UTG INTERVIEW: Reggie & the Full Effect @ Middle of the Map Fest

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What do you get when you put 90s punk/emo, 2000s screamo and songs about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into a centrifuge? You get James Dewees. The keyboardist for various bands such as The Get Up Kids, My Chemical Romance, and New Found Glory and the lead man for his own project, Reggie and the Full Effect, proves that a real artist can transcend styles, genres and expectations, all while making music for the masses.

His infectious personality is the perfect example of what it means to not take life so seriously, but you can still be respected in your field and be one of the best.

Under the Gun had a chance to sit down with Dewees and pick his brain in his hometown of Kansas City at Middle of the Map Fest as we discussed his latest album, Korean revenge films, My Chemical Romance, The Get Up Kids and what’s down the road for his multiple projects.

Thanks for taking some time to sit down and talk with me. I know you’re super busy this weekend.

James Dewees: I’m glad it worked out. It’s weird with doing Reggie tomorrow and The Get Up Kids today, it’s been such a whirlwind of like arranging The Get Up Kids, and arranging Reggie, and getting the gear there, we have to be there tomorrow at like 10 A.M. for sound check. We don’t play till 12:30.

It’s going to be a late night/long day. I’m excited though.

JD: There’s a lot of people I want to go see, a lot of my friends are playing.

Who do you want to see?

JD: I want to see [Josh] Berwanger. I haven’t seen him in so long. I really want to watch Anna Cole. If I looked at the list, I could be like “oh these guys, these guys.” I’ve known Josh for a long time, back when we signed The Anniversary to our label that became part of Vagrant, we all became good buddies. He’s a funny dude.

How’d the tour go?

JD: It was great. Really, really busy cause of all the Kickstarter stuff. Almost every day there were Kickstarter kids coming to the show to hang out, which was awesome. It was so cool to meet everybody. It was like sound check from two to three, Kickstarter stuff from three to five, a little bit of downtime, then usually like press from six to seven, then show.

It’s cool that you did all that Kickstarter stuff for the people that donated.

JD: Yeah, and it was cool to meet all the people that were like superfans that were ready for it to come back. The whole point of it was to see if anybody was even interested in Reggie doing another record, and it was like “Wow, people are really interested. Okay, that’s great!”

How did it all work out?

JD: Good, it’s all done. I think there are a couple things here and there where kids are like, “I didn’t get my record.” OK I have the leftovers. The merchandise is gone. Kid’s are like, “I never got my hoodie,” and I’m like “I have your tracking number, ummm…” We only made a certain amount because that was all the money was allotted for. Like the records and CDs, I’ll send them out.

I’ve always wondered how those things worked out, with like coordination and stuff.

JD: It’s tough. You need a warehouse. I had 1,200 orders. That’s a good pre-order for any band in the first place. Thanks to Blue Collar Distro, some of my good buddies, they let me use their space.

The transition from the last album to this one is a big difference.

JD: Yeah, Crappy Town was about me getting off drugs. This is about me getting back to me.

I was checking out the Kickstarter page and some other stuff, and you mentioned it was about your experience at an apartment where you would hear your neighbors and living around other kids, and that’s what influenced it lyrically. Is that true?

JD: Oh, that was in LA, I was working on the My Chemical Romance record. So I had an apartment in LA, across from the studio where we were working on the record that will never come out. It was all like young Hollywood people, girls that wanted to be singers and dancers, and guys that wanted to be rappers or whatever. And I’m in my late thirties, and all these kids are like 18-21. And they just drove me nuts. It was like, “Yeah, I understand, you’re trying to make it.” But how I made a career out of this was completely different. We went out and just did it. We were lucky enough that it caught on. These kids would be like acting like they’re millionaires and famous. And they’re not. And I’m like, “Yo, you live next door to me; I know how much your rent is. You’re not fucking famous, hold the goddamn elevator. And don’t block the elevator.” And they would look at me like “Who the fuck is the chubby old man, not groomed well.” [laughs]

So that’s not the content?

JD: Oh no, that’s where a lot of the album came from. ‘Cause I started writing the songs–I had a bunch that became MCR songs, and a bunch that weren’t becoming MCR songs, and I’m like “these could be Reggie songs.” It’s really weird. I play the guitar a different style than Ray Toro does. So if I write a part, and give it to Ray, he turns it into an MCR song. But if I keep playing it, it sounds like Reggie. But the chord progressions are all kind of the same.

Well my favorite song on the album is “Revenge is a Dish…” And I think about that song, and I can picture you sitting on your deck hearing this conversation downstairs.

JD: Oh, right on. Well that song is about Netflix. We got instant Netflix, and I just had a tooth pulled, sitting there on Vicodin. And it recommended all these films, and I like Battle Royale and stuff like that, but I had no idea about these Korean revenge movies. So I started watching them all fucked up, and I’m like “These are amazing.” And I started getting addicted to them. The song is basically from the concept of a revenge film. Like “Yeah, I’m going to buy you a car and drive it off a cliff. Then I’ll blow it up in midair just to make sure you’re dead.”

Well, I like that too. There’s just some really funny stuff. It’s lighthearted and fun.

JD: That’s the whole point of Reggie, being able to not take yourself so seriously. Be able to realize that everybody can be a jackass.

You wear it on your sleeve with the songs. It’s fun.

JD: That’s my personality though. You get 100% honesty. I’m like this 24 hours a day. That’s my sense of humor. I write songs about chicken, because that’s what’s on my mind. We were supposed to bbq that day, and I was taking [chicken] out of the freezer to thaw it out, and walking back into the control room like “chicka chicka chicka chicken” like I should make a song like that. And when the rest of MCR showed up to the studio, I was like “Hey, you guys, listen to this song.” And they were like, “Great, another weird song from you; surprise.”

That would be something I’d like to be a fly on the wall for, just to see that.

JD: Watching everyone’s faces smile, and then Gerard just staring at me. I was like, “What, dude? I didn’t waste any time, you guys weren’t here.”

So, I don’t want to talk about MCR hardly at all. But what do you think about the whole departure/breakup thing. Is it weird being with them for so long then watching it all end.

JD: It was weird because, as I got asked to join the band, I had played with them for seven years [already] and was asked to become a member of the band, sign a contract, all that shit, and live in LA for a year working on the record. Seven days a week, ten hours a day, writing music. We have like twenty-six songs that will never be heard. But at the same time, I’ve been their friends for a really long time, and I could see it coming. I mean I went through the first Get Up Kids breakup. Where it was like, I knew Matt was ready to go. So I could kind of tell that Gerard had the signs, like he wasn’t happy, this wasn’t what he wanted to do, he wants to go do other stuff. For me it’s always like, your friends and family comes first. So, I mean, he told me this is what he was thinking, and I was like, “Hey, if this is what you want to do, it’s what you want to do. You shouldn’t force yourself to do something you don’t want to do.” When you hear bands do that, it’s like they’re doing “that.” “Like oh man, they’re not writing good music anymore, they’re doing it just to get paid.” If your heart’s not in it, you shouldn’t be doing it.

We can move on from MCR.

Oh, no, it’s cool, I was definitely interested, but I don’t want to focus solely on it by any means. I appreciate you talking about it.

JD: Yeah, you know. It is what it is. We’ll see what happens in the future.

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For the album, you’ve worked with Matt forever, and Frank (Iero) and Ray (Toro). Hearing Adam Lazarra [Taking Back Sunday] on the record was interesting.

JD: He’s a good buddy. We’ve been friends for a long time. We met because he’s a big Get Up Kids fan and Reggie fan. We met back in 2001.

So, like back to the beginning of TBS?

JD: Yeah. It’s weird ’cause you know The Get Up Kids were a big staple in that scene that became like screamo. All those dudes loved The Get Up Kids. I’d be on tour with Reggie or whatever, we’d just meet everybody, and get along with everybody. And Adam and I became such good friends. Back when Fuse played alternative, we hosted a Fuse movie night together, and we just got wasted watching Fear of a Black Hat. But we’ve kept in touch through all the years, seen each other on the road, come to each other’s shows. And he’s always wanted to sing on a Reggie record. Anthony Green was supposed to sing on the record too. He was another dude that was like “I really want to sing on this,” and I’m like, “Here’s the song.” We just didn’t get the time.

It’s almost hard to hear them. It just combines so well, you almost can’t tell where they’re at. I wanted to ask about Fluxuation and Common Denominator. What’s the inspiration for those and how do you pick what songs they’re going to be on?

JD: There is no plan. It’s really just like sit down for a couple hours with a drum machine and synthesizer. Like the whip cream song, that was something that my friend Chris used to sing when we worked at Winstead’s. So I made that my chorus.

Common Denominator started as a bet with Jess from Coalesce. He was downstairs at my house, when I lived on Valentine, writing a song. And he was down there for like 12 hours. And I was like, “Man, I can write a fucking full song in like ten minutes. Whatever, it’s taking you forever.” So I went downstairs, played the drums, played the bass, and then sang. And for some reason when I did the vocals, it came out like you hear on “Dwarf Invasion.” That recording was done in my basement. I took it back upstairs and was like, “See it took me ten minutes.” That doesn’t work all the time, but when it does, it’s cool. Fluxuation was when I had these electronic songs that I write all the time, because it’s fun. And it’s easy. It’s electronic music. Your computer does all the work. So I wanted to put one on a Reggie record, figured what the hell, and put one on Promotional Copy. I decided this song doesn’t sound good with my voice, so I’ll do a bad British accent and came up with the name Fluxuation, don’t know why, just did. It sounds British, sounds like an electro band.

Drunk Girl at the Get Up Kids Show.

JD: Oh, Amy? God. God bless her. She is so funny. Her husband came out and was like “Stop.” And I said “Okay.”

That’s why it ended?

JD: Yeah. He was like, “Dude, don’t antagonize her anymore, she shouldn’t be doing this. Two records are enough.” “I agree with you, okay, I’ll stop.”

I’ve got to ask. What do you think about Ed Rose being done?

JD: It sucks. And I’m hoping that because of my long relationship with him that he’ll put the headphones back on when I need him. He’s the best. But at the same time, I understand when he’s like “I’ve been doing this so long, my ears are tired.” I get it now. When I’ve been on stage and things are so loud, my ears ring for days afterwards. Being a singer and a performer, you really need to hear what’s going on, and if you’re doing small clubs, you can’t wear plugs. I’m glad he got to do the last Reggie record. He’s like the second co-creator. He’s such a big part of Reggie from the beginning, and of The Get Up Kids, and Coalesce; he’s just a big part of my life.

Is it weird to think your record was the last at Black Lodge?

JD: It’s kind of bittersweet. Ed said the same thing. It was great to end on a high note; a fun note. But who knows anymore? People stop and come back.

Plans for another record?

JD: Oh yeah. It’s already like half way done. I write music every day. So the Floppy Disk-o song [of the new record], I’ve wrote a whole record of songs like that. Floppy disk-o is a song that I didn’t know how to sing. I was at my parents’ house, and on the way back from the studio, I was listening to J.J. Fad (Supersonic), and she was just [spitting fast gibberish] and I was like maybe I could try that, as long as it’s funny, I’m not trying to rap about something serious. I got back home and started writing it. So I go back to the studio and was like “Ed, let me try this.” So I finished it, and was like “Is that okay?” And he was just laughing, “That’s great, dude, it’s really funny.”

So the record is about half done?

JD: Yep. Still have to write the lyrics. All the music is done.

Done touring then and off to finish the record?

JD: Oh no, we’re not done touring. I have to have surgery on my vocal chords. I have a polyp on my right vocal cord. That’s why my voice sounds like this [growls as he says “this”] When I got insurance, Obamacare, I went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, and I asked why my voice is so scratchy all the time. I’ve changed my lifestyle, all that. And she’s like, you have a polyp. So I have surgery in May, out for two months, then some therapy for like a month.

We’re trying to go to Japan. I have a Japanese Full Effect. They’re amazing. They don’t speak English at all, which is awesome. Our emails back and forth are through a translator. This dude Minabo has a translator that translates my emails. We’ve been friends forever and his English is still so bad. He’s like “James, James, yes, we be full Effect” [in an awful Japanese accent]. It’ll be the first time Reggie went proper, we’ve been over there as support, but it’ll be the first time headlining over there. Japanese people love Reggie, because it’s weird.

One more question. What’s going on with The Get Up Kids?

JD: Planning some shows in the future. I think the Matt and James EP sparked a flame in The Get Up Kids to write some new stuff. We’re [Matt and James] actually working on a full-length this summer. I can’t sing, but I still write. I send songs from New York to Matt and he puts words to them. It sounds like Reggie, with Matt Pryor singing. Which kind of sounds like The Get Up Kids, but heavier.

Another Get Up Kids album then too?

JD: It’s in the talks. We don’t know yet. Everyone’s schedules are so busy. As you get older, it becomes the norm. We all have these separate lives, but yet we can come back together and do this, and act like no time has passed.

It’s awesome that there are no hard feelings between everyone.

JD: Oh, of course not. It’s good to take breaks. It’s not good to force yourself to grind, grind, grind. You appreciate it more. And not be like “I hate these fucking songs.” I love these [The Get Up Kids] songs. And I love playing them.

Is everyone pretty excited to play tonight?

JD: Yeah. It’ll be fun. We’re doing a lot of Four Minute Mile and Something to Write Home About.

You just made my day.

JD: I love Four Minute Mile. I wasn’t in the band then, so for me it’s like I’m delivering pizzas again.

Anything else for the record, for the fans?

JD: Thanks.

 
No Country for Old Musicians is out now via Pure Noise Records. Keep your eyes open for more news about future Reggie and the Full Effect plans, Matt Pryor and James Dewees plans and everything regarding The Get Up Kids, as Under the Gun will keep you updated.

Corey From

Corey From, from Kansas City, MO, when not thinking about or listening to music, obsessively thinks about Royals baseball, a platter of ribs (or BBQ in general) and cold beer. Nothing special really.
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