DeeDee Doesn’t Mosh, But If You Want To, He’s Cool With It: An Interview With MSPAINT’s Jaguar Jester
Posted: by The Editor
MSPAINT’s debut album Post-American simultaneously sounds like the death rattle of a dying empire and a new world being pieced together from the wreckage. In just 30 minutes, the Hattiesburg group’s frenetic punk lays bare the rot of American dystopia.
Since circulating an impressive demo tape in back 2020, the narrative surrounding MSPAINT has been that they’re outsiders within their own niche, coming up in the local punk scene in a southern Mississippi college town and being embraced by up-and-coming hardcore titans like GEL, Soul Glo, and Militarie Gun, despite being a sort of Schrödinger’s hardcore band themselves. They have just one hard-and-fast rule: no guitars. Instead, they build their songs around synth breakdowns, imbuing their abrasive punk with electronic pop, hip-hop, and new wave influences. The result is harsh yet danceable industrial rock instrumentals atop which idiosyncratic bandleader DeeDee spits acidic bars that unearth the truth beneath piles of debris.
The first thing I see before DeeDee switches his camera on is his Zoom avatar—a grainy image of Garfield smoking a blunt. I’d expect nothing less from synthpunk’s jester-in-residence. He answers each question with a philosophical enthusiasm and hits his vape periodically throughout our conversation. There’s a thoughtful yet unpretentious ease with which he speaks, in a way that makes you think he could shoot the shit with almost anyone.
I chatted with DeeDee about songwriting, science fiction, cats (big and small), and the true meaning of Hattiesburg World (spoiler alert: it’s everywhere).
ALT: You’ve just gotten home from this big tour—a couple dates supporting Gel, as well as headlining shows with bands like The Mall, Clearbody, and Blind Equation. How are you adjusting to life back home? Are you in Hattiesburg right now?
DEEDEE: Yeah, we’re all home right now. It’s fun. I feel like where we live is so much slower. Some of the southern cities, even like Charlotte and Chapel Hill—just a little bit more like going on there. So it’s actually kind of nice to come back and it’s real slow. There’s stuff we can go do, but it’s also just like, you could do everything here in a couple of hours. But we’re also so far from all the places that we go, then it’s like by the time we get back, we can appreciate it a little bit more because of how far we have to go to make our way to the shows and back is just crazy sometimes.
ALT: You mentioned a lot about feeling like you wanna rep Hattiesburg when you’re on tour, is that closeness and smallness and slower pace something that you kind of want to bring to all of these other cities and musical communities that you visit?
DEEDEE: Yeah, I mean, whether it’s, you know, our friends that come to the shows that are from Mississippi that live in these cities now, or sometimes we’re just at some random show and people will yell “Hattiesburg World” or something. It’s fun. To me it’s more or less what every band does when they leave their city and go on tour. We just kind of are, you know—I feel like in the spirit of southerners—maybe a little too loud about it, maybe a little too annoying about it. I’ve come to realize a lot of things normally like, cringe—I feel like it’s part of southern hospitality and stuff. “So-and-so’s funny,” is what I feel like people say when someone’s just kind of awkward. They’re like, “oh, they’re funny.” No, it’s so fun hanging out with them.
But I feel like the nature of Hattiesburg World is like, every band that we play with, every band that comes and plays a show here. I feel like that’s kind of the real manifestation of what that means. Like the Mall Blind and Equation. And Clearbody is a band that—we met them at a show and they were really nice and their band was really good and it was fun, uh, to play with them. But they don’t tour a lot. They’re a band that just kind of is in the cut, like in their home base, which is also really cool.
When a band plays with us or vice versa plays here, and then we go play where they’re at, we’ve now fully made the connection. You can’t escape it now. You’re at least in here when you’re around us, I guess.
ALT: You’ve mentioned that MSPAINT’s approach to writing and recording is pretty loose and instinctive and you try not to overthink things. What’s enabled you guys to unlock that sort of creative freedom and get so in the weeds about it, or is that something you struggle with?
DEEDEE: The nature of the musicality of the band is a lot of articulate thought, and what in some ways could be considered overthinking. While you’re tweaking over this song, you’re also thinking about everybody else’s room and space and stuff, as opposed to just trying to throw a bunch of stuff in to see if it works. You’re always gonna be overthinking to an extent when you’re making experimental music. That’s the one thing I can say I feel like about the band is the nature of being in a truly experimental, androgynous-genre band, it’s not something that you can kind of just manifest really. All the articulate thought going into it is kind of to build the foundation of the musical identity. ‘Cause the demo was very—Nick brought some like songs and we were like, “Yeah, that’s the first part. That’s the next part. Song over.” And there was always this sense that we could do so much more, you know? And then the album, I would say was the most overthinking I have personally witnessed in my life, ’cause I’m not the type. I’m more like, “The song is beautiful, let’s get to the next one.” There’s always more energy for the next one. But the beauty of really getting in deep with it is like, that’s when you’re like, “Oh my God. The harmonics of the wind feedback is emotional” now because we thought about it for a minute. There’s a little bit of overthinking that has to be done, but it’s to become instinctual. It’s to become where you’re just kind of free flowing.
But it’s weird when there’s not really a band that we can be like, “Oh, they kind of have the template for what we are.” It’s not even that we’re seeking it out. We’re just listening to more music than ever. And because we’re in a band, we’re like, “Would we like our band?” Like, would I say I liked our band if I wasn’t in this band? I really don’t know. And that’s kind of what I like about it is like, it’s seemingly random, but just also so calculated. You have to know the rules to break ’em. We were all kind of on autopilot with the [other] bands—all the different projects we were starting, and this band was kind of us being like, “All right, let’s get back to the roots of when you’re learning to write a song and taking every moment to craft it, because there’s real intent to do it.” There was no intent to sit around and cook on some songs for a minute. There’s a time to think and there’s a time to go.
ALT: The goal is to make music that you would wanna listen to, right?
DEEDEE: Yeah, for sure. Blind Equation and Soul Glo are two bands I think of where like, I really wanted to see both, and all my expectations were just washed and totally off mark of what it actually was like. And it didn’t remind me of anything that I like or listen to. Their bands are very articulate and [have been] crafting their sound over years of honing it and making it this thing. MSPAINT is honestly one of the first times where I’ve been in a band where it’s just kind of like, for me. This is like a journey that I’m going on where it’s a little uncomfortable sometimes and there’s pressure involved with that. Or maybe a little bit more emotional labor within the band thing. There’s a lot of shit happening right now. It’s like a true Odyssey-type thing, where we’ve really started this journey of some things that look and feel totally different than when you just start a band with some friends, you know?
ALT: You talk about having your expectations kind of blown away when you saw bands like Blind Equation or Soul Glow live after hearing them on the record. Do you feel like when it comes to the difference between your recorded work and your live shows, there’s a shift in that balance between instinct and premeditation?
DEEDEE: Yeah. I would say what comes with the musicality of everyone—like Nick on synth, Randy the bass player, and especially Quinn on drums—there’s some improv that comes with it. With the synth it’s a knob half-turn away from being a different sound, and all the presets are very fixed.
[Nick] is very meaningful with what he does, but sometimes he’ll come in on one part or a solo and we’re like, “No, let’s just sit back and cook for a moment, just let this part exist.” But when we were playing the, the whole album live, we were just kind of fucking around with stuff sometimes. The instinctual stuff definitely comes in live. Or we’ll try to play songs into each other maybe or something. But that comes from the articulate foundation of like—we spent all this time getting it to be this way, now it’s just fun. We’re just playing the songs now.
ALT: Taylor Young [of Nails, Twitching Tongues, Deadbody, and God’s Hate] produced the record, and you’ve got features from Ian Shelton from Militarie Gun and Pierce Jordan from Soul Glo. How did those collaborations come about and what was it like to work with those guys?
DEEDEE: On Pierce’s end, it was just like the focal part I was doing for the song, I’m pulling from that bag he’s in with the shrill attack vocals—crazy flow, really loud. We’ve been in contact since [Soul Glo] played here and I was like, “Would you wanna do at this part with me? Because it’s gonna be really cool and fun to blend our vocals for this.” He was like, “Yeah, just send it over.” And that was almost informal, just as friends being like, “Wouldn’t this be funny if we did this?” And it would also sound really cool.
But Ian was more like—he was the one who was like, “Would y’all wanna come record this with Taylor?” And we didn’t know much about Taylor at the time. Randy, who played bass, kind of knew about his bands more than anyone else. It was an opportunity to re-record what we had recorded. And Ian was like, “We should write a couple more songs.” He hung out for a weekend and we wrote “Free From the Sun” and “Delete It.” I think he also just wanted to see how we recorded it and what we were doing initially.
Talking about the overthinking thing, that was a moment where [the band was] working on a song and [Ian] got a phone call and left the room for 10 minutes and came back and the song was completely different. Like a totally different song than what they had worked on. And he was just asking about it. I mean, that’s the nature of this band. You never know what could happen when you turn a knob or change a note on the bass. It’s very strange. It’s fun. But those collaborations were awesome too, ’cause Taylor, his dad went to school in Mississippi, in the college in Hattiesburg for like audio production or something. So that was cool. Like once we knew that about him, we were like, “You’re one of us now.” And there were some cats at the studio, which—we all love cats, so that always makes the situation a lot more fun. That makes it feel like home.
ALT: I wanna go back a little bit to talking about that shouty, percussive vocal style, because you do have a really unique vocal delivery. I was recommending Post-American to a friend and I compared it to MC Ride, and I’ve also seen you get compared to The Beastie Boys and MF DOOM. Especially on the choruses, there’s this anthemic feel and a really interesting interplay with these synth passages. I’m curious about how you found your voice, so to speak, and how that fits in with the band’s sound overall.
DEEDEE: It’s been very fun because I usually play an instrument and do vocals in bands. That’s what I’ve done the most. I’ve fronted bands like that I played guitar in, so for me it was kind of strange because I wasn’t pulling from anything. It’s one of those things where you’re looking at a really complicated thing, like, “Do I really wanna get into this? Do I really wanna start this, because I’m gonna be here for a minute once I get into it.” With Death Grips and Show Me The Body—those were bands that people would come up to shows and ask about it, where I was like “Yo, I’ve never really listened to that.” I’ve heard some songs in passing, maybe when we’re in a space somewhere or at somebody’s house. But a lot of the time it’s just people talking about bands that they like, that don’t sound like other bands.
For me, it was just about approaching it kind of—and this has been developing more over time—thinking about it more like theater? I never did theater in school, I’ve never been in a play outside of maybe third or fourth grade. But to me, the music was always so dramatic-sounding, more like something you would maybe make for a movie or something. A real kind of cut-of-emotion type of thing, which was always so fun to dive into with the music. Sometimes it hits me immediately and I’m like, “I hear it. This is what serves the song. This is what we gotta do.” And sometimes I have to be like, “Yo, like that’s a lot of bleeps and bloops, gentlemen.” It was always about serving the song. I feel like playing that instrument kind of helps you kind of connect a little bit more with the flow of the set. And now I feel more connected—especially with the album being out and people interacting with it. Especially now, I want to experiment with different types of vocal stuff and just in the sense of—I’m trying to find the word for it.
We were all kind of in these pivotal moments like, outside of the band where we just needed to do something that was real, that hit hard. And maybe we were saying things or playing things that we wouldn’t normally play or say except from the comfort of our homes, just on some home demos or something. So it was just kinda about tapping in with the vocals and seeing everybody bust their ass and balance the, the, the workflow of things. For half the band, Nick and Quinn, they were always in these really like—I keep saying the word “articulate” ’cause that’s kind of what they bring to the band. But they were in these like really good indie rock bands, but just weird, really cool music. It was a lot of fun to like to see them play, but they never really toured. So this was their kind of first experience. Me and Randy had toured, five or six times. We had probably had like, 70 days on the road total over four years. It does a lot for your perspective. I haven’t experienced this volume of touring either. The more we kind of get our rhythm and understand the flow of—not even just like, the music industry, but like, the all-consuming aspects of it. There’s a lot of work on our end that’s in front of us that we’re ready and excited to do.
But it’s also very strange to be in a spot where this band consumes a lot of our time. It’s fun and it’s exciting, but it’s also like, any comparison of the band or any new place we go is just always like,”Oh, what’s that?” Like we don’t even know, we’re so insular in our scene and in our city.
Like Chicago is a place where I’m like, “I can’t believe I’ve been there so many times.” I never thought I’d be able to even afford to drive there, you know? It’s just cool.
ALT: Post-American feels like a very place-based album, there’s a lot of worldbuilding there. You mentioned the theatricality of it earlier, and it feels very cinematic, almost like sci-fi—the whole post-apocalyptic, dystopian world of it. I wanted to talk a little bit about that kind of storytelling. I know you’ve discussed the synth as a storytelling instrument before. Were you trying to build an overarching narrative, or did that just kind of happen incidentally?
DEEDEE: Creating a world is super important for every band that I’ve ever done, whether it’s an aesthetic thing or a theme, I’ve always felt like it’s important to—not to set a boundary, but to set a scene, to set up a moment or idea to evoke something with the lyrics.
As far as the storytelling on the album, I honestly think that Nick, who brings a lot of the skeletal demos and ideas, did a really good job of sorting the album, especially dividing the sides. I’m the same way. But he definitely took on the role of crafting the album order. So as far as that goes, I think that the themes really do have a fluid feel with some fun little things that break up some of the dialogue or add to it or whatever. Really the only song that I was like,”Oh, I have an idea and a rhythm” was “S3.” And that’s why that song is so short. They were like, “So what’s next?” And I was like, “Nothing, that’s the song. That’s it.”
ALT: I wanted to talk about [“S3”] a little bit, as well as the title track, because I feel like those are really great examples of how a lot of times—both lyrically and in terms of vocal delivery—your songs almost feel like protest chants. Is that something that was in the forefront of your mind while you were writing them?
DEEDEE: It wasn’t intentional to be like, in lieu of the protests around us or in our country even. To me, songs like “Post-American” or “S3” are just like—don’t veil it, don’t use a metaphor, just say exactly the kind of thought that’s coming across. With “Post-American” there’s definitely more imagery and more just kind of painting a picture rather than telling a story.
Being subversive with lyrics is something I feel like I’ve always done, whether it’s tongue-in-cheek or veiled and just goofy mystique things, whatever, uh, the ways to do it are. And for a lot of the album—really all of MSPAINT lyrically is just about being like, emotionally vulnerable. But also aware of like, people consume media and we consume all this—I don’t wanna say noise. It’s not all just noise, but it’s a lot of background stuff. And if we’re gonna be in the background for some people, we might as well occupy that time with some real thought. Let’s take a second to think about it and say like, “This is obviously not it.” Like with this country, surely this is not the best version of where we’re at.
We live in southern Mississippi. It’s like a lot of the things that sound so scary and post-apocalyptic in these sci-fi novels I would read, I was like, “That kinda just sounds like where I live.” It kinda just sounds like the type of thing that’s already happened. This isn’t science fiction necessarily. But that’s all my favorite shit. The vibe has always been like, a post-world existence or post-mistake, never-fixable type shit, you know? Like, I already know how to do the chaos poetry thing. Like, let’s just stay on that and kind of figure out a way to fit it in with these songs.
But S3 was definitely one that was like, ended up being just a way headier, way heavier. Even when we do it live now, I’m like, “That’s a lot to say in one thing.” It was meant to be an overwhelming, thrashing of different things. You get thrown a bunch of things, but it really just boils down to trying to serve the music and present ideas that are unique. It’s like displaying musical discomfort, but in a way where it’s like, “I don’t know everything. I’m not the smartest person.” That’s the vibe of giving the full experience and immersing yourself in it to be like, “I at least was a hundred percent present and did exactly what felt right.”
ALT: Let’s talk about the juxtaposition between the fun and celebratory nature of your live shows with the darkness of the lyrical content.You’ve mentioned before that you kind of feel like a jester when you’re on stage, which I totally love. Do you feel the need to bring some sort of levity or silliness to your performances?
DEEDEE: There’s like a zoo in our town, and the zoos are a very questionable form of entertainment for a lot of people. And I tend to agree in a lot of ways. But there’s a jaguar there. Or, I don’t know if it’s still there. I haven’t been there in years, but there’s a jaguar exhibit and that’s like, the most powerful, spiritual animal, you know? They’re shamanistic in some cultures. And it’s like, sometimes we’ll just be pacing in this enclosure and people would just be looking at it. There was a day where I was at the zoo and it was just like, “Yo, that’s, that’s kinda trippy.” Like a little heady that this animal just like, has this allotted space to be the most, like one of the most powerful creatures in some cultures, and here it’s just a thing that these people go and look at. It’s also a big cat. It’s kind of funny that it’s like, these animals that we hold so endearingly are so like—you look at it and it’s crazy, but it is kind of cute, just walking around, laying around, jumping in the water or something.
That’s kind of the thing for me where it’s like, I love to get up for a live performance and be really intense and play back and forth with whatever energy is there. But it’s also a little funny. There’s these moments where you’re like, that’s crazy. I feel like a jester. I always think back to this moment of like, a song that we start—it just starts out with what I consider like, Drake chords. That’s the inside joke of the band, like chords that Drake would use in a song, people just start, like harming their friends—smiles on their faces, having a great time. And it was like, I could have a clown nose on my face right now and there would be more context for this.
We’ve kind of been thrusted into this. We played three shows in Hattiesburg and then put a demo out and then the pandemic dropped and we didn’t do anything. And every show after that has been—we play just as you know, many quote-unquote “bunk shows” as people call them, with less people at them. But for the most part, they’ve been pretty crazy as far as us just starting bands in Hattiesburg. That’s great, but it’s all new and we develop that identity more and understand it more.
I never feel the need to encourage it. But I never feel the urge to stop it either. I can think back to the first time it happened where I was like, “Yo, I literally just saw someone eat shit. Their nose is bleeding.” I was just keeping an eye on them. And they came up, smiled, dapped their friends up, their friends wiped their face with their T-shirts, and then he was good. And I was just like, I’m tripping. Like this is these people’s space. This is what they want to do. I just need to find my space in it.
But there’s moments where you’re like, you see it and you’re like, “Yo, I hope that person’s okay. I hope they’re good.” But for the most part it’s like, what am I gonna do, stop the show? Like they’re walking away with the speakers, I don’t know what to do.
I like it, but I’m not that type of showgoer. I moshed a couple times and squished one of my friends and was like, “I dunno if that’s for me.” I’m wired differently. When a band scares me, I’m like, “Okay, this is one of those types of bands, you know?”
ALT: I’m curious to know which bands scared you.
DEEDEE: I would say the first—What was the first band that really scared me that we played with? It’s hard to say. It had to maybe be seeing Spy in Denver at Convulse. Not necessarily a scary band in terms of musically, but in terms of the consensus on what was about to happen when they played. I saw trash cans appearing around, and I was like, “Yo, why is there trash cans?” And then people coming and taking them away, and then them coming back somehow. That was a moment where I was like, this is supposed to make me feel uncomfortable, you know? Some creepy punk shit.
ALT: So no trash cans in the crowd at the next MSPAINT show?
I mean, that’s outta my control. I wouldn’t be like, “Hey, no trash cans.” If they were like, “Who let these people bring these trash cans in here?” I’d be like, “I don’t know, that’s crazy.” We’ll, we’ll help you pick it up, but no, fuck it.
Grace Robins-Somerville | @grace_roso
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