Interview with James Dewees | By Tim Anderl
Conversing with Reggie And The Full Effect mastermind James Dewees is a masterclass in emo, punk, and hardcore history. He’s no slouch when it comes to skateboarding lore either. “I’m sitting in my office across from a signed deck from Tony Hawk and my plane ticket from a trip to Soundwave festival,” he shares. “I was sitting in coach next to his wife and two kids, and he kept coming back to tell them that he was trying to get them upgraded so that they could sit together. And I was like, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Hawk, I’d be happy to trade with you.’ And he was like, ‘That would be the best thing in the world. What’s your name? Are you in a band?’”
“Then, before My Chemical Romance’s set, he came to our dressing room with decks for everyone and talked about skateboarding,” Dewees continues. “This was before the Powell-Peralta movie came out, and he was like, ‘Yo, is there a Rodney Mullen scene? There better be a Rodney Mullen scene where he does freestyle, ‘cause that dude invented everything.’”
Dewees peppers his banter with lighthearted quiz questions—“Answer this question for me: If you had to rate a Minneapolis hardcore band, which of them is more influential, Disembodied or Harvest?”—talks up the efforts of his comrades and friends, and quickly homes in on commonalities that spark a feeling of kinship and brotherhood with his speaking partner. If Dewees weren’t a full-time musician with credits including Coalesce, The Get Up Kids, My Chemical Romance, New Found Glory, Death Spells, and his own undertaking, Reggie And The Full Effect, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him as a salesperson, dominating any given industry with record-breaking commissions.
“I am, amazingly, a full-time musician,” he acknowledges. “It’s been 22 years that I’m doing this. It is weird taking everything we learned to do the wrong way and, then, meeting the younger bands and passing that knowledge down. I always tell them to save their money,” he jokes.
Simply put, Dewees is a Midwestern everyman whose personality lends itself to joviality despite his many accolades. “I was born and raised in Kansas City, and then, I moved to Long Island in 2005 and moved to Buffalo last April. It only takes me about six hours to get to Manhattan instead of 18 from Kansas City. And the guys who do my backup band are in a band called Pentimento, and they’re a Buffalo band. With the new record being done, it just made sense for me to be close. I took Pentimento out on a tour and really loved the band. I asked them if they’d be The Full Effect, and they’ve been the band ever since.”
With his 42nd birthday looming, Dewees is set to release his seventh studio album, 41, on Feb. 23 via Pure Noise Records. The album is his first in four years, the follow-up to 2013’s No Country for Old Musicians. While the record retains some of the same goofy spirit fans have come to love and associate with his revered punk rock project, it seems Dewees is ready to own up to his maturity and experience.
“I had the ideas for the record done but went through some stuff with my mom dying,” he reveals. “Then, my mother-in-law from my ex-wife was going through her chemo treatments and died a month later. It is going to happen to us all, whether it is old age or cancer. Watching that was completely nuts. I look at 41 as my stages of grief: ‘New Years Day’ is about my mom, and ‘And Next With Feeling’ is about watching my mother-in-law die in front of me. That is weird for Reggie. I had all these songs, and then, I didn’t want to write a sad record, but I couldn’t help the words that were coming out. You can’t move forward until you tackle what you are working on.”
Though, as Dewees tells it, there are advantages to aging. “The best part for me is that I don’t have to give a crap anymore,” he says. “I’m not going after Top 40 radio. I’m just allowed to go on tour, and people who like it like it. For me, it is just fun. It’s amazing to me that at 41 years old, I’m preparing for a tour of the United States for six weeks doing my side project band that I started as a joke in 1997.”
“I never did this expecting people to like it,” he adds. “Matt [Pryor] from The Get Up Kids convinced me to do a record. The first time Reggie toured was after [2000’s] Promotional Copy came out, and we did six dates. Dashboard Confessional was opening for me on the Vagrant American tour. I had no expectations. It was a surprise that people actually liked it.”
Dewees seems comfortable both with the new record and his place in the lexicon of a much-maligned genre: emo, including “the emo revival.” “I think it is kind of rad for veteran musicians who helped to create this scene to go out after years and years,” he says. “Some of those dudes cut their teeth the hardest way possible. We were all that scene. Whether you went to a festival to play or to watch bands, that was all our scene, and it was very special to be a part of.”
Though his confidence and self-awareness are at an all-time high, Dewees’ modus operandi is still simple: “I wish there was an agenda [with Reggie And The Full Effect],” he shrugs. “I want to go out and just play new songs for people and have fun. I want to get to know new musicians and to see who is doing fucking awesome now.”
Photo by Alan Snodgrass