Tyler Connolly has a lot to say. During a conversation with Pollstar the singer/guitarist and founder of Theory Of A Deadman talked about his music as well as his blue-collar roots and how the band approaches touring.
But Connolly’s words went beyond the usual band interview. A keen observer, Connolly told us about effects of the economy on the towns he’s visited, describing empty stores and encountering businesses on the brink of downsizing.
Oh, and he also talked about people who hit things for a living. People we like to call “drummers.”
Theory Of A Deadman has played its share of radio station festivals. Some bands have said they’re not too crazy about playing those shows because they have to condense their live experience into three or four songs. What’s your opinion?
The festivals are almost like a day off. It is kind of weird. We’re always kind of forced to play with a band that we wouldn’t necessarily play with in our genre. That’s when you get into the rock genre not really being rock at all. We’re a rock band but we might be no where near the same spectrum as Godsmack and we’re playing a show with Godsmack tomorrow. Godsmack fans most likely aren’t Theory Of A Deadman fans.
So … what do you do? Play heavier tracks? No, play our music. We’re promoting our music … There are pros and cons. Obviously we love the radio station because they play our music and they want us to come and play their festival. But at the end of the day it’s like, “We’re just going to put on a Theory Of A Deadman show. If it’s only 40 minutes and we can only play seven songs then it’s going to be all singles, which is great for us.
Is it tough doing a short performance when you don’t have the 90 minutes to two hours to stretch out?
Yeah. There’s no dynamics. That’s the one thing you miss. If we did an hour-and-a-half show, there’s such a dynamic flow. We put the set together on purpose to kind of ebb and flow. You get fast songs, slow songs, songs that are purposely put in certain areas of the set to gravitate forward. It’s like a movie. When you do a festival in half-an-hour, it doesn’t exist. You just go up there and play six songs and it’s like, “Good night.” It’s not a show, it’s more of a performance, I guess.
As a fan yourself, did you ever go to radio station festivals?
Yeah, I did. I loved them. I love the fact now, though, that I don’t have to do that. I’m obviously still a music fan. I remember being in a mosh pit when I was young and getting a boot right in the temple, like a combat boot or a Doc Martens, and I was like, “This sucks.” It was so hot and stinky, you’re jammed in there. How am I going to get out of here alive? Now I get to watch from the sidestage and it’s great.
How is the current tour treating you and the band?
It’s good. It’s fresh. We were out for over a month and for me that’s too long. I get stir crazy at home. So back on the road feels like home. We’re really busy out here. There’s really no time to do anything. We were in Augusta the other day and some radio station was going, “We can take you on a tour, see the golf course.” And we’re like, “We don’t have time. We got press all day and do the show.” It kind of sucks but at the same time we’re out here to work, we’re not on vacation. It’s all for a cause.
What does it take to move Theory Of A Deadman from one city to the next?
We have 12 people including the truck driver and bus driver. We just have one bus and one semi-truck. That’s about as small as we can get. We tried to make it smaller, but we can’t possibly get any smaller than that. But there are bands in our position that could easily go to two buses and easily go with more crew. But they’re just blowing all their money. The economy is tight and we’re trying to financially tighten our budget. “What do we need to do this tour? Get rid of the egos and just bring what we need.” The fans don’t frickin’ know or care if we’re rolling in five busses or limos. It’s a waste of money.
While on tour are you seeing the effects of the economy on the cities you visit?
For the shows, it all seems about the same. We can see how much merch we sell or how much the promoter is paying us or how many people are coming to the shows. In terms of the cities, we’re definitely seeing it physically. We’ll roll up and see shopping malls [where] three-quarters of the stores are gone.
We were having lunch at a Ruby Tuesday and the waiter came and gave us our bill and she was like, “By the way, this is my last day today. They told us today that they’re closing the Ruby Tuesday tomorrow. We all lost our jobs today.” She was tearing up.
We see it in other aspects, not really at the shows, but we definitely see it in cities. We’re trying to keep our ticket sales low, sell merch for cheap because people do not have money.
It sounds as if you can still remember what it’s like to be a music fan without much money but still paying to see your favorite band.
I grew up in a lower middle class family. We never had money, ever. My parents weren’t putting money away for my college fund. There was no college fund, there was no car, there was nothing. I had to do everything, I learned from just going and getting a job when I was young. Any money I made I used to buy a piece of crap car or whatever. I learned a lot that probably helped with touring today.
A lot of people can see me up on stage and go, “Well you’re rich and famous, what do you frickin’ know about hard times?”
But I was a blue-collar guy and I still think I’m a blue-collar guy. I had a blue collar job for years. I think that’s one of the reasons we connect with that blue collar fan base. I think they can feel the honesty and read through the bullshit.
Where were some of your jobs?
The first job I had was scooping horse shit at a stable and driving a tractor. That was my first job ever. Then I went and cleaned dishes at a restaurant, then I became a cook at a restaurant. I delivered car parts for a few years for a Chrysler dealership. Then I worked at a glass place installing windshields, making coffee tables and putting windows in people’s houses.
All my jobs were blue collar. I never sat behind a desk. Steel-toed boots, wearing Mac jackets, getting my hands dirty. My hands are clean now. It’s kind of funny now because people say my hands are so soft.
Was the guitar your first instrument?
No, drums were, actually … It’s just kind of the coolest thing, everybody wants to be a drummer. It’s kind of like playing in jazz bands, playing saxophone can be the coolest thing to play. In a rock band you want to play drums.
I took drum lessons, had a drum kit, and I hated it. It was just too much, sitting there for an hour going d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d. I hated it. There’s no musicality to it at all, it was all rhythmic and boring.
How does your own drummer feel about that?
He’s a musician which is great. All three of our drummers were musicians which was great. I always say that drummers are just kooky people. It’s weird because they just hit things for a living. All three of our drummers have actually been musicians that can sing and play guitar and write songs. I think there’s a huge difference because I’ve met drummers who just hit things and don’t actually know how to play guitar or sing. They’re kooky people.
How does Theory Of A Deadman approach new material? Do you bring songs to the studio for the band to play, or does the band work up the songs together?
It’s mostly me. I have a studio at home. I mostly come up with the songs and sometimes I’ll demo full songs at home for the band to learn. There are times when someone comes up with a riff. Dave [Brenner] wrote a song called “Sacrifice” on our last record, which is one of my favorites. I just took his guitar riffs and turned it into a song. We’re not like Led Zeppelin where it’s more of a jam situation. I find that in a lot of successful bands it’s always one or two guys. In U2 it’s pretty much Bono and The Edge.
What’s your take on finishing an album and then seeing it censored or sanitized for mass consumption or to be sold in Walmart?
I’m pretty much against it. It is an art form. I don’t use vulgarity or swear in a song unless I feel it’s necessary. I swear a lot in my songs because I swear in real life. I have a potty mouth. I don’t know why I don’t clean up my songs.
The label, of course, is all over it. They’re like, “We can’t sell this in Walmart.” And I’m like, “Walmart? Do they still sell CDs?”
Yeah, they [record label] hate it. They hate the fact that they hear a song and “Oh, God, another F-Bomb we have to get rid of.” And they’ll call me and go like, “Can you guys say something else there?”
And I’m like, “You dumb idiot. Saying another word instead of an F-bomb is like you telling me to change a D chord to something else.”
I just think, like when you break up with a girlfriend, you say, “I hate you,” and it’s like “I flippin’ hate you, too.” No, people don’t say that. They say, “fuckin’ hate you too” and that’s why we say it in the song. It’s just how people react and talk. I think when you watch a movie in the theaters and they swear, and then you see it on TV six months later and you see Arnold Schwarzenegger say something and it’s totally overdubbed, it’s hilarious. You laugh because it’s so cheesy and fake and stupid. No one would ever say that.
Musically, Theory Of A Deadman covers a pretty wide area. There are the driving hard rock songs and then there might be a song that almost falls close to power ballad territory. Do you purposely vary the songs, or do you just write whatever is on your mind on any given day and how the song turns out is, well, how it turns out?
From the very beginning, even before Dave our guitar player joined the band, I was always writing songs that I write today. Then he came to the band and said, “By the way, I’m not playing any of that pussy shit.” He just wanted to play heavy stuff all the time. And I was like, “All right, sure, man.” I don’t have a problem with, maybe, stopping playing ballads. But we’ve slowly been able to get them back into the set and onto the records.
Our first record was kind of dark and heavy. Our second record came out and we had a song on there called “Santa Monica” and it was a huge hit for us in Canada. Probably one of our biggest songs ever. And we started to notice that when we played shows, we’d walk on stage and the first three rows were all girls screaming and shouting out for “Santa Monica.”
And I said, “We figured out something here tonight. Women like songs like that and women are attracted to songs like that and I’ve always loved writing songs like that. So why aren’t we doing that?”
So we started incorporating them more into our music. We saw the fan base grow and a little more women coming to our shows. I’ll tell you, it’s a lot more pleasant staring out at the hot chicks than it is dudes with tattoos on their faces and drinking Miller Lite.
You learn a lot from touring. I’ll tell you, man, that was one of the biggest things we learned. I’ve always say it’s natural what we write. We don’t write ballads on purpose for chicks, but it was a great thing to witness and realize we don’t have to write metal songs all the time.
What don’t you like about touring?
It’s an escape, it’s a drug. Unfortunately, it’s not reality. It’s not a life. We tour so much that we try to adapt it to become our lives, but it’s not one. There are no families out here. There are no pets, no homes, there are no retirement funds, no sailboat to buy and sail off on.
You go home, the drug wears off and reality sets in, then you’re like, “I don’t know who I am right now, I don’t know where I am, I can’t really live.”
That’s the only thing that kind of sucks about touring. It’s really kind of odd. It’s hard to describe unless you do it for 10 years and realize that 10 years have flown by and you don’t know what else there is other than this.
What would you like to tell the world about Theory Of A Deadman that they may not know?
Don’t let the name fool you, I guess because the name sometimes has scared the hell out of people. Don’t let the name fool you. Go pick up our records. Everyone will like it. There’s not going to be one person out there that despises us.
Upcoming dates for Theory Of A Deadman include Allentown, Pa., at Crocodile Rock Café April 20; Watertown, N.Y., at Jefferson Community College April 21; Poughkeepsie, N.Y., at The Chance Theater April 22 and Portland, Maine, at State Theatre April 24. For more information, please visit TheoryOfADeadman.com.