It wasn't supposed to take this long for Dead Mockingbirds to release an album. It's been three years, if you trace things back to when they settled on their current lineup, and twice as long if you factor in the band's murky origins. But Dead Mockingbirds have never really followed a normal pattern. They met on the set of a Bravo reality TV show, after all.
Guitarist Kenneth Pritchard had moved back to Dallas from Chicago after graduating from Columbia College with a degree in instrumental performance. His résumé was eclectic to say the least, having played guitar for all kinds of acts, from a beat-boxing rap group to a Ukrainian pop star. Then, in 2011, Pritchard says a friend offered him the opportunity to audition for a band in need of a bassist. The drummer in that band was Matthew Crain.
There was a catch, though: The band's then-lead singer, Neill Skylar, was appearing on a reality TV show, Most Eligible Dallas, where she was playing the part of a single mom trying to make it in the music business. Producers wanted the band to join her on the show, where they would essentially be bit players, but they were short a bassist.
“At the time I was the newest addition, but we didn’t have a bass player and then Bravo came knocking,” Crain says. “And in comes Kenneth.” The two quickly fell in together, Pritchard says. They bonded over the absurdity of being on a reality TV show, a situation that did little to satisfy their creative ambitions.
“Band practice was like, ‘What can we do to sell a million records?’ It wasn’t very gratifying,” Crain says. "So when Kenneth approached me and said, 'Hey, I got this other thing, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll project. Do you want to be a part of it?’ I said, 'Hell yes.'”
The two set out on their own, with Pritchard playing guitar this time, and by 2013 they'd finally landed on calling themselves Dead Mockingbirds. “A lot of people think [the band’s name] has to do with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird,” says Pritchard. “But it’s from the fact that we reference and [are influenced by] bands who are defunct because a major member is dead.”
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But around the time they landed on a name they found themselves on shaky ground: Their original bassist, Jacob Webber, had gotten married and moved to Austin. When they brought in Trinidad Diaz, the crowds at their shows seemed to consist mostly of girlfriends, drunks and bartenders. It wasn't so clear that things were going to work out.
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Crain admits he had his doubts about the future after Webber, his best friend, left the band. He didn’t think they would find another person who could be the right fit both musically and in terms of personality, but after former Catamaran bassist Diaz joined on, Crain says his new vibe and energy kicked the Mockingbirds into the next gear.
“We got a lot more rock ‘n’ roll. We got faster,” says Pritchard. "We’re like near frantic at this point. I nearly passed out at the last three shows." He praises the energy that his bandmates bring to the table: "Trinidad is fucking wild," he says. "And Matty, he’s a beast. I don’t know anyone who works harder on drums.”
Pritchard says the band’s heavy garage sound is influenced by the likes of T. Rex and Nirvana, and has been described as sounding like “the Stooges gangbanging the Beatles.” Getting the sound right took priority over recording an album, Crain says. They focused on playing live shows, and the band estimate they've played around 300. But now they have Black, their first album, in hand — it's on cassette tape, actually — and they all feel it has been worth the wait.
DEAD MOCKINGBIRDS perform with Sealion, Party Static and Pearl Earl at 8 p.m. Friday, February 26, at RBC, 2617 Commerce St., rbcdeepellum.com, $8