Over the course of nearly two decades, THEORY earned several platinum and gold singles, a platinum album, two Top 10 album debuts on the Billboard Top 200, and eight Top Tens on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks Chart. A tightly-knit unit, Tyler Connolly [lead vocals, guitar], Dave Brenner [guitar, backing vocals], Dean Back [bass], and Joey Dandeneau [drums] deliver anthems rooted in scorching songcraft, experimental vision, rock ‘n’ roll attitude, and clever pop ambition. Their latest record, “Say Nothing,” is a continuation of their musical and thematic evolution stemming from their 2017 platinum single “Rx (Medicate)” about the opioid epidemic, which racked up more than 250 million streams and became the band’s third #1 on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. For their seventh and most honest album, THEORY speaks through lyrics discussing the current climate and issues society grapples with today, threaded together with a message that’s both a cautionary warning and a hopeful wish for our future. Recorded in London with producer Martin Terefe [Jason Mraz, Yungblud], “Say Nothing” is a continuation of their musical and thematic evolution, displaying the band’s powerful storytelling in full force and introducing fresh sounds and sonics. THEORY explores domestic violence, racism, the divisiveness in American politics, anxiety and depression, and more on the 10-track album.
Addressing the current tense state of American politics and the divisive nature of our culture, “Strangers” strikes a chord with its thought-provoking prose, calling out how nasty it has become between those with differing political affiliations and our society’s increasing inability to listen and relate to one another. The title track “Say Nothing,” the latest release off the album, is a stark, emotional song about a communication breakdown in a relationship that, ultimately, leads to its demise. A song sure to resonate with fans globally is “World Keeps Spinning,” which serves as an autobiographical track written by lead vocalist Tyler Connolly about depression and anxiety. Also featured on this dynamic album is the track “White Boy,” which tackles the issue of racism in America, inspired by the terrible tragedy that took place Charlottesville. Their most ambitious and soul-searching entry to date, “Say Nothing” is truly a rock record showcases the strengths of a band unafraid to explore uncharted territory.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with bassist Dean Back to discuss Theory of a Deadman’s musical evolution, the making of their new album and the lessons learned along the way.
You dedicated your life to making music. How did your journey begin?
I was born into a house that, surprisingly, didn’t include musicians. I was always a guy who was playing baseball and hockey. Sports were my main interest as a younger kid. I had a buddy and I went over to his house after school one day. He had a guitar in the corner and, to be honest, it blew my mind. I was like, “Wait a second. Do you play guitar?” He said, “Yeah, I’m taking guitar lessons.” It was just something that had never occurred to me as a kid and I thought it was super cool. I was probably in Grade 7 at the time. I went home that day and told my parents, “I want to take guitar lessons. I really want to learn how to do that!” From there, I learned the basics but sports took over again, so I gave it a break. When I got into high school, probably around Grade 10, I really got heavily into Guns N’ Roses. Music really lit a fire in me! I wanted to play guitar and be able to do the things that Slash was doing. I looked up to those guys and they became idols of mine, so I wanted to be able to do what they were doing. So, I again asked my parents to put me in guitar lessons. I ended up studying guitar for a couple of years. Along the way, I kept seeing this guy who had lessons with a different teacher than me. We kept crossing paths and saying, “Hi,” every once in awhile. Eventually, I got my first job and there was a co-interview process where they were interviewing two people at the same time. It turns out that it was the same guy I kept seeing at guitar school all the time, interviewing for the same job. That was Tyler [Connolly], our lead singer! [laughs] We ended up working together and went to guitar school together. One day after work, we were sitting in the lounge of the restaurant and said, “Let’s start a band.” I thought, “This is unbelievable!” He already had another buddy who was playing guitar, so they needed a bass player. That’s when I decided that I really just wanted to be in a band, so whatever they needed, I would do. That’s when I started playing bass!
Theory has been together for the better part of two decades and you formed a brotherhood through the years. Tell us about what it takes to keep a band like this moving forward in this day and age.
I think what has allowed us to last so long as a band is our sense of humor. We know each other so well and we knew each other before any of this music business started. We knew what buttons to push and what buttons not to push. We all have the same sense of humor and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We take the business very seriously but we don’t take ourselves too seriously, so we can always crack jokes about each other and laugh about it. I count myself so fortunate that I’m in a band with these guys, David [Brenner], Joe [Dandeneau] and Tyler.
In the past, when we’ve been on tour, our tour bus sorta became the spot for the physiatrist couch. Other bands would come to our bus and just vent about their bandmates or whatever. Every time we would hear these things, we would think, “It must be miserable to be in a band like that.” We count ourselves so fortunate that we have the bonds we do. When it comes to the longevity of the band, I think a lot of it has to do with songwriting. Back when we began, that was the biggest focus for us. We never really performed live in the Vancouver scene, we were just in Tyler’s Dad’s basement writing songs and practicing playing. When we started showcasing for a record deal, I think we had only five live shows under our belt, so we were totally green when it came to the live show aspect. It was all about songwriting and musicianship. We learned the live show on the road, as we went. We were fortunate to have 3 Doors Down take us under their wings and we learned a lot from those guys.
All of these years later, what do you bring out of each other in a creative sense?
Wow, that’s hard to say. There is a real trust between us. We all trust each other. It’s a little bit harder these days because we are all separated. I’m in Vancouver, Tyler is in Los Angeles, our drummer is in Vegas and our guitar player is in Tennessee, so we are spread out all over! When these songs start coming together, there are a lot of emails back and forth. You end up doing your homework by yourself in the house and start coming up with ideas. As soon as we get together, it’s sorta like, “Hey, what have you come up with?” That blending together of all those ideas are what we bring out of each other.
You guys have gone through a big evolution over the past several years and have a new record, “Say Nothing,” on the way. What can you tell us about your headspace going into the process?
Yeah, I think the evolution started with the recording of the previous album, “Wake Up Call.” It was a real progression for our band. There were a lot of sleepless nights and nervousness about how fans would react. A lot of the songwriting was taking the guitar away and Tyler was writing these melodies on the piano. It sparked a whole new creative outlet for us. There was a real rejuvenation, which brought a lot of excitement and energy to the band. After the success of “Wake Up Call,” I think it got Tyler excited. He started talking about really serious topics with a song like “Rx (Medicate),” on the last record, which was such a successful song. Not only that but we also started to hear people’s stories. People would come up to us every night and tell us their stories about their struggles with addiction, someone from their family who had issues and how our music was helping them through really tough times. That really gave Tyler that fan approval he may have been looking for where he can tell these stories and write these meaningful songs. I think that was our headspace going into this new record. There was this confidence and knowing that we were on the right track. Working a second record with Mark Terefe, our producer, was really interesting. That first record was a feeling out process and he worked in a much different way than we were used to and it was a lot more organic and spontaneous. He doesn’t like bands rehearsing before they go into the studio. He wants to capture the raw energy and those happy mistakes. Going into the second record with him, there was a lot more comfort and freedom to make mistakes. We were always excited about what the day would bring where, on past records, we sorta already knew what we were going to do. Every day was an adventure in the studio and it sparked a lot of creativity and brought some real moods and vibe to the record.
Mark is a great producer and is almost like a fifth member of the band. He loves getting his hands dirty! He’ll be sitting there, get an idea and pick up a guitar, bass or sit down at the piano to flesh it out. I think that approach brought a lot of energy to the process and the band. I think the biggest challenge comes from getting the music heard. Nowadays, there is just so much out there. Trying to get everyone to listen to what you’ve created is one of the hardest parts. The business has become very single-based and the art of making an album is almost lost. Trying to get people to sit down and hear the entire album is one of the biggest challenges that any band faces in this day and age.
How does that affect your approach to the music you make as a band? Is Theory still writing for an album or leaning more toward the single approach?
I think our mindset is definitely still album based. When we put this all together, after all the songs were done, we spent an entire day trying to figure out which order they were going to be in and how one song transitioned into the next. There are a few little interludes between songs that help blend these songs together. I think the album really tells a story from front to back. The mood of the record is, at times, quite dark and maybe a little bit depressing but the final song on the record, “It’s All Good,” brings it all back. By that I mean that there are all of these heavy things going on in the world but, hey, there is hope out there and it’s not as bad as it may seem!
Is there anything you want to bring to the table this time around you might not have attempted in the past?
Yeah. With the new way that the songs have been going, the bass has got a bit more of a voice. On albums past, there is so much music there! There would be a guitar part solo. We’d be like, “Let’s put five guitar parts on there and make it sound massive.” That would become such a big powerful sound without hearing the nuances of every instrument. However, when you start stripping everything back, I think every instrument has its separate voice. That was something for me, as a bass player, in times past where I would just sit behind and almost play what the guitars were kind of doing to fill that sound. Now, on the recent records, I’ve played with different phrasing and have given the bass a bit of a voice.
We talked about the evolution of the band. How have you evolved as a player over the course of your career? Are there significant milestones?
Absolutely! I think I’ve become more adventurous and, obviously, I have learned a lot more. You always look back at your previous records and wish you could’ve done more with certain stuff but those records are done and you are still proud of the way they all turned out. I’ve definitely grown as a musician. I think I’ve found a bit of a voice and style of my own. The biggest thing is that I continue to learn. Before this record, I got into a lot of ‘70s funk. It’s these little things that you put in the back of your head and sometimes it’s very subconscious. You’ll come up with a little something and say, “Oh, there’s a little bit of funk to that.” For me, it’s important to expose myself to as many influences as possible. I know Dave, our guitar player, has gotten really heavy into bluegrass and that kind of thing. We all have our own side influences which come into the mix.
What lessons did you learn early on that impacted the trajectory of your career?
A big lesson I learned is to take care of yourself, both physically and mentally when you’re on the road. The road can be a lonely place. It can be sad at times but you can also get caught up in a lot of bad stuff as well. I think it’s important to take time for yourself. On the road over the past few years, I’ve really fallen in love with going to the gym and exercising. We’ve also picked up golf on our days off. If the weather allows, we will go out golfing. At the same time, I love my alone time. I love getting into a town, putting on some headphones and going for a long walk to decompress. Those are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Theory will be hitting the road in support of the “Say Nothing.” I’m sure it will be a great mix of the new stuff and your great back catalog. What can we expect from you guys this time around!
Yeah, it’s becoming harder and harder! Now, with seven records, it’s a bit of a struggle to fit everything into a show. We’re starting the Canadian tour here at the end of the month. Some of the songs off of our first record, which was quite successful for us at the very beginning, are creeping back into the setlist. It’s also exciting to play some of the new songs from the upcoming record. It’s tough in this day and age with YouTube and stuff like that because you don’t really want people’s first exposure to your new songs to be some crappy YouTube video. So, it’s hard to play some of the new music before it’s released because you don’t want a bad impression to be the first impression. Now, that the record will be out, we’ll start playing some of those songs live and we’re really excited about it. In our tours past, we’ll spend the first few shows fleshing out the setlist and by the time we feel comfortable with it, it will usually stay the same throughout the tour. Now, we might, from time to time, just mix it up and play some different songs on different nights. I know Vancouver is the first show and we’re playing two nights in a row, so we’ll be changing the set up between the two nights there.
What does the rest of 2020 have in store? Any early indicators on where you all are headed?
We have another tour planned in the spring and I believe it starts in early April and goes to mid-May. Then we will be heading over to the UK to do the DOWNLOAD Festival, where KISS is headlining the main stage! So, that’s going to be amazing. We’re also working on a summer tour right now. Hopefully, we will package something together with some friends of ours and hit the road for the summer. We will definitely be on the road this summer but what that tour looks like is still yet to be determined.
It sounds like it’s going to be an exciting year for you! What’s the best way for fans to support the band these days and help keep the momentum going?
Ya know, I’m still a huge fan of live music. That’s what got me into wanting to play. I remember seeing Aerosmith in 1994. It was my very first concert. Aerosmith came out and “Eat The Rich” was the very first song and there were these crazy tribal drums and a big kabuki drop that was backlit. You could see Steven Tyler’s dancing in silhouette. As soon as the song kicked in, the kabuki dropped and my jaw hit the floor! I was like, “Oh my god! This is what a rock show is!” I had to keep going to more and more of them. So, if you haven’t seen us live, come on out and check us out! If you have, come back and see us again! If you’re just discovering us, tell your friends too. Spread the word. That’s the best way to support a band these days!
Awesome! Thanks for your time today, Dean. I think you guys created something special with this album, so I’m excited to help spread the word!
Right on! Thanks so much, Jason. I really appreciate your time. I hope to catch you at a show!