Pictured above (from left to right): John, Jaye, and Jeff
Dead Stars is a Brooklyn rock band formed in 2009 by Jeff Moore (vocal lead and guitair), Jaye Moore (drums), and John Watterburg (bass). Their music is often described as a nostalgic tribute to 90s slacker-rock, featuring “fuzzed out guitars, hook laden riffs,” and lyrics rife with disillusionment. Often compared to counterparts Dinosaur Jr. and the likes of Nirvana, Superchunk, and The Lemonheads, the band revels in fuzzy chords and catchy hooks. Dead Stars, fresh from their summer tour, played along a host of punk-rock bands at 4knots last Saturday. FDRMX sat down with the trio after their set at 4knots last Saturday to discuss what makes Brooklyn special, the best stories from their summer tour, and why 3 is the magic number.
FDRMX: How long have you all known each other and been friends?
Jeff: Well, Jaye and I are cousins, so we’ve known each other our whole lives. John, we’ve been friends since about 2008.
John: about 7 years. I knew him for a couple years before the band..mid 2000s.
Jeff: We’re all pretty good friends, and of course Jaye and I are related.
FDRMX: So does having family and friends in your band make things easier when performing and writing?
Jeff: I think it does. It makes it easier just because, you know, even if you get into an argument, its a lot easier to just get over it, you know.
Jaye: It makes it lot harder to break up! [all laugh] You know, at the end of the day you can’t just walk away from your family. We’ve never gotten into a real big fight or anything, but we know how to diffuse it. We have younger brothers and sisters that we dealt up with.. so we know how to handle it. [laughs]
Jeff: It’s definitely important to get along.
Jaye: Yeah, we usually try to say ‘Hey man, you’re cool? Yeah I’m cool.’ If not then work it out.
Jaye: They say familiarity breeds contempt? But I’ve found familiarity actually breeds cohesion.
FDRMX: Can you tell us more about your latest album Slumber? Are there any themes?
Jeff: Yeah, I would say a lot of the lyrics are just about life, disillusionment with yourself or with the world, and coping with that. There’s maybe a dichotomy of despair and hope at the same time.
John: Yeah it’s kinda like: ‘This is all bullshit, but you know its gonna be okay.’ The music may be more uplifting than the lyrics.
Jaye: Yeah, “Everything will be alright in the end.”
Jeff: That’s a plug for Weezer. [all laugh]
FDRMX: Your video ‘Someone Else’ is a so-called “love letter to Brooklyn”. Can you you explain this a bit more?
Jeff: Yeah, the song isn’t necessarily a love-letter to Brooklyn- but the video is for sure. Some friends of ours wanted to do a video for us, and this song was the first single from the record, so they were like ‘Yeah it has this super-fuzzy 90s vibe…We have this old 90s video camera. Do you wanna film it on that?’ So we said sure. So we just picked all these random places in Williamsburg: bars, a laundromat…all these weird places. And we didn’t even ask, we just showed up and played. So it was pretty cool. I think we did it all in like 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon.
Jaye: We’d just walk in and say ‘Anyone know what we’re doing? Nope! OK, Let’s go.’
FDRMX: So do you guys have a soft spot for Brooklyn?
Jaye: Yeah we live here, we love it, we’ve been here more than 10 years, and it’s definitely my home now. We go back to our hometown, and there’s still love for it..but this is where we belong.
Jeff: A lot of friends here too, a lot of other bands, you know.
Jaye: Great music scene right now. Everyone’s really supportive of each other. Like we always go to each others’ barbecues and shows.
John: I think Jeff and Jaye kinda have a ‘rough and tumble’ sort of relationship with Brooklyn, you know? Whereas I have this very fluffy, romantic relationship with Brooklyn. Me and my special lady friend, who I call my wife, [laughs], like we love it here. Sometimes Jeff and Jaye are like: ‘New York is rough, Brooklyn can be pretty tough-’
Jeff: I don’t say that!
John: No…but you know! Where they can be more realistic about Brooklyn’s hard edges.. I’m always the one to be like: ‘But its Brooklyn! It’s so sweet!’
FDRMX: It can be a nice change to come from Manhattan to Brooklyn. We went to an event at Prospect Park last weekend, and it’s definitely a very nice change of atmosphere.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s very neighborhood-y.
John: Trees..buildings that are only three stories high.
Jeff: I like Brooklyn because it’s almost like the suburbs of New York City, in a way.
FDRMX: Most of your videos are known for having a pretty distinctive retro, lo-fi vibe. What messages/vibes do you generally try to channel when creating your videos?
Jeff: Well, to be honest, it’s only because we don’t have any money to make good videos [laughs]. The fact that we did the [‘Someone Else’] video with the old camera, and the second video we did was all with an iPhone 5…
Jaye: We kinda make it up on the fly as we go along. For our other video, ‘Summer Bummer’, John had puppets in it, and the same director, Mikah, said yeah we can do this.
Jeff: Yeah we were supposed to get a real camera, and we couldn’t get it.. so we just said let’s use the iPhone 5.
John: We started as a treatment, and then realized.. yeah that’s fine.
Jaye: The same retro, 90s vibe just happens in the videos. It’s a party vibe, its sporadic.
FDRMX: You’ve been compared to Dinosaur Jr. (who also played at 4knots), Nirvana, and some other comparable slacker-rock bands. What do you guys think about this?
Jeff: I think it’s awesome. That’s all the music we love. When we started the band, there was no: ‘Let’s sound like this or that.’ Just when the three of us come together, it just turns out like that. It’s nice to do what you love, and have people think of it as the same [music] you like.
FDRMX: So would you say you’re inspired by these bands?
Jeff: Oh yeah, definitely inspired by their music. Especially Dinosaur Jr.– who’ve had a really long career, and they’re just as big now as they were in the late 80s and 90s.
Jaye: Yeah the fact that they re-formed the original line-up a few years ago and came back was like a miracle.
John: Honestly, bands like Dinosaur Jr. and those others we’re compared to, they really focus on songcraft.
Jeff: It’s true, all those bands have great songs, and they also have really loud guitars, and that’s what we like.
Jaye: We like 3-piece. When a 3-piece band can make a big, full sound. It’s great.
FDRMX: There’s another band called Re-TROS from China-who unfortunately couldn’t make it today- but they’re also a 3-piece band, with a female lead.
Jeff: Yeah I was looking forward to seeing them…
Jaye: We haven’t gotten a chance to see any bands since we finished..cause of press [laughs].
John: Yeah we just came off tour with a three piece band- Sharkmuffin. They’d be angry to hear us say things like: ‘Well they’re a bunch of girls.’ It’s really f**king cool to be involved with a different power-trio.
Jeff: Oh I hate that term ‘power-trio’. It always reminds me of RUSH for some reason. [laughs]
John: And I hate that band. [all laugh]
FDRMX: Who are some of your greatest musical influences?
Jeff: Definitely, as a little kid hearing the Beatles and the Stones. Great songs, once again. I went through listening to a lot of metal, a lot of punk stuff.. The Replacements, Teenage Fan Club, Dinosaur Jr., Nirvana, anything that’s really guitar-centric with good songs. I just like a catchy song, you know.
Jaye: When we started playing together, I think we were more into metal, like Slayer and Anthrax, and stuff like that. More musician-type stuff, and that’s how we learned how to play like that, and then we discovered punk and everything, and we were able to step back and take the simple stuff we like from that and put it into our music. We keep it simple.
Jeff: Yeah, I think simplicity is something we’ve really tried to focus on, especially as a 3-piece band.
FDRMX: Would you say you try to make the guitar riffs the focal point of your songs?
Jeff: Yeah all the songs are written on guitar, so that’s, you know, inevitable. As a three-piece, when you listen to the record, you can say: ‘there’s the guitar, there’s the drums, there’s the bass, there’s the vocals.’
Jaye: Each person has a chance to shine in their perspective parts.
John: That’s the great thing about playing with Jeff and Jaye, who are more technical musicians-
Jeff: I dont know about that!
John: Yeah they’re both incredibly talented. As someone who struggles sometimes to keep up with the ‘musician’s musician’, it’s so much fun to just play really good songs. You know, you can do that drum solo or that guitar solo, but still keep it simple and really just play the f**king song. Serving the song is the most important thing.
Jeff: That’s why we keep him (John) around-he just makes us feel better. [laughs]
John: [laughs] No you guys are so good! Like just play A, D, and G bro…I can do it! And it makes a beautiful song, it’s so much fun.
FDRMX: Do you guys have any comments on any up-and-coming bands?
Jeff: Uh there are a lot of great Brooklyn band I think are really cool. Honduras… who else?
Jaye: Eastern Hollows, Crazy Pills, who played after us today-
John: The directors of our videos-The Teen Age– they’re really awesome.
Jeff: Yeah we’re playing next weekend at this festival called the Gigawatts Festival in Bushwick. It’s like 3 days and 50 Brooklyn bands. There are so many good bands right now.
FDRMX: So would you guys ever consider collaborating with another band?
Jeff: We try to stay as busy as possible just with this band… So we don’t really have time to do that. We’re always rehearsing, writing, recording. We’re not opposed to it, but right now we try to focus strictly on this.
John: I can say on behalf of the band: It’s only and always about Dead Stars. [laughs] It’s a fraternity.
Jaye: 24/7 [laughs]
FDRMX: Any interesting stories from your summer tour so far?
Jaye: When we played in Memphis, there was a blackout right before we were about to play. So we went to a gas-station/restaurant place…We’re all eating with Shark Muffin, and in the middle of the cook-out all the power shuts off on the whole block. All of the sudden, the guys that work there come and put candles on the table. It was kinda funny, just like we’re having ~romantic dinners~ with each other. [laughs]…..
In New Orleans, there was a two-hour open-mic comedy night -one of the most brutal things I’ve ever had to witness. Person after person getting on stage and not getting any laughs from the audience, bombing, like crying, even getting mad at the audience for not laughing. At the same time it was like a million degrees out.
John: If you’re a touring band that most people don’t know, the best opening act to have is a comedy open-mic. Nothing gets and audience more happy. [laughs]
Jeff: Yeah in fact, if we ever have a big tour, we’ll just have an hour slated where people can just come up and do an open-call for comedy. [laughs]
FDRMX: If you could see anyone perform live today, who would you pick? (dead or alive)
Jeff: Nirvana for me.
Jaye: I’d say The Beatles, since I already saw Nirvana.
John: Jaye’s gonna get so mad at me, but…Blind Melon. [all laugh]
FDRMX: So it seems like you guys are really about the three-piece band. Would you ever consider experimenting with any other genre..electronic instruments, anything like that?
Jaye: We have our own sound and like to work with that.
Jeff: Yeah I don’t have anything against that..well maybe I do [laughs], but I think that something about guitars, bass, and drums just appeals to me. There’s so many types of music out today, and some people say that’s sort of dying, and I think it’s important to keep our style of music alive.
John: We mulled it over that Jeff has this burden being the only frontman guitarist… We could maybe afford to take on another touring guitarist..
Jeff: Only if we could afford to pay them! [laughs]
John: We’re not opposed to a second guitarist, but-
Jaye: Yeah we are [laughs]. Three piece is what I’m about.
Jeff: Yeah the dynamic is so much easier.
FDRMX: So 3 is the magic number?
Jaye, John: Yeah three is the magic number.
John: Three is the magic number. That’s a Blind Melon cover. [laughs]
Finally, you can catch the band at Gigawatts Festival in Bushwick next Saturday.