By Ashley Zimmerman
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Inside the Tamarac home of Death Becomes You's John Janos and Christopher Lee, the living-room wall is lined with many a horror flick poster Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolfman, Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Mummy. It's pretty much what you'd expect from the group of theatrical horror-rockers. But the movies showing on the TV screen star a different cast of characters, namely the four members of DBY Janos (vocals), Lee (drums), Nicodemous (bass), and Gory (guitar). The collection of live shows and backstage shots has plenty of highlights: Lee playing drums with Good Charlotte backstage at a 2003 gig, DBY's performance at the 2004 Screamfest, tour footage from their trip to England, and a show at Tavern 213, where Gory gets yelled at by an angry barback for lighting his ax on fire. And then there's the news footage.
Fast-forwarding through a home-edited videotape, Janos finds what he was looking for: a 2005 clip from Deco Drive, the hipster-doofus entertainment show on Channel 7. This segment, of course, had none of the usual South Beach fare. DBY hosted a movie-release party for Devil's Rejects and Deco Drive's "Party Patrol" took interest, in its own "check out these weirdoes" sort of way. The piece opened with a shot of the band members, donning their trademark corpse paint, fake blood, and all-black outfits. Deco host Lynn Martinez wasted no time before playing the freak card, noting that on first glance, "it looks like a Marilyn Manson wannabe competition." Ouch!
To be fair, that's the typical mainstream response to a band like DBY call 'em goths or Mansonites and ask why they have to "dress up." But if you ask Nicodemous, DBY's only doing what feels natural. "If we could turn ourselves inside out, this is what we'd look like," he says. "This is us there's no bullshit. What you see is what you get."
And what you get is a band that operates outside the average T-shirt and blue jeans mentality. DBY has been sticking to its guns for the past seven years, and it hasn't always been easy; its biggest challenge, it seems, is to be taken seriously by the plainclothes police the people who view theatrics as unnecessary. Talking to the band members, their bitterness is palpable... but understandable. When a group goes the extra mile to assemble a stage show and, year after year, people continue to ask why, such acrimony is understandable.
"People always ask what we're 'trying to do,'" Lee says. "All those serious 'musicians.' Fuck how great you can play... Can you entertain people? Our ultimate thing is that it's so over-the-top. It's primal-scream therapy the Sex Pistols meets Kiss meets Alice Cooper."
And, not surprisingly, some people just can't wrap their heads around that kind of genre-crossing. "Punks say we're too metal," Janos notes, "and metalheads say we're too punk."
That confusion probably comes from DBY originals like "Cadaverised" and "Bats in Your Belfry," which run a few shades darker (and heavier) than the band's choice of cover tunes. DBY's live set includes a few classic punk staples like the Damned's "New Rose" and Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" and even a little '80s action, in the form of a Men at Work cover ("Overkill"). Considering the type of music that was popular when DBY started, their status as scene outsiders was pretty much established from day one.
"When we started, every band around here was rap-rock," Lee recalls. "We made war with all those bands and we outlasted them all."
Still, the experience has left Lee and company with a serious distaste for South Florida.
"It's the most soulless place on Earth," Lee says. "If South Florida is any indication of where we're at as a species, then we're fucked."
While it's common for local bands to dream of greener pastures, the frustration's worse for those who've actually visited such places. DBY got its 15 minutes during a trip to England, where the band toured with Wednesday 13 and garnered a bit of favorable press in magazines like Terrorizer and Metal Hammer.
"After we got done playing a gig in London, we walked out of the club and there were like 500 kids in the alleyway, all wanting to talk to us," Nicodemous says. "I was thinking, 'When I go home, no one's going to believe it. '"
Lee interjects, "It was like what Dee Dee Ramone said when he returned home after their first tour of England anticlimactic."
That's also how the band feels after its deal with JMB Records has all but evaporated since the January 2004 release of DBY's Make It Bleed CD. Janos says they'll visit the label when it's time to buy more CDs. But other than that, there's really no communication. So it's back to the DIY drawing board. And for the Net-savvy DBY, that means a lot of MySpace messaging to the right people like Good Charlotte's Billy Martin, whose horror-themed clothing company, Level 27, sponsors DBY. Another web connection came when Janos landed a gig as host of Chiller Theatre, which airs on Temecula, California,'s KZSW-TV. Janos records his parts at home, in his living room. (Oh, and the show's theme song is "Bats in Your Belfry.")
Again, the band points out that this whole "horror business" isn't some kind of carefully crafted image. It's the fact that they're influenced by more than just music.
"All this stuff seemed secondary to us, having grown up watching horror movies," Lee says, noting his frustration with gothy-come-lately bands like My Chemical Romance. "We took a lot of shit because of how we look. My Chemical Romance didn't go through all that, and now they get to capitalize on it."
True, but when MCR went to England for this year's Reading Festival, it was pelted with water bottles by the audience. And as Janos points out, that's quite the opposite of your average DBY gig.
"Going to a Death Becomes You show is like going to the World Series," Janos says. "You pay attention because you're worried about getting hit in the head with a foul ball."