Joe Dandeneau on Theory of a Deadman Rebranding its Name, Music and Attitude

TheoryVancouver/Delta rockers Theory of a Deadman, who now prefer to simply be called Theory, have just released its most challenging and emotional album – Say Nothing. Like its predecessor Wake Up Call from 2017, the new album is a change in musical direction for the band, seeing the unit take on a more radio friendly pop-rock feel than other albums in their catalog. Along with the musical change, the band has continued to increase the intensity and importance of its lyrics by tacking politics, racism and domestic violence.

The band’s long-time drummer Joe Dandeneau is excited with the change in direction and looks forward to taking the new songs on tour, as the band heads across the country starting this month. Theory will hit Sarnia’s Imperial Theatre on Feb. 17 and London Music Hall on Feb. 18, before heading out on a US trek in the spring.

Joe checked in with 519 Magazine to chat about the new sound, the new lyrics and how a change in drumming technique was needed to accommodate the changes.

This is your 11th year with the band and your fourth album together, is it still fresh and relevant?

Is it all fresh and relevant? In the sense, we have made a rather large leap in a new direction, lyrically and musically from where I started with the band. That alone will obviously create a massive freshness to everything we do, because as a drummer I have to think of the music completely different from the way I would have done it in the past.

Do you think Theory has changed your life?

Without a doubt, yeah. To where I came from to where I am now. I don’t know where my life would be right now without this band. I’m sure I’d be doing something, but getting into this band for me was something I wanted long before I even met these guys. I always wanted to be in this band, the moment they came out back in 2002 I always had this weird, odd, thought process in my brain that I always said I would be perfect for this band. Just funny how that all worked out.

Can you take us back to how you got the gig and what it was like at your first meeting with them?

I got a phone call from my friend who was the drummer before me. Brent Fitz was playing for these guys and he called me to tell me that he had decided to leave the band. He was a hired gun and he decided he was going to go play with Alice Cooper because he got the call from Alice. He felt like that was a better place for him and better decision. He called me and said “I think you’d be perfect for this band.” I was like “Man, yeah I think I would to, but.” Brent said he’d make some calls and got back to me and said “look, they’re doing an audition process in Los Angeles, they’re finishing up their third record, it’s kind of being mixed right now so they are going to go through the audition process now so that when the record comes out, they have a drummer ready to go.” He said it’s going to be a cattle call, so you’re going to have to go there and have to audition against all these big-time drummers from L.A. So that’s what I did.

They had 20 guys there and 18 were let go that night and I was one of the two that survived the first audition. They flew me out to Vancouver and I did my final audition. A week later, Tyler, the singer, called me personally to thank me for coming to Los Angeles; thanked me for coming to Vancouver and that he really appreciated the time I spent with them, but they have decided on a drummer. He basically made it sound like, “thanks for coming out but we found somebody else.” and then he kind of paused and said “so we’ve decided on a drummer, and we’d like it to be you. So if you’re interested just let us know.” I was like, “WHAT! You bugger.” so that was how that went down.

I want to go back for a moment to when you first discovered drums. How old were you and who were your biggest idols?

I was three years old when I started. It is not that believable, but it is true. I didn’t believe it either until my family showed me pictures and videos back then. I was three years old and I was able to start a beat and finish it to make sense. I would set up pots and pans, taking my little toy cars and propping them up underneath the cans so there was an angle, like a tom-tom on drums. It was like breathing to me. There was no reason. You don’t know how to do it; you just do it. That was drumming for me and that’s how it started. I got my first set of drums at age 4. I broke them on the first day I got them. It was one of those Fisher Price kind of things. Destroyed them first day.

My dad was in a family band and they toured all over Canada way back in the day, so I used to watch them play a lot and my uncle was the drummer of the band, so I watched him play and I learned a lot just by watching. As time progressed, I started to move into more drumming influences as I got older. I got into the rock music scene pretty early. The first sort of rock/metal drummer I listened to was a guy named John Tempesta. At the time, he was playing for a band called White Zombie and that was before high school. I had to have my mom take me to the music store to buy the record because it had explicit lyrics and I wasn’t old enough to buy it on my own. John was the guy who started it all for me. Then I started listening to bands like Sevendust. Morgan Rose just blew my mind right open. He was one of my most major influences as a rock drummer.

And then my brother introduced me to guys like Dennis Chambers and Dave Wheckle – these virtuoso kind of drummers who play for everybody. All the sudden I started getting into Modern Drummer magazines and those guys took me into playing with grooves and playing with chops and learning all these different styles of music.

When I came into Theory, that was the style I brought to them, so I knew how to play hit songs because I was also using that in the cover scene. All you do in those bands is play hit songs all night long, so it all just seemed so natural to me.

The new album came out on January 31. I can only imagine the excitement you have to finally get it released.

Every record is like the first time, it doesn’t get old. Especially now for us. We’re going in a different direction that we are so excited for people to listen to. We know that there are people out there, and you can’t please everybody, but there are a lot of people out there that aren’t liking the new Theory and we get it. We don’t have as much guitars and maybe we don’t have as much style that they used to love, but we are growing as a band and as songwriters. Our new style is something we’ve wanted to do for a while – lyrically more so because we are touching on darker, deeper situations. Tyler has always written about current events, but he used to do it in a comical kind of way. Now he’s like diving into some more touchy subjects whether it be drug abuse or domestic abuse or political situations. We’re certainly not leaning towards one side or the other, we’re just trying to make the audience more aware.

The World Keeps Spinning music video premiered the same day as well. Tell me about the video.

It’s basically about how there’s so much pressure in the world and everybody has their issues or their problems. It doesn’t matter if some are big or small, everybody has something. Sometimes you just feel like nothing is working, so the video is basically about that. It’s two different people; it’s two stories and at the end it’s kind of the interesting part, it’s shows them meeting. In the end you think something bad is going to happen, but something good actually happens and there is a big twist to it.

Even though all this garbage happens to everybody all day long and they stress, have anxiety and depression, something good can happen and all the sudden you realize the world just keeps going. It just keeps spinning and you just have to keep going no matter what because there is always something good. That is kind of the whole story behind it.

When I watch the video, the end really tugs at the heart strings and that’s basically what “Keeps Spinning” is about. Even though you’ve got all these issues, there’s always something good. Keep your head up and just keep going.

How did you guys come about creating the video for History of Violence

We spoke with the director, same guy who directed World Keeps Spinning, because he did such a great job on History that we needed to do it again. We decided as a band that we weren’t going to be in the video for first time. We thought we’d design this video and try to make it as real as we can. We felt like it would just ruin it if we were in it. It’s such a dark and real issue – it’s not about us. The song is about the issue at hand so we don’t need to be in it, we don’t need our faces there. We’re not trying to be the stars of this. That was the best decision we could have made. The video came out just dark, it’s big, and it proves the point. We are extremely happy with the way it turned out.

Let’s talk production. You decided to use Martin Terefe once again. His production allows for a very detailed, intimate drum sound.

The thing I learned the most from him was how to keep everything simple – he likes it dry and simple. No thrills and no gimmicks, but at the same time he understands what a pattern does and how a groove can create a mood – he understands all that.

We came from a place where it was heavy drums, heavy guitars, heavy everything. Now we have to create a sound with very, very little. I don’t know that he did it on purpose, but a lot of things I did in the studio were based on the thought process that he might replace some of my patterns with samples. So, I tried to keep everything as simple as possible. Everything you hear on the record is us playing live because that’s how he does it.

He’ll do overdubs and stuff, but for the most part, everything that you hear is live. And that’s the cool part. It was almost like he would play with my head, because he knows that I know that he might do this. It’s almost like that was his mind game. But it worked, because we would play the parts and I was playing so simple – but I still need to make my parts matter because it still needs to create this mood for the band to play their parts properly.

At the end, we listened to it and he’d say “that sounds awesome, we’re keeping that.” and I’m like “wow, I didn’t really think we’d do that”. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it worked and that’s how he taught me. All the stuff on the record that I thought was going to get replaced, didn’t, and that was just me trying to be super effective with very little.

I look back and know that I can take that knowledge and skill with me.

The last two albums were a big departure from the rock sound, so as a drummer, how has that affected your playing?

Quite a bit – it’s a big change. My whole life I’ve been trying to learn how to play a certain way and now it’s like we are flipping a switch so it’s like I’m re-learning from the beginning all over again. It kind of feels like you’re going backwards, but at the same time, I’m just learning how to do new things. So as long as I keep my mind open, I realize that this is a whole new avenue for me. Now I’m just broadening my abilities as a drummer. It’s not a bad thing at all.

Is touring different now that you aren’t hard rock anymore?

No, not necessarily. We still have to play our old songs that we’ve recorded in the past. We’re not ashamed of them, we love them. They have given us success and we are not ditching them. And when people hear them, they want to hear them live like on the record. So we perform them as we would have when they came out. The only difference is now when we play our new stuff, we have to make them cohesive to the old stuff.

Now this is where it gets a little tricky.

Now that people have heard the new stuff, they say we play it heavier than the way it is on record. It’s actually makes the music more impactful. We are still a rock band at heart. We haven’t had anyone complain about it and a lot of people actually like it more that way so I think the songs are more impactful live and they’re certainly more fun to play that way. It’s just the way we are – it’s Theory!

Another thing that’s happened in the time of the last two albums is that you now refer to yourself as Theory – the Deadman kind of dropped off when the music changed

It happened for many reasons, but I think “of a Deadman” scared people sometimes or worse, they didn’t really know what to think. I know I’ve spoken to people and they’ve asked what the band name is. They go “theory of a what?” Some people thought we were a black or death metal band. So clearly, that is not right. Radio would get it wrong sometimes too. They’d forget the Deadman part and say “Theory of a Fireman” or something like that, so as a band we decided to just shorten it. It’s very easy to remember; easy to put in block letters on a billboard and our fans always call us Theory anyway. We didn’t get rid of it; it’s just a rebranding. It’s a little easier on everyone to say Theory.

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