by Ari Roth
The Nearly Deads may be an unsigned band, but they have a huge, deeply devoted fanbase, many of whom were gained through years of dedicated touring, including high profile spots on Warped Tour. When I talk to vocalist and frontwoman Theresa Jeane – or TJ – she’s at the beach visiting family, and she sounds excited and upbeat when discussing the band and their new album, the recently released Invisible Tonight.
In fact, the band wasn’t always unsigned: they were briefly signed to StandBy Records last year, and the turbulent split from the industry influenced the path that the new record would take. Jeane says that “a lot of our fans know that it’s kind of a long time coming. We were signed to a record label, and we were recently in the process of separating the agreement. We weren’t really happy, and we love to be DIY, so we’ve been through a lot as a band over the past year, just dealing with those trials and tribulations.”
She further elaborates that the sense of invisibility – hence the title – that she felt during this period heavily impacted the direction of the lyrics that she ended up writing. She explains that “a lot of the songs on Invisible Tonight are about the struggle of being a female frontperson, feeling like my voice wasn’t getting heard, and I was getting lost in the shuffle, not just musically, but business-wise and industry-wise. Instead of letting it defeat me and bring us down, making us give up or quit or the band breaking up, we turned it into this positive experience.”
Indeed, while the lyrics deal with frustration, the album as a whole also feels triumphant, channeling anger and that sense of invisibility into something greater. Jeane concurs, “we made this album so that I could go out and say ‘this can be hard, this can be stressful, it’s a lot of hard work, but at the end of the day, we’re still out here doing it, making this music and talking about those experiences.’ We’re overcoming all of those obstacles.”
Consequently, the band is suffused with “an air of positivity,” and Jeane says that they “see the challenges as a learning opportunity – like how we signed with a label, and then we decided that that wasn’t what we wanted to do – we looked at it in a positive light, which is the theme of Invisible Tonight. The record is about a lot of those things.”
Much of that sense of triumph can be ascribed to the playing of the band as a whole, which Jeane describes as “a little more grunge, with a little more punk-influence shining through” this time around. On the album, there are echoes of early Paramore and Jeane favorites The Distillers, along with other influences from slightly farther afield. This might have something to do with the collaborative, team songwriting process in the band, between Jeane and lead guitarist Steven Tobi.
On their collaboration, Jeane says, “I couldn’t do it without him. he’s influenced by Smashing Pumpkins and Coheed and Cambria and things that are more progressive, darker and edgier, whereas I’m influenced by pop vocalists and punk rock. That coming together makes the Nearly Deads sound.” From there, the songs are developed by the group – also consisting of Josh Perrone on drums, Kevin Koelsch on bass and Javier Garza Jr. on rhythm guitar – both in rehearsals and at the studio.
This last process often brings about crucial and unexpected creative decisions due to the freedom that comes with the ability to rerecord and experiment. Jeane describes how “the best part about being in the studio is that the creativity is allowed to flow out because you can do something and then say, ‘you know what? Try something crazy. Try a crazy guitar solo, something that you’d never think to do,’ and it ends up being perfect and magical. Even some mistakes turn into the best parts of the songs. On “Brave”, there’s a chord that Steve played wrong in the studio, and everyone said ‘oh my gosh, that’s brilliant! We’ll change the whole last chorus and put this major key in there.’ It started from a little mistake, and sometimes those are the best happy accidents.”
Along with the split from a label came the challenge of self-funding, for which the band has turned to Kickstarter, with resounding success. Jeane enthuses, “we are so grateful to every single person who donated, every single fan who has our back, we were blown away. A couple of years ago, when we were doing our first national tour, we did an IndieGogo, and we raised $5000, and this time we chose Kickstarter, and we raised $13,000, and that was just unbelievable to us.”
Jeane sees this as indicative of a wider shift in the relationship between bands, labels, and especially fans. She says, “a lot of people don’t realize how much stuff costs if you fund it yourself, vs. having a label front you the money, but I honestly do believe that now more than ever fans actually do understand, because a lot of huge bands are going sans label. They’re separating with their labels, or their dropping, or they’re not happy, and they’re doing it themselves, and it’s more transparent now.”
She elaborates that fans are attracted by the unmediated connections that platforms like Kickstarter foster between a band and their fans, telling me that “people understand the costs involved and they want to help, they want to be involved, because they know that their money comes directly to us – there’s no middle-person – and so we can use the money for what we want to use it for, and make those decisions, and call those shots. That was something that we were lacking when it came to the label. We’re just happy where we are now!”
The central quality that has allowed the band to be so independent is their rabid fanbase, the so-called “Zombie Nation”, a testament to the band’s commitment to both touring heavily and reaching out to their fans through social media. Jeane laughs, “we have the best fans in the world! I’m sure every band says that, but if you send us a Facebook message, I read them, and I answer them. We answer our emails ourselves, we run our Twitter, our Instagram, everything ourselves. That’s what builds the dedication. We would be nothing without them! We have 274 backers for our campaign, and I would never think, even a few years ago, that that many people would care.” With the release of Invisible Tonight, the Zombie Nation is poised to grow significantly.
The rest of the year will include a nationwide tour, along with a new music video for “I Said” (the followup to their last, the “Never Look Back” video, which got 6.5 million views on Youtube), and even the beginnings of a new album, as Jeane says that, “because this album took us so long, we’re already chomping at the bit to get the next record started.” Amid all of this, you can be sure that The Nearly Deads will keep on hitting the road, “getting in the van and sweating it out” to play for their hardcore Zombies, and infect some new ones along the way.