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By Jeff McCord
Ever wonder, when watching some weird disjointed assemblage of players in a band, what they ever had in common to make them start playing music together?
With Being Dead’s Falcon Bitch (Juli) and Gumball (Cody), it’s the opposite quandary. They’re so locked into a single persona that you wonder why they haven’t been playing together since grade school. Their debut album, When Horses Would Run (what, they don’t now?) places the same humor, vision and drive witnessed in their stage shows (and previous EP) on a much larger stage. Just how did these two find each other?
They’re not above making up answers – actually, they make up a lot of answers, but they swear this is true. “There are a few tales,” admits Juli, “and they’re all true. But this one is the most true.”
Apparently it all started at Chuck E. Cheese.
Juli explains. “We were mechanics of animatronics Chuck E. Cheese. We were both actually fixing up the animals that are on stage that play the instruments. They short-circuit a lot and they overheat. And that’s where I come in, because my background is kind of in the de-escalation of…”
“Fires,” chimes in Cody.
“Fires. Yeah,” says Juli. “I was a firefighter. Once we bumped into each other, it was kind of like one of those situations where we have our backs to each other and there was this magic and the animatronic was stuck playing the guitar in a certain way, and Cody was using the extinguisher on it.”
“I didn’t how to use that at the time,” Cody explains.
“You didn’t know how to use it. So there was, there was this moment where [Cody] was kind of spraying me and I said, ‘You’re a natural at that.’”
“I would say that was a pretty strange situation,” says Juli in well-practiced understatement. “But we both find ourselves in situations that are not quite right or like, there.”
Cody takes over. “Or run a lot by chaos. And that’s the only thing we have in common – nothing is going right for us, ever. We have to be together at all times to make sure that we can make it through that.”
This practiced schtick helps get them by. But it’s protection as well. Not taking yourselves too seriously can be liberating, and at least on the surface, Being Dead seem to be experts in the field.
Dig a bit deeper, past the stage antics and crazy videos, and you find something else. It may be chaos, but it’s fleshed out in advance. There’s real songcraft on When Horses Would Run, and it didn’t just drop from the sky.
“This one took a lot longer than the EP,” Cody explains. “We spent a lot more time on it. We added a lot more stuff. And really tightened it up.”
“Yeah,” Juli continues. “It took so long that we even re-recorded some songs that have changed over time throughout their lives. That pushed everything pretty far back for us. By the time we were about to release it, some of the songs were very different. After eight years of it being this way in the recording, I’d love for the immortal version of this song to be more representative of what it is now, because it has its own life on the stage. We’re excited because this has like a lot more of us on it. It feels right. It feels exciting. It’s great to get it finally out into the world.”
For a band with an edgy, nervy onstage sound, some of the music here sounds almost kaleidoscopic. Are they comfortable in the studio?
“We produced it together with our engineer and number one guy, Jim Vollentine. He is the bomb and he really helped us get it to the next level, because he is a total nerd and knows how to get the sounds that we’re asking for,” says Juli.
“Jim is there the whole way with us” Cody concurs. “If we were, ‘How would we do that?’ He would go, as he would say, down the rabbit hole with us and figure it out.”
And the writing process?
“Some songs come easy,” says Cody, “but some songs are really annoying and hard to figure out.”
Juli finishes the thought. “It really depends on the song, what it’s asking of us. We workshop it in the room together, I guess we have the ‘no idea is a bad idea’. We take every route until it makes sense. But yeah, some songs just come out much faster and some [are] a bit of a conundrum. The best feeling in the world is when we crack the nut. Sometimes it can be informed by seeking an equilibrium across the whole record. At least I’m thinking about that. Sometimes I’m, ‘We’ve done we can’t do this.’ Let’s push ourselves to try and try and take this idea in a different way or, what’s another lens we can apply or another perspective we can apply? Maybe there’s another way to see the story.”
So clearly, they’re actually more, um, serious about their work than they let on. I ask about one of my favorites from the record, “Daydream”, whose surreal video offers no real clues to the song’s intent. What’s it about, I wonder.
Eventually, it’s Juli that speaks up. “I don’t know if it has any one thing it’s about. It’s just a sketch of some ideas all kinds put together and makes this, like, ethereal little landscape where we’re just talking about our dreams.”
“It’s kind of meta.” says Cody.
Being Dead make a certain kind of magic. It feels spontaneous, and sometimes it is, but other times it’s not. Silly? They can be, sure. Serious messages? Yeah, some of that, too. Falcon Bitch and Gumball are ridiculous nicknames, and their onstage personas can gloss over all they put into their band; the craft they apply. They’re okay with that.
If things fall apart on stage, they lean into it. Ultimately, it all comes naturally; they never let anything stand in the way of a good time.
“We are actually best friends,” says Juli. “So it’s kind of hard not to have fun.”
Being Dead celebrate their album release July 14 at Sagebrush with Big Bill, Borzoi and Redbud. Find more info on the KUTX event page.