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Interview

She's Still Dead Goes To Cuba; Video Available

The New Orleans horror lovers She's Still Dead may be less than two years in the game, but they are more determined than most bands to make it. The classic thrash metal outfit drenched in a scary movie nostalgia has gained notoriety with their debut album "Immortal, Eternal" produced by the prolific producer and musician J. Yuenger, who is also friends with the guys and becoming the first American metal band to tour in Cuba, including a show at Brutalfest. They have even landed a spot in Rue Morgue Magazine and more. I had a chance to talk to the whole band including J. Yuenger about their incredible work ethic, a new album on the horizon, and their tour of Cuba. A transcription follows the video.

Buick McKane: I must say, you look fantastic. Is everybody going to dress nice or just him?

Cosimo Solo: No, just me.

Buick: I see. So how are y’all doing today?

Kevin Dredge: Getting ready to play a show.

Buick: Excited for Halloween coming up?

Cosimo: Of course, it’s Rocktober.

Buick: I’ve noticed that y’all have only been around for two years. If even, maybe a little bit less than two years.

Kevin: Yeah, we started in 2010.

Buick: But you’ve achieved a lot; you’ve been in magazines, did the tour in Cuba, and that’s really amazing. How have y’all done so much in so little time?

Kevin: We work really hard. This isn’t some sort of hobby. We live and breathe She’s Still Dead. This is something that we’re really passionate about. We wake up and it’s She’s Still Dead. It’s like, “What can we do today to further our career and the band?”

Buick: And you have the one full-length album that came out a while back. So do you have plans for another yet?

Kevin: Yeah, actually, with J. We just finished recording our new record with J. It’s going to be called “Keeper of the Witch.” And we did it at Piety Street Studios in New Orleans, and we’re going to put it out probably in December this year. We’re really happy with how it came out.

Cosimo: Drums on tape.

Kevin: Drums on tape! Yeah, we did a lot of tracks on tape.

J. Yuenger: Everything on tape. Except for vocals.

Kevin: We really wanted to do stuff on tape.

J.: You need to tell people about that. You played that live as a band. Most bands can’t or don’t do that.

Kevin: Yeah, we recorded everything live in the studio. We didn’t do multi-tracking, individual tracking; we did everything as a band right there.

Sean Mooney: Recorded it all in one day.

Kevin: All in one day.

Buick: That is pretty unusual these days. And J., you’re a pretty prolific guy, I’ve heard your name many times over the years. How did you get to know these guys?

J.: Small town, you know? Just met them from around. This is the kind of town where you know everybody when you’ve been here for two weeks, you know what I mean. But I was like, “Classic thrash metal, horror movies, everything that’s good about life! I like these guys.” So we get along really well, vintage horror…we’re fans of all the same stuff.

Buick: It’s Halloween time, perfect time to talk about it, what are your favorite horror movies and why? I want the gory details, literally.

Mark Antee: I like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The old ones, of course.

Kevin: I’m a really big fan of Romero’s “Living Dead” movies. “Night of the Living Dead,” the original “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead.” I’m a zombie horror fanatic, so that’s why I like those movies a lot. I like the classics.

Sean: I’m a big fan of “Pet Sematary.” When it came out I wasn’t supposed to go see it, but I did and it scared the shit out of me as a little kid. Still to this day, there’s certain scenes that are pretty frightening to me.

Cosimo: I love the ‘50s and ‘60s classic Hammer films, when actors actually acted. Horror movies actually had stories, and it wasn’t just about effects. I probably own most of the Hammer movies that have come out, at least in the original run of Hammer.

Buick: How about you?

Taylor: I think it’s Swedish or Finnish, it’s called “Let the Right One In.” That’s a really good movie. I enjoy reading subtitles.

Buick: And how about you? You’re a good friend, so you must like horror movies.

J.: Like Cosimo, I love the classic Hammer movies and I think “The Exorcist” is still the scariest movie I ever seen. Especially if you see it when you’re young and you identify with Regan…almost every woman I know is completely freaked out by “The Exorcist.” And I was never allowed to see it when I was a kid, and I never knew why until I saw it years later and thought, “Oh, Jesus. I’d be a basket case if I had seen this when I was eight.”

Buick: Getting away from horror movies, you did a tour of Cuba. How many shows did you play there?

Kevin: It was supposed to be a six-date tour, but we ended up only playing five because we ran into Hurricane Isaac.

Sean: And we shows scheduled down in Holguin which is way down near Guantanamo.

J.: Like all the way on the east side of the island. And the storm hit that area the day we were supposed to play there so the gig got canceled.

Cosimo: It actually flooded.

Taylor: But that was okay because it was here when we got back.

J.: Then we flew back here and met it again. You don’t understand. We were in Cuba for two weeks, and when you’re American, you can’t use your phone there, and there’s no internet.

Cosimo: No internet, no phone.

J.: We had no idea how bad it was, so we get to Tampa and the Republican National Convention is in the airport. So we’re surrounded by Republicans with signs and buttons. It was already really weird, and we go to get our connecting flight and they said, “No, the New Orleans Airport is closed, so there are no flights.” So I’m like, “Okay, guys. Maybe we should get a motel here and see what happens.” And they’re all like, “No! We’re going.” They weren’t having it at all, so we rented a couple of cars and drive into the hurricane when everybody else was evacuating. Wake up in Havana, Cuba, and all the sudden, you’re on a roadtrip in Florida and in the middle of the night, we get here and there’s a curfew. Cop cars everywhere. We actually made it, trees all over the road, it was insane.

Buick: What was Cuba like?

J.: Like being in the 1950s and there’s no food. And people have nothing. People are incredibly poor. It’s like you’re there…

Cosimo: Far poorer than anything people in America can even fathom. Even the people that are on government assistance, it’s nothing like Cuba. They truly have nothing.

J.: Cuba is good for maintaining your perspective about how you live and be grateful about what you have.

Cosimo: The most beautiful, amazing architecture you could ever imagine, but it’s all crumbling because there’s no money to take care of it.

Kevin: [But they’re] resilient and strong people. A good example is, to keep those vintage cars running for however many years now; they’re old 1950s Chevys driving around, and they still keep them running. So the people there, they make do with what they have, even though they have very little.

J.: We played with metal bands there, and it’s like, “How can there be metal bands when there’s no stores with guitars in them?” People really have to do a lot of work and planning to even get a guitar sent or smuggled into the country somehow. The bands kept on asking us for picks and strings because they don’t have that. It’s crazy.

Buick: So you played with Cuban bands?

J.: Every night.

Sean: Every city there was a Cuban band.

J.: And a lot of the shows were in housing projects. It would be a huge ring of really shitty, Stalin-ist housing projects and a park with a concrete bench. And we’d be playing there in the middle of the night and a thousand people would just creep out of the projects and into the park. It was nuts.

Cosimo: No bathrooms

Sean: No such thing as port-o-potties.

J.: Not very much toilet paper either.

Kevin: Just make do. It felt good playing to them because they were very passionate about metal. They all really love American metal bands. They all had Metallica t-shirts on and Slayer t-shirts. So they were really excited to see us, and it felt good to finally be able to bring American metal to them because they’re never going to be able to see bands like Metallica. They’re never going to see Slayer, and all the bands that we can go see. We take a lot of shit for granted. And it really put things in perspective going to play for these people.

Sean: They were very grateful. They had never seen an American band before. And they were extremely grateful.

J.: Well because you’re the first American band to tour there.

Buick: And how did you set up this tour?

Kevin: I petitioned the U.S. government through the course of a year. I went to Cuba in 2011 with J. I had family there, and we decided to figure out a way to get into Cuba and travel and visit my family. While we were there, we went to an underground rock show. We found out that there was this metal scene there that was actually huge. So I asked them, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we can get She’s Still Dead to play in Cuba?” When I got back to New Orleans after we came back from Cuba, I looked up Brutalfest which they bring in bands from all over the world, but they’ve never brought in an American band for obvious reasons, the embargo. So I contacted the producers of Brutalfest in Cuba and they said that they would love to have us, we just need to figure out a way to get there. That’s when I started this project that when on for close to a year where I had to petition the U.S. State Department and the Department of Treasury and the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and six months into the project, I tried to get us approved to go play in Cuba, get licensed, and they denied us. They were like, “There’s no reason why you should want to go to Cuba. We have an embargo with them.” Basically, they gave me a big middle finger and said. “Fuck you.” So that’s when I got really persistent. I was like, “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t bring our music to them.” We had two weeks before the first show, and I finally gave them one last call and was like, “Look , if you’re going to deny us again then please let me know because we still have to book flights and figure out how to get seven Americans there and the first show is in two weeks. So they said, “Yeah, we’ll figure it out, we’ll figure it out.” And that day, they gave me a call back and said, “You guys are licensed to go.” They sent us an official license in the mail and we were left with two weeks scrambling and running around with our heads cut off trying to figure out a way to get guitars, cymbals…us there. We worked it out. It was a lot of hard work but it meant a lot to be able to do it, and make it happen.

Buick: What else did they tell you, like when people came up, I’m sure, to talk to y’all. What did they seem like? Did they just seem like amazed, happy, grateful? Tell you sad stories?

Kevin: Yeah, all of those things. We heard a lot of sad stories. They were telling us about how, no, they can’t get the bare necessities and if you’re in a band, they couldn’t get drum sticks or they couldn’t get guitar strings.

Sean: You have to be careful about what you talk about.

Cosimo: [The live in] total fear of the police state.

J.: You have to be really discreet.

Sean: Undercover cops everywhere.

Cosimo: No open drug use. Zero.

J.: These guys almost got arrested at the hotel.

Kevin: Mark and Cosimo got detained by the police on suspicion of stealing a cell phone at one of the hotels that we stayed at so that really put a damper on the schedule; we were stuck in our room for three hours. They took the report on a typewriter that pre-dated the revolution. It was crazy.

J.: Was that the same day we hit the horse?

Kevin: Yeah, that was the same day that we hit the horse with the tour bus. Well, the horse didn’t get hit.

Cosimo: The buggy that he was dragging got hit. Everyone was okay.

Kevin: Everyone made it out fine. The horse was fine. The sugarcane cart was obliterated.

Cosimo: The cart was not okay.

J.: It was a pretty rough tour just because they don’t have infrastructure there. We did blowouts on the bus and we hit horses. You get to the hotel and there’d be no power, no running water. It was crazy.

Buick: Well do you have any big plans for more American touring this year or next?

Kevin: We’re getting close to the end of this year, but definitely in 2013, we’re going to be hitting hard.

Mark: We’ll get into SXSW hopefully. We got a documentary that hopefully will be shown there.

Kevin: Yeah, we’re working on the documentary now about the Cuban tour. We have a lot of video and pictures from there. So we’re going to make it into a documentary and hopefully they show it at SXSW. So we’re trying to play there and also we’re going to hit ii pretty hard and do American shows. We made a lot of friends in Cuba with the other bands; the other bands that played were from Europe. And they said, “You’re more than welcome to come play in Europe.” So hopefully we can make that happen as well. Tonight we’re playing with Valient Thor in New Orleans and we’re looking forward to that, that’s awesome.

Cosimo: Viva la Revolution.

Kevin: We got the new record coming out “Keeper of the Witch” coming out this year. We’re stoked about that.

Sean: And thanks for coming to interview us.

buickmckane's avatar

Emily is an avid supporter of the New Orleans scene, often filming shows and conducting interviews with local bands to help promote their music. She also runs her own site dedicated to the New Orleans scene, Crescent City Chaos.

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