Walter Schreifels On the Origins of Dead Heavens’ Sound


Walter Schreifels On the Origins of Dead Heavens’ Sound


Few musicians can boast that they’ve been influential and vital since their teens. Now divide that tiny number in half, and you have a small class of songwriters who kept their output steady and consistent, without disappearing for years or changing their name into a symbol. 

By first getting his beak wet in New York’s hardcore scene in the ‘80s by founding Gorilla Biscuits, playing with Youth of Today, WarZone and going on to several diverse sounding New York bands, Walter Schreifels has done just that, excelling in whatever genre he lends his talent to because he can write songs–it’s that simple, man.

With an already deep CV behind him, it was the reformation of post-hardcore trailblazers Quicksand in 2012, that seemed to throttle his musical career into a new chapter. Quicksand returned sounding even more relevant than when they  first mixed the anthemic pounding of Fugazi with the haze of My Bloody Valentine on their debut LP Slip in 1993. Riding the crest of crunchy chords and droning soundscapes, Schreifels kept charging with his solo career, Gorilla Biscuits (who reformed a few years prior), and a slew of other projects including Vanishing Life, who released a single last year.

So when I received a phone call from Schreifels saying he’d be fronting yet another band–this time with members of Cults, Youth of Today, Bold, Into Another, and White Zombie–it didn’t shock me when Dead Heavens materialized, fully formed shortly thereafter.

In their short lifespan, Dead Heavens have released a two song single on Thrill Me Records and played several shows, including the final date of their a February residency at St. Vitus in Brooklyn, NY tonight. 

Dead Heavens is Schreifels’ first exploration into modern psychedelic rock, so why not ask what inspired the trip into the trippy. Here’s what he said about about landing in the dead zone with bandmates Drew “Beat” Thomas, Paul Kostabi, and Nathan Aguilar.W

Walter Schreifels: The musical evolution that led to the Dead Heavens sound can be traced back to 1965’s Out Of Our Heads by the Rolling Stones. Drew Beat and I became obsessed with this album (the Stones 4th) and the early Stones in general on a tour we did together a couple of years back. We ended up covering “Not Fade Away” and “You better Move On” (songs that The Stones also covered), working them out at sound checks.

With the early Stones you’re plugging into the original power source of blues-rock interpretation, the type of guitar music that brings the sexes together.

Nathan joined (what was then) my solo band later that year and introduced me to White Fence. I immediately grabbed onto the 60s songwriting motifs and was blown away by the production techniques.  Interestingly, I found out later that Tim from White Fence was in hardcore bands.

On tour we obsessed on mbv, My Bloody Valentine’s 2013 critically acclaimed but oft slept on follow up to the classic Loveless.  Most conversations would start with “how awesome is it in (insert MBV song title) when they (do some awesome thing)” and it was enough for us. Mostly we wouldn’t talk at all.

Before Paul joined the band he was recording us at his house upstate. Paul has one of those old 70’s space age bachelor pad reel-to-reel stereos.  After a session we’d dig into Paul’s treasure trove of tapes, James Gang,  Are You Experienced?, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Fresh Cream, there is no better format for listening to music than quarter inch analog tape. It’s how the artists themselves would have listened to their albums before they were released to the public, there’s something incredibly intimate and holy about it.

On our last bunch of shows, the last that we would be billed as “Walter Schreifels and The Dead Heavens” Nathan, who DJ’s at Black And White among other places, turned us on to The Damnation Of Adam Blessing. With a foot in garage, psyche and prog, Damnation are the proto type of a “biker rock” band. Heavy riffs with melodic vocals, trippy lyrics that are both sexy and cliché in a good way, plus multiple guitar solos.

The main riff to their 1968 single “Cookbookplayed on repeat in the van and in our minds throughout the day like a proto metal Hare Krisna chant, “freeing our minds”, informing all actions and decisions.

It’s crucial or at least helpful for a band find common musical references in order to create a language of their own. With Dead Heavens we share a lot of favorites and often are turning each other on to new things.  I’d say different measures of these five or so musical influences I’ve listed are sprinkled throughout the songs we have so far but we always keep the door open for new sources of inspiration. Lately it’s been Ultimate Spinach and the Five By Five, the internet is far and wide.

Dead Heavens play St. Vitus in Brooklyn, NY tonight at 8 p.m. with The Golden Grass, Black Black Black, and These People

Walter Schreifels is also participating in a panel discussion tonight before the show, at NYU with NYHC: 1980-1990 author Tony Rettman, Richie Birkenhead (Underdog, Into Another) and New Yorker staff writer Kelefa Sanneh. Details here.