Ah, The Dead Milkmen. One of Philadelphia's most iconic bands, known for their satirical bite, meandering punk rock, and heavy Philly accents, the Dead Milkmen long ago climbed out of the depths of obscurity with still-enduring tracks like "Punk Rock Girl" and "Bitchin' Camaro." Even if you're not into punk, you've probably heard Rodney Linderman's trademark Philly drawl yelling about mongoose women or some other goofy fantasy. Which, of course, may explain why you can't escape the Milkmen, even in 2014.
It's been more than 30 years of satirical punk for these Philly area natives, a history they continued in 2011 with the release of The King in Yellow. Now, though, they've begun work on a follow-up release to that album, showing that even after 30 years of making fun of everything, the guy's in the Dead Milkmen still can't stop themselves from making fun of something.
I had the change to talk with drummer Dean Sabatino (aka Dean Clean) about the upcoming album they're recording in Fishtown, their Philly influence, and how the internet is changing the game for a band that started out growing their fanbase with a prototypical, snail mail newsletter. Through all that, one thing is clear: The Dead Milkmen aren't done with lampooning yet—not by a long shot.
The next record will serve as the follow up to 2011's King in Yellow, which fans which fans have hailed as classic Dead Milkmen. When can we expect to see the new one?
This next record isn't going to come out until the fall, but we've been working on it for a while. One of the songs we recorded a couple weekends ago we'd been working on since April. We put out a series of seven-inch singles of some of the songs last year, and they're all going to be on the album. But we were just in the studio to record six more songs and we're going to try to wrap everything together in a full-length release. We've been germinating ideas for a while.
Had you guys always planned on recording a follow-up to KIL, or did this one come about more slowly?
We wanted to do another album and had decided to do the whole singles series thing and that took about a year. We put out the singles, but we always had thought we'd be putting out another full length. You just kind of move forward, and we have all these great songs now in the catalog.
That catalog is full of Philly accent-twinged tracks. How has Philadelphia played a role in the Dead Milkmen's trademark satirical aesthetic?
We're all from the suburbs and moved to Philly to go to college. It's a city of neighborhoods, and that's near to the fact that we aren't afraid to try different styles. It's an eclectic style that we pull together, and we've always been proud of being from Philadelphia.
Touring is no doubt tough these days, but the release of King in Yellow saw you guys hitting the road for a select number of dates. Any plans to beef up the touring schedule this time around?
We'll usually go out for long weekends, three shows, stuff like that. Last year we played 15 shows, but with this record we're going to try to play a little more. The strategy is more hit and run now because we all have the day gig thing so we've got to balance playing and family.
The Dead Milkmen have always been fan-oriented, reaching out to listeners and fostering a community in the early days of the web. Has social media changed how you guys operate at all?
We've tried to embrace it all a little bit. I mean, we've had a website for a while, and Twitter we have—Rodney is a pretty well known Twitter user. All this social media stuff is kind of cool because back in the day, we only had a newsletter. This makes it much easier. Plus, it ties in with the old punk rock DIY eithics. Bands have much more control over how they interact with fans now. Labels ruin everything.
But you even kept the site going after the breakup in 1995. Why is that?
When we shut down in 1995, I don't think we had a website. I started the website a few years after that, building on the online community we kind of already had with the Dead Milkmen Free-for-All which is a bulletin board. That existed before the site and was started by a guy in the Midwest. Sadly, he passed away in a car accident, but we took over the concept and incorporated it into the website and the community came along for the ride. We've always had rabid fans that stuck with us.
With social media changing the way bands interact with their fans, it's easier than ever before to get the message out. How has the response been online from what you've seen?
The environment is welcoming to our kind of thing. Subject matter-wise, it's strange to listen to the news and go online and hear some of the same issues we were railing against in the 80s—I guess what goes around comes around. We just do what we do.
How do you explain the staying power of the Dead Milkmen's music? You all have been going for more than 30 years now, so there must be something there.
We tried to bring a level of humor to the hardcore scene when we first got started, and I'm hearing bands now that aren't afraid to be a little silly or strange. Some people just have a more lighthearted attitude about music, I guess. It's interesting to play shows now and see the age range. We see young people and teens and some of our older fans who were around in the beginning—maybe they're even bringing their kids to the shows now. I'm not sure I understand it, but maybe that's just the nature of the music.
That music seems to be coming out in much the same was as it was in 1983. Is that sound something you consciously try to accomplish? Has the decision-making process changed at all after 30 years?
It's not something that we consciously said we need to sound like—it just comes out naturally. We've always been like a democracy in terms of whether or not a sound is working, but we're mature enough now to make better decisions about things. Maybe.