An Interview with Les McDonald from Nashville’s punk band Deadwatt

Deadwatt is a ska-punk band formed in Nashville, TN in 2015, with elements of jazz, reggae, and hard rock. They have gained a reputation for being the most eclectic band in Nashville’s music scene. We got the chance to catch up with the bands trumpet player Les McDonald and talked about everything from how it all started, Nashville’s punk scene,  and  the lack of diversity in rock music.

So, how did Deadwatt come about? How did everyone meet and decide hey, we’re gonna start this kick ass band? 

I started searching for a project that I could feel passionate about because I just did not feel right being in classical music anymore. I put out an ad about forming a ska band and that  is how I met our guitarist, Lee Bowen. Lee, Steve, and Jason were already a band but reached out to me about creating a project that would stand out in Nashville and in the scene. We rehearsed for several weeks and somehow we found our vocalist Dylan. So, we just kept rehearsing and writing songs. We realized we had something special, so we started thinking of a name. Jason named us Deadwatt at our very first show in 2015.It basically means what it sounds like. It describes how powerful of a sound we have, and it also represents us being a type anarchist in the scene. We don’t really follow rules, we don’t like being told what we can and can’t do, and we don’t conform to fit the “latest and greatest” sound.

Have you always liked Punk/Rock music?

Yes, I’ve been a fan of rock music since 1998. I heard Sum 41 on MTV and I freaked out. Something about that music reached me. I listened to artist like Three Doors Down, Breaking Benjamin, Blink 182, and Lenny Kravitz in my younger years too.  What really drew me into rock for good was System of a Down and Green Day. I loved the fact they spoke their minds and had their own signature sounds. I became obsessed with those bands. I think right then, I decided that I wanted to be a musician. I used to blast their music in my car and everyone would laugh and make fun of me for it. I got called a freak People even went so far to say I was a psycho. Basically, I didn’t listen to rap, so to them it was weird seeing a black guy jamming to rock.

How does the punk scene play a role in your life, outside of music?

I’m a straight up punk. I dress like a punk, I speak my mind, and people don’t like those that speak their mind. All my true friends will tell you that everywhere I   go, I find myself being the Lone Wolf. I never want to be the Status Quo or act like society acts. I like being me.  If people don’t like that, so be it. So, I think the punk scene has taught me to not be sorry for being yourself.

How long have you been playing Trumpet?

 I’ve been playing trumpet for 20 years. I started in fifth grade and just kept going from there. I took private lessons during my high school  years, and I became obsessed with perfecting my craft. I obtained a bachelors degree in music from  Tennessee Tech University(06-2010)then obtained  my masters degree from the University of Tennessee(2011-2013).I actually was fortunate to compete in the semi-final  rounds of National Trumpet Competition several times in my life while attending college.

 Do you play any other instruments or is there any one you’d like to learn?

I actually do play Trombone, French Horn and Euphonium. I learned to play these instruments so that I could teach!  I want to play guitar though, in hopes that I can write for a future solo project.

What or who inspires you musically or even in general?

Honestly, vocalist Serj Tankian from System of a down inspires me. I love musicians who stand for something and who aren’t afraid to express themselves. Serj speaks on the topic of genocide to raise awareness. So, anyone who uses their voice for good inspires me.

When were you introduced to Rock music?

I’ve been a fan of rock music since a child. Something about it reached me. When I got to high school, I was fully hooked. That era of music was pure insanity. I remember hearing bands like Fall Out Boy, Panic!At the Disco, Relient K , Modest Mouse,The Killers, Green Day, and My Chemical Romance on  a single  station. It was just amazing music 24/7.I got introduced to so much music just on MTV alone. The 2000s were amazing times for the music scene. I got into the heavier music my senior year of high school and in college.

 The trumpet in the band is such a dope and unique twist that you don’t really hear often, how did that come about?

 Ska music has been around forever. If you listen to bands like the Bosstones or Reel Big Fish, you can hear trumpet and horns are a major part of ska music.  But I think what makes it unique for us is that I don’t play in a traditional “ska” way. I pull more from classical elements, so often you’ll hear me playing piccolo trumpet on several EP tracks.   I try to add a more aggressive style that often separates us from the “ska” label. I know that trumpet is a unique instrument for this genre. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been laughed at on stage by audience members who weren’t familiar with us. But I think the greatest reward is hearing people talk after a show, or even having people come up and hug you after a show. People really do respect what I do. I didn’t really feel that respect in classical music and it’s a big reason why I left. I’m a naturally aggressive personality and it shows within my trumpet playing. I am glad that I have a band that can match my intensity. For me, this project is my revenge against a classical trumpet community that really tried to silence me and never wanted to give me a fair shot. I hear some in that community criticize me for being in Deadwatt but I don’t really care. I want to make my own path in music. This is my way of doing just that. I  don’t have to be just an orchestral musician or just a jazz player.  I can be me and that’s what Deadwatt is all about.

Is the Punk Scene in Nashville alive? Where could we find some dope rock/punk music or places to hang out in Music City?

The Punk Scene is definitely alive in Nashville. The best places to find the most awesome bands are at The End Nashville and Springwater  Supperclub and Lounge. These two places are THE BEST VENUES in Nashville, in my opinion. They give our scene a chance. I’m forever grateful for these two venues. To be honest, there’s been a resurgence of house shows here just because main venues often make it difficult for bands like us to play. In this day and time, many venues just don’t support the local scene enough. We find that to happen frequently in Tennessee. There is definitely a bias toward the Punk Scene that often makes it difficult for us to get shows. When we started as a band, we only had a show every other month. Two years later, our inbox is full of venues asking us to do shows all over Nashville and Tennessee. So, we’ve come a long way and we’ve done our best to bring the scene along for the ride with us. We love our local scene here and we love the bands within it! We hope Nashville gives all of our friends a chance to play on bigger stages.

Do you think that Nashville caters to all music scenes? Or mainly country and indie folk music? What do you think can change that?

They cater to mainly Country. Radio stations, country or alternative, play the same types of music each week on the radio. Venues get the same type of bands each week. Nashville is a pretty oversaturated market. There are at least 2000+ bands in our area, so often I think people become deaf to it. We actually were nominated for Best Alternative EP at Indieville TV. That’s a huge change for the scene I feel because people did not understand the term “ska-punk” .We somehow bypassed the aura surrounding the term. For the record, we did not use that term at first. It’s a term that our fans labeled us and we are fine with that.

There aren’t enough music blogs, radio stations, and organizations that focus on our punk scene. Some claim to be in support of the local scene and say they want to promote it, but they often show bias toward music they don’t understand right from the start. I see bands submit for opportunities all the time here with little success because of that bias and because the “powers that be” fear that these bands will not be well received by a certain demographic. I think having an open mind, giving unknown bands a chance, and making music about music again will help the situation.

 Any POC rock artists you enjoy listening to?

Yes, Howard Jones is my idol. I truly love his work as a vocalist. Also,I grew up being a huge fan of  Lenny Kravitz.

Do you think there could be more diversity in rock music?

Yes, I absolutely do.  Stereotypes are so ridiculous and also restrictive. Being black doesn’t  mean I have to  always listen to Rap and R&B. If you  like that music then that’s fantastic. But never put yourself in a box. Be open minded to all genres and styles. You’ll find that music is music,and genres truly don’t exist when you let labels go. It makes it more enjoyable.

If you were given one hour to sit down and talk with any musician,  dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Probably Serj Tankian from System of a Down.  He’s a fascinating individual with a story to tell. And his voice is unique….His band  is unique period.  I’d love to work in the studio with him on my horn parts. He actually writes orchestra music now, so it would be a  dream come true to play in his orchestra and play his compositions.

            

I read that you guys are in motion of preparing a full studio album! What can we expect from that?

 We  are writing some pretty complex stuff. We’re exploring harder key signatures and time signatures this time around. My role is changing within the music while still allowing me to hang on to some older flavors. For now, we’re trying to get the highest quality recording possible. We’ve just started a Patreon  page,so we’re doing our best the raise money to make this album as amazing as we can! www.patreon.com/thedeadwattband

                               Any upcoming shows or tours we should know about?

Yes, we have over 6 shows between now and July and we’re trying to book a  southern tour for fall 2018. We can’t reveal too much yet, but we’re having an amazing year so far with shows!! (Expect a tour in fall 2018 for sure!)We hope to see all of our out of state fans very soon!

For more on Deadwatt and their upcoming projects and shows, check them out on Instagram, Youtube, and Facebook @deadwatt, and of course on their official website at http://www.deadwatt.com/

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