4. DEADBIRD, ‘III: The Forest Within the Tree’ (20 Buck Spin)

A decade is a long time to be away. Especially when it comes to metal, a world where bands of every variety seem to grow on trees and where flavors of the day can be here today, forgotten five minutes later. So, when someone is gone for that long, there’s no guarantee a return will be fruitful.

Luckily for Arkansas-based Deadbird, their re-emergence after 10 years away was a triumph in the form of their third full-length offering “III: The Forest Within the Tree” that landed Oct. 12, just months after their triumphant performance at Migration Fest in Pittsburgh. That set paid off what was to come on this 20 Buck Spin-issued killer, a record that grows more magical and engrossing with every listen and that has spawned some of the most memorable songs of the entire year. Hell, just take on the one-two punch start of “The Singularity” and “Luciferous Heart,” which either is a welcome return for longtime fans or the cracking open the pages on a brand-new adventure for those who have just come along. The band—Alan Short (guitar/vocals), Chuck Schaaf (guitar/vocals) Jeff Morgan (bass/vocals), Reid Raley (bass/vocals), Chris Terry (synth/samples/vocals), and Phillip Schaaf (drums)— is comprised of members of other noted groups including Rwake, Ash of Cedars, Story of the Eye, Seahag, and more, and they sound as alive and transcendent as ever before on this record, an amazing triumph for this long-standing band. The enthusiasm for this record and Deadbird’s current state of affairs runneth over within the band, as two members—Schaaf and Short—both answered my e-mailed questions without knowing the other one also was doing the same. So, here are their thoughts on the record, their return that really isn’t a return (they never really went away), and what it’s been like working with 20 Buck Spin.

MEAT MEAD METAL: It’s been 10 years since we last got a new full-length record from Deadbird, a stretch finally broken with “III: The Forest Within the Tree,” one of our top 5 of 2018. How does it feel to finally have new material out in the world?

CHUCK SCHAAF: Man, it is so awesome and such a relief to have finally gotten this thing out into the world! The way that everything came together and the fact that EVERYONE who has worked on this thing truly crushed it has been incredible! Right off the bat I’ve gotta’ call ‘em out! Alan Burcham CRUSHED the recording and mixing. Brad Boatright took that mix and truly just blew it up. I couldn’t believe what all he got out of it sonically! John Santos really took all our lyrics and music and put it into the absolutely incredible art which is still mind blowing to look at! Dave Brenner (Earsplit PR) has truly gone above and beyond, not just getting us press but putting his creativity into it as well with his incredible “Heyday” video. And of course, Dave Adelson (20 Buck Spin owner) is the whole reason that we’re talking to you guys in the first place. I’ll never be able to thank him enough! It took a while to complete, and that plays into the title somewhat, but I’ll get into that on the next question. The recording process got REALLY stretched out (4+ years) once all was said and done. We didn’t plan it that way. It’s just the way that it played out. I was living in Tennessee at the time with the other guys being in Little Rock and Cincinnati and we’re all dads so getting us in one place at the same time with the money needed to pay for studio time was challenging. It gave us a lot of time to reflect on the songs though and really flesh out the vocals and other embellishments that ended up on there. The goal with the next one is to do something we’ve never done which is to book a studio for a week or two and come out the other side with a mixed record! Haha! But seriously. Our recording process has always been more of a journey than that, and there are attributes to that, but we really want to follow this record up with something new in the next year or so. There is already material coming together, and we’re stoked! To actually end up on your year-end list is absolutely incredible to us, and to be in the top 5 blows my mind! We’ve always been an underdog band to some extent, and it’s really awesome of you guys to bestow that honor upon us. Thank you guys! We’re really happy that this record seems to have made a connection with folks. The main reason to write and record music is self-motivated. The need and urge to create and to attempt to build something significant. When it actually connects with other folks out there enough for them to listen to the thing and shell out their hard-earned money for a copy, it is truly an awesome thing! When I get feedback from friends or listeners who have connected to it on an emotional level and have identified with some of the heavy emotions in there, that is the ultimate feeling! What we do is cathartic for us for sure.

ALAN SHORT: It comes with a wide range of feelings. Gratitude first and foremost. To finally have it transmitted and to find out that people give it a listen. That Dave/20 Buck Spin put out a record by a band that hadn’t offered any recordings in 10 years. That people remember us in this era of 1000s of bands. To be playing music with friends that inspire me and to perhaps inspire others with our record. All these things fill me with such a profound sense of gratitude. Also, a feeling of being connected. It’s great if people dig the record, but it’s just as OK if they don’t. The gratitude comes from being listened to. From completing a communication.

MMM: The album’s title itself is very intriguing. What is the meaning behind it?

CS: The title is something that we’ve had attached to this thing for a long time. I was thinking of the old saying “can’t see the forest for the trees” and how it truly applied to this record and beyond that, our lives in general during the making of this thing. There were lots of triumphs but also lots of tragedies that played out throughout the 4+ years that we were working on this thing. It goes both ways in that there were plenty of times where I had to remind myself that even though it was taking forever with lots of space in between studio sessions that we were going to complete this thing and we were going to get it out into the world. We were convicted on that 1000%, but there were plenty of times where I wondered to myself if we were really going to get it done. I would manipulate my perspective into a healthier space and look at the bigger picture and what all we had accomplished instead of what was still left undone. In the opposite way, sometimes the “big picture” can be overwhelming, and we need to focus in on whatever detail (individual tree as metaphor) was right in front of us and get it knocked out and move on. We are a really close bunch of old friends who have known each other for a long, long time, and we all are most interested in the more mystical aspects of music and our lives. A spiritual thing really. Simultaneously, speaking for myself, it is definitely a rock n’ roll thing too. I am and have always been drawn to guitar, bass, drums throw-down rock. Whether that’s AC/DC, Badlands, Afghan Whigs, Sparta/Jim Ward, His Hero Is Gone, Zeppelin, or Neurosis, etc. Guitar, bass, drums. Rhythm, riffs, swagger, groove, pocket.

AS: I’m glad you asked this. The name/idea “The Forest Within the Tree,” much like “The Head and The Heart,” came about from lyrical concepts of the album and ideas we seemed to return to often while philosophizing/running our mouths in between jams during the writing process. The Forest is the Many, and the Tree is the individual. One of the most important things we can do while here on planet Earth is to see Others as our Self, and to see our Self as Others. To be able to do that is heavy. It’s difficult. But, it’s important. It’s a practice that can help to remove the blinds that life and society place over our eyes.

MMM: What led the band to finally get back together and create new music? Is it something that had been in the works for a long time, and what was it like putting together these new songs?

CS: That is one thing that has come up over and over when folks have written about this record in that it’s been 10 years and we are “back together,” which makes perfect sense from the outside. What’s funny and interesting is that we never broke up or even consciously said, “We’re going on hiatus.” My mind never quit working on Deadbird, and there’s something in there that is always working on it, even if it’s just on a subconscious level. Being a family man, obviously that is my number one responsibility and motivation. To be the best father and husband that I can be, and I’m always working on that. I’ve got a “real job” now, so that takes up a good bit of mental space as well, but the band is always stirring around in there and is very close to all of our hearts. Things will just pop in my head and show up all of a sudden. Little phrases and titles or concepts that I email to myself, so I’ve got ‘em documented, and I spend a great deal of time thinking about riffs and ideas and how they fit together. Macro AND micro. It’s an obsession for sure! So, in my mind, we never quit, but in reality, there were two or three years there where we were just an idea and other aspects of life demanded our attention. It was healthy though! We needed to step away to really see how much this thing means to us and is a part of us. To really appreciate and respect the entity. Joe (Rowland) from Pallbearer actually got us back together! When I was recording their first record with them, we were having some “relax time” after a day of recording (i.e. a handle of bourbon) and Joe said to me, “Chuck, you need to get Deadbird back together and play a show where you do ‘The Head and the Heart’ in its entirety!” It stuck in my mind and, coincidentally, CT was putting together the first Mutants of the Monster Fest, so it worked out really well for us to commit to that and work toward that goal. It’s like we went full circle, relearning all of our songs on the first record. It wasn’t easy! Haha! But it really got us fired up and instilled a work ethic in us that we were really needing. It got us back to getting together as frequently as possible and got the creative energy going. I can’t thank Joe enough! Thank you, Joe,!

AS: We haven’t ever really stopped. There have been periods of time where we’ve had to learn to be in a different mental gear. To downshift. It makes things not so immediately satisfying, but it has ensured the long-term survival of the band. Ever since Chuck, Phillip, and I got together in 2002 and started Deadbird, it has always been there. It’s a feeling, or a riff, or a theme. It’s hard to explain. I just know that when I get certain ideas, whether for music, lyrics, or concepts, I KNOW immediately when it is for Deadbird. For example, the opening riff for “Luciferous Heart” is around 12 years old. I knew it was a Deadbird riff. I just had to be patient for its time to be ripe. Additionally, the title “Luciferous Heart” was a term Phillip offered for a song title on the first record. It didn’t fit at the time, but it just stuck with me.

MMM: Deadbird was a part of Migration Fest this past summer in Pittsburgh. What was it like being a part of that festival, and what do you remember about your set and the event?

CS: Man, it was truly a MASSIVE honor to be included amongst all of those bands and to finally get to experience the phenomenon that is Migration! It was really, really cool to finally get to meet Dave Adelson whom I had been communicating with regularly for many months before the fest. He is truly the real deal and just an incredibly awesome person. A straight shooter that is 1000% committed to what he does and just a great guy all around. It was also really cool to meet Adam from Gilead as well! Those guys have truly built something unique and monumental, and the fact that such an incredible lineup is curated almost exclusively from their two labels is a testament to what those guys do every day and truly excel at. We drove all the way there on Friday. Got up Saturday and got to the fest. Played. Watched the rest of the bands and got up the next morning and booked it back! I really wanted to see the whole thing, but being a 43-year-old father of two did not allow me that luxury. The caliber of bands we played with was absolutely stellar, and it was a daunting task indeed to get up there and bring it as hard as we could with schedule-conflicted minimal rehearsal and being unable to tour into the fest. I, for one, was nervous as hell! You can hear that in the first song we played, but we settled in and found that space, and I truly felt that by the end of our set, we had won at least most of the crowd over. When we finally went silent at the end of our set, there was a pause of silence and then the place really responded to our set in a way that I was not expecting! It was a beautiful moment, and we were grateful to be there! It was the most professional ran festival we’ve ever been on, and everyone there from the security to the soundmen were top notch. Got to kick it with our brothers in Spirit Adrift and hang out with our good friend Pittsburgh Josh too as well as meeting many other awesome folks! We hope to get the chance to do it again!

AS: Being part of Migration this year was such an honor and an all-around great time! The vibe was as inclusive and fun as the tunes were heavy! Every. Single. Band. RIPPED!!! Being there as a fan and a performer was killer. The sound on the floor, in the balcony, and on the stage were the stuff of perfect legend. Pittsburgh is a rad town that has always shown Deadbird hospitality and love (Whatup Jawsh!!). Dave Adelson/20 Buck Spin and Adam at Gilead really knocked it out of the park. I hope to see Migration grow and stay 100% shithead free! About our set, I remember how killer it was to be playing under this massive stained-glass window and being able to let go and just be music pretty easily, because it sounded so killer up there. Deadbird was kind of a different offering on the bill, which we often are, so it was exciting to feel the crowd respond positively and to feel them become part of the music. That’s what it’s all about. We met a lot of people who really enjoyed what we did and how we did it. It was an inspirational experience, through and through.

Photo by Adam Peterson

MMM: The band now is working with 20 Buck Spin, one of the most consistent and reliable in all of metal. How did this relationship come about?

CS: We truly couldn’t ask to be in a better spot! Dave has been such an awesome person to work with, and from the get-go, from the very first email exchange, he has been such a supportive force and just a real, true dude. We end up discussing all sorts of aspects of our lives with each other. He has felt more like a friend than anything. A friend who also happens to have built one of the all-time coolest, most respected labels in heavy music, and we are so stoked that he took us on. One of our oldest and best friends, Nate Garrett of Gatecreeper and Spirit Adrift, was responsible for getting our record over to him. He went to bat for us too! I sent him the record sometime late last year, I believe. It was as yet unmixed. I had been off and on listening to the thing for 3-4 years as we built it along the way. I always say that it’s not like we were making “Chinese Democracy” here. We obviously didn’t spend four years in the studio. We would get a weekend of work done every few months and slowly built the recording that way. I had hit a wall with it personally. I truly couldn’t tell if what we had was any good or not anymore. I needed an outside ear that I could trust. On impulse, I sent it to Nate, and he was really into the record! It was such a relief to have someone who I trusted completely and whose music I respect immensely to give us some positive feedback! It was his idea to send it to Dave. I wasn’t sure if it was ready in its unmixed and incomplete state, but he convinced me that he thought that this would be something Dave would be interested in. I am so grateful that he did! We are truly excited to see where this whole thing goes and are already working on new music for the next one.

AS: Aw, man. We couldn’t be happier to be working with Dave and 20 Buck Spin. You said it. Consistent and reliable. We have to 100% shout out to Nate Garrett from Spirit Adrift and Gatecreeper. Nate has been a close friend and inspiration for many years. Chuck sent him one of the early, mostly-unmixed version of the record. It was this thing where we had gotten ourselves so insulated with the record, we couldn’t really hear it properly anymore. One time I’d listen and think it was dope, then on another listen I’d wonder who I was kidding with this shit. Nate’s song-by-song feedback was sincere and exactly what we needed to hear. Plus, he pitched it to Dave for us. Thanx Nate!!!

MMM: “Luciferous Heart” and “Heyday” pack together one hell of a burst after a mesmerizing intro cut in “The Singularity.” These tracks feel like they present the wild heart and spirit of the record. Is that how you look at it?

CS: Thank you very much for your feedback on these two! We are very proud of how these two came together! Every song is special to us. It has to be, or it will never make it out of the jam room, but these two, early on, we felt were some of the stronger songs we’ve ever written and they definitely felt like a new creative space for the band. We put a lot of work into them and fleshed them out with vocal harmonies and CT’s synth, and I feel like they are indicative of a new era for the band. This whole record feels that way and, of course, with the cycles the band has been through and the time that we weren’t really active, it all comes together as sort of a rebirth in our minds and hearts. We left some baggage behind in the process of making this record and have grown as individuals as well. It all feeds into the creativity. It’s not easy to get this band together and to move the thing forward, but we are all driven by this idea to the point where we commit to whatever it takes to make it work!

AS: Thank you! And, yes. Exactly. In fact, the idea of one small thing being in parallel with a larger thing is central to the concept of the album title “The Forest Within the Tree.” It is also the theme that was in mind when I wrote the lyrics to “Luciferous Heart,” i.e. How can the story of a person be the story of a sub culture, and at the same time, also the story of humanity itself? You’re picking up on that same idea applied to “Luciferous Heart” and “Heyday,” and their relationship to both the record and also the band as an entity is a great compliment. You never really know if you can actually communicate that kind of idea when you are just trying to weave it into your work, rather than explicitly stating it. Gratitude ETERNAL!

MMM: “Brought Low” is another cool one, a track that injects some acoustics with the heavier stuff, reminding a bit of Alice in Chains. What are your thoughts on that one?

CS: “Brought Low” was another one where we ended up pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. It was a process as well. The music came together fairly quickly, but then I think it was several rehearsals before anyone even started to try to put vocals to it. I started with some simple melody lines and slowly started fleshing them out. I came up with the melodic but screamed chorus at home while listening to the rough mixes along with the “post-chorus” with the clean doubled line. I think that throughout the recording process, I had the most anxiety about this one and wondered if it was going to be the weak link. We always ended up working on it last for some reason at every recording session, and you could hear that in some of the performances. Once everything was placed onto the track—acoustics, samples, synth, vocals and then it was masterfully mixed by Alan Burcham (our engineer from Memphis that I truly cannot say enough good things about! He is the real deal and knows how to make a masterful sounding heavy record! Look him up at AB Recordings out of Memphis) it really started to shine, and there have been several conversations where we have pondered the idea that this might be our favorite song on the record. I think it was probably the most collaborative song written as well with most of the others being brought in pretty fleshed out by either Alan or I, depending on the song. It is really cool to see that it’s making connections with folks. Alan and I both talked about how we were trying to come from a more positive place, lyric wise, on this record and I said, ‘Well, with the exception of ‘Brought Low.’ That one is just straight up about depression and anxiety.” So, in that way, it is a lot more in line with our earlier work, lyrically. Alice In Chains has always been one of my favorite bands. I return to their old records all the time and buy everything they put out. Actually, their reunion record, “Black Gives Way to Blue,” is one of my favorite records of theirs which is really saying something! In my opinion, at least off the top of my head, AC/DC is the only other band that was able to replace such an iconic frontman and maintain an upward trajectory, creativity wise. No one can ever do what Layne did, and I feel like William Duvall does a great job of balancing what is used to being heard as AIC lead vocals and also retaining his own signature thing. Plus, Jerry (Cantrell) is doing a LOT of the lead vocals too and in some respects always has. There have been SO MANY really bad bands that were very “AIC influenced.” It always bugged the crap out of me. This is definitely not the first AIC comparison we’ve gotten on this record, and its always an honor to be compared to such a great band and NOT be one of these third-rate rip offs that have had huge “modern rock” success! At least that’s the way I see it and take it. Thank you again! The thing about AIC, Faith No More, Acid Bath/Dax Riggs, Brett Campbell, Nate Garrett, etc. that really inspires me is the way that they build the vocal melody with notes that most singers wouldn’t pick. Atypical but beautiful, and that definitely inspires me when I’m writing vocal melodies.

AS: “Brought Low” has become my favorite song on the record. I feel like I’m watching a movie in my head when I listen to it. Chuck’s vocals and conveyance are really stirring. I think he was able to put a larger narrative into the song than just the words themselves can hold. Additionally, I feel like we have always had this thing where, even if we just improv jam, we can read each other and dynamically rise and fall together, in an unspoken communication. It’s a rare bond that is referred to as “stage telepathy.” It’s pretty much a sacred thing to me, and I feel like this track really puts that part of Deadbird out there.

MMM: What does 2019 look like for Deadbird? Can we expect more live show, or does the band have other plans?

CS: I’ve been long-winded on most of these. I tried to keep the answers short, but I suck at that! Haha! I think I can do it on this one though! We are currently, actively working on nailing down some dates, weekends, etc. for getting out there and playing as much as we possibly can in 2019. I can’t honestly say what that is going to look like, but I can say that we are trying our damndest to get out there and see some folks and jam with some great bands! Also, as I mentioned earlier. All members have been coming up with material and I feel some real momentum there. We are definitely making it a top priority to not take another 10 years! In fact, I would love to see us with number IV coming out in a year or two at the most. These are our immediate goals! Also, our good friend Dave Brenner who also handles PR for the band/label has put together an incredible visual representation of “Heyday” in the video (embedded above) that he made using Frank Huang’s live footage from Migration and Alan and Tera Short’s footage of their camping trips and explorations of the abundant natural beauty that exists all around us in our home state of Arkansas. He is going to be making another video for us for another track off “III,” and it should be ready at the first of the year. It is not lost on us that we are in a very special position by being on the mighty 20 Buck Spin and that the record has been received well. We want to take this momentum and run with it! See you in 2019!

AS: We’re looking to 2019 to set things on fire! We’re already writing new material. We’re looking forward to playing more live shows and festivals (Hollar!) We’re looking forward to any and every way we can continue to collaborate with 20 Buck Spin, as well as Dave with Gridfailure/Earsplit, who just wizard’d our first official music video. Deadbird is fired up to collaborate with friends and artists to create output this year and beyond. We really want to put out a split release with our friends in Seahag, because they rule!

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Deadbird1332

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/search?type=product&q=deadbird

For more on the label, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

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