Originally formed in Tampa, Florida, before relocating to the music mecca of Nashville three years ago, The Nearly Deads emit polished grit. Led by the gripping vocal embrace of Ms. Theresa Jeane, her classical training is evident in the power and range of her voice, while her pop and punk influences shine through in her lyrics and captivating melodies. Matching her emotional countenance with a potent combination of agility and sensibility, guitarists Steven Tobi and Javier Garza Jr, along with bassist Kevin Koelsch, layer her fertility with a sturdy cloak of conductivity. Imagine Kelly Clarkson flicking the wick of My Chemical Romance. Imagine Shirley Manson holding Foo Fighters ransom. Imagine dragons, smashing pumpkins. Let your imagination soak in the burgeoning realization of new found glory.
On ‘Survival Guide,’ the band’s most-recent six-song Ep, producer Jon King (Augustana, 3 Pill Morning, Darling Parade) helped guide the band to fully unleash their immersive cohesion. Ingesting the elegant dynamics of “Fact and Friction, ” the fragile invincibility of “Changeover,” the raw rancor of “Reasons,” and the intoxicating empowerment of “Brave,” one quickly realizes that The Nearly Deads are modern masters of the ascension of tension, coloring their palette with elastic splashes. With a deft adeptness of effervescence, their songs elicit bristle with an infectious sizzle. Evidence of this lightning-in-a-bottle phenomena coalesce in the band’s watershed anthem, “Never Look Back”. Armed with a Zombie-infused music video, that skyrocketed past 6 million views, NLB finds TND scratching the surface of a sound, and a movement, that is dotting the eyes on the horizon.
From record to stage to the written page, The Nearly Deads continue to amass wide-spread critical acclaim throughout the industry. Crowned victors in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and a Converse Battle of the Bands competition, the band has received significant airplay on MTVu, FUSE, BlankTV, Vevo and YouTube, achieved glowing features in Alt Press, ARTISTdirect, Outburn and Substream Magazine and rose to #14 on the Billboard Next Big Sound Chart.
The Nearly Deads are hitting their stride. Get ready for the thrill ride of your life! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with The Nearly Deads vivacious frontwoman, Theresa Jeane, to discuss her musical roots, the history and meteoric rise of the band, her evolution as an artist, new music and much more!
We always like to start at the beginning. How did music first come into your life?
That is a great question. When I was a kid, there was always music in the house. My Dad is a bass player and always had bands playing in the basement. We grew up listening to the Beatles and a lot of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Actually, my sister and I used to learn the harmonies and sing and harmonize with each other when we were kids. That is where it all started!
If you were to narrow down the list, who would you cite as your biggest musical influence?
Since we are talking early, early influences, I have to go with Billy Joel. I am a piano player, so hearing that kind of music really inspired me to write my own music. I have been writing with piano since I was very, very young; maybe four or five years old. As soon as I could reach the keys, that is when I started playing and I always wrote my own music!
They say music isn’t for the faint of heart. What made you take the plunge and led you to pursuing your passion as a career musician?
That is so true! I tell people all of the time that it is a very odd choice to make. When you actually get into it, you think “Why would people actually want to do this? There is so much disappointment, rejection and competition. It is just something you learn very quickly if you want to do it or not. Moving from Tampa to Nashville was a big “thrown to the wolves” situation for me. In Nashville, everyone is so talented and competitive. You have to commit 100%. If you can get past that initial shock, it becomes easy. For me, I had regular jobs my whole life where I worked retail, worked in fast food, waited tables, worked in an office and I hated every moment of everything else I have ever done! [laughs] Nothing makes me happier than singing and playing music! I think everyone deserves to follow their passion and to live their dream of enjoying what they are doing because the most important thing in life is to be happy. I just couldn’t do the traditional route because it never made me as happy. Even though there is a lot of hard work and disappointment involved, it will be worth it in the end.
How did you first connect with the other people in the band and what lead to the creation of The Nearly Deads?
For The Nearly Deads, we kind of met in Tampa. I was doing my own thing. I was a music major at USF. Steve Tobi and Cory Walen, our original drummer, were in another local band. We had mutual friends and I had a band at the time too. We all played around town and kind of knew people who knew each other. I went to see them play one night and they said “This is our last show! We are moving to Nashville. We want to do this and make it happen!” I was just a fan and said “That sounds pretty cool.” I was just kind of getting over Tampa and I wanted a change. I liked the idea of Nashville, so since we were all friends, I just kind of moved in with them. Their original singer was the whole mastermind behind moving to Nashville.
As the months kept going by, this guy still hadn’t moved up. Everyone else had changed their whole life to do this Nashville thing but the singer bailed on them, basically. They were trying out new people and holding auditions where people wouldn’t show up. I said “Look guys, I know you aren’t female fronted but let me try out for the band. I really love your music and we could make something really cool out of this.” The rest is history! I was a little timid at first because I realized I was stepping into the band thing but as soon as I started taking the reins, bought in some of my influences and changed the music around a little bit to fit them for my voice a little better; everything changed very, very quickly after that. We met up with Jon King in Nashville and he helped us record our first EP. Everything went pretty quickly from there. A lot of people don’t know that we are kind of a pieced together band. They had a name when I joined but a lot of people don’t know that there was originally a male front person, way, way back. On the first EP, we even have one of their old songs, “Special.” It was completely their old song but I changed all the lyrics and melody to it.
Tell us a little about the other people in The Nearly Deads and what they bring to the table for a project like this?
Steve and myself do all of the songwriting together. Sometimes he will write the full song and I will write lyrics. Other times, I will write the full song and lyrics and he will learn the guitar part. It is a give and take. For me, I can tell which songs I have written and the songs he has written because they have different influences. I think that makes us a more diverse band because we go back and forth with the songwriting. We found our bass player, Kevin Koelsch, on Craigslist. He showed up to audition and we were like “Who is this guy?” [laughs] He has never messed up or played a wrong note in his life. That is why he got the gig! If I don’t notice you messing up at all because you aren’t messing up, you’ve got the gig. [laughs] He is just so talented! He has a lot of the punk influences that I do. I like a lot of punk music and Steve is a little more progressive in his writing. I am always trying to simplify. I have Kevin on my side in that aspect because he loves the old punk stuff and he also loves metal. We also have a new rhythm guitar player, Javier Garza. He was a mutual friend who came to the table. He has a great stage presence and is also a super talented guy who doesn’t cause problems! [laughs] It’s no secret that we have gone through some members. Every band does that in their beginning stages where they go through a couple of people before they find the ones. People change, grow, get married and move on and we have had those things happen. I feel like now, this is our core and we will be the band until the end of time.
When you made the jump from Tampa to Nashville, how did it impact you as an artist and a band?
It has influenced us all in the most positive way imaginable. It is the best choice we ever made. Obviously, had we not moved, I wouldn’t have been in the band to begin with. When we started going to shows, we were blown away and thought “Holy crap! We need to practice and get better!” Everybody here is so mega-talented and spot-on. It’s not just the songwriting; it is the performance aspects of the show, the flow of the show, how tight you are as people and as a band. Everyone was so good that, in a way, it really made us buck up. Being in a smaller town, like Tampa, you don’t really get that competitiveness. If you are a bigger band in the area that brings a lot of kids out, you could feel like the best band in the world but as soon as you go to Nashville or Los Angeles, you realize you are a small fish in a big pond.
Becoming unique was more important to us than anything else because there are so many other musicians in the game. We also made so many connections, industry-wise, in Nashville in such a short amount of time. It would have taken us so much longer had we stayed in Florida. In Tampa, there isn’t a record label on every corner; there aren’t managers, producers and people all over the city with their eyes open. We met Jon King by playing with our friends in Darling Parade. They were some of the first people to give us a show in Nashville. They introduced us to their producer and he has impacted us in so many great ways. Meeting him means everything to us because he was the guy behind the “Never Look Back” video; he helped us co-write some of our songs and helped introduce us around town. The video was so successful and our songs sound great because of him. Meeting him was definitely one of the best things that ever happened to us.
Getting back to songwriting for a moment, do you have a typical process you use to bring a song to life?
I think my process varies for every song. I generally don’t start with lyrics; I just start with the music, whether it is a chord progression or a chord structure. Then I get a melody and fit words to that melody. A lot of people write lyrics first and then the music to fit it but I don’t work that way. If Steven [Tobi] is writing one of the songs, I will take it and lay it out on the piano and then start chopping it up and moving things around. I might move something around like the arrangement and try to put our own spin on things.
Where are you in the process of creating new music, What is the band looking at both short and long term?
We recently have been in the studio. We are planning to release a full length album. We have been working on it for a really long time. It has probably been about a year. The songs have been written and we have been playing a lot of them live, so people are itching for this album. Because of a bunch of things we have been through, we weren’t able to put it out. It is definitely going to be coming out in the next couple of months. It is already recorded. With that said, I write music every day. It is ongoing and it never stops with me. As far as recording, we are getting ready to release our first full length album and we are super excited about it! We love the songs and we love the music! Be on the lookout for that very soon.
What do you consider the biggest challenges you faced in bringing this highly anticipated album to life?
Coming from an independent, DIY background, you are used to being able to call the shots. That created a lot of challenges for us. The label released “Survival Guide,” which we are very proud of and love “Brave,” “Changeover,” “Never Look Back: Reanimated,” and a lot of people love it, but after telling people for so long that we have a full-length coming, we didn’t release a full-length. Long story short, we weren’t really growing in that relationship, so we decided we wanted to start to move on. It was a long process, but we are happy to have gone our separate ways, and will always thank them for the opportunities they have given us.
This is really the first time we are even really talking about this situation. This is the first interview I have done where we have discussed this. [laughs] We definitely grew and learned a lot from it. We got two new, really great songs out of it. The whole growing experience impacted the songwriting quite a bit because now we have a lot to talk about. We lost two members, we parted ways with our label and we weren’t happy, so we made so many changes last year. We are so ready to be out on our own again and are so thankful all the fans have stuck with us this long! We just can’t wait to get this music out there to them, start touring and doing what we want to do again because now we are able to.
We learned a lot about the way the industry works, what we want and what we don’t want. That is the only way to look at it. We were talking about the industry earlier and what makes someone want to do this; stuff like we just mentioned can really discourage people. There were definitely times when I was like “I give up! I can’t do this anymore! It’s so stressful!” but we powered through. We couldn’t let it make us lose our momentum!
What can you tell us about this full-length album?
There is a song on the record called “Invisible Tonight.” It is about, to me personally, it is about me coming into my own as a front person of a band. I had never done that before. I had been in band where I had a piano and a drummer. It was very Dresden Dolls like and I sat down the whole time. Coming up from behind the piano, coming into my own and taking charge was a challenge for me. For me, owning it and saying “I am the front person of this band!” is a lot of responsibility. “Invisible Tonight” was the feeling I get when I feel like people would rather have me be invisible as a female. That is how it felt sometimes with all of the competition making me think about giving up. Sometimes when I was up there performing, I felt I would rather be invisible and thought “You know what? Let other girls make it and not me because it is so hard.” It is kind of a back and forth kind of song.
As you mentioned, you will soon be embarking on a tour. What are you most looking forward to there?
It has been almost a year since we have toured, so more than anything, I am looking forward to playing music every night, night after night. That is what we live for and love to do! Being around my band mates twenty-four hours a day is something you think you wouldn’t look forward to but I actually do! I love my band! [laughs] We love to travel and be on the road playing music every night! It actually feels like we are accomplishing something. There can be a lot of around in between touring where you think, “Oh, What am I doing with my life?” When you are actually on the road and meeting kids every night, talking to people and playing music that is impacting people, it makes you feel like you are actually doing something with your life!
In addition, the first day of the tour is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We will be playing Cream City Skatepark. There is a charity in Milwaukee called The Hunger Task Force. They set a place where you can donate food and it is a cool way to get people to give back with very little effort. That will be happening and we are excited to be a part of it!
How has following your dream to be a musician impacted you and how have you evolved along the way?
That is a good question. Having the career is something that I just recently started to do because before, like right after college, I was working a day job. It wasn’t something that was necessarily a hobby but I could see I wasn’t able to give it as much time as it needed. It was so stressful going to work all day, being exhausted at night, having no energy to write music or having any inspiration to write music. I was stuck in the whole paycheck to paycheck cycle and had bills to pay. It was doing a disservice to the music that way.
When The Nearly Deads started taking off and we had our video go viral and started playing more tours, I knew I needed to move to part-time so I could focus more on the music. Even after doing part-time work for such a long time, I knew even that wasn’t working and knew I had to dedicate 100% of my time to it or I would never be successful. I just took a leap of faith. It is something you have to make yourself do. It was so hard to let go of the regular paycheck of the regular job. I have had such support from my family and band mates, who believe in me, our talents as a band and what we have going on, it has been an easy change. I have been able to dedicate so much more time to it and I feel we have achieved a lot more in a lot less time because of it.
You can definitely serve as a terrific inspiration to aspiring musicians looking to blaze their own trail in the music industry. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to them?
I love that question. Usually, I hear from people who say “I want to start my own band.” There are two different answers. For people who want a career in music, the first piece of advice is always to practice really hard and be really good. That is always first and foremost. Be really good at what you do, own it and love what you do. You have to be talented, that is a given. Never give up! Perseverance is a huge deal in this industry. So many people give up that you want to be the one who doesn’t! You can’t or you will never make it. For people who want to start or join a band, another thing to remember is that it is so important to find people you like being around, who vibe with you personality-wise fit and like your style of music because otherwise it can lead to so many problems down the road. Problems can arise from being in close quarters, from songwriting or people wanting to go in different directions. It is important to find people you like being around. People can practice, improve and get tighter but what you can’t change personalities!
You mentioned the dedication of your fans. Is there anything you want to say to them directly as they anxiously wait?
I just want to say thank you for always listening, always supporting us, having our backs and caring about what we do. Truly, we would be nothing without them! We know we owe everything to them, especially since it has taken us so long to get new music out! It just blows my mind how people are still interested in us!
It is definitely exciting to talk to you at this point and hear about all the things you have going on! We are looking forward to spreading the word! Thanks so much for you time!
That sounds awesome! Thank you so much, Jason!
Mar 07 – Chicago, IL @ Fearless Radio (Live Acoustic, 4pm CST)
Mar 08 – Milwaukee, WI @ Cream City Skatepark**
Mar 09 – Steger, IL @ Another Hole In The Wall*
Mar 11 – Muskegon, MI @ Port City Tavern*
Mar 13 – Dillsburg, PA @ The KRUX*
Mar 14 – Allentown, PA @ Planet Trog*
Mar 15 – Sicklerville, NJ @ JumpZone*
Mar 16 – Baltimore, MD @ House of Rock*
Mar 17 – Springfield, VA @ Empire*
Mar 18 – Newark, DE @ Mojo Main*
Mar 19 – Harrisonburg, VA @ The Blue Nile*
Mar 20 – Elizabethton, TN @ Bonnie Kate Theatre*
Mar 21 – Aiken, SC @ HIC Skatepark & Warehouse*
THE NEARLY DEADS ARE:
Theresa Jeane – Vocals/Keys
Steven Tobi – Guitar
Javier Garza Jr – Guitar
Kevin Koelsch – Bass
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.