Letting the Good Times Roll: Craig Locicero & Kayla Dixon discuss new band Dress The Dead

Sustaining a group of people through any level of longevity and success is perhaps one of the most insurmountable challenges of the human existence. On the other side of the coin, limiting oneself to a single goal is equally difficult for a talented individual. As you and I know very well, these scenarios very much apply to our world of heavy music. You cannot keep talented musicians quiet for too long, you cannot limit them to a single project. Out of broken-up bands rise new ones, and oftentimes musicians in already successful, established bands stumble upon an exciting side-project. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, Dress The Dead combines the individual and collective pedigree of guitarists Craig Locicero (Forbidden, Spiral Arms, Manmade God) and Dan Delay (Drawing Heaven), bassist James Walker (Manmade God), drummer Mark Hernandez (Forbidden), and vocalist Kayla Dixon (Witch Mountain). Channeling the frustrations of the breakups of his previous bands into positive creativity, and finding the perfect group of musicians, Locicero has landed upon something special with Dress The Dead. Earlier this week, even as they were busy preparing for their first Los Angeles show this coming Friday, Metal Assault spoke to Craig Locicero and Kayla Dixon for an interview. Get to know this band through this in-depth chat, along with a taste of the band’s music.

MA: First of all, just for the sake of people who might not be familiar with the band, when did you get the idea for Dress The Dead and how did it all materialize in the first place?

Craig: Well, you know, I was almost forced into working on something new when my last band was taking a shit, and it was a very slow process to the band taking a shit (laughs). Really, what should have happened quickly, took a few years, and right at the end of it all, I realized that I wasn’t doing what I was capable of doing as far as songwriting and the direction. I felt like I was being dictated to far too much as well. So, that was my initial thought, and thinking about who I wanted to do this new band with, the first person I really thought of was Peter Dolving (The Haunted). Him and I have a friendship that built up over quite a few years and mutual respect for each other musically. So it was an idea that kind of spawned like that, but I didn’t have a name for it, until the middle of some morning, probably at about 6 AM. The three words “Dress The Dead” popped in my head, and I knew I got the band name. To me, it sounded great because it was ambiguous, and no matter who I was playing with, I thought we could grow it into something.

Craig Locicero – Dress The Dead (photo by Wyman Choy)

So, that was where it really kind of started, and finding everybody for the band was the next important part of it, of course, finding the right people. Peter agreed to do it at first. I had two fantastic musicians who I knew already, James Walker, who I had played with in Manmade God, and Mark Hernandez who I played with in Forbidden. I wasn’t sure if they were really ready to jump in and do this all over again. You just never know after all that we’ve been through, whether people are ready to do it. So, that was the genesis of it, and after I tried out a few other people, I went to them and said this is what I wanted to do, and they were more than interested. Finding a guitar player was the next thing. Everybody that was trying out, made it sound too … old-school. And hey, nothing wrong with that. You should play old-school if that’s what you’re into, but I’m always looking to break new ground and do new things. I thought Dan Delay was the best at accentuating and adding to what I do. I thought it had a newness to it, and I was right about that. So, that formed the core of the band, and that’s where it all came from. Then obviously, stuff happened with Peter, and we can get into that later, but let’s get to Kayla, because that’s the most important thing!

Kayla Dixon – Dress The Dead (photo by Wyman Choy)

MA: Yeah, I was going to follow that up with asking Kayla, how did you come into the picture and what’s it been like for you being in this band?

Kayla: It’s been great so far! I got a message one day from a mutual friend. I was in a power metal at the time and then I wasn’t in that band anymore. I got a message saying, “Hey, I have this friend Craig Locicero, he’s got a new band and needs a vocalist. Should I put in a good word for you? Should I give you his number?” I had just gotten out of another band and I already have Witch Mountain, and I moved here to Portland, Oregon for that band (laughs). I was just not sure whether I was ready to be in a second project again at that time. But I said, fuck it, let’s try, let’s see what this project is all about. And so, the first track that I heard was their version of “1969” with Peter on vocals, that the guys said was released just on YouTube. I was really into that. I thought, hey, this is great! But it was when I spoke with Craig and had him email me the other songs they had, I was really hooked into joining this project.

Dress The Dead – “1969”

Craig: Let me add one thing. It was months after she had got that text from our friend. At least two months (laughs). I was not expecting anything from Kayla at all, and then I got a message. It was almost a year from the day I saw her play with Witch Mountain. I just looked at her on that stage and said to myself, that girl is going to be a star. Then I had this text from her. So it was really kind of cosmic. I just find it funny that you waited that long, Kayla. But obviously for good reasons.

Kayla: Yeah! I wanted to be sure that I wanted to do something like that, or even do another project. I wasn’t sure if I should just focus on my one band. I’m also an actress, so I’ve also got a lot going on in that area of my life constantly, and having enough time was definitely a factor. When I joined Witch Mountain, which was like 4 or 5 years ago, I experienced a little bit of backlash, because the old singer that they had was really loved by all the fans. I was like, oh, if I replaced her and they’re giving me shit, I can’t imagine the kind of shit I would face, replacing someone like Peter Dolving. But surprisingly I haven’t gotten any hate, which is great, and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that this band is no new. So it all worked out well. I was just kind of at a point in my life where I was like, I don’t want any more drama. Whatever I get next, it’s got to fucking work (laughs). I’m glad that it is working.

Dress The Dead (L to R) – Craig Locicero, James Walker, Kayla Dixon, Dan Delay & Mark Hernandez (photo by Rock Talk USA)

MA: As you said, you’ve been in Witch Mountain for the last 4 or 5 years, and now it’s this band. Is it a big difference between the two bands, musically? 

Kayla: There’s such a big difference. Just the speed of the songs alone is a huge difference (laughs). Witch Mountain is a band that writes 14-minute songs and has super-long guitar solos where I could basically leave the stage and come back and he’d be still soloing. I guess, being in Witch Mountain I got used to having more time to breathe. I like to get up in the audience’s face and mess with them. It’s just fun for me to be in people’s faces and fuck with them and see how they react (laughs). There’s a lot of time for that in Witch Mountain. But in Dress The Dead I have to take more of a streamlined approach to my performance style, or the way that I show up in the live performances, because there isn’t a whole lot of time to even breathe between verses. And I love that about this band. There’s so much energy. Witch Mountain has energy too, but it’s just a different kind of energy that is infused into the songs. We  have our slow moments as well, the psychedelic, doomy moments. But with Dress The Dead, we have that moment and it’s right back into a thrash riff.

Dress The Dead – “There Goes The Sun”

Craig: And that comes from me, Andrew (laughs). Obviously I’ve got my thrash background. Anyone who’s skeptical because of what I can bring to the table thrash-wise, doesn’t know me. That’s something in my back pocket. If we were to say we want to write a thrash song, no problem! But you know what I like? Songs. I’m a big fan of real … streamlined is a good word Kayla used, I like songs to be very to-the-point. These days I like ’em quick, let’s get to it, let’s rock and let’s make this thing for people with attention spans that are so minuscule. That’s what I’ve boiled it down to, through all of my years. You saw my last band (Spiral Arms). It was a very stoner-y type of vibe. I got really bored with it, personally. It wasn’t like Witch Mountain either, because they (Witch Mountain) are doom. I’d rather call my last band “stoners that rock” rather than stoner rock. Dress The Dead has got that too but we also have a lot of thrash and a lot of classic rock elements, and with Kayla, it’s like everything has expanded. The sky has opened up and we can literally do anything. There’s no limits to what we can do.

Dress The Dead – “Promises & Kisses”

MA: That’s awesome to hear, man. So, I’ve listened to the three songs that have been floating around on YouTube. “1969”, which Kayla talked about, I think that’s my favorite but there’s two other kickass ones out there as well. Craig, what’s the plan looking like in terms of a full release or anything of that sort? Can people expect something any time soon?

Craig: No, I’m still a little old-school about that stuff. Going back to the Peter Dolving thing, because this kind of rolls into that … what happened was when we had him, things got so fast so quick just on the idea that him and I were playing together. People got really fired up on that idea and it scared the shit out of him. I had to respect that and we all had to take a step back. He basically made something really great, and then he was like, “Oh boy! I just can’t do this, guys. I just don’t have the mental and physical strength.” So, obviously there’s a story here, it took us months to hear from Kayla, and it was a … how do you say it … leap of faith for all of us to stick together to that. So, we got her in the band which was towards the end of 2017, then we did our very first show at the very beginning of 2018, the Killian on Command event. Here we are in early 2019. That was a good year to gel, Andrew. It was a year where we really needed to slow down, get our legs underneath us, understand more of who we are as people, what our goals are as a band, what kind of songs we can write, and all that kind of stuff. So, that’s where I am now. I think the interest has been really peaking since the beginning of this year. A lot of people have inquired about us, I’ve reached out to some people, and it’s a culmination of just making sure whatever decision we make next is going to be the right one. It could mean we could do it the old-school way of being on a record label and doing things their way and owing them a lot of money doing it that way (laughs), or doing it in a multitude of other ways. You can also do it where you make your own label, or you can do it where there’s investments. So, I’m just weighing the options right now, but I know a lot of people and they are very helpful, and whatever we do, it’s going to be the right decision that will help this band grow. I don’t think Kayla has had the pleasure, or displeasure of being on a major label like I have. When Manmade God got picked up by Rick Rubin, there was something to it, but getting out from under that is a whole another animal. You have to literally dig from a spot so far back behind the 8-ball, it’s a different industry than it was back then, Andrew. A different world, as you know!

Dress The Dead (photo by Rock Talk USA)

MA: Definitely. But talking of the show that you have coming up this Friday at the 5 Star Bar in downtown Los Angeles, you are bringing Dress The Dead down to Southern California, finally. You have a lot of fans in LA, from your older projects, so does Kayla with Witch Mountain now, so it must be an exciting time, because you haven’t played down here, as far as I know.

Craig: We haven’t! This is really going to be our first show outside of the Bay Area. This is very exciting for all of us. You know, we’re playing a modest place like the 5 Star Bar, but honestly I know a lot of people who like to go there, and a lot of people are excited to come see us there, to see the other bands on the bill. I think it is probably exactly what it should be for our first time in Los Angeles. And we need to make it a sooner turnaround to come back, you know. I mean we need to book our next gig so we know exactly when it’s going to be, relatively soon. Kayla has got an engagement with a theater gig she’s doing, called Into The Woods, which is going to take a month of her time too.

MA: Is it hard to book gigs for this band, then?

Craig: Not as hard as you might think! Kayla was talking earlier about having the time to do this project, this girl has made time for us, and we’ve made time for her. And it’s been a great fucking time! We’ve had a really good experience getting to know each other and becoming friends, and it’s really a good group of people. She’s also lucky in a way that we’ve been through so much that we are wiser, and older, and it helps. All the drama that young bands have, she doesn’t have that with us. No one is drama-free, but ours is a different animal. The guys in Witch Mountain are older guys too, and I’m sure they have a storied history. But Kayla is an old soul, so she fits right in!

Digital Art by Kiren Bagchee / Pictures by Wyman Choy

MA: And lastly, I just wanted to ask both of you. I don’t know if you guys have been noticing what’s going on in the world of heavy rock and metal, but I feel it’s really going back to the roots in the sense that … the kind of music Dress The Dead, for example, is making, is making a comeback of sorts. It’s more of a hard rock sound, which is how heavy metal started out. Do you see that or agree with that?

Kayla: Ah .. I think I’m noticing that. You know, a few months ago I got the chance to see Halestorm with In This Moment and New Years Day. Those are bands I’ve heard about and have been into, and I wouldn’t necessarily consider any of them to be metal (laughs), but there are so many metal fans who are also fans of those bands. I think it’s really important, specially these days, to be able to appeal to all different kinds of audiences, and to have artistic diversity, I guess. As a vocalist if you just scream, then you’re limiting yourself to people who like bands with vocalists who just scream. If you don’t have any kind of variety in the style that you do vocally or music-wise, then you’re pigeonholing yourself a little bit into one category. And I do see a lot of young bands with people my age that are coming out, almost like the whole melodic death metal thing where the singer would both scream and do clean vocals. The music is kind of all over the map, but not in a chaotic way. So, I think it’s important that you’re able to appeal to as many genres and audiences as you can without sacrificing your artistic integrity.

Craig: And to add to that, first of all you need to have all the tools in your tool belt to pull that off, which we do. And I’ll also add that some of our stuff, which you’ll see, is very, very heavy. We haven’t even recorded all of our heavier stuff yet. For me, I see what you’re saying, Andrew, and I think there’s a huge opening in the universe, as far as that goes. But it’s like Frank Zappa said, dude … the music industry is full of young people that are scared to death now. It used to be full of all the older people that didn’t understand what was going on. It was the best era of music that was going on, but the older people didn’t get it, they passed it onto the kids who liked it. So now you’ve got a bunch of people that are always scared, whether they’re going to lose their jobs, whether it’s them trying to figure out what’s hip. They think they know what’s coming around the corner, but they aren’t quite sure. The reality, I think, is that music fans just want quality. I think there’s definitely space in the music world for Dress The Dead. We’ll kick our way right through into that spot. It’s like Kayla said, never limit yourself. So many people are limited, partly because they can’t play, and partly because they are scared to do things other people may not like. We’re scared of nothing!

– by Andrew Bansal

Catch the Los Angeles debut of Dress The Dead, this Friday March 22 at the Five Star Bar! Also on the bill: House Of Broken Promises, Kook and Solar Haze. (fb event page)