Theory of a Deadman
Theory of a Deadman is a world-renowned rock band hailing from Canada. Since forming in British Columbia in 2001, Singer and guitarist Tyler Connolly, guitarist Dave Brenner, bassist Dean Back, and drummer Joey Dandeneau have had nine songs hit the Top 10 on the rock charts, and have grown their discography from their debut self-titled album in 2001, to Scars and Souvenirs in 2009, to their latest album Wake up call and soon to be new album Say Nothing. With each of their seven albums the band grows, matures and redefines their rock n’ roll sound all the while keeping their creativity and passion at the forefront.
We were lucky enough to catch them before their show down in Southern California, share some wine and talk about their journey, music and the secret to a long, successful career.
We hope that by sharing their story you’ll realize nothing is too far out of reach and get inspired to make your own dreams a reality!
Interview with Theory of a Deadman
10/17/19 Harrah’s Casino
Photo credit: Steve Hudson
Q: Tell us a little bit about how you got started and how you stay motivated, because a lot of people look at you guys and are like “Oh my god they made it, they’ve done these really cool things” but they forget it’s been a journey with many challenges and milestones.
A: Yeah, it still is a journey. Well, for us, we embrace the grind. We enjoy the slow and steady, we enjoy seeing stuff build. People are so excited to get stuff out quickly. Stuff did move quickly for us in the beginning, we kind of bypassed the van touring, local bar scene. Although we all did pay our dues individually in music in our own ways, we didn’t a lot of that as Theory. We all still did that stuff before we got together. We played the shitty gigs for family and friends with like 17 people there. Early on as Theory we concentrated more on song writing than live performance, so we spent a lot of time in the basement just jamming, more than going out and playing shows. That was the key, a lot of bands think touring is the beginning or the way to do it, you know get in front of people and sell CDs on the street, buy the coolest leather jacket, but we figured it out.
Q: Ha! Is that the trick? Buy the best leather jacket around?
A: That’s the trick! If you have the best leather jacket then you’re cool and successful, that’s the greatest sign of success. No but seriously, we had songs and it was a great setup because we basically had a studio. It wasn’t just like jamming in the basement. There was a control room and a live room which made it so much easier to jam and work on songs and listen to music and record stuff at any time.
Q: So was there a time where it switched in your mind where you were like “Man this is more than a hobby, this is now a career” or that moment where you knew you made it?
A: We quit our jobs December 26th, around Christmas time. Went to the studio and that was it. No looking back.
Tyler: I remember I called Dean one night because we a got a call from our guy who wanted to sign us and who had said “We’re going to the studio tomorrow morning, call in sick to work” so I called Dean and I was like “Uh, call in sick tomorrow we got to go to the studio” and Dave was on an Island and couldn’t make it that night…
Dave: Yeah, I was on a ferry I couldn’t make it that night, but I was ready the next morning. I had no problem calling my boss and telling him I can’t be here this week. My boss was like “What?!” and I just told him yeah, we’re going to the studio we’re going to record some stuff. My boss told me I had to get my priorities right, so I did.
Q: That’s a big jump!
A: Yeah, we all had a lot of responsibilities with our jobs, it was so weird because here’s this opportunity to go do what you dream about doing but you still have these responsibilities.
Dave: I was working for my uncle, so I was like man, I can’t just dump this on him.
Dean: I was living on my own and I had rent to worry about and stuff so quitting my job and moving on was quite a jump. A leap of faith.
Tyler: We were kind of grounded. You always hear about the stereotypical bands where no one has a job, they live in their rehearsal space and are living the life, working at music stores and stuff.
Dave: Everyone always asked you know, “what are you going to do?” and I just kept saying I’m going to play in a band. And when they were like “okay but really what are you going to do” I just kept saying play in a band. I always remember that, I kept hearing “what’s your back-up plan?” I always thought it seemed so silly to have a backup plan. I feel like any steps you move toward your backup plan are just steps away from your plan. How can you move towards two plans at once?
Tyler: People always say stuff like “If I don’t make it by 30, I’ll quit”. If you got to say that now, quit, because you’re obviously not invested. If you’re thinking about a time frame in which you have to “make it” what does that even mean.
Dave: people will say like “I want this, and then I want to tour one month a year, then I’m ready to retire”
Tyler: Or “if I don’t have 20 number one singles by 30, I’ll quit”
Q: You can always set goals, but of course it’s going to change and you’ll have to adapt.
A: Yeah, there were a lot of moments where we started to feel like, okay this is good, this feels good. Our first record went on sale, and the first week of it out the sales were like 12,500 or something like that. To us that was like a massive amount people! If 12,500 people were all together in one room, what a show that would be. So, it seemed like such a cool thing, and it just kept going. Tyler says this all the time: never settle. Never be complacent. Always set new goals. We had a platinum record, which still looking back seems like a huge achievement, especially at a time when records weren’t really selling. But after we were like, alright what’s next? We want to set goals and work towards something.
Q: So then, what would a goal be now? Because you have achieved so many different things, what’s something that you’re still chasing after?
A: More growth. Getting in front of people and getting more people to hear our music and go to shows. We want to have bigger shows and expand globally too. We’ve done Canada, U.S., and U.K. We’re hitting Russia now, and we’ve done Australia once. But yeah, to be able grow and to get to fans in other places we’ve never been to before. Much like a fine wine, we’re maturing and making the best music we’ve ever made, which isn’t always the case with other bands. For us, it’s an exciting time. We want more people to hear our music and see where we are and what we’re doing. How that happens and what that means, we don’t know yet. And with the beauty of technology too its easier for people to listen.
Q: So who would be some of your inspirations? A lot of people look up to you guys, newer bands who are just starting are like “wow, look at this band who’s done so much.” Who do you still look up to like that? And have you played with any of them?
A: Alice in Chains was one of our favorite bands in the world that we’ve played with at a couple festival shows here and there. We played poker at Jerry Cantrell’s house which was awesome. It’s really fun to do stuff like that but you have to remind yourself to stay on a level when you hang out with someone like Jerry Cantrell, you know don’t fanboy. Its hard! You’re looking at picture of him and Layne Staley on his wall and are like, “Oh, cool pic man” wishing you could put it in your bag. But seriously hanging out in that environment, playing poker with them, it was really cool.
Dean: Guns N’ Roses was the band for me as a kid, I grew up listening to them, those were my rock gods. That’s the band that made me want play and get into the business and still to this day watching what they’re accomplishing with their tours is awesome.
Tyler: I think the bands that we all loved before our band got signed are still the bands we view as the larger than life, best bands in the world.
Q: That’s got to be a fun moment where you can reflect on where you’ve been and say “Wow, here I am with someone who I’ve looked up to.”
A: We went out with Mötley Crüe a couple times and on one of the tours, Nikki Sixx brought us back into his dressing room before the show and told us how important we were to the tour and if anybody gave us a hard time to come to him directly. He even gave us a copy of his book and we were all like “man, what the hell was that?!” Like these are the biggest rock stars in the world and they rolled a red carpet out for us, what’s going on here? Moments like that are inspiring because they make you just want to be like that to other bands and vice versa. There are also bands that are full dickheads and they inspire us to not do what they do.
Q: So, what would you tell someone who is maybe just starting? Maybe in the music industry or thinking about doing something crazy like quitting their jobs and going on tour or producing an album, or just fulfilling any dream they have?
A: Go in 100 percent! Don’t be wishy washy. If you believe in yourself and believe in what you want to do, jump right in and go after it. And don’t dwell on the negative. It’s so easy to construe everything as negative too. Everyone wants you to succeed and everyone gives you advice but you have to believe in yourself and keep staying positive.
Q: Being a band is a business to an extent, so there are bound to be a lot of challenges good and bad and roadblocks as well. What would you say was a moment that you had to overcome, a moment that made you think to yourself you could throw in the towel right now but you stuck with it and overcame?
A: When we were working on Scars and Souvenirs, we had a good moment where we stood strong as a band and fought for the song that we believed in as a single when our label wanted to push a different song. That was a defining moment for us where we actually drew a line in the sand, saying we won’t tour it or support it. That was a really cool moment for us where we realized we have some power here as a business, and it worked.
We ended up with our pick “Bad Girlfriend” as the single, which is what the fans wanted. At the end of the day, we stick with our gut. If we’re wrong, at least we’re wrong on our terms. We can live with it, it’s our decision. It’s tougher when a label or manager convinces you of something and it ends up being a bad decision. You could fire them but then what? We’ve learned in this business to always trust your gut, that’s another thing we tell people. And it works for a lot of different applications, not just music. You see it in many successful businesses as well, they have a gut instinct they go with, they work hard and they don’t let negative people surround them.
Another moment was early on we had our best buddy as our drummer and he just couldn’t cut it, so we had to let go of one of our best friends. At the time it really seemed like a wakeup call to how the business works. Overcoming that one is still probably the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. It becomes a business decision, you want your business to have longevity and survive, so you have to do what’s best for the business.
Q: So, what does your creative process look like? Do you guys have a certain ritual or something that gets you inspired?
Tyler: Witches, blood rituals, sacrifice, ghosts. Nah, no usually I do a lot of the songwriting stuff upfront and then we do a lot of stuff in the studio. it’s not as exciting as people think. There’s no process, it honestly just comes out of nowhere. I just wake up in the morning and start singing something and it becomes a chorus of something and then it’s on a record. People ask me “where’d you come up with that?” and I’m like “I don’t know”.
Dave: It’s usually morning time, though right?
Tyler: oh yeah. I write til about 10am and that’s it. I can’t write at night, I can’t write in the afternoon, I don’t know what it is.
Q: So how do you stay motivated? Touring must get to you for sure. Is there anything that keeps you passionate about what you’re doing?
Tyler: I do yoga. You find something that’s fun. We’ve been doing it for so long now we all each have our own thing. I try to get off the bus, I try to see the towns were in and walk around quite a bit. Dean does as well.
Dean: Yeah, I like to explore.
Tyler: yeah, you have to be able to be okay being on your own.
Dean: We all need alone time. I like to have little adventures. Like on Monday we were close to Pittsburg and it was Monday night football, so I just got in an Uber and went downtown to watch the game. Things like that are good for me.
Tyler: Golfing, we like golfing.
Dave: We all know each other’s pros and cons now; I think we just have a great relationship. We’ve toured with a lot of bands and I don’t think there’s a lot of bands that get along like we do.
Tyler: We’ve had bands come on our bus and get drunk and shit-talk their band mates.
Dave: We’ve had guys come hang out on our bus every night and we’re like “Why aren’t you with your band?” And they’re all like “fuck my band”
Dean: We have a psychologist couch, people come and spill there.
Q: In these interviews it’s fun to de-mystify and show people you are real people who do real things and work hard just like others, you hit roadblocks and have goals.
A: Exactly. We once saw a Hockey game somewhere, and they brought us down to the locker room after to meet some players. They were just playing video games, some of the guys are just working out, one of them is grabbing a Coke from the back of the fridge he hid from the coach. It all just looks like us after a show, just playing video games and hanging.
Q: Ok, last one. Share with us some advice you’d give to others who are thinking about taking that jump like you did and going after a crazy dream.
Check out their latest song: