In the ‘90s, Orange County wasn’t short of punk, hardcore and ska bands. Many of them went on to be mainstream, household names, while others drummed up a solid following but remained punk rock cult faves. The quality of the group didn’t have a bearing on which camp they ended up in, and so it is that Death By Stereo are firmly in the latter.
DBS, formed in 1998, naming themselves after a Corey Haim line in The Lost Boys. Over the next 14 years, they released an impressive six full length albums starting with 1999’s If Looks Could Kill, I’d Watch You Die debut. The most recent is 2012’s Black Sheep of the American Dream, though the Just Like You’d Leave Us, We’ve Left You for Dead EP dropped in 2016. It’s been a hot minute since new material landed, but there’s a new album on the way.
“We did an EP in between the album and this one, and it was really well received,” says singer Efrem Schulz. “We were pretty excited about it. And then we were finally able to get together enough for a new full-length. Everyone’s just so busy — everyone’s in like 20 bands. We’re looking at an early summer release.”
He’s not kidding about the multiband thing; Schulz himself also fronts the Voodoo Glowskulls and Manic Hispanic. Guitarist Dan Palmer is also in Zebrahead. And so on. But still, the members remain committed to Death By Stereo.
“I think we’re really focused right now,” says Schulz. “I feel like everybody knew what they wanted. We got to the results a lot easier than we thought we would. Our biggest restriction is just time. Everyone is so busy it’s crazy. I think it’s a lot more focused, and we’re really honed in on what we want to be as a band. How we want to sound.”
Schulz owns a skate and music shop in Fullerton called Programme Skate & Sound which hosts lives shows, and so he’s ideally placed to observe the new breed of O.C. punks — to watch the scene evolve and strongly march on.
“There are some great young, new bands doing really great things,” he says. “We do shows four nights a week sometimes. I see so many cool young bands right now. I hear from a lot of people: ‘Oh things are lame, there’s no good bands.’ Anybody who says that I feel is so out of touch with what’s going on because there’s a million kids doing amazing things and I always try to point that out to people. There’s a great hardcore band from Fullerton called Dare, and they’re making waves. The singer’s brother is in a band called Chemical X. They’re both carrying a torch right now. I think there’s a great scene going on right now. I think the scene is different — it’s way more ‘anything goes.’ We get some really oddball bands doing such out there stuff coming through, it’s really inspiring and it’s cool seeing kids really being themselves.”
That’s great, and refreshing, to hear. It’s far too easy for people in L.A. to look down at conservative O.C. and the “Orange Curtain.” But the O.C. is changing, evolving. Of course, there will always be those with questionable morals.
“In the broad picture, if you look at California it’s all the same now,” Schulz says. “If you go to L.A., it’s mostly for rich people. I used to live in L.A. — we all got pushed out. But definitely the current political climate has changed things quite a bit. I think people really showed their true colors. I have a friend who works in Orange County. He told me, ‘I never knew how racist people were around me until Trump got elected — I couldn’t believe the things that were coming out of people’s mouths at work.’ He’s like, ‘I’m the only black guy who works here but I never felt weird — now, I kinda feel weird around some of the people in my office because they’re so excited.’ It’s maniacal. It’s weird. The people who support the right wing government are frothing at the mouth for it. It’s crazy. They’re like rabid for it.”
Another thing that has changed dramatically since DBS formed is the nature of the music industry and the fact that people don’t want to pay for recorded music anymore. Schulz isn’t phased by that one bit.
“It does make it hard,” he says. “Now, it’s like everyone’s just gonna get it how they get it and hear it how they hear it. We accepted it a long time ago, as a band. We do our own thing. I think it’s kinda cool that everybody’s getting music for free and I like that it’s all backwards. I like that the whole machine started falling apart and it all got torn down. I like that the power’s in everybody’s hands now. I like the way it’s going. It’s making it a much bigger platform for that ‘no rules’ game. I know it’s a weird world and there are things that have become a lot harder for us. But I like it.”
The band is embarking on a run of shows with reformed Bay Area punks Tsunami Bomb, and they’ll hit the Viper Room this week. Schulz is a fan of his tourmates.
“We did a tour together like ‘04 or something like that, across Canada,” he says. “We all became good friends and stayed friends over the years. We played a one-off together in Tacoma, Washington, like two years ago. We kept talking about it, and finally this weekend of shows came up. I approached Dominic [Davi] from Tsunami Bomb and was like, ‘Hey man, could this work?’ And it did. We’re playing together and we’re really excited.”
The Viper is a room that Schulz loves, due to the awesome sound. As for the set, he says we’ll get a good mix of all the records.
“We were talking about that a few days ago,” he says. “It’s going to be pretty varied but we are going to have some new songs in there from the new record so I’m stoked.”
As are we.
Death By Stereo plays with Tsunami Bomb and Toxic Energy at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 24 at The Viper Room.