New Brunswick-based classic rockers The Dead Flowers will cash in one of the prizes they won from the Stone Pony’s Rock to the Top Contest when they return to the Asbury Park venue as a headliner on May 4.
New Brunswick bands who form while students at Rutgers University frequently come up through the basement scene into area clubs. Upon graduation, some move away to the more fertile scenes of Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Asbury Park and Jersey City.
That is the case for classic rock-inspired The Dead Flowers, whose members graduate this month at a time that coincides with big gigs in Asbury and Philly, as well as the conclusion of their three-year Sunday residency at Kelly’s Korner, a couple of blocks from the university. On May 4, they’ll return as headliners to the Stone Pony, where they won the historic club’s annual Rock to the Top contest on Jan 20. Sharing the bill will be runners-up Shoobies, as well as fellow New Brunswick-based Experiment 34 and young up-and-comers Flourish. Then The Dead Flowers will play three consecutive Philly shows: May 15 at Silk City Diner; May 20 at the Italian Festival on 9th Street near Connie’s Ric Rac; and June 9 at the Grape Room.
They are unusual for a New Brunswick basement band, which typically is punk or indie rock. Named after the classic Rolling Stones song and also influenced by The Allman Brothers Band, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix and blues great Howlin’ Wolf, The Dead Flowers are the Garden State’s variety of The Black Crowes: sassy, fun and well-rooted but with an edge. Other influences, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kiss and Metallica, also inspired three studio EPs: 2015’s self-titled debut, 2016’s Mountain House Blues and last year’s AL.
On behalf of drummer-vocalist Johnny D and lead guitarist Michael Parry, lead vocalist-guitarist Zach Tyler and bassist Matt Scrads chatted with me about Rock to the Top, including the opportunity to open for a national act on the Pony’s Summer Stage. We also discussed their plans to branch out from New Brunswick into Philly, Asbury and beyond, and record and release their fourth EP in as many years with funds won from Rock to the Top.
Q: Congratulations again on the Stone Pony Rock to the Top contest. How does it feel to have won and be headlining that historic club on May 4?
Scrads: It feels fantastic to be playing a place where so many legendary people have played, like Bruce Springsteen. There are a lot of legends up on that stage, so we’re psyched to be headlining a show there.
Q What other prizes did you win from Rock to the Top and what were you able or plan to do with them?
Scrads: It was an incredible opportunity for us. We are deeply humbled and honored to have won that competition. There were some really good bands in that competition.
We got a decent chunk of change that has been helpful. We’re putting that toward recording in the future. We’ve got some other cool opportunities ahead of us. We’re looking forward to a show to open for the Stone Pony Summer Stage. We’re very much looking forward to booking that show with a national act.
Q: You’ve released an EP every year for the past three years. Any plans to record and release a fourth studio EP or your full-length debut this year or next year?
Tyler: We’re going for a late summer, early fall recording session, give ourselves the summer to write and jam and work out all our best material to put out and record a record. Then from there, we’ll start working on a full-length by the start of 2019. We’re focused on another EP, maybe three or four songs, and then from there, we’ll figure the moves for a full-length.
Q: The Dead Flowers are one of the few classic rock-inspired bands popular in the New Brunswick basement scene. How did you gravitate to that more indie/punk scene?
Tyler: We knew what it was like going into it. We just took the chance to hopefully make some fans and play with some people in different genres, and it worked out in our favor. People kept coming back. That helped us get into the scene. And then from there, we established ourselves.
We like to play with everybody that we possibly can because that means we can cover different demographics … and get new fans who might not even listen to bands that we like or even us, so it’s cool breaking into a spot where you’re not playing with many bands that are like you. That’s the challenge we wanted, and the challenge that I feel has set us up for the future. We can play with anybody.
Q: Another place in your home base in New Brunswick you had played frequently was Kelly’s Korner. Did all shows stop there on April 22 or just your weekly Sunday gig? Either way, why?
Scrads: Kelly’s is something we set up shows at in New Brunswick. It’s this little dive bar. We started putting shows on every single Sunday night. Free live rock ‘n’ roll every Sunday night for the past three years. We’ve been doing it for such a long time. We all met here at Rutgers in New Brunswick, so that’s why we have such a strong connection to this place.
But we’ve decided we’re going to set our sights on something a little bigger, focus more in the Philly area, New York City, Asbury Park, branch out. We’ve already started branching out, never forgetting our roots, of course, coming back to New Brunswick. But Kelly’s Korner has been a home base for us.
Q: Will Kelly’s Korner continue to have shows?
Scrads: I do not know. I did talk to somebody who is interested in continuing the tradition of Kellypalooza, which is what we’ve called these shows every Sunday, where we like to have local New Brunswick, New Jersey, New York City and Philly bands come in and open up the show. We are hoping that somebody can come in and pick up the reigns and carry on the tradition.
Q: Besides the basements, where will The Dead Flowers play in place of Kelly’s?
Scrads: We always set our sights high, so the State Theatre would be one of them for sure, maybe the Barn, the College Avenue gym here at Rutgers. Other than that, we are very much eager to get back into the basements come next semester. We do love it down there, and it’s always a good time.
Scarlet Pub would definitely be one I wouldn’t mind coming back to. Great bar, great scene there. Every Sunday night, they have shows with some great live local talent, so we would love to become part of that as well.
Our next couple of shows are lined up in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, after our May 4 show at the Stone Pony. Very much looking forward to headlining that one at which point, we hopefully will have found a suitable show that we want to come in and open for (on the Summer Stage).
Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
Tyler: I would just say keep supporting local music, keep coming out to shows, keep supporting the bands that you listen to and that you love. It means a lot to the bands, to the people who write the music. Just keep the wheel moving with that.
Scrads: Oh yeah, keep spreading the good word of rock ‘n’ roll. We love Makin Waves and everything you do supporting the local scene. Keep on doing what you’re doing, Bob. We do appreciate it.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.