As a writer, I’ve got several tools to construct this article, essentially a vehicle for this EP. I could feign authority about frontman Zack Fowler and drummer Amy Dala (who, if you recall, dropped that delightful Life’s Little Dilemmas EP with the Boygirlfriends earlier this year), and cast judgment from an objective distance. Or, I could wax poetical, as Fowler often does in his gritty yet eloquent new project, Dead Selves. Or, I could admit that I’m navigating an unfamiliar forest, and I’m following the crumbs and chicken bones that others have laid before me. Search for Fowler’s solo project, Blackshear, in the wildness of Google, and you’ll find no trace of music, only a conflicted review that framed the young singer/songwriter as a Frank Turner wannabe and a smartass Southern boy.
And that baffles me—for, while Fowler still shouts down the rafters and stirs clouds of sawdust in his wake, these five songs also connect on a closer level, like dialogues across the dining room table. “What we went through wouldn’t really fit a rhyme scheme,” he sings on “Good Intent II,” which is a clever way to admit that even a nimble writer such as himself can’t boil down all of human experience into a verse-refrain structure. And that humility, often as subtle as a summer breeze, blows faintly throughout Western Body, as Fowler looks outward and reins in his own ego. While the whole shebang opens with a typical pop-punky fist bump for the disenfranchised (though I doubt Turner ever raised a glass to drag queens), “Ridgeview” rips into deep wounds, laying bare Fowler’s own flawed worldview: “Why’d you get sober if this is how being sober feels?”
Given such raw and scabbed material, we decided to tap Fowler for the full story on how Dead Selves came to be. Read that below as you listen to the EP, which we’re airing ahead of its release on Friday.
How did you and Amy get together?
Amy and I met in Purgatory at the old Masquerade. She was there to see Laura Stevenson, I was there for Chris Farren. I was going on a rant about my queer reading of the first Guns N’ Roses album, which is just as obnoxious as it sounds. She was looking to play drums full-time in a band and my solo project Blackshear was between drummers. Dead Selves came out of that.
Can you tell us a little bit about your songwriting process and how these songs came together?
Typically I start by writing something like a folk song, and when I’ve banked a few songs I bring them to Amy and let her choose one to add to the set. Amy is a songwriter, and she has better insight into my music than anyone I’ve ever worked with, so this part of the process often informs what I write going forward. We start our arrangements with the live iteration (me on guitar and vocals, her on drums), then build lead guitar and bass around that skeleton in the studio.
Is the EP a collection of individual songs with disparate ideas and meanings or is there any kind of central idea or theme that unites them?
We had a wider set of songs to choose from and it took me a while to see the common theme of the five we chose for the EP. This turned into a record about obligation: what we owe others and how we fall short of that, and what we can expect, and how we can expect too much. “Ridgeview” is about our parents, “Remember Me” is about our longtime partners, “Too Far South” is about our friends, “Good Intent II” is about people we used to know, and “Safe Distance” is about God, or the lack of one. “Charcoal,” a song we didn’t get a chance to record but which we’ll probably put out with the physical release later this year, is about a partner who’s fallen out of love with you. There’s a line in “Too Far South” that probably sums it up best: “It was cruel and it was callous not to let your memory go but there are gilded streets inside me and you’re the only one who knows.”
What can we expect from Dead Selves in 2017? Will you be touring or releasing any videos or additional recordings?
We’re planning on doing a physical release with two or three more songs later this year with a tour shortly after, but our specific plans depend a lot on the reception to the EP and other moving parts so there’s nothing really to announce right now.
Dead Selves will celebrate the release of Western Body on Fri., June 16 at Rowdy Dowdy. Supporting them will be NEWMONEY, the Pellys, Valium Housewife, and Identikit. Doors open at 9 p.m. Admission is $5.