and tired all the time, but at the end of the day you look around and realize that these are some of the best times you’re ever going to have in your life. My favorite memory is definitely camping in the Redwoods in Northern California. We were SO determined to see the damn redwoods, but due to blowing a tire on the way through California, we didn’t get up there until it was already dark. We’re talking wilderness PITCH black outside. We were so mad, because it was winter and only like, 5pm. We needed to drive to the next show, but we knew if we did we’d be driving through the forest at night, missing the views entirely. Also, our GPS and phones had no signal out in the middle of nowhere, and we were lost. So we searched for the nearest campsite instead…how we found it was a miracle. We parked the van, begged the campsite to sell us some firewood after hours, and relaxed and played music by the fire all night. We woke up to literally the most beautiful morning…evergreens and mountains all around us, 7-foot-tall elk just chilling in the middle of the road, and we were actually right across from the Pacific Ocean. We probably almost drove right into the ocean the night before, we were so lost. We had the best day driving up on our way to our next show in Portland, taking photos on the beach and admiring the beautiful coastline. We were awed by the massive forest and took several obligatory photos walking through trees.  I think going through the Redwoods together (It’s literally Endor from Star Wars, a must-see in anyone’s lifetime) was a great bonding experience for us. We were late to the next show, but I still don’t care. 

I have to admit when I think of Nashville, I hear in my mind’s eye southern R&B, Keith Urban, Kenny Wayne Sheppard and even Kacey Musgrave. Alternative rock almost sounds like an alien term when we talk about Nashville. But that said, I understand that Nashville isn’t the place it once was say maybe 5 or even 10 years ago. How has the band so successfully been able to make Nashville home?

TJ : The bottom line is that we’ve had a tremendous amount of help. The great thing about rock bands in Nashville is that there aren’t that many of them. In the beginning we played with a lot of the same bands over and over,  which created our own little scene. We were introduced to our producer Jon King almost 8 years ago, and his advice and expertise has really helped us navigate the industry. We’ve learned so much from the other musicians and professionals in Nashville. I feel as though we’ve  ‘cut our teeth’ there, so to speak. Everyone is so talented that we immediately realized we needed to up our game. We also have friends in other female-fronted bands thanks to the tours we’ve done, and we help each other out with advice all the time. Even if it’s just to talk shop or complain about the biz, it’s nice to have a community you can count on. And THAT’S Nashville. 

Finally, what’s up next for The Nearly Deads?

TJ: We are releasing new music soon! We’ve been on Patreon for several months now, and members have already been getting some sneak peeks and behind the scenes videos of us in the studio. I’m really loving having a Patreon because it makes me feel so much more connected to our fans, in a way that still feels private for me. It’s hard to feel obligated to put your whole life on social media. With Patreon, everyone who’s a member is essentially a super-fan, and I feel a lot more comfortable opening up to them. I know if we release something exclusive we can trust that they won’t try to sell it or leak our new songs. Depending on the tier, we do Skype sessions, send out personalized postcards, and try to release monthly exclusive content, like cover videos. Because it’s a monthly subscription, we’re able to plan new content versus waiting for a big crowdfunding payout that gets spent all at once. Thanks to them, and all of our amazing fans, we’ll be releasing a new single in the near future. Of course we know not everyone has the means to join, but we want them to know how much we appreciate them as well. Every view, stream, like, follow, message, or tweet means the world to us. We have built our entire band on our fans and don’t plan on changing that anytime soon! 

Check out the Revenge of The Nearly Deads EP and their back catalogue via iTunes and Spotify. You can also connect with The Nearly Deads via their website. You can also follow them on their Facebook page and Twitter feed. Follow them on Instagram. Watch them on You Tube.
You can also become a Zombie Nation member on Patreon where you get exclusive news updates. If you’re lucky Theresa just might sing you a happy birthday! Importantly it’s the place to check out what new music is on the Zombie horizon.

Photo credits: The header image is courtesy of The Nearly Deads. I am not the uploader of You Tube clips embedded here.

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