Interview: Dante White Aliano of Dante Vs. Zombies
I love this band. In a time when almost every other band is completely severed from their audiences, everything exciting, fresh and different about music that has been lost for seemingly decades is in the music of Dante Vs. Zombies. But what is brilliant is that DVZ connects with their fans in a subtle manner. Obviously, when watching them you get the feeling that that your contributing as well to their art, and while Dante White Aliano’s stage presence is very, well, present, they are simultaneously untouchable, confined to their own bubble; an extroverted introversion of sorts.
Much of the core of the group’s sound comes from the brilliant driving bass lines and syncopated drum patterns by Jada Wagensomer and Jeff Ehrenberg, respectively. While their music is lively and danceable, they still retain a tremendous sense of uncertainty, as if the music could just suddenly fall apart, not seen since James White and the Blacks, caused by Dante’s unhinged stage personality, and his lyricism that rotates seamlessly from the blatantly unnerving, to the cryptically esoteric.
It’s not uncommon to see in one of their shows the entire band dressed head to toe in military regalia, violinist/keyboardist/percussionist Laena Geronimo shaking maracas in a blinding (to her and the audience) hot pink burqa, or even see Dante climb a tree before running into the audience to see for himself how the show’s going. Of course their sound also stands entirely on their own because of Matt Polley and Gabriel Hart’s magnificent twangy, reverb heavy guitars, so much so that you expect Manco to saunter on stage, smoking an old stogie, straight off the set of A Fistful of Dollars.
I realise that when a band is so good, but still so indefinable that you resort to making a fool out of yourself, comparing their music to Clint Eastwood, just to try to find some way to put your finger on their sound, even if it lands thirty miles away. The band actually got it the closest the first time around, labeling their music as “Mutant-Spaghetti-Western-Jungle-Pop-Anthems.” I guess all that is left is to read and listen. Enjoy -Cody
Neotomic: I usually try not to ask bands how they formed, but if you don’t mind me asking, how did Dante vs. Zombies begin? Did it start as a solo project for you, and evolve into a band, or was the intention for it always to be a full fledged group?
Dante White Aliano: It started off as a solo project that I didn’t think would last more than a show or two. I definitely didn’t think that it would become so much fun. I’m extremely fortunate that the other members seem to feel the same way. This last fact is what turned the project into as much, of a “real band” as anything else I’ve done
N: How exactly did the group get together? Had you all known each other prior to Dante Vs. Zombies?
DWA: Long before DVZ began, We had already been close friends and musical collaborators, Jeff, Laena and I from Starlite Desperation and lots of weekly jamming during the year following Starlite’s last show. Laena, Jada and Matt from the street busking group, The Not So Lonelies , Jada and Matt from Baby & Guy, Jada and Gabe from Jail Weddings, and Gabe, Jeff and myself from years of Gabe’s old band The Starvations playing with Starlite Desperation.
I had been between projects for about a year and was getting very antsy. My efforts to allow things to “unfold organically” just made me feel like I wasn’t really doing anything except turning into a conspiracy theorist who liked to jam. People had been asking me to play a show but I didn’t have a project. Finally I just said “sure”. I’ll play your show as a solo artist.
“Cool. What last name do you want to use?”
“Uhh. None of them. I’ll think of something by tomorrow. Also, I’m going to ask all my friends that aren’t too busy to be involved.”
So that’s how the name Dante Vs Zombies was born. Like I already said, I didn’t think it was going to turn into the funnest and largest band I’d ever been a part of, but I’m constantly thankful that that is what happened.
N: Dante Vs. Zombies seems so far removed and different than any other of your previous bands. Is this a result of having more creative free rein this time around?
DWA: It might be. Other factors are: Having a band that has my name in it, which frequently embarrasses me, actually made me extra relaxed and enthusiastic about welcoming every member’s input, highlighting everyone’s individual personalities, and transforming frequently. Many, many bands that pretend to be democracies are actually tightly controlled by 1 or two songwriters who dictate not only the music, but the image, while many “solo” artists write very few or none of their material. Much of our attire is often decided by other members of the band. Very often by Jada Wagensomer, our bass player. I’ve never been very comfortable with the idea of going on stage as just “Dante White Aliano”. I love the band aesthetic. I just wanted to start something that I wouldn’t feel compelled to disband for reasons of “purity” if a couple of members left after the first record.
N: You sometimes write lyrics that others often leave to a dark closet, but what’s brilliant is that you still retain that classic pop sensibility and melody. Do you purposely ride that fine line between indeterminable avant garde experimentation and conspicuously commercial pop?
DWA: Maybe. It’s hard to avoid cliche’s in lyrics, but it’s very necessary for me. And I like messy tones as well as messy subject matter. And as far the pop sensibility, I simply enjoy performing songs that are fun to sing and dance to.
N: John Cale said he had a well-honed sense of what made himself uncomfortable. Because of such lyrics like those of “Yes, I’m Stalking You,” would you say the same about yourself?
DWA: Yes, that’s pretty accurate.
N: There always seems to be something different about each performance from the costumes to wonderfully screaming in the middle of the song. Does this come out of fighting off boredom, or is it something else, like a desire to constantly experiment and see what you can get away with?
DWA: It’s both. There are plenty of pasts and futures to avoid and embrace.
N: DVZ has had some of the strongest bass lines in a long time, and seems such an integral part of the group’s sound. Given that, can you tolerate this wave of bands that don’t even bother with a bassist anymore, and leave it out completely?
DWA: Thank you. I wouldn’t say I don’t tolerate it. My old band Starlite Desperation started off without Bass and there are many people doing the “no bass” thing exceptionally well. I just really like the sound of the bass. So much so that I play bass in 3 other bands, (Swahili Blonde, Raw Geronimo and Gabriel Hart & The 4th Wall).
N: You’ve recently shot the music video for your song “Oblivion,” to coincide with the release of its 7” w/ “Bible Belt.” Can you tell a little about the plot or imagery of it, when your last was so visually striking?
DWA: The Oblivion video will be more lighthearted than Yes, I’m Stalking You, but not without it’s dark and tasteless aspects. The premise is that I start a very shady “ghetto” fitness club that the rest of the members unwittingly stumble upon and join. I haven’t seen the edit yet, but I predict it will have a bit of John Waters in it.
N: Can we expect a full length album in the near future?
DWA: I want the next release to be a full length.
N: Finally, Lou Reed recently agreed to appear at an event where he’ll be reading a story written by a child who is in the audience, all for charity. Of all the possible reasons why this seems like such a bad idea, what do you think is the most likely reason that this could all go horribly wrong?
DWA: He’ll fire the kid who wrote the book and rewrite it himself.
May 22nd The Silverlake Jubilee Los Angeles, CA
Every Monday in June at the Echo Los Angeles, CA
August 27 The Crescent Hotel San Francisco, CA
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A giant thanks to Dante White Aliano for agreeing to this interview, and his great answers.