Interview with Dead Bars vocalist John Maiello and drummer C.J. Frederick | By Kayla Greet
In 2010, vocalist John Maiello relocated from New Jersey to Seattle and, among other things, tried to start a band. “Long story short, that band never went anywhere, and I realized I wanted to front my own band,” he remembers. After a few false starts, teaching himself to play guitar, and fretting about whether his songs were good enough, Maiello found the motivation he needed. “I saw a band called So Pitted, and honestly, they were the worst band I had ever seen in my entire life,” he admits. Because of that experience, he figured, “If they could do it, I could do it.” Thus, Dead Bars played their first show in March 2013. “Now, So Pitted is on Sub Pop. I have no idea what I’m doing,” he says.
Drummer C.J. Frederick—who joined shortly after that first show—vouches that So Pitted are much better now, and Dead Bars have “nothin’ but love for them.” After things between him and his previous band, Big Eyes, fizzled out, Frederick wanted to start playing music again. Both Jersey natives, the two gelled well early on, and drumming for the band has introduced Frederick to new friends and great experiences. He states, “If it wasn’t for Dead Bars, I’d probably be living in the middle of nowhere by myself and/or homeless by now.”
With a name like theirs, and having penned songs like “Funhouse Monday”—an ode to a now-closed bar and punk rock staple of Seattle—one might think “Dead Bars” refers to losing venues, but Maiello shares that the name comes from how he likes drinking in dives with no one else around.
Dead Bars’ songs are simple and catchy. They’re about house parties—“Party at My House”—the Mariners baseball team—“Los Marineros”—and the kindness of people at shows—“Earplug Girl.” “It’s such an absurd concept for a song,” Maiello confesses. “A stranger gave me her used earplug in a mosh pit, because I was covering my ears.”
While Maiello started playing music when he was only 14—he’s now 30—it was mostly as a drummer instead of a frontman. He recounts that he sang for a hardcore band called Mi Barrio, but this is the first time he’s been the primary songwriter. “I try to sing, I just don’t really know how,” he admits. Dead Bars are often summed up as a pop punk band, but Maiello’s vocal style is equal parts melodic, ferocious, and gritty.
After five different EPs and splits, Dead Bars finally released a full-length record called Dream Gig in March via No Idea Records. “I never thought anybody would understand this band, so the fact that a cool record label asked us to make an album is really fucking awesome,” Maiello enthuses. It’s also, in a way, how they found one of their members after a lineup change. “[Bassist Jon] Oddo literally sent me an email that said, ‘Application for Dream Gig,’” Maiello remembers. “Our band could be your life.”
Frederick—who has been playing shows all over North America for close to two decades—thinks that, over that time, not much has changed in DIY counter culture. “Nostalgia makes folks feel like they experienced the ‘best’ of something,” he states, “and when that feeling goes away, they are convinced it’s over for everyone.” But when it comes to the idea of a “dream gig,” Frederick says, “It’s not about the bands or the venue or really anything other than the feeling of accomplishment from achieving your goals and seeing your ideas come to life.” In that sense, Dead Bars played their dream gig long ago and will continue to do so at every show.
Though nothing is set in stone yet, Maiello assures that Dead Bars will make appearances on both coasts at some point this year—though Frederick opines, “Touring sucks and is bad for you, but I guess I’ll do it anyway.”