Suicidal Tendencies Guitarist Dean Pleasants On The Band’s Return, Legendary Past, Latest Album and Much More!
Since their genesis in 1981, Suicidal Tendencies have been survivors of trends, record labels, categorizations, lineup changes and of course, controversy. It’s enough to exhaust the energies of any NORMAL band but ST are hardly normal and hardly kicking back and chillaxing to close out their jam-packed 2013. The band released their latest, frantic album, “13” earlier this summer, promptly started kicking ass all over the globe and are now set to start the 2nd leg of their U.S. “Slam City” Tour, Nov 27 in California before heading to Europe in the new year. I recently had the pleasure of talking with longtime guitarist Dean Pleasants about the band’s past, his role in Infectious Grooves and of course the new album and touring cycle. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking with us Dean. Let’s start with this latest album “13” which was long-awaited to say the least. Back when I reviewed it I was just so blown away by how much it sounded like classic ST. Given the amount of time you guys spent making it I guess it’s a good thing it turned out so well. Is it also translating good live in your opinion?
Dean Pleasants: (laughs) Yeah, I would say so. We’ve had our ups and down and trials to go through, like everything in life and this album did take a while you’re right. We took our time and really put it through the microscope, as it should be, our fans expect a level of quality from us and with the way the industry is now with CDs and the lack of album sales we wanted to put something out that we felt really had our name all over it and really represented us. The new stuff is definitely working out great live.
LRI: Including the artwork which is killer!
Dean: Yes, big shoutout to our friend from Norway Alan Pirie who works very hard for us. He did a great job with the artwork for “13” and takes great pride in his work. We always like what he comes up with and he always likes working with us, he’s a part of this family for sure.
LRI: Is that a big deal to you? To me, I think it should be a big deal for all bands to really put some thought into packaging, especially with sales the way they are. But then I’m a vinyl freak, pushing 40 and am from that era where physical product meant something (laughs)
Dean: That’s cool, that’s really cool and I totally dig that because I grew up that way too. I think it’s great that now there’s a resurgence in vinyl, especially in Europe. Europeans LOVE vinyl so we’ve seen that first hand. It goes back to, like you were saying, being younger and I think about how I used to know all the names of all the producers and studios before I was even in California. I knew the names of the places like Burbank Studios and Record Plant and all that and it sounds like the weirdest thing to say but that meant something to me, knowing who did what. I don’t know if kids today obsess over the details of the music they listen to as much because everything’s online and so much of their collection’s a digital file but all that stuff meant a lot to me.
LRI: I love the fact that the album is so to the point. Sometimes Suicidal has taken some twists and turns and it’s always interesting but the production on this sounds exactly like what we all would expect from ST. How did (producer) Paul Northfield and (frontman/producer) Mike Muir split that work?
Dean: We work with Paul and he’s kind of a jack of all trades. He’s an engineer, producer and sound guy in addition to being a close friend. He’s worked with RUSH, Courtney Love, Dream Theater and all kinds of different people and he’s really good at getting sounds and hearing things. The songwriting process for this band is great but sometimes you just have to put things in the right perspective or put certain parts in the right place and that’s where having that other set of ears comes in helpful. Paul is really open to the band and it’s kind of a collaborative thing and that’s the sound that we’ve been used to. We’ve used Paul before and he seems to get where we’re coming from.
LRI: When you see Suicidal live on tour now or even on the new record it’s still the right experience, with all respect to all of the awesome people who have been a part of the band you can get lost in the experience and don’t find yourself longing for the original members of the band. Are you guys cognizant of keeping that original spirit of the band alive even though guys like Robert and Rocky aren’t there, just the fact that you wanna honor that or not tarnish that?
Dean: Yeah, and that’s a valid point, a good point. We don’t do it as a straight point or make an effort like “Ok, we need to sound exactly like this or that” or anything but we did say “Ok, let’s do these songs the way we did them a long time ago as in let the rhythm guy do his thing, the drummer do his thing and the guy who does the solos do his thing which kind of gives it that old Suicidal sound. Back when Mike Clark was doing his rhythms, Rocky would be free to do his solos, Robert would have his moment and everyone had their space to do their thing. We recorded that way, that same kind of formula on a few of the songs and you can really tell. Some of the other songs (on the record) you can tell we were all in the room and we wrote together and played it together if it worked that way but in a lot of ways we keep it real comfortable for everyone to do what they do best.
LRI: I was at some of the ST shows when the band opened for Queensryche on the Empire tour in the early 90s and I know the power of that lineup. Were most of the guys in the band now fans of the old Suicidal?
Dean: It’s funny you mention those Queensryche shows. I was at a few of those shows with Mike (Muir, ST vocalist) because he invited me back then when I was in Infectious Grooves. When I first moved to California it was like 1985 or 86 and I was in Santa Monica and I heard all these stories about Suicidal and I had seen the “Institutionalized” video in the movie “Repo Man” and it was one of my favorite songs and I had never seen a band that looked like that. As irony would have it, a friend of mine named Robert Trujillo who was in a garage band with me would end up getting into Suicidal Tendencies. He told me that if there was ever anything that came up he would call me. One day he called me and told me they were doing this side project, it wasn’t even called “Infectious Grooves” yet but he called me about that and asked if I would be into it. I was called in to play some guitar and that’s actually how I met Mike and back then it was kinda funny to me like “Oh, this is the guy who’s in Suicidal” (laughs). Years later, I was asked to join when the band had broken up and everybody kinda went their own ways of course but yeah, definitely I was a person who had listened to them in the early years. I loved the uniqueness of the band. There were tons of punk rock bands and heavy bands but no one who sounded like ST or who looked or dressed like them for that matter.
LRI: You’ve been in the band since 97 but this new lineup has been winning fans over show by show and each of you guys definitely have your own style, is Mike pretty open to you guys letting your own personalities shine through?
Dean: Yeah and it’s funny how this lineup arrived. Nobody was ever like “hand-picked” it just kinda like fell together, we knew people and when certain people were needed they just kind of fell into place and it’s definitely a funny thing. You know, you go through growing pains and you can never, like you said, never disregard the old lineup. You look at guys like Mike, Robert, Rocky, Clark and they all had their own unique, cool look. I don’t think Mike ever, ever considered “Hey, I gotta get guys who look like this” as far as bringing in guys like myself, Eric (Moore, drums), Nico (Santora, Rhythm guitarist) or Tim (“Rawbiz” Williams, bassist). Just like back when the other guys like Robert, Mike and Clark came in the band, Mike was aware that everyone coming in this time had something to bring to the table. The beautiful thing about is that punk rock comes in all kinds of shapes and forms, you don’t have to have a mohawk or conform to a certain way of looking to be punk rock. We’re like the skater, extreme sports looking guys but some guys aren’t and that’s fine because that’s the whole thing with it, there are no laws.
LRI: I wanted to ask you about one of my favorite songs on “13” which is the track “Life”. How did that song come together?
Dean: “Life”, wow that was one that was kind of around for a while, it was a song that we didn’t really know what to do with at one point. I’ve actually been working on a solo record and I started playing something from that lead there and Mike just took it and ran with it you know, he wrote these great lyrics and it took off from there. It turned into such a powerful, ethereal kind of song. Some people can think “Oh, this song or that song’s not Suicidal” but to me, anything with a powerful message and heartfelt musicianship is Suicidal. That’s how I feel about it and that’s how I feel about that song for sure.
LRI: Obviously Mike Muir has changed over the years as we all have but that sense of humor is still such a huge part of the band, are you still reminded of that every day when he brings in lines like “Can someone please get me a Diet Pepsi”?
Dean: He is so funny (laughs). I will just look at him sometimes and think “Yep, that’s why we call him Cyco Miko”. He’s always gonna be that guy and he’s always gonna be that guy who loves music, more than I think some people realize. I think that love for music in general is what keeps him going and gives him that tremendous drive and passion to keep going. He really wants to be the best and he really has something to say. Some people say “I still have something to prove” and it’s all like for the wrong reasons but I think Mike has something to prove and it’s still for the right reasons. I think he still just wants to show the world that there is an alternative to the same old thing on the radio all the time, not saying that we’re the end all/be all of it but he definitely wants to show that we have something to say, that we’re not just some manufactured product and he still wants to be heard. I really respect that intent and I really respect that drive.
LRI: You’ve played with a wide variety of people, everyone from George Clinton to Jessica Simpson and are capable of a lot of different styles, do you enjoy guitar playing from a lot of different angles?
Dean: Yeah, I do. I’ve been very lucky in my short little life to have worked with so many talented people. I came from Texas and moved out to California and started doing sessions for people, including some of the people you are naming, I played with the Jacksons and legendary funk groups like Atlantic Starr but I always wanted to play rock and roll so when I got into Infectious Grooves it was like really a chance to showcase that but also all the other things that I knew and Mike was the person who allowed that to happen for me. I was in other bands and had record deals but wasn’t allowed to really play this way. I would have taken little or no money to be allowed to stay in the bands I was in and be able to thrive and grow and play but that didn’t happen until I met Mike. So yeah, having those different styles and backgrounds in my playing really payed off when it came time to play with Suicidal and Infectious. Still, it was definitely a challenge and another learning experience just as it had been in all of the other bands.
LRI: You were a part of that initial burst with Infectious and all of the attention that came with that and you know first hand just how passionate ST fans can be. Having said that, has it been difficult dealing with the fans on the internet as far as the delays in Suicidal coming back? Was there ever a point where it felt like you needed to just ignore the pressures and message board mentality and get out and tour with it?
Dean: It’s funny because you try not to pay attention to things or let things hurt your feelings or whatever or discourage you. That’s a really good subject you bring up and a good question. When I was brought in, when I was no longer in Infectious but became a member of Suicidal people said things like “Oh, I liked your playing in Infectious but I don’t know if you’re right for Suicidal” or “Everything you play sounds just a little too funky for Suicidal” so I actually changed the way I was playing in Suicidal because I thought to myself “Well, maybe that’s true’. I had to take a look at myself and ask if I was maybe bringing too much of my own Infectious Grooves style over to Suicidal so as far as I stood that was a valid question. As far as the other part of your question, yes there was a lot of questioning as far as “Ok, what’s going on here guys, what are you doing, why is this taking so long?” but I think it was up to us to stay focused. We always knew we had a vision in sight as far as bringing the band back and releasing this record. We didn’t know it was gonna be called “13” or any of that but we had this vision and these songs and when you have that it’s easier to stay focused on what matters and look past some of those “not so nice” comments you know (laughs). At the same, like you said the fans are passionate and they are amazing as we’ve seen in all of our travels and playing these shows. Everywhere we play we are just blown away by the people who turn out and how loyal they are sometimes to the point of me looking at out them like “Wow!” with tears in my eyes. Sometimes it can be such an emotional burst just getting up there and looking out at our fans whether it’s a huge place like that show in Brazil where we shot the video or even the smaller places where people pack the place with the same energy and power. It’s an instant gratification and all of your ailments immediately go away when you can release yourself up there and give and take that great feeling with the crowd, that exchange of energy. It creates memories that can last forever for both them and us and that’s a wonderful thing that we get to do and we can never forget how blessed we are to be able to do that. It’s great being out touring for this record because we waited so long to get the record out and now it’s like “Ok, here it is, here we are” and we get that chance to back it up and represent it. I love every minute of it.
Slam City Fall/Winter Tour 2013
Wed/Nov-27 San Luis Obispo CA SLO Brew
Fri/Nov-29 Santa Ana CA The Observatory
Sat/Nov-30 Las Vegas NV House of Blues
Sun/Dec-01 Oakland CA Oakland Metro Operahouse
Tue/Dec-03 Portland OR Wonder Ballroom
Wed/Dec-04 Vancouver BC Vogue Theater
Thu/Dec-05 Seattle WA El Corazon
Fri/Dec-06 Boise ID Knitting Factory Concert House
Sat/Dec-07 Park City UT Park City Live
Sun/Dec-08 Boulder CO Fox Theatre
Tue/Dec-10 Tulsa OK Cains Ballroom
Thu/Dec-12 Austin TX Mohawk
Fri/Dec-13 San Antonio TX Backstage Live
Sat/Dec-14 Corpus Christi TX House of Rock
Sun/Dec-15 El Paso TX Tricky Falls
Tue/Dec-17 Fresno CA Strummer’s
Wed/Dec-18 Santa Cruz CA The Catalyst
Fri/Dec-20 Los Angeles CA Henry Fonda Theatre
Sat/Dec-21 Ventura CA Ventura Theatre