Sometimes you see a band that just sticks with you. I mean pretty soon they are eating your food, ordering pay-per-view, making long distance phone calls, on and on and on… Beelzebubba is one of those bands. Seriously though, on a recent trip to Hollywood I caught their performance at the Whisky A Go-Go. Prior to the show several people had asked me if I had ever seen Beelzebubba before. To be honest I hadn’t, nor had I ever heard of them before. I was quite taken aback when they took the stage dressed as people right out of my worst nightmares. Cowboy hats, western shirts, and pointy boots OH MY! I thought I was at a rock show?!?! As soon as they started playing though….everything was gonna be ok, or was it?
I caught up with Adrian Jackson Dunham (A),and Zachary Maxwell Dunham (Z) and tried to figure out the question, What in the HELL is Beelzebubba?
Z: I’m not really sure how to define it…
A: A really fun band, the inception of which is from our heads… We dress like Texans who are trying to look sharp for the ladies… We do songs you might not expect to come out of a ten-gallon hat… We are a country band.
How did this unholy union come to be?
A: Zach and I always liked to play music together. Beelzebubba is a vein we hit and ran with. We have always been fascinated with outsider art, primarily music and concept albums of this genre. Thor’s “An-Thor-Logy”, AKA “Ride of the Chariots”, The Shaggs “Philosophy of the World”, and anything by The Kids of Whidney High are my greatest influences. I feel that these all reflect the way the world really is.
Z: Me too. My brother and I have been playing music together since 1998. Our stuff has always been just for us, trying to make each other laugh. We grew up in a small town where we’d get snowed in a lot, so we needed to entertain ourselves. It started as really silly rock (we sang songs of praise about the wrestler Goldberg and Yassir Arafat). Then we got really into NES video game music – covering classics and making our own. In 2005 we formed our first band called Hokma Gandhi. We sucked, playing at one or two total shit hole bars, and believing all the time that we were geniuses; and we didn’t have to work hard because we were going to be discovered and magically whisked away to the realm of stardom. We did that for two years, until Hokma Gandhi blessedly dissolved. Then Adrian and I sort of went our separate ways – I moved to NYC and he stayed in LA. Do you want to add anything about Hokma Gandhi?
A: No. You said it, that’s fine.
Z: We reunited in 2009 when I moved back for work. One day in the summer of that year, we were driving around listening to a mix Adrian had made. The only song that wouldn’t skip was “Cop Killer” by Body Count. We love that song, always have ever since we were kids. Adrian said, “How awesome would this be as a country song?” I said, “Fucking awesome. In fact, this should’ve been a country song.” Adrian said, “Let’s record it – like a slow country shuffle,” and I replied, “No, let’s do it as a moderately peppy two-step.” We then immediately set up the laptop and recorded it in his kitchen in about a half hour. That was the first track we did. Adrian and I reinvented the song as a country song, almost an exact rendition except for the chord progression in the chorus – Adrian makes very careful, considerate musical liberties with every cover we do. We showed “Cop Killer” to some people and they all laughed their asses off. Then we sort of left it alone, and did other stuff to make each other laugh, like traditional Jewish Power Metal…
A: Hineih Ma Tov is still one of my favorite things we’ve ever done…
Z: A few weeks later, Adrian came to me and said we should start a band. But what kind of band? Our tastes are so varied and eclectic? He suggested that we just do like we’ve always done and just do whatever we want – kind of like Mr. Bungle or Ween or Frank Zappa. But I came back and said that Cop Killer is really something to be proud of and we can take our secret formula of comedic song writing and do an entire album of country-fried punk, heavy metal or gangster rap songs. Now we had a country band with a Satanic through line. Adrian came up with the name by combining an ancient pseudonym for Satan (Beelzebub – Lord of the Flies) and Bubba, a pretty standard redneck name…
A: Which coincidentally is also the name of a Dead Milkmen album.
Z: And that is the birth of Beelzebubba. I’m the manager of the band – getting gigs, scheduling rehearsal, etc – and I also have a lot of creative input. I came up with the flag and the costumes, for instance. But the feel, the overall artistic vision, is Adrian’s. He designed the website, he orchestrated every song.
Tell me about the magical alchemy of players that comprise Beelzebubba.
Z: I’m the lead singer. My background, all of my training and stuff, comes from musical theatre. Freddy Mercury, Mike Patton, Stevie Wonder, Rob Halford and Ozzy Osbourne are my favorite singers.
A: I’m the lead guitarist and I sing backing vocals. I went to music school, studied experimental music. My favorite musical style of all is Judas Priest. I met John in school – he’s our drummer. He’s good at just about everything from blast beats to Bach. And he’s really good at World music, like African ensemble drummer and Indian tablas.
Z: Aaron, the bassist, is one of my buddies. He’s got a sick sense of humor and he loves outlaw country music above all other things in life. Although this is his first band, he’s been playing guitar and bass for years with his brother, who is a drummer. And James, the pianist, is someone I met through doing choral work. He’s a veteran, highly proficient in both guitar and piano, and also music composition. He’s written several musicals and teaches regularly.
What does the future hold for the band?
Z: The future holds a lot of fun and a lot of work. We hope that this can be our full-time job. We want to play all over the US and the world. We’re very confident that we reach a wide audience, and what we represent and what we’re saying really hits a nerve in our current sociopolitical climate. We’re definitely interested in fame and fortune, but we abhor complacency. We want to rock. We want to disturb, challenge, infuriate and horrify. This could be the best job ever.
I know that you started out doing covers, but I have heard rumors of some original tunes coming our way, is this true?
A: Yes. We’ve got two new ones, “Get Away, You Fuckers”, which is about being stuck in Los Angeles traffic, and “Maybe Sandusky”, which is about Jerry Sandusky being President and other characters who in the public eye. We’ve also got a couple more in the works.
(“Out of State Fuckers” comes to mind – the Hellion)
Z: A little over a month ago, I told Adrian we have to start making our own songs. People keep saying “Amazing covers! Do you have any originals?” We’re really good. People are watching. But if we don’t say what’s in our hearts and solely stick to these covers, people will stop watching.
A: Our approach to playing other peoples’ songs… I mean, listen to our version of “Bitches”, then listen to Insane Clown Posse’s and tell me it’s not original. That being said, I totally agree that if we only do our covers we’ll only get so far. If we want to break out we have to take a risk and put down what we’ve got.
Z: At first we were scared: How do we incorporate who we are and what’s going on with us into the formula, created originally for transforming pre-existing songs. We weren’t sure, and we didn’t want to force it. Then one day I was walking down the street, talking to Adrian on the phone, and this cute Green Peace girl standing in front of a local restaurant, trying to get people’s signatures for something, started mocking me. She put her hand up to her mouth and mimicked me walking and talking on the phone – I assume in an effort to get my attention so I’d sign whatever petition she had. I kept talking, but as I got close I had this irresistible urge to scream, “FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING CUNT” as loud as possible. I didn’t, of course. I went home and explored that urge and realized both my brother and I have a tremendous amount of rage. Rage, I believe, is what separates lasting comedy from comedy that is cute and transient. Comedy in music runs the risk of being cute, which is detestable to Adrian and me. It must be fueled with rage, or else you’ll get stuff like Andy Samberg, Jimmy Fallon and Dimitri Martin…
A: Or that guy… What’s his name… I don’t know, it doesn’t matter.
Z: After we figured out the rage ingredient, we sat down and wrote three songs in one day, all of which we’re really proud and excited for.
A: Yeah, “Maybe Sandusky” took only twenty minutes. We took a quick break, which is when I came up with “Get Away, You Fuckers” while I was taking a shit. I showed it to Zach and he said, “Perfect.” – meaning the song, not my dump.
Z: We proved to ourselves that our formula works, and we’ve sort of hit our stride. Our goal is to get at least 12 tracks by the end of the year. Then we cut an album.
A: And when we cut an album, that doesn’t mean we won’t do “Cop Killer” or “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love”, et cetera.
I was lucky enough to catch a live show, can you describe a performance to the readers?
Z: It’s a full show, sixty minutes, with no explanation or dialogue, but a definite emotional arch and direction. It’s very theatrical in this sense. It’s challenging for the audience. We set it up as a sort of demented sing along – these covers are popular songs many people know, but presented clean and yet entirely pissed off. So the audience finds themselves indulging in lyrics, screaming lyrics that could probably get you arrested in the real world. However, it leaves the audience with a feeling of completing a fun, crazy and unpredictable journey.
A: Yeah, a lot of it is about a band getting up there and rocking. No excuses, no fucking around, no whining!
Z: Stand flat-footed, facing the audience. No self-indulgent jamming with our backs to the audience, which for some reason is a tasteless trend in most live music.
A: It would be funny if we all turned around during every solo… The drummer, too.
Are there any of today’s artists that give you inspiration?
Z: Not that many popular artists. I’d say a lot of Mike Patton’s projects. All the bands we play with inspire me, however. Young people trying to find their voices against a shit load of obstacles. I’ve been there, and I’m always reinvigorated and inspired by people who have the courage to try to express themselves in a public forum. Pussy Riot inspires me. Aaron, Adrian and I saw Glenn Campbell’s final performance at the Hollywood Bowl. That was incredible.
A: I’ve named a few earlier in the interview. I’m inspired by, the now defunct, Afrirampo, Pussy Riot, Secret Chiefs 3, and I like that song by Selena Gomez, “I Love You Like a Love Song”, baby.
What advice would you give to a group a young people trying to start their musical careers?
Z: I have three things to say. First, always be true to yourself, no matter how crazy or unpopular or unmarketable you think your music might be. All of the greatest bands in history did what they wanted to do. Do whatever your instincts dictate, regardless of failure. And when you do inevitably fail, relish it, for it will lead you to what cannot fail. After a decade of not having a totally awesome product, we’re finally doing it, and it’s turning out to be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences of my life. Second, set a noble goal. Mine is to make a really fun product from scratch with my brother. We’re not rich and famous, but we’re making our own totally original thing, and we’re laughing our asses off doing it. This means I’m living in my goal and I feel fucking successful and grateful; it keeps me working hard in rehearsal, finding gigs, playing shows, and all the other tough necessary things a band’s gotta do. And third, don’t buy into your own publicity or image. It’s a show, and at the end of the day you have to wash your dishes and do your laundry.
A: I’d say when you play a gig be sure to stay and watch the other acts. It’s courteous to stay and it’s a good opportunity to network and study live performance. I’ve seen it for years where bands just play and bounce. And the other piece of advice is, I’m paraphrasing Lemmy Kilmister, but he said something to the tune of, “Don’t try to write something great, that’s not how great music is done. Writing music is about putting down what you got.”
What do you guys think of the music scene today?
Z: It depends on what scene you’re talking about. If you mean American Idol or the Grammy’s, I’m sickeningly reminded of the Nazis – how they systematically exterminated the Jewish artists and intelligentsia; and then introduced their own artists, saying, “Ah, now this is how art is supposed to be.” I always like seeing live music. My brother and I saw Primus at the Wiltern last October. That was incredible. We saw Dio twice before he passed, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with Rob Halford… All of these shows were so wonderful and memorable. I also like seeing unsigned, no name bands because I never know what I’m going to get. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it’s magnificent – either way, it’s always a learning experience. So I guess I think of today’s music scene as school, looking for what works and what doesn’t so I can make the best product possible.
A: Yeah, the coolest scene I ever saw was at Metal Masters in San Bernardino in 2008 – that’s when we saw Motörhead, Heaven and Hell and Judas Priest. You could talk to everyone. Everyone was super friendly and had nothing to prove. Everyone was exactly where they wanted to be.
Are we ever gonna see Beelzebubba spread their music throughout the world on tour?
Z: I fucking hope so.
Here’s a taste:
And now you know !