Underneath This recently had the humble pleasure of interviewing Dex Romweber of the Dex Romweber Duo. Dex and his sister Sara comprise the Duo. Their latest album, Images 13, continues to be energetic, complex, and full of varied genres. For more information about the Dex Romweber Duo, tour dates, and the new album, please visit http://ruraltone.com/dex.
Please read more about Dex, one of the most influential American musicians, in the bio from his official media press kit and then read the interview that follows.
For a quarter century, Dex Romweber has trolled the dark corners and back shelves of the haunted thrift store of Americana ephemera and honed an extraordinarily idiomatic sound, a particular and readily identifiable DEXness for those in the know. It’s a creepy doll collection of surf, proto-rockabilly, garage, dark and vengeful blues, and nobody, but nobody, plays it like Dex. First with the legendary Flat Duo Jets and now with his Duo, Dex distilled the punk ethos of less-is-more to the essential guitar/drums template. Left in the wake of his lecherous and slithery Silvertone were early acolytes like Jack White, Neko Case, and the Reigning Sound as well as a current crop of the indie pack like Ty Segall, No Age, Japandroids, and The Black Keys. All owe an unclaimed pawn ticket of debt to his sublime and spine-tingling sound. He is a live wire back to the murky, sometimes dangerous and always unpredictable headwaters of real rock and roll.
How has a sense of geography influenced your music?
Well, interesting question I think that I love the South but I am glad that the slaves were freed but a lot of music that I grew up listening to was primarily Southern music but I also like music from England and all over the place and even classical music; not just one thing but I can say in my years of my studying rockabilly, the real hardcore stuff came out in the South; I don’t want to live in Florida.
Exene Cervenka has described your music as “hardcore Americana.” What do you make of this designation?
I am studying America now; everything going on around me; I lived in it and didn’t consciously observe it at the time. I am a fan of I guess you can call it hardcore Americana but it is really just the influences and stuff I grew up listening to but that even includes Ray Charles; Patsy Cline; Eddie Cochran; and people like that, gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt.
How is it working with your sister, Sara, musically?
It’s working pretty good; we’ve been together 7 years, that’s a long run, longer than I thought it would be. My goal is to get 3 albums out with her; we talked about just basically doing a project and then at least getting through that but this final record, Images 13… I’m not saying we won’t make another record but the project has really, you know, been done but we still have a lot of gigs left to do.
I think with our record label we have to do 42 gigs to promote it; that’s part of our contract, we are half way done. I am not sure what’s going to happen; we’re just trying to make a living ya know; the project is…I saw our last record as a pretty big thing but come what may with this project.
What was it like being in the film Athens, GA: Inside/Out?
It was a long time ago and my life was a lot different and so many years and experiences have passed by but I remember the experience.
Well but it was more of a teenage world heavier now than later with more responsibilities free-wheeling experiences and we ran amok down there and did what we wanted; I didn’t know what paying car insurance meant back then for example. We smoked a lot of reefer and drank a lot of beer; very different life than now.
You have had a long, successful music career beginning in the 1980’s. Is there anything you wish you knew when beginning your career that you know now?
Yeah, I think it would be not to pick not so self-destructive role models at a young age; that would have probably helped me if I hadn’t done that; I learned that later; some of these people I chose as role models were really out there people and I would have definitely say it’s that I would have done differently.
Jack White has described as highly influential your second album made by your band Flat Duo Jets, Go Go Harlem Baby. What was the process like of making that record?
It was a very crazy time and we arrived at the time completely unprepared; we had all the songs. We hadn’t put it together; [Flat] Duo Jets had a very hard time practicing, we sounded like we did but we toured enough so we could get away it ; that was hard we did hold practices but not enough as we could have. That album was put together pretty quickly; that’s really all I have to say about it we were using that quote from Jackie Gleason, that he never practiced. We took that as our motto.
Your latest album as the Dex Romweber Duo, “Images 13” seems like it has more subdued feel than your most recent album, “Is that You in the Blue?” What moved you to make this most recent collection of songs?
Well, it’s been more than 2 years since, “Is that You in the Blue?” We had a pretty hard last year; we hadn’t been working very much; not many gigs were coming through. We were pretty frustrated with the way everything was going; we essentially booked time in the studio just so we had a project to work on.
Some of the songs weren’t composed yet but I found that when I had a record pending I would go and write songs; all of that tunes is what came through right now. Me and my sister are veterans in the music industry so we’re getting up there in years so none of this was new to us; it was just a matter of pulling together songs we had playing in past 2 years and we writing enough to put together an LP and songs we wanted to record, so that’s what happened.
How did you decide on the title, “Images 13?”
The title is the album cover that I did but it’s the title of the cover art work, which is strange but me and my sister played in Spain, a festival there in the winter and I had 14 hours of jet lag and I was lying on the hotel bed and that image of that album cover came into my brain, my mind’s eye of all of the images; when I got home.
I love the energy of the song, “Roll On.” How did you select it as the first track?
Well, it was the most rollicking one; in a lot of ways. It is a very exciting one and the quality of the recording came off that way, and we were discussing in the studio what to put on first and that was the consensus.
Within your career, which album was the most rewarding album to make? The most challenging?
I don’t know; they are all different. I struggled with which one is better; the past one or Images 13 but I shouldn’t think that way. I can’t answer that question. In a real way, they are all rewarding because I feel best when I’m working; as long as I have a chance to work or being productive or producing I’m okay.
This record contains instrumental songs. How do you see them fitting with the lyrically based tracks?
I have no problem with that; I played the record for a friend and he brought up that question; I always loved instrumental, bands like the Ventures and various bands in the old days of instrumentals, so I never had that problem. Sometimes sequencing the record is a little difficult and we had less problems with this one than in the past so sometime I would like to record a whole album of instrumentals. I’m such a fan of that type of genre.
What are some differences between making music as a solo artist and working within a band?
Even though our outfit is called the duo…I still have to contend with other people’s opinions, and I really always have; I’m not saying I’m running the whole project; we all have ideas that we kick around. I would prefer people not to tell others what they think or not think about what they should do but inevitably that they will do. The producers and everyone’s commenting… a lot of balls get thrown around.
What do you make of the current Americana landscape within music?
I’m not sure. I haven’t come across by a lot of things I’m blown away by, like I was a child of the 70’s and then quickly got into 50’s music and studied classical and jazz music. I’m still a little bit lost in that; where I live it’s a rural place and there’s not a lot of bands to see, so a lot of stuff happens that can pass me by and it’s not that I don’t like it. I didn’t know Nick Cave came out with a new record. I would like to hear it haven’t heard it yet; he goes a long way back, it’s not like I don’t come across things that are totally blowing me away.
The Black Diamond Heavies, I like them; me and Sara have toured with. I like them a lot. There’s a band in Atlanta, the Subsonics, I’m a fan of theirs but these musicians have been around a long time, I’m not like finding new stuff.
On which projects are you working on next?
I am knocking out these shows that are pending and booking a tour in the fall or summer. As we got older, we tended to wait 2 years after each release, so this one is just out, so technically I don’t have to do anything for 2 years (laughs). I have been listening to a lot of old organic music, moody old organic music from the 50s and 60s and I would eventually like to record some of that music on organ, that’s what I’m caught up in right now. I’m always working on guitar playing because I have to. That’s what I have to do.
-Sem & Strike