The suburbs of most “real” cities usually cannot be topped when it comes to odd punk music. The bizarre, feral, conceptual post-punk band Dummy Dumpster is, for all intents and purposes, from Arabi. “You know where that is?” asks drummer Eryk Renz via phone as AntiGravity prepares to drive out and interview the group on what seems like another planet—an eerily quiet, dare we say dull planet, still almost as alien as the music of Dummy Dumpster
The interview takes place at the home of Mike Shadwell, the band’s lead savant and audience-member-attacker, who has kept Dummy Dumpster going in one form or another for more than ten years. Before our interview, Shadwell’s beautiful children scampered about the house playing with lightsabers and other plastic fantasy toys that, come to find out, were all the property of their father. This says a lot about the world Dummy Dumpster inhabit, where childhood fantasy is addressed often, but tangled in sexualized lyrics, squeals and yelps.
Simple Earthlings (i.e. those not from Arabi) might describe Dummy Dumpster’s first ever seven-song seven-inch record, “Music for Houseplants,” (“produced” on four-track by AG’s Dan Fox, and available at Dragon’s Den, May 15) as combining Minutemen’s distortion-free franticness with Ween’s warped vocals and sense of the absurd. But as the band’s aggressive (“I’m Gonna Break Your Face”), fun (“Time to Kiss”), weird (“You Should Put Bologna On Your Face”) music defies genre, AG thought it safer to drive out into Dummy Dumpster’s natural habitat, and let the band (which also includes bassist Isidore Grisoli of Lovey Dovies) explain themselves.
It’s a rote question, but your music is so different I just have to ask you all to describe it in your own words.
Mike: Uh… (Followed by a pause so long you can tell he’s never even thought about it.) Just… Whatever I think of just… It’s not… There’s no… I am not trying to do anything special just… Just doing my own thing…
Isidore: (to Mike) But what kind of music is it? It’s… Kind of rackety [sic]… Fun…
M: Rackety, um, no holds bar [sic]. Just like (swings his fists to illustrate).
Eryk: It’s about food, sex and fighting.
M: I’m kind of trying to create an action figure…something worthy of an action figure. I am trying to create my own…
M: I’ve always tried to do just what I feel at the time.
You all definitely give off a ‘we grew up together’ vibe.
M: I went to high school with Eryk.
E: But we didn’t talk in high school. After that we started making music together and have been hanging out now for about 10 years.
But the first time I saw Dummy Dumpster, before the flood, it was drum machines and synths. And now it’s a rock band.
E: That show you saw was after the band had been around for a few years and we had disbanded for a while. After Katrina I came up with this character called Fighting Warrior, and that was just me, when I didn’t want to do Dummy Dumpster anymore… It was just this goofy sort of cartoon.
E: He wore fake glasses, a hat, and was wrapped in electrical tape.
M: I also did this thing where I birthed myself out of this big paper mache body—I did something like that at NOizeFest, except that one was purple… Just retarded stuff. But mostly I was like a Transformer-style warrior, with these football shoulder pads with a [hands-free] microphone attached. But then we all started jamming again, and I abandoned all that and just decided to use it all for Dummy Dumpster. That’s how the shoulder pads came about.
I’ve seen this version of the band play too and, not having to hold onto the mic, you sort of run around the crowd, not really attacking people but…almost.
M: I don’t know what I do. I don’t even see anybody when I play. (laughs) I don’t pre-plan anything.
Have you ever gotten in any trouble for putting your hands on people at shows?
M: In an old band–not Dummy Dumpster–there were a couple of pit fights. I don’t really put my hands on people in Dummy Dumpster, I just run around in the crowd.
I: (To Mike) People put their hands on you though! He gets dollar bills stuffed in his ass crack.
M: My ass crack: that’s my tip jar. One time I got home from a show and took a shower and found two dollar bills stuck to my ass and thigh. I’ve gotten cigarettes. That was cool. But that’s another thing about my deal: I don’t wear no underwear or socks to the show.
I: No underwear or socks, like a warrior going into battle.
M: Just shoulder pads and steel-toe boots.
Izzy, when I first saw Dummy Dumpster you weren’t in the band. When and why did you join?
I: I have been in the band for 2 or 3 years now. They had always been one of my favorite bands though. In 2003 when I first started going to Dummy Dumpster shows they had almost like a hippy vibe, really mellow, grooving songs, super clean tones, no guitar effects. Grateful Dead sounding stuff except with children’s themes.
M: It started out very Blues Clues-y.
I: Y’all were like the Wiggles or something.
M: We were singing about Burger King, and my pet turtle. I was really trying to…
I: It’s a totally different band now; all the songs are about either fighting or fucking. But back in the day our bands played shows together at the Dixie Tavern. I even asked Dummy Dumpster to play my birthday party. Then right after the storm I was walking down Decatur and this dude (points to Mike) had stapled his demo CD to the wall! Which, my girlfriend and I had been wearing out the old Dummy Dumpster album I had for five years. The demo stapled to the wall was a 30 to 40 song CD of just him with an acoustic guitar singing love songs and fighting songs. I have always just loved the band. It was so cool when they needed a bass player.
How many releases do you have as this configuration?
I: Just the nine-song Big Beautiful Head. And now this seven-inch record that Dan Fox recorded in our garage on four-track. He was really diligent about getting it sounding just right—especially the drums. We had three different recording sessions before he liked the drum sound. But it came out really good.
E: Even his rough mix sounded better than any of our demos.
I: And then Dan went over to J. Yuenger’s (ex-White Zombie) and he mastered it, smoothed out all the vocals. Jerry McGuillicutty is putting it out. It will be the first release on his Loosey Goosey Records. He said we’re his favorite local band. And I can relate!
Where did the name come from?
M: I wanted a name like Star Wars but that had everything to do with stupid trash. I wanted a name that was just like (swings his fists to illustrate).
I: (Asks Mike) It means like a whole dumpster full of dummy, right?
M: Yeah. I wanted to do something not serious and all, but like (makes an explosion sound). Heaviest band, but no distortion. That’s the rules.
I: (To Mike) You were trying to do anti-metal.
M: Yeah [metal’s] what everyone was doing in Chalmette and stuff, so I wanted to go the other direction. My own thing, things that I like: videogames and action figures.
What can people expect from you at NOizeFest this year?
M: Well last year we did that birth scenario with the big purple mom where I was birthed with a tambourine. “Baby tambourine birth,” was the name of that. But this year I am going to orchestrate more, with drum machine and keyboard. I have so many different ideas that don’t fit with Dummy Dumpster, so I am really excited about NOizeFest because it gives us a chance to do other crazy ideas. I made a new 35 song CD just to give away at NOizeFest. Which, my wife warned me that I shouldn’t give it to anyone because the seven inch is coming out. “You have something really good about to come out, you just shouldn’t…”
Also lastly, a ridiculous question but: What is it like to live in Arabi?
M: Well. It is boring. But in the best way (gives a thumbs up).