Interview: Dead Elvis and His One Man Grave
When I first began my journalistic series on the world’s one-man bands I came across an artist who goes by the moniker Dead Elvis. In every photo I've seen of him, he has sported a white, Vegas-era Elvis Presley outfit, as well as a latex rockabilly zombie mask which looks for the world like the King himself after years in the ground. Hence the full name of his project: Dead Elvis and His One Man Grave. Suffice to say, his getup caught my attention immediately. But there was something to him beyond the novelty of his costume. And that was the music.
Dead Elvis’s songs are short bursts of catchy, energetic rockabilly and primitive rock’n’roll, almost certainly like something the King would play if back from the grave, only with a punk rock edge. And where the King had a tremendous mainstream fan base, Dead Elvis has gained a fairly substantial underground following of his own in recent years. It wasn’t for lack of working for it, though, as Dead Elvis has been featured on a few different compilations and released several pieces of 7” vinyl on such labels as Squoodge, Luna Sounds, Hoarse, Kizmiaz, and Rock N Roll Purgatory. He has also toured extensively through Europe, China, Japan, and South America. And he just keeps on going, with no sign of slowing down whatsoever..."takin' care of business from the grave," as he says. Not too shabby for a dead man.
Dead Elvis has always stayed true to the one-man band formula, opting to go it alone rather than take on fellow musicians to create his signature sound. Truly, it is impressive what he does with only his guitar, a partial drum kit, and his voice. It's a sound comprised of high treble distortion with a slight crunch and a bit of echo, the boom of the kick drum, the snap of the snare, and a deep, smoldering hellfire vocal delivery.
Sometime in 2010, having strictly adhered to the vinyl-only format that he has always favored above all else, he chose to release an album on CD, at last, for the fans without record players. Dig ‘Em Up! is the title of the album, which is appropriate considering it is a collection of songs that previously appeared spread out on his numerous vinyl releases. With fourteen songs in all, “Monster Under Your Bed,” “50 Gallon Drum,” “Deadman,” “Long Gone Dead and Gone” and “Shake It” are just a few of the more notable songs on the album.
Now, for those diehard Elvis Presley fans who may consider Dead Elvis's endeavor a travesty or a mockery, it is neither of those things...according to Dead Elvis, at least. In fact, in March of 2010 a writer by the name of Morgan Short published an interview he did with Dead Elvis, during which he broached that exact topic. In reply, Dead Elvis said, "Actually, I've had two or three people mailing me, saying, Ahh, this is not normal what you're doing, this is a disgrace! You're taking the piss with Elvis! But, you know, if you don't get the joke then I don’t know -- don’t look at the MySpace. [Laughs.]
Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing this rock’n’roll monster, Dead Elvis. And I have included the content from that interview for you here in its entirety.
As is often the case in my interviews, I would like to begin with an introduction, so to speak, an informative summary of Dead Elvis as not just a rock’n’roll monster from the grave but as an individual, a human being of this vast and crazy world in which we live?
Sometimes I think I am one of the few crazy ones in a world which is too damn normal!
Like a handful of other interesting one-man bands out there today, namely Bob Log III (with his cannonball stuntman jumpsuit and helmet with attached telephone as microphone rig), and Reverend Beat-Man (with his priestly garments), you seem to have developed a rather unusual way of presenting your sound to the people. Of all things, how did you come up with the Dead Elvis moniker and act?
Well, it just suddenly hit me! At first I thought about getting some friends together and calling it “Dead Elvis & the Undertakers” or “Dead Elvis & the Gravediggers” or something. But after some consideration I realized I could better do it alone. Sometimes I have a very obsessive way of working, and I am a bit too creative. Working with other band members would just slow me down. Alone I am free to do what I want. I make my own music, record covers, websites, posters, videos, and all other artworks. I like doing that stuff and it saves me a lot of time and cash. When I had the idea to make it a one-man band, the name "Dead Elvis & His One Man Grave” was the first thing I came up with. After that it all went pretty darn fast! Sometimes I'm still amazed about the impact the name has on people.
For the longest time you released your recordings strictly on vinyl format. Only now with your latest release “Dig ‘Em Up!” are you releasing your songs on CD as well. Why did you choose vinyl for your first several releases? And why are you adding CD’s into the mix now?
Yes, I have only released vinyl, as I totally dislike CD's. For me they are like throwaway lighters or something, so I never bought them and I never really wanted to release any. But nowadays many people don’t own them record players anymore and many people ask me for a CD. So I have decided to press the “Dig ‘Em Up!” album on CD soon. If a fan wants a CD, who am I to say he cannot? Everybody should be able to enjoy my music on whatever machine they want.
You are undoubtedly one of the most mysterious artists I’ve ever done an article on. That is, I can usually find an abundance of information scattered across the web about most bands and singer/songwriters, but with you…it’s like only your Dead Elvis character exists and no one is behind the mask. When a place of residence is mentioned is invariably states you reside in Disgraceland (as opposed to Presley’s Graceland). Nothing about you personally ever surfaces. Hell, nothing vague comes up, for that matter. Is the mystery surrounding you intentional, or did things just sort of happen that way?
Well, I never give out much information about myself, and I normally don’t let people make pictures of me without the mask. When people ask me where I'm from I just make up something like Disgraceland, Legoland, or I just name any country that comes to mind. Sometimes after shows, when people come up to me and ask me if I was the dead guy on stage, I usually tell them that Dead Elvis is in the hotel and I’m just the roadie or the merchandise dude. I don’t know, it is kinda fun to keep the people in the dark, and I think my personal stuff has got nothing to do with Dead Elvis. But unfortunately, sometimes I can’t keep hidden who I am. A dead guy also has his needs, and I wouldn’t want all them beautiful woman fans to pass me by because they think I’m the damn roadie.
More and more we are seeing a rise in the number of lads and lasses taking the one-man band path, some of them very talented, like Reverend Beat-Man, Bloodshot Bill, Phillip Roebuck, Urban Junior, Pete Yorko, Sheriff Perkins, and so on. Obviously the One-Man Band community is expanding, just as the craft itself is evolving. It’s a very exciting time in underground and independent music, and you are at the very center of it, it seems. What are your thoughts and feelings on the one-man band phenomenon going on in the world today?
Yes, it seems I’m in the very center of a rapidly expanding worldwide one-man band scene. It is amazing how many cool new OMB's have hit the surface! You have to check out The Fly and His One Man Garbage from Japan; he’s got some killer stuff going on down there! I know a lot of one-man bands all over the world and I have come to realize that most of them are very active/creative people, all of them working very hard to play shows and get stuff out there. Sometimes it really feels like a big worldwide family of the crazed! Like I said before, the good thing about being a one-man band is that you don’t have to wait for other band members, so you can get stuff done. I think this makes the one-man band scene a very different and more active scene altogether, and I can only say I’m very glad to be part of it!
You evidently tour quite a bit. What are some of your most memorable moments as a live performer on the road or at your shows?
Since I got out of my grave, everything went really fast. I released a lot of records and went all around the world to play shows. I have been able to do things I would have never dreamed to be possible. It has been like an unstoppable roller coaster ride with too many memorable moments to mention. A few Highlights for me are my two China tours, my Japan tour, Istanbul Turkey, and Oulu Finland (which is 120 miles from the polar circle where it was about -22F/-30C outside!).
What bands and/or singer/songwriters were most influential to you as a singer/songwriter and musician?
I see my one-man band as a bad B-movie in music, and I write songs about that. So as a singer/songwriter I am mainly influenced by this imaginary movie. Dead Elvis is not a normal band like any other, so I don’t treat it as such. As a musician, there are a lot of artists that definitely had influence on my music, like The Cramps, Hasil Adkins, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Bo Diddley, Johnny Burnette, Charlie Feathers, and a lot of others. But I think that if I would have never heard Jack Starr's "Born Petrified" record, I would have never come out of my grave. That album is just great!
Is the Dead Elvis endeavor your primary gig? That is, it seems like you tour a lot, going to places like China, all over Europe, and so forth, and you put out a fair number of recordings on small, independent labels. It’s difficult to see how you would have time to do much else.
Yes, my one-man band is my primary gig at this moment, and I haven’t got much time to do anything else. But I think that If I would have time for other stuff, I wouldn’t know what to do.
Now that your Dig ‘Em Up! album is in the works and you have just visited China and Japan, what do you have in the works for the future, aside from more of the same…you know, any new material, side projects, switching labels, doing your own label, etc?
Yes 2011! First of all, the Dig ‘Em Up! CD will be released. After that I will record a new album for Luna Sounds Germany, which will be released somewhere in May. I assume I will also release a few new 7”s on Squoodge Records Germany. There will be a South America tour coming up in March/April, during which I will visit Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. I will go back to China and Japan again, and I’m working on several European tours and shows in countries like UK, Finland, Germany and Croatia. I guess it will be a busy year…
Lastly, if there’s anything I failed to cover or anything you would like to express, etc, please feel free to do so now. The floor is yours, dead man.
Just wanna thankyaverymuch for this interview and for promoting the one-man band scene!!!
*originally appeared at Examiner.com (by National One-Man Band and Roots Music Examiner James G. Carlson, 2011.