For their first new music since 2017’s “Welcome to the End of the World” EP – to say nothing of the fact that it’s 35 years since their first LP, 1985’s “Big Lizard in My Backyard,” and the single “Bitchin’ Camaro” – Philly’s The Dead Milkmen pull off a neat trick.
Not only do they craft a frenzied, relevantly au courant cover version of Heaven 17’s 1981 anti-fascism anthem “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang,” together with a dark wave new original song, “A Complicated Faith” for a new 7 inch single. Dead Milkmen Rodney Anonymous, Joe Genaro, Dean Sabatino and Dan Stevens do the “Groove Thang” solely for the benefit of the Philly benefit record label, The Giving Groove, and donate all label profits to a 501(c)3 music-related charity; namely Girls Rock Philly, the local youth-centered organization dedicated to building an intergenerational community of girls, women, and trans and gender non-conforming people.
Whether its for charity or just the chance to hear anything fresh from The Dead Milkmen, “Fascist Groove Thang” is a great gift. dosage MAGAZINE and I spoke with Rodney Anonymous about giving and grooving.
A.D. Amorosi: I have a bunch of why why whys for you. I’m a Heaven 17 fanatic. Why re-record “Fascist Groove Thang?”
Rodney Anonymous: Me too. I’m a big fan of Heaven 17 and Martin Ware’s work. When The Dead Milkmen play live, the last song of the regular part of our set… We like to stop halfway through that song and break into a cover. I usually get to be the guy among the four of us to choose the cover or work it out. It flips around. I don’t usually listen to older stuff, but, that song just came up, and sounds super fresh. Obviously. It’s a great song for the band because you can play around with the lyrics, and make them contemporary obviously – something we couldn’t do when we recorded “Fascist Groove Thang” as Martin Ware asked us not to change them while we were securing the rights for the song. If we changed the lyrics, everyone would change the lyrics.
A.D. Amorosi: Ware wouldn’t let you change the lyrics. What lyrics would you have had?
Rodney Anonymous: “Trump’s a white supremacist/A fascist god in motion/Putin tells him what to do.” When we do that bit live, it always gets a big response. The audience likes that. You can sense that they want someone to say that, so we said it. That is probably the reason that I will wind up being taken away in an unmarked van someday. But that’s what we like to do.
A.D. Amorosi: Why? Do you have other occasions to reminisce about when it comes to poking the bear, the mule or the elephant?
Rodney Anonymous: One time that comes to mind is when we played down in Alabama and continuously made fun of Roy Moore – a whole set busting on him. This was before the Senate reelections down there. The audience went crazy for it, as they had to deal with him forever. Hey, when Christopher Hitchens went on tour, he always got his best reception down South. People in the Deep South are so tired of being pegged or stereotyped as these ignoramus hillbilly rightwingers. If you’re a decent person living in a town full of horrible people, you can’t wait for someone to arrive and point at the horrors and say this ain’t right.
A.D. Amorosi: Where did you record this?
Rodney Anonymous: Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo set up a makeshift recording studio, Joe’s Garage, and we were the initial test subjects for the space. We did that song, and to get that percussive stomping sound, I put cat litter on a board in my basement and jumped on that. We recorded that like 70 times as I sampled that. I remember that moment because I had cat litter all over my basement for a very long time.
A.D. Amorosi: Why go with The Giving Groove and Girls Rock Philly as the recipient of the single’s proceeds?
Rodney Anonymous: They contacted us when we did our last record, and we always like the idea of giving 50% of what you do to charity. It just seems right. I’m a firm believer in that. I keep seeing charities where they want to arm young men with guns. That’s not a revolutionary idea. What is, is giving women instruments. If you do that, they’ll probably come up with something awesome. I’ve heard horror stories about women who were discouraged from playing music, learning an instrument. That’s terrible. I went to a Girls Rock Philly live showcase, and it was incredible. It all sounded so post-punk. And the parents? I can’t imagine how cool they must have thought that moment was. I’m a big fan of handing people instruments and seeing what happens. If if they never go on to be musicians, they get to learn how to get in front of people. That takes guts. That changes lives.
A.D. Amorosi: Why “A Complicated Faith?” That’s a new original song for you guys.
Rodney Anonymous: I don’t think it’s that original. I ripped off Depeche Mode for it.
A.D. Amorosi: Does this mean that The Dead Milkmen is working on new music?
Rodney Anonymous: We were until COVID hit. We did like 10 or 12 songs that we finished. We could do this thing where we virtually send the tracks to each other, but, the other guys in the band are much more in favor of being in person. They like doing everything live in the studio. Maybe they just figure that I will pull a palace coup and re-do everything on my own at home. But we had these songs finished which is why we had this song ready to give Giving Groove. We do this thing where we get into a studio, and bank songs, and this was a piece of a much larger process. We like feeling out studios. We knew we were onto something with those two tracks when a snake crawled into the studio. Success!
A.D. Amorosi: It is like 35 years since “Big Lizard in my Backward.” What, if anything, connects the Dead Milkmen of that moment to the Dead Milkmen of 2020?
Rodney Anonymous: Absolutely nothing. That was a bunch of rowdy 19-year-olds, and now the bulk of us are pushing 60. A band should never be the same thing now that they were then. I think we hunted those younger people down and killed them so to become different people. If I listen to that album now, there is nothing I relate to. And we have to play those songs live. That first album is an alien concept to me now.