Wild Cards Still Making Music on the Outer Limits
New Zealand underground rock trio The Dead C have been making music at the outer limits for 25 years, using geographic isolation to develop one of the most original strains of underground rock of the past two decades. On the road in Europe, and on the train to Marseille, Bruce Russell, Michael Morley and Robbie Yeats talk with the Wire’s David Keenan. Call them Vain, Erudite and Stupid, as the title of their career-spanning 2006 retrospective would have them, but this is The Dead C way in microcosm: a capricious drummer who plays lead and two guitarists constantly undermining, bolstering and weirding each other’s contributions, playing with convention and defying established relationships, while all the time remaining fixated on traditional rock dynamics, even as they spent the last 25 years consistently undermining the form.
That they live on the very edge of the world, in Lyttelton and Port Chalmers, parallels their origins on the furthest fringes of the contemporary underground: they remain defiantly independent, retaining complete control over their recordings, artwork and presentation. “I’m the wild card in a pack of wild cards,” confides Russell, as we take another train on the third leg of The Dead C’s first ever European tour for their final show in Marseille. “I have a deliberately hamfisted approach to playing the guitar,” he continues. Later, I ask Yeats how he sound of an amplifier singing to itself can be so immediately recognizable as The Dead C. “It’s the sound of Bruce’s amplifier, that beautiful complex sound, the screeching of his amp. Bruce Russell’s amplifier is better than sex.”
Although their hefty discography – over 20 albums in 26 years – is dominated by what you could loosely describe as songs, The Dead C normally shun replicating their recordings live, preferring the unpredictability of channelling songforms straight out of the air. “But people only think they’re songs,” winks Russell. “It’s easy to fool them.” The Dead C’s new album Armed Courage is out now.