DEX ROMWEBER: CHOPIN AND BACH AND EVEN JACKIE GLEASON
(from Ruins of Berlin out now on Bloodshot)
Dexter Romweber was the guitar half of the Flat Duo Jets, a two-man rock ‘n’ roll band from the deep south that had the power of Dr. Ross and Abner Jay combined. They were filmed for—and broke up during—the documentary Two-Headed Cow, screening tonight. Dex and his new duo (with his sister Sara) have a new album and will be performing in L.A. this weekend. This interview by Nolan Knight.
What was the extent of your involvement in the production of Two Headed Cow? Was it your idea for the documentary?
No, it wasn’t my idea at all. What it was was that the producers who made Athens, Ga.—Inside/Out, a documentary on music in Athens, Georgia, they wanted to make a Flat Duo Jets film after that film was completed. So we set out on a short Southern tour in ’87, I think. Then they ran out of funds but they wanted to complete the film and they got the funds together by 2005 or so, but the Duo Jets had already ended and I was still touring. They finished the film in 2005 and it was initially their idea—completely.
Are you satisfied with the outcome? Does it accurately reflect the legacy of the Flat Duo Jets?
Yeah, some of it—not all of it. I think they got a lot of good footage and some of it’s pretty funny, you know? There were a few things I wanted taken out but they wouldn’t take ‘em out. That caused little problems but we’re all pretty much past it now.
Your new record, Ruins in Berlin, just came out and I really enjoyed it. Was there a theme of exploration behind this record?
There wasn’t really a theme. I think me and Sara didn’t want to make it just a neo-rockabilly record and we wanted to get many different moods and flavors. These are songs I had around for awhile, so me and Sara sat down and figured out what would be the best ones to put on the record. There wasn’t really a theme behind it except to get a little more jazz influences and some different genres of music.
How has it been playing with your sister on drums so far? Does the family dynamic help when it comes to extensive touring?
It hasn’t been too bad. We’ve done a lot of work since we started playing together. Chan Marshall—Cat Power—has taken us to Europe and we’ve done many shows around America with her and we’ve been generally taking any work we can get that isn’t too bad—if the money’s decent, you know what I mean?
There are some cameos on the record and one is with Exene Cervenka. How did you two come to be good friends?
Well, I didn’t know her too much. A lot of these artists are in the film and our manager came up with the idea of maybe putting them on our record to sort of spice it up a little bit. I ended up playing on Exene’s solo record after my record was complete, so I ended up flying to Missouri and hanging with her and her husband, Jason, for about three days. I got to know her more then and a little bit when she came to lay down her tracks for Ruins of Berlin.
People like Jack White attribute you to being a major influence on their artistry. Who would you consider to be a major influence on your artistry?
Well, there are different people. Some of them are very obscure. People like Benny Joy out of Tampa, which usually only record collectors really know who he is. Big-band artists like Stan Kenton and a bit of people like Jerry Lewis and stuff.
The Jets toured with the Cramps in the early ‘90s. Can you share a fond memory or funny story involving the great Lux Interior?
Generally, I left them to themselves. I didn’t want to infringe on their privacy too much but we spent many an evening together, talking or drinking wine, and I just remember me and Lux sharing a love of Jackie Gleason [laughs]. Mostly, we talked about music and films but Lux was a real forthright guy and a very nice guy. I think what he admired most in people was a sense of honesty. It was nineteen years ago, so it’s a little hard to remember everything. We mostly just talked about artists and stuff.
Is there another solo piano album in your future?
I wanted there to be and I wanted to make a volume two but it’s taking me a while to sit down and compose all these songs that I’d have to get ready. I can’t do it right now but maybe in the coming year I will sit down and get volume two ready.
What are your thoughts on the current state of rock ‘n’ roll?
I don’t really follow it that well and I haven’t really looked at the top ten in terms of current rock ‘n’ roll or bought any of those records. My tastes generally lean towards people like Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen more than the modern neo-rockabilly sound. I got to tell you, there was actually an article on the Cramps that sort of sent me on a different road. They had been asked what they thought of the neo-rockabilly ‘cat’ bands—the Stray Cats, The Rockats, the Polecats, and all those ‘cat’ bands—and they said, ‘You can look like you’re from the fifties but that doesn’t mean that you get the same style or the same feel as the fifties.’ That kind of set my course into finding out more obscure artists in the fifties, but in a sense, I feel a little about the modern rockabilly scene that way. Where in a sense you can look like it but you’ll rarely ever catch what it was really like back in the day—not to put those bands down because there is always a validity in art and artists, it’s just that my tastes generally go towards a lot of different kinds of music. You asked me about the classical piano and I listen to that kind of music, sort of the romantic classical movement, along with jazz and gypsy music. But in truth, I still have a great fondness for early rock ‘n’ roll records.
Would you say from your early days to now with your latest record, has your vision for music been steadfast? Is the latest record a product of something that your younger self would have aspired to make?
Yeah, I think so. I think overall, I would agree with that. When I was younger it was primarily ‘50’s rockabilly but I was branching out even back in the day and listening to people like Chopin and Bach—and even Jackie Gleason records, you know?
DEX ROMWEBER WITH A SCREENING OF TWO-HEADED COW ON FRI., APR. 3, AT THE ECHO PARK FILM CENTER, 1200 ALVARADO ST., ECHO PARK. 8 PM / $5 / ALL AGES. ECHOPARKFILMCENTER.ORG. AND ON SAT., APR. 4, AT FINGERPRINTS RECORDS, 4612 E. 2ND ST., LONG BEACH. 4 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. AND WITH THE DOGHOUSE LORDS ON SAT., APR. 4, AT THE REDWOOD BAR AND GRILL, 316 W. 2ND ST., DOWNTOWN. 10 PM / CONTACT VENUE FOR COVER / 21+. THEREDWOODBAR.COM. THE DEX ROMWEBER DUO’S RUINS OF BERLIN IS OUT NOW ON BLOODSHOT. VISIT DEXTER ROMWEBER AT MYSPACE.COM/DEXTERROMWEBERDUO.