• Interview

Dead Man String Band, I: a Review and Interview

Dead Man String Band or DMSB for short is a one man blues, rock and roll, raucous act. The Dead Man is Rob McAllister who has been around for a while as a solo performer, and who has been hard at work honing in on what it is that he wants to do. His first album I (the roman numeral one) is all set for your ears to listen to. I had the pleasure of getting an advanced copy, and if you want something different, but in a good way, this is it. It is loud at times, but then slows down. There are some skits as well, and overall DMSB did a great job putting this together. The Dead Man and I recently sat down and we talked about various things, but mainly about where this all came from, the upcoming release, and what is coming up in the future for him. The following is our conversation. 

Moose Gronholm: Where are you from originally?
Rob McAllister: I’m from a small town in Southeast Indiana called Rising Sun. It’s right on the Ohio River, and across from Rabbit Hash, KY. 

MG: Is that where you discovered music?
RM: I suppose. I mean it’s where I discovered that music made sense to me. I feel like there are a few moments in my life thus far where I’ve discovered music, or at least a new perspective or appreciation for it. 

MG: What’s your first musical memory?
RM: I really didn’t grow up in a very musical family or environment, but I think it would have to be just listening to the oldies station in the car with my parents or hearing my grandparents blasting Elvis throughout their house. (Laughs) 

MG: Did any of this translate into this debut album of yours?
RM: I think so. I mean I feel as though this act has given me the freedom to use all the influences and ideas I’ve had throughout my life. The more I add, the more it just sounds like DMSB. It doesn’t mean you’re gonna see me rap or something on my next album. (laughs) There are definitely songs that I write at home and go, “I like that, but Dead Man String Band couldn’t play it.” It’s bizarre to me that I have to think of myself in an outside perspective. It honestly creeps me out. 

MG: Why Dead Man String Band? Why or how did that name come to be?
RM: Because it sounded coo? Haha no, no…It came originally from lack of time and a show around the corner. I was playing for Buffalo Wabs’ artist in residence at The Crow’s Nest and told him I would have a band that night instead of the basic solo acoustic set. If I remember correctly the poster was being made and they needed a name ASAP so I just blurted out Dead Man String Band. Also, my father built caskets for well over 30 years, and my grandfather has been a graveyard caretaker my whole life. So in a sense I’m just trying to keep with the family tradition of sorts. (laughs) 

MG: This being your debut album, you went all out with a couple skits within the record. The record itself seems to have this mystique about it. What was your idea in going into making this album?
RM: Honestly, my friend I had no idea what I was going to do going into this album. I just knew that I needed to record it. I booked the release show before I ever even thought of where I was going to record. I got the date for the show on January 3rd (2015) and from that point to this interview I’ve finished the album completely “product wise.” Recording, getting an artist to do the artwork, writing new songs and the dialogue…EVERYTHING was done in the span of a few months. I’ll probably never do that again. Back to the question though, the only idea I had really was to make this sound as true to the live show as I could. The dialogue/skits idea came about 2 days or so before I headed to the studio? Luckily I have great friends around here that will show up and voice act for me on short notice. 

MG: How did you develop your style of fingerpicking? Which is all throughout this album, and gives it a swampy loud blues feel.

Also, what made you decide to incorporate a snare drum, kick drum, and high hat into your show? I mean the guitar picking along is good enough, why add more I suppose? 
RM: OK, I’ll start on the fingerpicking. A little background on myself. In my early 20’s I road managed a friend named Josh Hisle. I toured with him for a few years and watched him fingerpick the way I always wanted to, but here’s the thing. When you see a person doing what you want to do, but in front of 3,000 people, you almost see that person on a pedestal no matter how close you are to them. So in my mind I thought to myself, “I’ll never be able to do that” and just tucked it in the back of my mind. A few years later I find myself wandering into a bar called Geez’l Peete’s and see these people, playing in a bar, and fingerpicking their asses off! So at that point I locked myself in this tiny closet and didn’t come out for at least 8 hours. Desperately trying to get my fingers to start working independently, until they did, and it was all downhill from there. I always tell people that that certain style of picking is like gears in your head that aren’t quite meeting up and all of the sudden they lock, gears start spinning other gears, and the whole machine starts working. I owe my style to Pat Hu (Kennedy) from HU Town Holler, but I owe my thumb to Buffalo Wabs (Buffalo Wabs and The Price Hill Hustle). (laughs) Ok now to the drums. That is also a very long answer. So the first show was scheduled for Buffalo Wabs’ artist in residence like I said (previously). What a lot of people don’t know is that this monstrosity of an act was actually supposed to be a string band! I’ll always want to be loud at heart but I respect and appreciate old time and Appalachian music to my core. So I called a few friends and formed the band which was going to be tenor banjo, double bass, and guitar. I won’t get into specifics, but the band fell apart before the first show. Four days before the first show in fact. I was livid and refusing to give a solo acoustic act. I sat in my living room for I don’t know how long looking at the name on the poster “Dead Man String Band” and next thing I knew I was pulling out amps and a kick drum. Long story short if I feel like I can give more, I do. If my feet want to move, I guess I’ll just put them to work! 

MG:  With the songs on the album, in particular, Josephine what’s the story behind her?
RM: I really couldn’t go into telling what that song is about without ruining it.  (laughs) 

MG: Where did the songs come from in general and especially for this album?
RM: Oh man tons of places. I mean from songs that I just wrote when I got out of bed to when I was sick as hell and couldn’t leave my bed. Mainly my I guess. Kidding aside it was just a matter of becoming “Dead Man” and letting him write the songs. I would write tunes that I had no idea where the inspiration came from. Others I wrote from personal experience. You wouldn’t know it by hearing it but the most personal song on the album is probably “Organ Donor.” Then there are others where I wrote not knowing where the inspiration came from and THEN I live the song almost a year after I wrote it…I hate foreshadowing. (laughs)

MG: With whom did you record with and where?
RM: I recorded with my friend Josh Wickizer at his studio in Indiana called “Poor Indiana Man Productions.” He really does amazing work. Too good sometimes in fact I remember having to “crap up” a few things on this album. I don’t like things to sound too polished or pretty. 

MG: With the album all finished and completed and set to release, what’s next for Dead Man String Band?
RM: Breaking out of the 275 loop! Haha! I have a lot of contacts from my road managing days and plan on branching out this year and taking the show on the road. 

MG: lastly, why music? Of all things to do like being a carpenter, work at McDonalds, electrician, plumber, or bus driver why did you choose this path?
RM: Simply put, because she is my first true love and has never steered me wrong. 

With that our conversation ended. We had a few more talks after this about what the release show was going to be like, and let me tell you folks it will be a show unlike any other. As for the music the album drives and pulsates. It has a suspenseful element to it, and sometimes just flat out rocks. Rob McAllister or Dead Man String Band took his fingerpicking style threw it through some amps, and out has come this genuine bluesy sound. The album will be release this Saturday night, and will be a show you won’t want to miss. The only thing I will say is that there will be a coffin.

Dead Man String Band
Arlo McKinley & The Lonesome Sound
The Southgate House Revival
Saturday March 21st
9p Doors / 9:30 Show


Our Weekend Picks :: March 20, 2015 

Each week we will highlight a few of our picks for the weekend. Some may be local, some may not, but as long as you are seeing live music in Cincinnati you are contributing! Our picks are below, but you can choose for yourself with our calendar here. (Or download our iPhone...