Gregg Deal

Season One: Episode Eleven

Multi-disciplinary artist Gregg Deal selects “MTT 420 RR” by IDLES as his opening track. Gregg also talks with Ryan about his punk rock background and creating his own music in the form of Dead Pioneers.

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Gregg: My very first performance art piece was essentially dressing like a stereotype with like store bought headdresses, which of course are not not real, they’re not appropriate. And just walking out in public in Washington, DC and then documenting it, in film and photography, yeah, there’s a significant level of just not giving a shit and kind of letting things land where they may.

Ryan: My guest today is multi-disciplinary artist, Gregg Deal. Gregg described his work in a 2018 TED talk as “honoring indigenous experiences, challenging stereotypes, and pushing for accurate representations of Indigenous people in art.” His art has been exhibited nationally and internationally at spaces including The Smithsonian Institution and his portfolio includes murals, sculptures, performance art, conceptual art, visual art, print, and, the main reason we’re talking today, music.

I first learned of Gregg Deal from a Facebook post by the Atlanta-based band Algiers. Lee Teshe, the band’s guitarist, collaborated with Gregg in a new music project called Dead Pioneers. I gave a listen to the track available at the time, “Bad Indian.” It was punk as fuck and I couldn’t wait to hear the full record. I reached out to Gregg to be a participate in this podcast and, as I learned more about him, became enamored with the breadth of his artistic output.

I will also say we had some issues with internet connectivity, so if you want to read along you can find a transcript at letsmixtape.com. I’ve since switched my recording services so you should notice an improvement in future episodes (and past episodes because I scheduled these episodes based on playlist sequence not order of recording).

Thanks to his opening track selection, we also got a chance to talk about one of my favorite bands. Let’s make a mixtape.

Ryan: Gregg Deal, welcome to Let’s Make a Mixtape. Thank you so much for joining me. I’m very excited about the song that you picked, and to have you on the show.

Gregg: Yeah, thanks for having me. I’m super stoked to be here.

Ryan: I love that you picked IDLES and you picked MTT-420RR as the opening track, the opening track of Crawler, which- very, very interesting record.

I very much enjoy that record, but tell me why you picked it. And also tell me why it surprised you when you picked it because you mentioned when you sent it to me that it surprised you that that was the one you picked.

Gregg: You know, most of my music choices are stuck in the ’80s and ’90s with the occasional early 2000s, they’re contemporary band.

For me, the absolute first band that I think I’ve been excited about since since I was a kid. Just excited for their next album. I’ve seen them live. They’re absolutely hands down the best show I’ve ever been to. Their message, the cadence of Joe, the lead singer, their drummer, their guitarist, the way that they just interact with each other.

It’s just absolutely so good. Like their first album is so insanely good for a first album that it just- I listen to it still and I’m just like, I can’t believe this is their first album.

Ryan: Yeah. Brutalism is probably one of my favorite records.

Gregg: A hundred percent. I’m with you. Crawler is a great album and I think that first song is so dramatic and it’s just so deep and there’s emotion and anger and it’s just, it’s such a great preamble for a great album.

Ryan: I feel like what they do really well is setting a mood, setting a tone, and kind of painting a picture. I mean, Brutalism, it’s in the name. You know, that Brutalist architecture, like you think about it, and then you think about that record, and what it sounds like.

They really do a great job of creating that mood, and I feel like for the next couple records, they almost tried to recreate then Crawler, I feel like is where it really like they’re like, okay, we’re good at creating these moods and they’ve been experimenting a little bit more and have this hip-hop influence that comes in and it’s got that moody soulful feel and yeah, it’s a beautiful, beautiful song.

Gregg: I have a guy that I go to that I’ve been doing tattoos with for the last several years, and we always listen to something but we listened to that. The last time I sat down with him was probably over a year ago, and I had him listen to that, and he’s super critical of music and even he was like, “this record is amazing.”

I’m like, “yeah, no, it is.” It’s definitely amazing. And it didn’t surprise me that they were up for Grammys and stuff for it too.

Ryan: Yeah, yeah. And you say you’ve seen them live?

Gregg: Yeah, last year, I took my oldest kid, who sort of rolls with me on everything and I mean, I’ve been to a lot of shows in my day. That was just, well, and to give it a nice juxtaposition, we went and saw Circle Jerks like two weeks before that.

So it’s like night and day. Debauchery and like there’s bikers and just hardcore kids and then young kids that are just, you know, there’s creeps in there cause like, we had to stand around my kid a little bit just to- me and my friends were just, because there’s people like touchy and doing- and it was just rowdy and then to go to IDLES, which is rowdy for completely different reasons.

I’s positive, there’s a message there that’s just inherently just good and just kind of progressive and it’s just- I saw this massive dude just bowl over a smaller guy in the pit, which was a massive- the biggest pit I’ve ever seen that wasn’t at a festival. Bowled him over and he helped him up and then they like, hugged.

They could have been holding hands in flowers and rainbows and I just wouldn’t have been surprised at how just positive they were interacting. I was like, “what am I looking at? This is crazy.”

Ryan: The positivity that they’ve been able to put into their music and really, also build around that fan base to I mean, there’s that All is Love AF gang Facebook group. That’s incredibly, incredibly active. And there’s just always a lot of positivity coming out of it. And it’s it’s cool to see that in a band that also has a lot of introspective and maybe goes to some not positive places in that introspection.

Gregg: Yeah, you know, I think, I think that even just looking at social justice and language that we have now, even just in the last 10 years has just progressed so far that we have words for things that we never had words for and now we can have conversations that we’ve never been able to.

And you see that in their music. They’re really leaning into that, which I think is incredibly positive. Every IDLES fan I’ve ever met is just a hard core fan.

I think it exudes through the positivity of their music you can kind of see where it begins to connect IDLES is almost becoming an anchor for the desire for social change. So people who are into it are really into it.

Ryan: And we’re already starting to see bands that have been influenced by them start, I think Wet Leg said that they wouldn’t exist without IDLES and there are a lot of bands trying to kind of take that inspiration and make their own thing with it, which is kind of cool to see almost this, this musical movement of that punk positivity.

Gregg: It’s also the ethos of sort of a DIY, but I think, but I think even beyond a DIY punk ethos is audacity. The audacity to believe that you have the right to do what you’re doing. If you’ve seen the IDLES documentary, Joe talks about like, okay, I’m going to do this thing. And everybody’s going along with it, but everyone knows that Joe has no business fronting a band, like he can’t sing. It’s just like the audacity to believe that you have something to say and the audacity to believe that you could bring something to the table and that level of confidence and sort of blind cliff jumping, if you will, is what makes good music and what makes good art.

And I think we’ve been in a really big lull with that. I think we’ve really been leaning on Descendents and the Circle Jerks and 7Seconds and like this resurgence of old bands because we’re missing a generation of people who were in that ethos. And the Gen Z-ers, like Gen Z-ers just don’t give a fuck, man. So they’re kind of in that.

Ryan: Yeah, yeah. Speaking to what you’re releasing. So, Dead Pioneers is an entry of many to your entire artistic output. How do you see yourself in Dead Pioneers and in that modern, modern music punk audacity?

Gregg: I did a little bit of research too, and Joe is actually older, which made me feel better. Because I’m older, I don’t have any business. I’m 48, I don’t have any business doing this.

Other than having a career as a visual artist, and even the accolades that maybe I’ve been able to build over time with that, even my wife, who’s seen me do things that even she on some level questioned it when we started doing this, she’s like, “What? What are you doing? Like, you’re a 48 year old man.”

All the guys we know that, you know, sort of put bands together, it’s this weird little nostalgic- like, my mid-life crisis is learning to play guitar, and now I’m going to take it on the stage and be a cover band for Dave Matthews or whatever, you know? And this totally that.

You’d mentioned before that you saw The Punk Pan-Indian Romantic Comedy, and what that performance, which is just storytelling about how I grew up and music and everything that was all converging on me at the same time. And I guess you could call it a mid-life crisis, but really, it was just sort of a mid-life assessment looking at how I grew up and the trauma that I had growing up.

My father kicked me out when I was 17, and I had to abandon my record collection, and I had to live small, you know, because I think I figured out between 17 and 24 when I got married, I moved no less than 26 times. And there’s this like lack of permanence in my life.

And so I think I reached a point where I was having this discussion with my wife and it was my birthday and she was asking me what I wanted. And I said “nothing” and she’s like, “well, you were talking about a turntable” and I just sort of had this existential crisis. “Yeah, but if I get a turntable, what if I buy records, we have to move?” and like, “what if I can’t afford the records? Like, how pathetic is that?” And my wife just sort of had the wherewithal to sort of encourage me to just indulge a little bit.

And when I did that, I was trying to figure out this new work where I’m Re-appropriating old comic book images from the ’40s and ’50s of cowboys and Indians and then realizing that indigenous identity as it relates to this music of the disenfranchised, angry, the rebellious, and those that sort of are seeing something is wrong, and they’re making statements like punk makes these statements to that.

And so I started taking those illustrations and I would put lyrics from punk rock songs in the dialogue, and then was like creating something new that looks familiar. It looks like the old. And then also putting together the Punk Pan-Indian Romantic Comedy, which was just about all of that. And it was just this kind of perfect place.

And I got a grant for the Punk Pan Indian Romantic Comedy to create some original music to accompany the performance. And so I connected with a group up in Fort Collins, Colorado. And there’s like this crazy music scene up there that I didn’t know anything about.

I did the very first Punk Pan Indian Romantic Comedy in February 2020. And when it went up there, somebody handed me, it looked like a menu, and it was literally a list of all the venues in Fort Collins since the early ’80s, and all the bands that played at those venues. And so it was like The Descendants and Bad Brains and Black Flag. Like it was the who’s who of bands. The Misfits and the Circle Jerks. And I couldn’t believe that strange, mid-Colorado biplane stop for music.

And so, there’s still a lot of that up there. Like, Blasting Room is up there, which Bill Stevenson runs, from The Descendents. And so, anyway, somebody posed a question, somebody in a position of power, and was just like, “if you could make music, what would it sound like? Would you, or could you put that music with this performance?”

Long story short, I got a grant, and the grant allowed me to be able to do that, and I hooked up with some guys, but of course, everything shut down for COVID. We were trying to do stuff with Zoom, and like, for anybody who’s ever, you know, made music, you can’t do it remotely.

Ryan: It’s so hard.

Ryan: Yeah. Then I got a residency to a place in Florida in 2021 and I went there. This is sort of like the trepidation of COVID. We’re slowly coming out of lockdown and I met Lee Teshe and he’s the lead guitarist for a band called Algiers. They’re out of Atlanta, Georgia. He was like, “yeah, I’m really excited about this, but I was really excited to meet you.”

And then we just got to talking and I told him about this project that we were sort of working on and what it was connected to. And I showed him this piece that I wrote in about an hour the day before and ran it past him. And I was like, you know, “we’re kind of getting like spoken word with punk.” He’s like, “cool.”

And they had a studio on the campus we were on. And so we went in and pulled in another musician who plays drums. And it was just the original piece, which was called “Bad Indian,” which is on Spotify. It’s Lee paying, playing bass and then somebody on drums, and we worked out that entire piece, I think in less than two hours. We set up the drums, we set up the mics, we played it through a couple times, pressed record and played it, and that’s what you hear on that one single.

And so it felt like lightning in a bottle. It came together quick, it was exciting, it was fluid. So I took it back to the original guys and we sort of had a starting point and we’re like, “okay, then this is what we’re going to.”

I say we accidentally put a band together because the intention was to make music, but we ended up doing it and had such a good time with it. We’re just like, “okay, this has to be a thing. We have to put this together.” So I named the band. I wrote all the lyrics, but we all work together on the arrangements for everything.

To me, it’s another medium. I don’t think I’m going to get famous off this. I don’t really know if we’re going to tour. I think my wife would kill me if we toured. But to me, it’s another medium, another beautiful kind of medium of expression that speaks to a large group of people that connect with music.

Ryan: It’s a phenomenal record and I love that it has that, you know, that punk rock edge and kind of that, uh, Jello Biafra-y tradition in there, too. I love the Circle Jerks cover that you have is rad. Some of the one liners that you have; the lyrics are phenomenal, and I love kind of those jabs that you have in there, kind of almost like slam poetry. The walking eagle line in “Bad Indian” makes me laugh every time. It’s fantastic.

I love that it has that punk thread that seems so prevalent in your body of work. Like, I love how in, in the video of the Modern Indigenous Living performance that you had, you were listening to The Clash at the laptop.

I love when you were giving your Punk Pan-Indian Romantic Comedy talk that you had on a Dead Kennedys jacket and a Black Flag patch and, “The Others” that you alluded to, a few minutes back where you’re recreating the comic strips and then using the punk lyrics.

And I just love that thread that’s so consistent throughout your work. And I love that you’ve created a musical product that kind of. I guess perfectly fits in with that.

Gregg: Yeah, I think, I mean, at the very least, that ethos is in there. My very first performance art piece was essentially dressing like a stereotype with like store bought headdresses, which of course are not not real, they’re not appropriate. And just walking out in public in Washington, DC and then documenting it, in film and photography, yeah, there’s a significant level of just not giving a shit and kind of letting things land where they may.

I suppose a controlled fall of some kind, but the possibility of a fall, the possibility of failure, I think kind of pushes it into this place of truthfulness that I think you can find in that, that music and yeah, so I think, I think that ethos definitely exists in my work.

I have this- like I always say I have this condition, like if you tell me I can’t do something, watch me do it.

Ryan: In Punk Pan-Indian Romantic Comedy, as you were talking about the Smithsonian-commissioned project that you had. And when they had brought up that you couldn’t do something, I was like, “Oh no, he’s, what’s he gonna do? It’s gonna be great.”

Gregg: You know, and my wife, you know, bless her heart, because I married somebody who’s like the exact opposite of me. I married a jock who graduated with two superlatives in high school.

Whereas I’m like a high school dropout that’s just sort of surviving. Surviving on just gumption and anger alone, so.

[Transition music by Scotty Sandwich]

Ryan: I guess circling back to IDLES, I mean, do you feel like there is any influence from IDLES on the music that you’re putting together?

Gregg: 100%. Yeah. I think you can see the influence, some of them are pretty obvious. Not necessarily Circle Jerks. But certainly Circle Jerks, I think represent a lot. Dead Kennedys and, you know, Black Flag and everything else. But I kind of, I love the writing of Dean Burton for Minutemen. “The Punch Line” is the song, but that’s also the album. And The Punch Line almost like a conceptual record. And love that idea, sort of, concept because you can do stuff that’s traditionally punk, but you can also add in these other parts.

IDLES, yeah, for sure. There’s a lot of influence there from the way they talk about certain things. I have a tendency to try to think abstractly, and it doesn’t have to be nearly that abstract. And IDLES’ stuff really hits it on the nose.

There’s not really much question about what they’re talking about. And so, I have a couple of songs that are, you know, like, “This is not a Political Song” is so politically on the nose and socially on the nose. But, like, it’s okay. And definitely find influence for something like that, from IDLES.

They also just, sort of, in my mind are, you know, they’ll do something that’s sort of on that punk spectrum, but they also do things that are very much beyond that music-scape. Because I think as I’m listening to it, like, I think the guitarists are really trying to figure out how to make a sound that’s different and new.

And I think that the drummer is trying to figure out how to take his own classical aspects of training and apply it to something that it’s not supposed to be there for. And that too, like the idea that you can mix things together and that it doesn’t have to be linear.

I was talking to my son today actually, we were talking about Metallica. There’s a couple of Metallica songs I like. The early Metallica sounds the same, like it all sounds the same to me. And I don’t think it has to sound the same. I think that you can find meaning in your process and that your musical process can be whatever you want it to be. And I think IDLES definitely carry that idea.

Ryan: Again, going back to just the progression of the 4 records that they put out. You can kind of see them playing with those ideas and stretching their perception of who they are as a band. It’s cool to watch them as they progress. I’m curious to see- I feel like they had a spurt of albums and then they’ve probably taken a deserved break, but I’m curious to see what they come out with next.

Gregg: Yeah, there’s a lot and, well, and also, I mean, we could point out that they’re just like, they’re so unapologetic in all of their lyrics.

I’ve seen, seen a lot of bands. My wife really likes MUSE, and so I took her to see Muse. And, and there’s this confidence that’s there and there’s a confidence that has to be there, but I think that there’s confidence and then there’s like confidence like IDLES off to me as just like, “this is what we’re doing,” and that’s it. There’s a full stop. There’s nothing else attached to that.

Ryan: It’s like MUSE is that, you know, it’s pro rock. They’re putting on this whole massive performance that has the, you know, the technique is perfectly tight. It’s this-pro rock entity and then IDLES, they’re just like, “let’s, let’s fucking break shit and have a good time and we’re just gonna come in here and pound you with noise.” And “this is us” confidence. Two different warring music experiences.

Gregg: Yeah, it’s really interesting, you know, because I saw Pearl Jam on their last tour, because I know, I know Jeff Ament and he got us tickets. They’ve been around for 30 years. And there’s something attached to what they’re doing, like an ease to what they’re doing that is from years and years and years of playing together. With that obviously comes self-confidence. It feels like a really fine-tuned tool that has a very specific thing attached to it, and you’re just doing that very specific thing, and it’s minute.

And then IDLES feels like a sledgehammer and like you’re going to get the job done and, and you’re going to get the job done no matter, and you’re going to do a good job with it, but like it, the sledgehammer looks formidable. It doesn’t look like a fine-tuned tool. It just is like this formidable tool that’s going to get the job done. It’s fantastic. Um, have you, have you seen them live?

Ryan: Yeah, I saw them- so actually. I had a chance to interview them for a little bit before I saw them in New York and then I saw them in Raleigh and that was after Joy as an Act of Resistance. I haven’t seen them since. They put on an incredible show.

And I remember at the Raleigh show- in the New York show I was a little off to the side and in the back. But at the Raleigh show I was front and center and I just remember- it was unlike- I’m not usually the kind of person that goes into a mosh pit I usually kind of stand back and watch or listen, I guess.

No shade on anyone who enjoys that, I’m here for it, but it’s not usually my go-to. But, with that it was just, the whole thing was like this throbbing mass of people it wasn’t- like people weren’t moving. Like you were, it was tight and it was just moving as a unit.

The the whole audience felt like kind of this mosh pit conglomeration of just people having an experience with this music which is really cool to just be like sardined and hot and sweaty and rocking out. I don’t know if that was the experience that you had too.

Gregg: I’m a sit-back-and-fold-my-arms-and-watch-and listen nowadays, but was definitely a pit kid when I was younger. My oldest, Sage, they get a little nervous about it, but I think that was the first time that Sage was really feeling like we could get in the pit.

The venue that it was in Denver, it’s called the Mission Ballroom. It has a large floor and then there’s sort of almost stadium seating. That’s just like these large concrete step blocks. And so we were just chilling.

I called a friend of mine, and the tickets were cheap. They were like, I think $35 or something like that. I’d been telling a friend of mine for a year to listen to these guys and he just hadn’t done it. And so I called him like opening band went on, called him up I was like, “where are you? Are you here?” And he said, no. And I said, “you need to get here. What are you doing?” He’s like “nothing.” And I was like, “you need to get here. I just bought you a ticket. It’s at will call. Get here now.”

So he shows up and he sits with us and he’s a pit guy, but he’s like, he doesn’t really know the band. So he wants to sit, just sit with us. The first song they played was “Colossus.”

Such a perfect opener. And Joe- like, they played the first half of the song, and then it stops, and then he got the entire crowd to split themselves up, wide enough you could drive a car down it. It was so wide. And then they hit the second part of the song and the crowd just runs at each other.

And after that first song, my friend turns to me and just goes, “I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to you.” Like that was just amazing for first song. He just couldn’t believe how insane it was.

That was the vibe of the entire song, just- I went to the first couple of Lollapaloozas where everything is huge, and no, that pit was massive. And their interaction, like you, you could tell they love the fans. You can tell they want to spend time and what an incredible gift that they’re giving us is in that process.

But then at the same time, there’s that song that he did about his kid that was lost at birth [“June”]. And it’s just like, how can you go from “Mother,” to “Colossus” to that. I think it really shows that yeah, Joe’s screaming, but like there’s so much emotion in everything that they’re doing. And I think that’s real. I think that’s what it should be.

I’m of the generation where you hold that stuff in. But I’m also on the tail end of that generation where like we can emote a little bit, like it’s okay, we can share those things and they just do it fantastically and I think it’s, I think it’s really, really beautiful.

Ryan: IDLES was the first time I felt really excited about a band in a way that I had not been excited-

I feel like this band is the voice of our generation in a sense, in a way that we haven’t had in a long time and it felt like it was this fresh thing, this perspective this, again, audacity to be so on the nose and put forth some really powerful social messages with such a message of positivity and just do it with such an energy that’s so captivating.

You just you can’t help- you can’t listen to it and be like what is it? I mean it moves me. And it clearly moves a lot of people. It’s the first time I’ve really felt like grabbed and excited by a band like that in a long time.

Gregg: Yeah. And having influence and trying to do Dead Pioneers and trying to figure out- ’cause I can’t sing, either. I’m trying to figure out my voice.

The voice that Joe has is so difficult to do. I don’t know how he does that because it is just a constant state of scream. You gotta look up their performance on Tiny Desk with NPR, because Joe just like is turning red and he like in this moment, they’re only playing four songs is just turning himself inside out. And it really speaks to him as a performer.

I learned a lot watching him too, just as a performer. There’s, I think, a shortage of great performers. If you look at modern pop, it’s the bells and whistles, it’s the dancing, it’s everything else. There’s something within the ilk of Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins, just leaving yourself physically on the stage, and uh, Joe has that, man. He definitely has that.

Ryan: It’s almost like a vulnerable- it’s leaving yourself vulnerable, giving the audience everything. And just, “this is me putting it all out there,” and putting your energy, your emotions out on out on stage. It’s it’s incredible to watch. It really is.

Gregg: You can see a bit of that with Amyl and the Sniffers, too.

Ryan: Oh yeah, I’ve missed them live and I really am kicking myself for missing them, but I’ve heard amazing things as well. She seems like a great front person as well to to watch.

Gregg: Yeah, she’s something else.

[Transition music by Scotty Sandwich]

Ryan: Thank you so much. It has been an absolute pleasure talking with you. Thank you for your time. And thank you for your selection. Very solid pick. I’m glad IDLES is getting representation on this first mix tape. Is there, is there anything that you, that you want to say before, before we head out?

Anything you want to promote?

Gregg: Yeah, I mean, we’re right now, I mean, obviously it’s probably a little early, but we’re trying to sell a record, trying to, you know, pay for everything. And other than that, you know, like, I’m just going along and seeing what happens and watching our economy fail. So, you know.

Ryan: Living life in latestage capitalism. It’s a vibe.

Gregg: That’s right. That’s true.

Ryan: Well, thank you again so much for making a mixtape with me.

Gregg: I really appreciate you, Ryan. I appreciate you having me.

Ryan: Please go to letsmixtape.com where, along with the show transcript, you’ll find links to things we discussed throughout this episode as well as some examples of Gregg’s non-musical artistic output including a link to the Punk Pan Indian Romantic Comedy. As I promised at the top of the show, here is a track from Dead Pioneers’ self-titled debut: “This Is Not A Political Song.”

Ryan: Thanks for tuning in, be sure to rate and review the show in your podcast app. Theme music is by the one and only Scotty Sandwich. Tune in next week for the season finale as I talk about the black origins of Techno with my guest Alex Maiolo.