Concert Reviews

Dead Flowers Talk About Bad Tattoos, Heartbreak Songs and Getting the Band Together

If you regularly go to LaGrange, Single Wide or Double Wide, you've seen a member of the quintet Dead Flowers. Earlier in the year, frontman Corey Howe was the opening act for The Revival Tour's stop at Trees, playing alongside Hot Water Music's Chuck Ragan, Alkaline Trio's Dan Andriano, and Against Me!'s Tom Gabel. We caught up with them at their practice space and talked about their experiences as musicians, and heard horror stories about first tattoos.

What was the first instrument you learned to play? Evan Johnson (bass, backing vocals): I started on violin. I started in elementary school. Vince Tuley (guitar, backing vocals): It was guitar for me. It was a little Mexican guitar my dad found on the side of the road. Tony Webb (guitar): I played sixth grade trumpet. Corey Howe (vocals, guitar): My mom said that when I was a kid I used to play with myself more than anything. But I didn't pick up my first instrument until I was 18. It was guitar. I was a freshman in college. Ed Chaney (drums): I've always been a drummer. I started when I was nine. It's all I ever wanted to do. Howe: He plays a mean ukulele at six in the morning. Johnson: He has a cool story about how he got into drums.

Pray tell. We love to hear these things. Chaney: Well, I grew up with hard-of-hearing parents, so it was perfect for drumming. My dad used to sell telecommunication devices for the hearing impaired out of our house. One day, I was either 10 or 11, I was setting up my drums in my room and this guy came by and did a double take. He said, "What's going on? You got some drums in here." I was like, "Yeah, I'm just starting out." Long story short, he ended up being the bass player for James Brown and a whole bunch of heavy hitters back in the '70s, but he lost his hearing on stage in the early '80s. So he was at my dad's house to get door bell ringers where the lights would go off, but I ended up taking drum lessons for about three years. Played my first gig with him. Got to play with a lot of different people. Got into different styles of music because of him. Got to meet Ray Charles through him. I was I was a little older so I could appreciate it.

What are your earliest memories about being obsessed about a band? For me, it was U2 in seventh grade. Chaney: It was The Police for me in '82, '83. Howe: When I was four or five years old, me and my mom lived with her parents in Dallas. I remember we'd drive this one route - it was over on Preston, somewhere - there were these apartments and I'd always tell my mom that I wanted to go the Grey Way. She had Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet. I'd come out of daycare and listen to Slippery When Wet just singing my ass off, going the Grey Way. And I was obsessed with "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" and some other really sad war song and she'd say she always felt bad singing it, but it was always familiar, which makes a lot of sense. Tuley: My first musical obsession: I was about 13 years old, I was always obsessed with sports until I heard Sonny Boy Williamson playing harmonica on old blues records from 1936. I just picked it up randomly and it changed my life completely. It spawned into going from Robert Johnson, working up to B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and then Stevie Ray Vaughan. I remember distinctly hearing "Pride and Joy" and thinking, "Oh-hoo! This is where it's at. This is what I want to do." My dad was like, "Yo, I'll teach you guitar whenever." Never pressured me into it. My dad was a jazz guitar child prodigy then decided to go into singing. He taught me how to play guitar and play chords. I still have that Sonny Boy Williamson album, Trains on a Highway. Webb: In 1995, I got deep into Nirvana. I was full of angst, but when you're a kid . . . Kurt had been dead for a year and his catalog had been blowing up at that moment. I was never into music until that point. "I'm in this horrible place. Nobody understands me!" I don't know what I was thinking. Johnson: I can concur with that one. I discovered grunge: Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana. Howe: Don't forget about post-grunge. Blind Melon! Johnson: I liked Blind Melon, but I never got into them.

Silverchair! Johnson: Yeah! Howe: "Ana's Song" made me not want to eat at 15 years old. It was like, "Yeah, this is the best shit ever!" Johnson: Saw them at the Bomb Factory way back when I was in fourth grade. Bomb Factory was amazing. I only saw terrible bands there. The only person who I could get to take me was my step-dad.

Never asked this question to a band before, but when you got your heart broken for the first time, what was the record you listened to? Webb: I don't remember the song, but it was on that damn album by The Cranberries.

Which one? I'm a huge Cranberries fan. Webb: It's the one with "Ode to My Family" on it.

Oh, yeah! No Need to Argue. Webb: Yeah! That whole album is incredible. I broke up with a girlfriend in sixth grade and that entire album helped me get through a really tough time.

It was Sunny Day Real Estate for me. Driving around, listening to LP2, especially "5/4" and wondering, "Why doesn't this girl like me?" Johnson: Yeah! Great album. There's a song that didn't help me get through it, but I always associated with breaking up with this girl because she was all about it. It was a Dashboard Confessional song.

"Screaming Infidelities"? Johnson: Yes! Howe and Chaney, singing: "Your hair is everywhere!" Johnson: I cannot hear that song without thinking of that girl crying. Howe: Mine is Left and Leaving by The Weakerthans. Anything on Exile On Main St. What about you, Ed? You ever have a broken heart? Chaney: I think the album I can associate with the worst breakup I've ever had was The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails.

Long record. Howe: Yes. Johnson: Lots of mood swings on that record.

Especially when you have a song like "Starfucker." Chaney: But "The Frail." I love that song. Tuley: For me, it was "Three O' Clock Blues" by B.B. King. Any time I hear that song, if I'm in a bad mood, it always makes me feel better. Somebody else's pain and singing about it, then it feels good.

I thought I was only going to ask Corey this, but I see that some others have tattoos. What is your memory of getting your first tattoo? Howe: Pissing my pants. I started having seizures in my senior year of high school. I had three or four when I was 17, 18. On November 26, 2002, I went down to Taboo Tattoo; a buddy of mine from school got tattooed there. Had a seizure there. I don't know if there was any music going on. All I hear was, "Ooooooooo. Shake, shake, shake." Chaney: Mine is pretty bad. I was 17, playing a gig at someone's house party. There was a guy there with a tattoo gun. He was like, "You want one?" I'm like, "Yeah." And I got the worst tattoo ever on my shoulder. I cringe when I think about that. What was I thinking? Howe: What about you, Tony? Webb: Yeah, just the pain. It was on the inside of my left arm. I was like, "Fuck it, dude. Do it." And he said, "Alright, you're going to have an easy time after this." I didn't know what he meant. After he started, I was like, "Holy shit, that hurts." It was about three hours of just pain. He did all the coloring and shading in one sitting. He was right because every tattoo after that was easy. Howe: Getting a tattoo on your belly was the worst ever. Webb: The 13 one on my shoulder was weird because it was right on the bone. It's not very big, but it really rattled me.

Did you get it when it was the Friday the 13th special at Elm Street Tattoo? Webb: Oh, yeah. It's a Roman numeral 13. I just thought that was cool. Howe, showing his red Texas tat on his belly: This is the best one though. I got this tattoo in Wisconsin. I was living in Chicago, going to school. I know Vinnie from college. The Canadian culture there was ridiculous because we were a hockey school. They all had red Canadian tats. I thought it would be awesome to get a red Texas tat. So my buddy wanted to get tattooed. I wasn't going to get tattooed, but I had this Texas ring. We had to go over the border because you had to be 19 for a few years in Chicago. I wasn't old enough. Went in there, threw the ring at the guy and said, "Alright, I want it right here." Kind of as a joke to all the hockey player dudes. Well, it was election year, and W. was up for re-election. The dude was high on meth. I didn't want a black star, I didn't want a black outline. He did the completely wrong thing with a single point, so it's all scarred up. It's bad.

What do you remember about the first time you played together? Chaney: When I moved back from California, our mutual friend Jeff, from J. Charles and Train Robbers -- it was my birthday and I was wasted -- I'm walking out, Jeff grabs me and says, "What's going on?" I said I was looking for a singer in this band I'm playing with. So Corey came out. I was jamming with this guitar player Jacob and another bass player. The style was completely different from what we're doing now. It was a bit more heavy. We just hit it off. It wasn't going to work for what we were doing, so we didn't talk for a couple weeks. Howe: Finally, I hit him back up and said, "Hey man, I want to put a band together." So we met at his place and I show up with this snakeskin amp that I didn't know how to use at the time and a guitar I didn't know how to play. And I could just see it in his eyes, "Man, I really want to play with this kid, but he has no rhythm." He's like, "Bass player! Bass player!" We brought Evan in and Evan held us down. The way I got Evan in the band, we shared a mutual loss. He came out to jam. I felt awkward because I'm not very manager-y, like, "Alright, we're going to do this." So he left and later that night I get a text from him saying, "Hey man, where are you at?" We ended up closing down the Single Wide together, staggering to our cars, embracing in a hug. Chaney: He had mentioned Evan before and we've known each other for a long time. I was stoked when I heard that. I only know one Evan, so it's got to be him. Howe: It's funny, the first time we ever played as Dead Flowers, I was booked solo at Skinny's Ballroom in Austin. We were five or six practices in, we had recorded an EP on our fourth practice, and I said, "Hey, I got a band." I didn't realize that it was singer/songwriter night, so we show up and just get right into it. We make some good mistakes. We're all real nervous. We've never played not looking at each other. They're filming it. My chords were really short. I didn't have a pedal board. I step on my tuner and mute everything.

Dead Flowers play the Double Wide tomorrow night, Thursday, May 24.

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs